Acid House, Androgyny, and the Cult of the Club Kids

Drag evolution is difficult to trace, but there was a turning point when the art of drag became less traditional and more confrontational. Perhaps the advent of Divine, collaborating under visionary John Water’s B-movie punk paradisco, paved the way for an aggressive approach not confined to kitsch or camp, glamour or comedy. Embracing filth, Divine and Co. as a freak scene pushed limits and defied convention with their clownish garrish filth and wild parties, perhaps proto-club kids in their own weird way.

Though hints and homages to Hollywood and Broadway will never die, queer culture’s dramatic entrance into the mainstream during the dirty drug-fueled late 70’s allowed for further exploration. NYC’s visual and performance art, a la Andy Warhol and trans icons like Candy Darling, revealed the possibilities of a queer art spacescapes many were eager to orbit into. Gay culture’s departure from disco, and even away from punk, also distanced it from the previous oversimplified ideologies of gender expressions.

Queue New Wave. Blurring binaries and drenched in fantasy, New Wave as one of the first golden eras of a more feminine-leaning androgyny found presentation-exploration widely accepted in popular culture (hi Boy George, miss you Prince). What moonlighted to conservatives as “gay” or “drag” was no longer confined to old terms, swiftly reinvented in an anything goes clusterfuck of synth and flashy clothing. Even the straights were breaking the mold ie macho metal bands with lipstick and teased hair throughout the 1980’s.  

New Romantics, like the glam rock era before, worked hard at their outfits, their entrance, indulged drama and most certainly drugs. By the mid-80s, Europe had a strong acid house scene, which provided a proper meeting ground for gay nightlife. In many ways acid house helped to create homonormative culture by borrowing street fashion, adhering to the recognizable smiley face logos, fresh faced fun for the current hookup culture. As the name describes, being a subset of house music made it accessible. Major European and American cities replicated elements of fashion and sound inspired by acid house to make popular hits. More importantly, acid house would support the development of rave culture.

Over the great big puddle—aka the Atlantic—New York City was developing its own version, welcome if not built by queers and fueled by drugs. “Club kids” weren’t confined to traditional venues like the famous Belgian acid house venues. Hosting “outlaw parties” (as recounted in this Village Voice article), club kids were known for bringing elaborate conceptual looks to random pop-up locations. Relying on and competing with outrageous outfits, there is no denying that club kids consequently altered queer dance culture permanently.

Promoter and murderer Michael Alig and best frienemy James St. James (who penned Disco Bloodbath, turned into the film Party Monster) essentially created their own fame. Central in the late ‘80s club culture their intense dedication to creating the most outrageous looks bent rules and reinvented what previously was only grazed upon by drag. With vagabond abilities to tie together the alien and absurd, Nelson Sullivan documented many of the club kids adventures in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s before the shit hit the fan. Leigh Bowery raised making looks to a form of art and Amanda Lepore’s socialite style surrounded herself with rising underground fashion and club scenes even today.

Of course, club kids in general grew and grew, through many different musical styles from trip hop to electroclash. Club kids change with electronica’s ever evolving sub-genres and junk culture fashionista creations, but have always created a haven for queers. Eventually mainstream drag culture would incorporate stylings forefronted by individuals like Thorgy Thor, Violet Chachki, Shea Coulee, Sasha Velour, Milk, and more.

WUSSY Prom this 2017 will honor the extra(terrestrial) with celebration of club kid, tranimal and acid house creations (though feel free to arrive in traditional prom attire). Hosted by Violet Chachki and tranimal icon Fade-Dra Phey, the party starts at 10pm at Jungle.

Click below for tickets.