Behind the Scene: DJ Riotstar from Choose Yr Own Adventure

Can you remember the last time you went to an LGBT/queer event that didn’t have a freely flowing bar? The link between boozy venues and queer culture is almost historic, given that the Stonewall riots were sparked by police raids on gay bars in New York. That said, if you don’t want to be around alcohol and drugs, the gay scene can be quite an isolating place.

Located somewhat appropriately outside the boozy hotspots of gay nightlife, West London’s Redemption Bar offers the somewhat new concept of a sober venue. After a few residencies last summer, Redemption has settled in the base of Trellick Tower, serving mocktails voted the best in London by the Evening Standard.

Earlier this year, Redemption Bar became host to Choose Yr Own Adventure, a sober, queer and body positive night. Aiming to create as safe a space as a club night can be, CYOA allows you to get your groove on to the everything from electro and pop acts like Robyn and Ladytron through to Riot Grrl. The night is focused on being as accessible as possible, with gender neutral toilets, no strobes and wheelchair accessibility.

In the run up to the second CYOA event, Vada caught up with organiser and DJ, Angelica (DJ Riotstar) to find out more about the night.

 

Vada: Setting up a sober queer club night seems to be a new concept for the London scene, were you worried it could be a bit of a risk?

DJ Riotstar: It’s a certain kind of niche, but I’d had loads of really enthusiastic feedback when I floated the idea a while before, and I know plenty of people who either don’t/can’t drink or are just looking to have options away from that queer+LGBT scene heavy-drinking-as-default thing. So, sure, it’s scary, but I’m committed to it precisely because there is a need and a desire for such spaces.

Have you run non-sober club nights before, or is this your first venture into nightlife?

Aye. I used to run a queer women’s-centred riot grrrl and pop nite called Grrrl Party back in Cambridge a few years ago. Since then, I’ve been involved in organising political discussion/music/comedy/art etc. events with Mutiny, and was the DJ for bi clubnite Greedy last year. I’m involved here and there – people like what I play, and invite me to DJ assorted events.

Do you pull a slightly different audience from say a standard gay night in Soho?

Ye-esss… but I’m not sure that’s primarily down to the sobriety? The nite is queer, rather than LGBT, first, not commercial, and concerned with accessibility, body positivity, safety etc. That implies a particular kind of audience, much more varied in terms of gender, sexuality, body type etc. than yr Soho LGBT (GGGG) nites out.

Given that there’s no alcohol, is CYOA open to under 18s?

Yes! Someone asked at the first one if they might be able to bring their new babe along with ear protection, and we determined that was totally AOK. All the peeps are very friendly.

Besides the obvious (non-alcoholic drinks at the bar), does anything run differently from your usual club night at CYOA?

Well, apart from the particular concerns mentioned previously, we’re quite early-bird. We run with loud music and lots of dancing from 8pm ‘til midnite, and then have an hour of relaxing time with gentler music and breaking out the beanbags. This was partly from necessity, but I’m very keen on the format: it means people can get in lots of dancing and still catch the last tube home, which makes it much more feasible for some people; and it gives people a chance to rest and talk to their crushes from the dance floor afterwards!

And finally, is there anything else you’d like to say about the night?

I think the most important thing missing here is why we need such a space, and I’d like a few words on that:

I can’t possibly hope here to detail the whole problematic relationship between queer+LGBT people and alcohol/drugs. However, alcohol and drugs play a particularly central role in much queer+LGBT social life. Partly this is situational: the bigotry of our society means we can’t assume the ability to exist and love freely and safely as our het counterparts can, so we need our own spaces. For many, the only such space that might exist in their hometown is the local gay bar. Moreover, the shit we can face – often at odds with our families, our schools, our jobs – has knock-on effects on our mental health, and intoxication can be one way to cope with that.

However, the effects this can have on our communities is pretty apparent. Some estimates show up to half of queer+LGBT people having serious issues with alcoholism. If people determine they need to not be around drugs or alcohol, they may find their social options severely limited. In running something like a club nite, I’m also concerned about issues around consent. There’s no way to put this but bluntly: even in “our” spaces, women and trans* people of all genders in particular find ourselves needing to give thought when choosing where to go as to how likely we are to be sexually assaulted, and intoxication makes many people less likely to respect these boundaries.

I’m certainly not saying that people need to stop drinking – but we need genuine alternative options for those who feel alienated, uncomfortable or unsafe in spaces which focus around alcohol and drugs, as well as for those who’d simply rather it not so universally define our social lives. A club nite isn’t for everyone, but I’m hoping that others will consider the ways that intoxication-centred spaces may not be accessible to many, and start organising a variety of activities that will mean genuine options and choice for everyone regardless of their circumstances.

The next Choose Yr Own Adventure night is on Saturday 31st May, with a ‘pay what you can’ suggested entry of £4. You can find more details on the Facebook page.