As queer venues across the UK grapple with how to sustain themselves in the wake of a series of stop-and-start lockdowns, Naomi May speaks to one of the co-founders of Queer House Party about the virtues of virtual LGBTQ+ nights and what the future holds for the hottest queer collective around.
As the UK was in the midst of the first of three national lockdowns last year, a queer couple based in London would log onto Zoom every Friday night to connect with each other as they isolated in their separate homes.
The diktat to stay at home had been ordered by the government meaning the couple, who were based on opposite sides of London, couldn’t physically see each other. But they weren’t logging onto Zoom to chew the fat, or to chat with friends; instead, the two women would log on to their computers to attend Queer House Party, a virtual party for the LGBTQ+ community, which started during that inaugural lockdown.
Despite upwards of 200 people being in each weekly party – the most that attended one of the nights was 2,000 – the couple would pin each other to their screens and dance as though it were just the two of them to the beat-heavy and cacophonous DJ sets provided by the New Cross-based sextet behind the online collective.
“That was the cutest message we received about Queer House Party,” its co-founder Nik Erz, who uses the pronouns they/them, tells Stylist. “One of them messaged us to say that it was their way of hanging out with each other on a Friday night as they both self-isolated. We started off having no idea what we were doing, but that kind of feedback – and feedback from the rest of our community – is pretty great.”
Queer House Party, as the name suggests, began as a group of six housemates – and amateur DJs – who started a weekly virtual party last March as a way of spending time with their immediate circle of friends. The first Friday before lockdown was fully enforced, when the rumours began gaining momentum that a pandemic was on the horizon, the group of six combined their collection of DJing equipment to see if they could livestream a party for their friends. Fast forward a year and Queer House Party now has an online following just shy of 20,000 and has fostered a global community of queer people who join together to dance, celebrate and express themselves.
“When people started coming from Russia, and other parts of the world where it’s not safe – or is illegal – to be openly gay, that was really amazing,” they explain. “And I think that’s when we realised how much of a lifeline it had become to people, to create a community.”
Its success, Nik notes, is in equal parts due to it having cultivated a community for locked down queer people across the world as well as the void it has filled, given the drastic number of closures queer venues across the UK have faced, particularly in London.
“For the past year and a half, queer spaces haven’t been available for people and these places are really formative for people in their journeys of understanding themselves,” they say. “Not having access to those spaces, which are so affirming for your identity, can be quite traumatic.”
Queer nightlife has indeed proved itself to be something of a moveable feast. Since the recession in 2007, it’s been estimated that 25% of London’s queer spaces have shuttered their doors. According to official figures from research undertaken by fellows at UCL, the number of queer venues in London fell by 58% from 121 to 51 between 2006 and 2017. “There aren’t many spaces where people can feel free to be themselves and explore themselves and be respected,” Nik notes, but the collective is “trying to finesse” what a Queer House Party event could look like post-lockdown.
“We absolutely need to support queer venues in London like The Glory and Dalston Superstore, but we’ve learned so much during lockdown about issues relating to accessibility of queer events, both financially and physically,” they muse. “There are a lot of people that are excluded, whether it’s about the cost of ticket prices or whether it’s for those who are deaf or hard of hearing, blind or visually impaired.”
Since restrictions have been steadily lifted in the UK, Queer House Party has been toying with its future plans of hosting hybrid events which take place in person, but are also streamed. Its first post-lockdown party was held in May at Colour Factory, a warehouse in Hackney Wick, which hosted 270 people. The structure was similar to one of its original Queer House Parties, a DJ set followed by a live performance, followed by another DJ set which was livestreamed for its global community. In keeping with its original format, the Zoom was projected onto a wall and people virtually in attendance were spotlighted at the live event, which also had sign language interpreters present.
While the future is admittedly bright for the collective, which is largely now headed by a trio of its original founders, Harry, Seren and Nik, it’s not yet clear what format Queer House Party will take moving forward.
“We’re hesitant about the future,” Nik says. “We’ve garnered a community that’s not just based in London and a community that doesn’t always feel safe accessing the queer spaces that are in London, or the rest of England, and people that physically can’t access certain venues at all, so for us to move just into physical spaces wouldn’t really feel right.”
For now, the group will continue to host its virtual parties every couple of months or so and has penciled in another hybrid event for the end of September. In recent months, they’ve also been tapped by BBC Radio 6, which invited Queer House Party to takeover the station for an hour in celebration of Pride. Their neighbouring slots featured Ezra Furman, St. Vincent, Janelle Monáe and RuPaul’s Drag Race UK series two sweetheart, Bimini Bon-Boulash.
“When we started Queer House Party, we were a group of friends just doing a bit of DJing on the side to help pay rent,” Nik concludes. “To know that we’ve now built this community of queer people is amazing.”
Lead image: courtesy of Queer House Party.