HoP: How does someone who is primarily a writer suddenly become a DJ and run his own nights?
GT: Well, sometimes people used to ask me to soundtrack their house parties and make playlists for when they went on holiday because they knew that I knew a lot about music and had quite an eclectic taste. A couple of my friends started nights of their own and they asked me to come and DJ.
GT: One belonged to my friends who run Trash-O-Rama and they did a night at Retro Bar. They asked me to DJ a few times and I said no out of shyness. Then there was a night called Helen Of Troy, which played music only by women, and the girls who ran it read my blog and asked me to DJ. I said no again, but eventually I gave in and ended up playing at both parties. They asked me back, then people who'd seen me there asked me to DJ for them too and then I just started to push myself as a DJ. I played at Bollox and it's gone from there.
HoP: And then Off The Hook started?
GT: It was the brainchild of Anthony Crank, Rob Devlin and Amber Swallows and it was a very different night originally. It was hip-hop, loads of drag queens and it was an underground night.
HoP: At The Plastic Arts Company?
GT: It was called Kitsch at the time and it held a temporary license. A lot of people loved it in there and sometimes they still say to me that those were the best years of Off The Hook, which was only in 2009 or 2010. So I went to the first party and I'd never seen a night like it; a gay night playing hip-hop. I was raised on soul music and grew up with hip-hop and R&B, so that night was quite brilliant for me. They played Neneh Cherry, Salt N Pepa; music that I loved and I asked if I could guest at their next party, which I did and I've played at every one ever since. One by one, the other organisers have now retired - Rob and Amber have both moved to London and didn't take the night with them, so it was just me and Anthony, but he doesn't really DJ anymore as he's become an acting coach, so the night went on hiatus for while. But I was getting so many messages from people asking when the next night was going to be that I messaged the others and asked if it would be OK to run the night without them. I rebranded it, changed the playlist, took it to a new venue and hoped for the best!
GT: About two years ago and we've more or less sold out every party we've done since. The night has always been a bit intermittent, so now that it's just me running them, I do it when I want to put one on. I don't want to be a regular fixture on the circuit - I just want it to be a party that comes and goes, that people enjoy and remember, so that when it comes around they're more likely to not want to miss it.
HoP: So when is it likely to make its next reappearance?
GT: Well there's one in London in April, then back in Kraak in May. I'm not doing a Pride party this year as Drunk At Vogue is on and I want to go to a few other nights, who I don't want to be in competition with. I'll probably try and squeeze another party in before the summer, but after that, who knows?
GT: They weren't on the same night, but they were on consecutive nights and they both tend to be quite heavy parties, so I was aware that if there was an overlap the crowds might be smaller at both nights as a result. But it was exciting though, because it kept me on my toes and meant I had to make both nights as good as they could be as there's nobody better to be in competition with than yourself.
HoP: Do all the Drunk At Vogue parties sell out too?
GT: Yeah, they do. We've been really lucky because it's been very popular since the start. At the first party we were full within the first hour. We had people come from Glasgow and London for our second party and it was insane. Something about it just clicked.
HoP: So what exactly is Drunk At Vogue?
GT: Originally I was resident at the Purple Pussycat for an 80s night and I later pitched them the idea of Drunk At Vogue as a party not for dance music, but for music to dance to. I wanted to pitch a straight-up disco night, but at the time they were running parties with Horsemeat Disco and we would have been in competition with them and it just wouldn't have worked. I loosened up the playlist a little, said I'd play 80s synth and new electronic music and the first playlist I made them had Cheryl Lynn and Little Boots and some Paradise Garage music. They loved the idea, loved the name and the music but didn't want to take it on. So I let a year go by and spoke to Thom, Gary and James, who I do the night with now, and agreed that there was nothing else like it out there. I didn't want it to be like Horsemeat Disco and be just about the music, as I wanted all the other aspects of disco too; dressing up, doing everything on a shoestring and being underground. Kraak had already been established as a gay space away from the village with Off The Hook, so the boys convinced me to try it there. I wanted it to be like Clique used to be, when people would get dressed up in an outfit they'd wear only once and they'd still be going a day later.
GT: We've always called them "parties" instead of nights. Again, Drunk At Vogue doesn't want to be a fixture - it would never be, say, the third Saturday of every month.
HoP: So what is its regularity at the moment?
GT: We do about eight parties a year. We have the boat party, our regular Kraak parties, the nights in London and we've done Festival Number 6 now too. There isn't a standard Drunk At Vogue, which is what I want really - each one is special and different and I want it to be a surprise every time.
HoP: When is the next one?
GT: The official announcement will be coming soon, but it's on 2nd May. It's not a regular Kraak party; it's at a bigger venue in Manchester... Details will come in the announcement, hopefully next week. I want to try out lots of new venues though. With Off The Hook I'm happy to go to Kraak and just turn the lights down and the music up, but with Drunk At Vogue it's quite different.
HoP: Was it hard to get people to stray out of The Village to come to your nights to begin with?
GT: Really tough. I tried flyering in The Village and there was resistance from places we wouldn't even have been in competition with. They didn't want the word 'R&B' anywhere on the posters.
GT: There is and that's a good thing. I've always tried to be reticent about my feelings toward The Village, the Canal Street Corporation and the Pride Corporation - I don't want to run them into the ground because they are just businesses, but I think that's the problem. When you concentrate all of your gay population into just one area, which is just a street of bars, you go back to the bad old Stonewall days when your spokesmen are just the people who run these bars. If you look at the Canal Street Newsletter, they're always interviewing bar managers. Part of what Stonewall was about was that people were held to ransom because they wanted to congregate in badly run mafia bars where people were blackmailed and the beer was overpriced and I feel that if you put all your energy into bars you're never going to get anything back. The best thing about Queer Alt Manchester was the idea to do something "grass-roots" and to use people's energy and creativity to make money for charity and to do it away from the Pride banner. We're not being critical of Pride, but just showing that there's another way to be gay in this city. We raised lots of money and gave it to a lot of unpopular charities, causes that provide help for immigrants for example and other charities you wouldn't see under the Pride banner. We didn't do it out of spite toward Pride, just to provide an alternative.
HoP: The Queer Alt side of things has become enormously popular and you now have people who decide they're either going on a Village night out or a Queer Alt night out - one or the other.
GT: Ideally, I would hope that people do both, and I like that Cha Cha Boudoir straddles those two worlds, but they're head and shoulders above anything else that Manchester has like that. You see people going in who would never normally go to other Queer Alt nights, because it's hosted at Sub 101, and they're absolutely spellbound by it. All the nights do well off being associated with each other though, but at the start it was pretty lonely I suppose. To begin with it was just me on my bike, trying to put up posters for Off The Hook, plastering pictures of Whitney Houston everywhere and everyone kept asking "What the fuck are you doing?" But I believed in it back then, and it all paid off.
GT: Drunk At Vogue started about a year after Off The Hook, but Bollox and HomoElectric had been running for ages. I think of them as the elder statesmen who host much bigger parties. We have 200 people parties at the most, but before us there was nowhere else to go besides these nights. We absolutely loved it back then though, and still do. I think I first went twelve years ago to those nights, but they've probably been going a good twenty years or more.
HoP: When anything changes in cultural terms, you find that it's usually the alternative scene that leads it, before anybody else catches up. Do you think that the rest of The Village is going to catch up with the Queer Alt scene at some point?
GT: They will find a way to cash in eventually; they've got businesses to run at the end of the day, but they'll always veer toward the pop side of things. I'm not sure how much we're even on their radars though. Cha Cha Boudoir and Pop Curious? both have presences in The Village, but I don't think they can translate what we do into bar receipts. They could have a LGBT Arts Festival to replace Pride, which is where we would come into our own, but they would never do that. They wouldn't know how to manage us. Away from The Village, Drunk At Vogue has its own life; we actually had a 'Coming Out' Party, as we'd never called ourselves a gay night, even though it was run by four gay men. And then we did the launch party for the Manchester International Festival, which is the biggest arts festival in the North of England. According to them, it was the best party they'd ever had and we're very proud of that. The Village won't even know or care about that. And later that year, Pride offered us an hour's slot between 3-4pm in their new dance tent and seemed vaguely put out when we said no. That would have been a case of them chucking something at the wall to see what sticks, instead of actually finding out what we were about. So we always say no to that sort of thing - plus I would never put anything on anywhere you have to have a wristband to go to anyway.
GT: Now that we've been going for a while and there's so many people under the Queer Alt banner, I've started to wonder what we're the alternative to. I don't really know what the mainstream is anymore.
HoP: Well I think that's what the main problem is with The Village nowadays. There are no more unmissable clubs. When I first came to Manchester ten years ago, Essential was a big beacon of glossy, happy gay fun and that kind of thing just doesn't exist anymore.
GT: I cut my clubbing teeth at Electric Chair, Mr Scruff and then HomoElectric, so when I first went to Essential, I had never been to somewhere so big or so gay or so shamelessly up for it and it was absolutely terrifying... But I loved it! It was where you would go when you knew it was going to be a messy late night. I don't even remember what the music was like, but the night itself was just amazing, regardless of that. Manchester doesn't have that anymore.
HoP: I don't know whether it was because I was 21, starry-eyed and from the countryside, but the people who went to Essential seemed like a different breed than the types who go out in The Village nowadays.
GT: And so many of them! I don't know where to go now to see that many gay men. Manchester seems a lot less gay to me nowadays.
HoP: Is it just that we assimilate more, maybe?
GT: I think everyone is just harder to spot. But, for example, I don't see anywhere near as many lesbians out these days. There were lots of gay girls at the last Off The Hook and I was so pleased - I just thought, "Where have you all been?"
GT: Having brilliant house parties.
HoP: If there was such a person as the President of Manchester's Gay Scene, with all bars and clubs and the community itself pulled under one Big Gay Banner, and you became that person, what would you want to do to it, as a whole? What would it look like by the time you're finished?
GT: The best thing to do for any community, whether about partying or money, is to start from the bottom and work your way up. Start with the people who are disenfranchised. For white, middle-class gay men, it's fine, they're catered for. I would always make space for everyone else in the LGBT and ensure it's integrated - so there's nothing that's specifically for drag queens or gay women or anyone from differing ethnic backgrounds - everything would be pulled together. Everything would be cheap, everyone would be invited and there would be a lot of performance, a lot more art and a lot less drinking and there would be community to compliment the clubbing. It would be a lot more Queer and a lot less Gay.