Save the Last Dance

9.15.2007

By Steve Weinstein

'The generation behind me doesn't want to be a part of Saint-era music,' says well-known DJ Susan Morabito, referencing the legendary 1980s gay disco in New York City's East Village. Like other DJs of his generation, Seth Gold, who's 27, has rejected Saint-style 'classics' as well as the much harder drum-and-bass music in favor of an eclectic mix that includes '80s remixes and even the odd Journey track.

'A lot of promoters for these parties are failing to grasp what younger people want,' he complains. 'They appeal to what worked for them years ago. I've offered to throw another party or play a side room for younger people, but the response is always 'Oh, they like what we give them.' ' Gold blames main-room DJs who 'won't veer away from their style of music, even if it would mean satisfying the crowd.'

But Brett Henrichsen, another star circuit DJ, makes no excuses for his reputation as a 'happy, vocal DJ'and I don't mind that, because I definitely prefer music with words and vocals.' He vows never to play 'monotonous, repetitive, beat-laden tracks that don't go anywhere.' He believes some people stopped going out because the music got too hard'the kind of fast-driving, beat-driven sound Morabito calls music for 'crystallized muscle boys.'

Many people blame crystal meth for a harder, less friendly vibe. But Ceplenski insists that 'we've passed a peak; the kids aren't doing it.' Instead, their drug of choice has become alcohol, which makes all-night dance-a-thons nearly impossible.

So is the circuit doomed? Many don't see the circuit dying so much as evolving. A few promoters and charities (the circuit found its roots in 1980s AIDS fund-raisers) are rising to the challenge with more lavish production values, as reflected in the Arabian Nights parties at Orlando's Gay Days.

A countertrend is toward smaller, more specialized parties. Mickey Weems, who wrote his doctoral dissertation at the Ohio State University on spirituality and the circuit, thinks the trend is toward greater specialization. 'Parties that cater to men with a fondness for leather are still going strong,' he says. 'And for those of us who don't mind being hairy and physically well-rounded, there is an increasingly popular 'bear' circuit. An African-American circuit is in its early stages at black pride events.'

If the circuit is waning in North America, it is rising elsewhere. Major European parties like Amsterdam's Orange Ball, the rotating Europride, Berlin's HustlaBall, and Barcelona's Loveball collectively attract tens of thousands. Asia too is seeing its first circuit parties in Thailand, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Hong Kong. Even the African continent boasts its own circuit party, MCQP, held every December in Cape Town, South Africa.

Moran, whose worldwide bookings include regular gigs in Tel Aviv, recalls a gay pride event in Thailand 'totally modeled on a circuit party'and it felt like one. I honestly couldn't tell you what country I was in, because the energy was as electric as what I've seen in any other country, including America.'

As many of us have moved on, so has the party. But Manny Lehman believes that whatever happens to the circuit, gay men will find a way to bond on the dance floor. 'We have to keep our subculture going, because it's important we keep what made us unique and different,' he says. 'Yes, it will metamorphose. Kids might say 'This is tired.' But do they know how hard we worked for this?'

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