Coachella needs A Club Called Rhonda. Rhonda, LA’s premier queer dance party, brings a focus on black and brown music, and safe spaces for everyone, queer and straight, to mingle. Not to forget their commitment to gorgeous party aesthetics. Thankfully, it is coming back to Coachella for their Sound + Rhonda INTL Presents Rhonda Queen of the Desert party, and this year they’re going bigger and crazier than before at an equestrian park in the Coachella Valley.
We spoke with the founders of A Club Called Rhonda, Loren Granich and Gregory Alexander, to talk about this year’s party, Ancient Greek parties, and who exactly the mysterious Rhonda is.
OUT: How did the idea for Rhonda come about? Who is she?
Loren Granich: The character?
LG: When we were starting our parties, we were moving around to a lot of different places, but had the idea of each one being a different person. When we started this club, one of the people, the girl we wanted to associate the space with, was Rhonda. I think she took it there.
Gregory Alexander: Yeah, we were trying to have something with a little bit more personality — a little bit more narrative. The idea of the club as a persona just materialized and once we got going, a lot of possibilities started to arrive. Rhonda was the mouthpiece of the party. Rhonda was the personality of the party. Rhonda was a representation of the kind of people we wanted at the party. It makes the whole thing really fulfilling for us.
Why is inclusive nightlife important to you?
LG: There's two really big jumping off points. The first is that, with Gregory being gay and me being straight, we wanted everybody to have a place to come and party and be welcome and dance. We grew up partying in the gay scene in L.A., and it can be kind of insular at times. We wanted to get rid of preconceived notions and get everybody in the same room, which was really fun for us to do. The other part of that is that at the time we started doing the party, the music we were doing came from clubs that were born from people of color and from the gay community, and the music at the time wasn’t telling that story. That was upsetting to us, so in our own small way, we really tried to tell that story again and bring the music back to its roots by showcasing the artists but also recreating how those clubs looked to us.
What else influences your music or even the look of Rhonda?
GA: We took a lot of inspiration from major club history. We placed this character of Rhonda at the epicenter of every important dance, music, nightlife moment in history. That was fulfilling for us to draw inspiration from. The clubs of yesteryear, or moments of yesteryear, influence the greater themes. Even as far back as Greek culture, and worshipping wine and dancing all that has sort of influenced everything we put together?
So Rhonda’s kind of a retro lady?
LG: We see her in the background and leading the charge of every historical touchstone in nightlife, but she’s not the old woman in the room. She’s vibrant, she’s right in your face, she’s in the middle of the dance floor. She is a source of energy. I wouldn’t call her retro — I’d call her vibrant.
GA: She’s omnipresent. She’s always there.
She’s timeless! Can you tell me a bit about how the Queen of the Desert party started and how it’s different from other Rhonda parties?
LG: Yeah, being in Southern California and having gone to Coachella pretty much since the beginning, it’s a big part of growing up in the scene. Every year, it’s a big to-do. It went from fairly modest to the elephant in the room as far as festivals go. Something that not a lot of people pay attention to is that Coachella started the modern festival paradigm. Before it was Woodstock, then festivals kind of went the way of the dodo for a while, and then Coachella brought it back. It was always a big attraction to everybody in Southern California that grew up here. We started Rhonda Queen of the Desert obviously as an homage to Priscilla Queen of the Desert, but also… Like the club scene in L.A., we saw a void or a lack of representation [at Coachella] and tried to fill it in our own weird way.
At the time, Coachella didn’t have anything like a Rhonda club, so we picked up what we do, added a bunch of strobes and feathers, and then went to the desert. It’s always bigger than a normal Rhonda party — it’s always a louder, bigger production. We’ve gone to various hotel pools for big pool parties, we’ve done it at private villas, and we’ve done it at small bars. Every year it takes a different shape. The last few years have been big blowouts, so I’m very excited for this year and the new venue. It’s also great to add to the lexicon of Coachella parties because there’s not ever a queer-ish event around Coachella. It’s nice to bring a space for that type of person as well.
Yeah, Coachella strikes me as very cis and hetero in general. It’s great that you guys are bringing something different. You said that the Queen of the Desert party changes from year to year. What’s going to be different about this year?
LG: We're at a brand new space. Usually, it’s pretty far outside of the festival, but this time it’s gonna be super close and it’s at a very beautiful equestrian competitive horse park. It’s a blank slate. We have a full week of loading our stuff. When you go out to a new venue, part of what we do is try to transform it. We want people to come as their best selves, so we spend a lot of time dolling up the venue and making it beautiful and expressive. That’s the most exciting thing to me, is seeing how that pans out.
You said it was at an equestrian park?
GA: It’s in Coachella Valley, they have a lot of riding camps and horses. It’s a horse park, but it’s basically a big grounds with a lot of different buildings. We’ll transform each of the buildings into a different club. There will be a big, like… "hands-up-in-the-air" kind of venue; a smaller, warmer disco venue; and a vacation cabin-style room. It'll be fun.
For some reason that brings into mind Bianca Jagger riding that horse into Studio 54.
LG: That’s always a touchstone moment for us — that’s a creative lilypad for us.
That’s really cool. So besides the Coachella party, what else is Rhonda working on right now and what do you guys hope to do in the future?
GA: Right now everything is focused on this event. We never look too far in the future. We have the story that we want to tell about getting the music that we love out and bringing the people that we love together. And pushing boundaries and making people uncomfortable at the same time. We always try to keep our schedule open because weird stuff happens. We just announced the second weekend of Rhonda Queen of the Desert yesterday. We fly by the seat of our pants. It’s something we will continue to do to keep it exciting.
Right, that makes sense. You have to have some spontaneity to keep a party fun.
Is there anything else you want to say about the party before you go?
GA: I think it’s just important for us to always mention that, and I think that’s what sets us apart from other nightlife entities. Anything from making the restrooms gender neutral to welcoming and putting on a platform people of all different creeds.
LG: Yeah, and we’re super excited about the party. People always come dressed to the nines going to Coachella. We’re very, very excited about it.
Sound + Rhonda INTL Presents Rhonda Queen of the Desert takes place Friday, April 13 and Friday, April 20, from 10 PM - 4 AM PDT. Buy tickets here.