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How Horse Meat Disco NY Became a Queer Music Movement

How Horse Meat Disco NY Became a Queer Music Movement

How Horse Meat Disco NY Became a Queer Music Movement

Celebrating a 10-year anniversary and a surprise Kylie appearance, the founder of Horse Meat Disco NY, Josh Wood, shares lessons from the dance floor.

I started Horse Meat Disco NY as a project of love and passion. With my co-originators, Luke Howard, James Hillard, Jim Stanton, and Severino Panzetta — the DJs from Horse Meat Disco in London — our idea was to throw a great party; let fun, sexy, music-driven people dance and connect; and share the feeling we get from hearing great music together (we five have become a little international disco-loving family). I think queers are the most romantic people, and the idea of creating spaces for us to come together has always been my dream.

Our first party was for a sold-out crowd of 300 people on January 15, 2012. I could never have imagined that within a decade we would grow to 10 times the size (3,000 people) and in cultural significance. We count Andy Cohen, Anderson Cooper, Alan Cumming, Billy Eichner, Kesha, Kylie Minogue, Frank Ocean, Casey Spooner, and Jake Shears among our attendees.

How did it happen?

I fell in love with disco 20 years ago while working at New York’s Saint at Large, which produced the Black Party. I was in my late 20s and around the same time, I read Andrew Holleran’s classic novel Dancer From the Dance (1978), which chronicles the life of gay men during the 1970s for whom the dance floor became a community hub, a church, a place for revelry and celebration.

A few years later, I started my own company as founder and CEO of Josh Wood Productions, and I began organizing parties. I produced the Pines Party in Fire Island, where I included a second disco dance floor. I noticed that there was a disco night at the Blue Whale in the Pines that all the cool kids came out for. I also discovered the disco DJ collective in London called Horse Meat Disco that was getting a lot of buzz. The idea was born to create a new Horse Meat Disco stateside, and I was fortunate enough to be able to bring the members to New York City and work with them.

In New York, I was already prepared to launch a new party. I called Nicolas Matar, who owned Cielo, a small club in the Meatpacking District. I loved Cielo’s big disco ball, sunken dance floor, and light-up walls. Its intimate, jewel-box size made it a perfect match for the music.

Horse Meat Disco New York launched at Cielo in January 2012. It was a little party to start, with a chic following. It immediately found a crowd — hot guys, club kids, and diverse, serious dancers. These were my people. They screamed and yelled and kissed and spun on the dance floor.

Three years after we started, my HMD NY colleague Cyrus Saint Amand Poliakoff noticed the migration of young gay men, lesbians, trans people and music lovers to Brooklyn. He suggested we move the party. I thought the idea was insane. It was such a downtown Manhattan party. At the same time, Cielo’s Matar was launching a new club called Output in Williamsburg. I worried it was too big. And I didn’t think we could fill it. I took a leap of faith, and we launched in Williamsburg on March 14, 2015. From our first party there, we had lines down the block and a huge new group of supporters and fans. They responded by creating an even bigger community. People started having pre-parties. Romances were launched, friendship groups started, and a subculture was born from our dance floor.

I was also happy that the party was becoming more diverse. Our hosts and DJs have always played a big role in attracting the crowd, and they too have become more representative of our community in gender, gender identity, race, age, and body type. It’s important to me that everybody feels welcome. Ryan Smith, the DJs’ agent as well as one of the best DJs on his own, has also been such an amazing partner over the past 10 years and key to keeping the party interesting, diverse, sexy, smart, and open to everyone. Thank you, Ryan.

For our World Pride 2019 party, we moved to Maspeth, Queens, to an even bigger space and our first event at Knockdown Center, a converted factory. Years later, I still meet people who tell me this was the best party ever. We had over 4,000 guests from all over the world in an immense, state-of-the-art club. It was a magical night.

Our first post-pandemic lockdown party was in June 2021. We received special permission to have a party outside, and with my incredible partners at Knockdown, we hosted a daytime event. Finally, I could see our community gather again. And when the sun went down on that gorgeous night, we put on rainbow lights outside. People were joyous.

One of the most memorable moments happened this year at our New York Pride party when Kylie made a “surprise” appearance and performed her worldwide mega-hit “Padam Padam.” (That was one of the hardest secrets I’ve ever kept.) All four Horse Meat Disco DJs were there, which was very rare and special. It felt like a family reunion. I’ve known Kylie for years and invited her to perform as a surprise. She told me afterward that she came to connect with her fans and say thank you.

HMD NY is meant to be joyous. It's about love and community. That’s the heart of it and why, after a decade, it still resonates with people. Now, as our equality is being challenged again, community is even more important. This year I’ve donated a portion of our proceeds to the Ali Forney Center, which works with LGBTQ+ homeless youth in New York. Let’s all spread the hope we find on the dance floor throughout our vibrant community.

Josh Wood (pictured) is the founder and CEO of Josh Wood Productions, a global event production company that has raised over $150 million for charitable causes.

This article is part of the Out September/October issue, available on newsstands August 29. Support queer media and subscribe — or download the issue through Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.

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