This is the eighth installment in HuffPost Gay Voices Associate Editor James Nichols' ongoing series "After Dark: NYC Nightlife Today And Days Past" that examines the state of New York nightlife in the modern day, as well as the development and production of nightlife over the past several decades. Each featured individual in this series currently serves as a prominent person in the New York nightlife community or has made important contributions in the past that have sustained long-lasting impacts.
HuffPost Gay Voices believes that it is important and valuable to elevate the work, both today and in the past, of those engaged in the New York nightlife community, especially in an age where queer history seems to be increasingly forgotten. Nightlife not only creates spaces for queers and other marginalized groups to be artistically and authentically celebrated, but the work of those involved in nightlife creates and shapes the future of our culture as a whole. Visit Gay Voices regularly to learn not only about individuals currently making an impact in nightlife, but those whose legacy has previously contributed to the ways we understand queerness, art, identity and human experience today.
The Huffington Post: What did your journey to becoming a fixture in the New York nightlife scene entail?
Leo GuGu: Well, it all started way back when. I’m from Boston and I’m pretty young, 23 years old. When I was coming out -– I came out when I was 16 -– I didn’t have many gay friends so I started going to the gay community center called GLASS in Boston. I think it’s closed now but I would go there and just hang out with other gay people.
I discovered Vogue dancing there, drag queens and all of the gay culture. One day they were playing a movie called “Party Monster” and I thought it was so weird, morbid and very interesting. It was like -- this is what nightlife is to me. My mom even told me growing up, “You know, I used to go to all of these NYC parties.” My mother and I would always kind of dance in our living room to her old records from the ‘70s. I love disco.
So, nightlife kind of started at home for me because I just partied with my mom until I was 16 and stole her wine and then she stopped partying with me [laughs]. I had like empty bottles under couch in my bedroom. So it started at home and when I would go out I felt like such an enigma. I would have fun and people loved my energy. Mind you I wasn’t in drag, I was just being a boy and having fun. I’ve always been that friend you have that would just put on a wig for shits and giggles and carry on. Like, everything’s kosher –- that’s my attitude. And over the years it’s gotten really fabulous and I love it.
My first party was when I moved to New York and I went out with my little fake ID to Amanda Lepore’s party called BIG TOP in 2010 at University Place and 13th. I was 19, didn’t know anyone and I would just go and pretend I was with my mom dancing in the living room -- or Robyn #dancingonmyown -- having a gay old time. That’s where I started. The DJ at the time was Paisley Dalton who I now do my Thursday party with, My Chiffon Is Wet, because back in the day he told me he was starting this new party, that he loved my energy and wanted me to host for him. So I got in that in 2011 and it’s been going on every single Thursday since.
The Huffington Post: How does your work as a stylist at Patricia Field intersect with your identity as a nightlife personality?
First off, I’m in a big walk-in closet during the day so my outfits are very taken care of [laughs]. I never have to worry about what I’m wearing because I’m in a closet all day. And it’s also a blessing to have Patricia Field, the designer I work for, in my life. I love her and she loves me. And that’s kind of her legacy and what she’s known for –- the kids coming through and grabbing a look, going to the party in the look. Waking up the next day and coming through with coffee and a story to tell. It’s that and a lot of tourists and Manhattanites.
The Huffington Post: A number of prominent people in nightlife seem to be involved or have previously been involved with Patricia Field. Is there a reason for this?
Let’s face it: New York is really cool. But it’s like selective cool. Sometimes you have to fit a certain mold to be cool and to be accepted by others. And with Pat you just have to be yourself. I mean, she’s in her, I believe, 70's, and she’s still here and doing her thing, running her business. She is a strong businesswoman and that’s also what I admire.
She’s ahead of the curve because she has no qualms, there’s always drama whenever you go but she’s not judgmental about where you came from and who you are. If you’re a good person she will love you even more and she can always tell. And I think that people want to be around that –- I want to be around that.
The Huffington Post: So you feel like people are naturally just drawn to Patricia Field because of her openness and legacy?
It's nice, it’s organic, it’s contagious. It’s like a bad flu.
The Huffington Post: Do your looks primarily come from Patricia Field?
Right now most of my clothes are from Pat’s but I’ve become friends with a lot of the designers so they make things for me. Like David Dalrymple, I love him so much. He’s the in-house designer for the store and a genius. He makes most of my outfits. And then again I also wear my drag clothes during the day -– I look like a crazy gypsy woman sometimes and when I walk into Duane Reade or something people follow me because they think I’m gonna steal [laughs]. It’s the shade, I like walk in and they’re like “security on aisle two” and I’m like “Oh fuck, I’m just buying deodorant -- can you just leave me alone? I have money. My purse is Versace. Stop me.”
But most of my clothes are from the store. I discovered thrifting when I was in the 4th grade so I’ve been thrifting since then. I went to the same store all of my life until I left Boston in 2009.
The Huffington Post: As a stylist why do you think nightlife is important to pushing fashion, and the fashion industry, forward?
I think some people are creative but they’re creative by default. They go out to see what the kids are wearing because they have no knowledge of the scene as a result of where they live or their lifestyle. But people always go because they want to see the crazy club kids and crazy drag queens and feel fabulous around all of these people who are wearing a tinfoil grill or a trash bag as a purse –- people just need that inspiration.
It’s like going to an art gallery/community center/wreck room. I say that all the time to my friends, the club is such a community center because you see the same people all the time. And it’s like, "girls don’t you have something to do?" But we all don’t because we all came to see each other [laughs]. And that’s what makes it fun. You can relax and drink and dance; you can do whatever you want to really.
That’s what keeps nightlife alive, in my opinion. All of these different tribes of people just coming together like a community center or a wreck room at these places that are only open at night, that you have to sacrifice your next day for or your health even sometimes. But it makes it better because everyone wants to be appreciated, everyone wants to be loved and nightlife is the shit with no make-up. It’s like a founding father of art. Like that club Area way back in the day and how they did all of those installations. Studio 54 still rings a bell, the Sound Factory is still making noise. These places they don’t go unnoticed.
That whole idea of the club as a community center is really interesting. One thing Ryan Burke talked about in his feature was how he sees nightlife heading into a much more mixed crowd setting –- do you feel the same way?
Hell yeah because, to be quite honest with you, I love everybody. I don’t care your gender, your race, what size shoe you are, your sexuality -– I’m an open book. Hell, I may even be pansexual. But to walk into a party, into a bar, and feel like you walked into Abercrombie and Fitch and you’re like not welcome because there’s just one type -– that’s fucking boring! What is that? Are we in Minnesota? Are we in the Midwest? No boo, mix it up. And that’s how I have fun at my parties because I invite everybody. I don’t care who you are, what you do as long as you don’t cause trouble and don’t throw shade -– come out and have fun, let’s have a ball! It’s way better that way because you get to meet more people and that is what nightlife is about: meeting people, sharing experiences and having moments.
How do you see what is happening in nightlife today as building on a historical legacy of past artists, performers, musicians and personalities?
Nightlife today is the same as nightlife way back when, in my opinion. Times have changed -– people are different, but I think it’s the same reoccurring thing. There’s still jazz clubs in Harlem, there’s still rock bars in the Lower East Side. I think that the people are just doing new and inventive things with social media and integrating technology into nightlife performances and installations and all that -– which makes it way more stimulating.
Could you talk some more about the way that technology and the Internet have shaped and changed nightlife?
Definitely from a promoter’s standpoint, if you’re not on Facebook you don’t have a career. Like whenever I do my parties I send out my invites, I talk to my friends about it on Facebook. You have to have a presence on social media whether you like it or not. And I’ll be honest, sometimes I’m not in the mood to Facebook but when I do and I send things out to people and then they come, it makes me feel so satisfied. I’m just like “Yes! Yes! Thank God I hit up my friend that I haven’t seen in like four months on Facebook.” And it’s hard too –- if there was a social media network that was easier than Facebook and you could just think about it and it would happen, if it was that simple, I think that life would be easier. Facebook is pretty funny but now they’re charging people for all of this stuff.
The Huffington Post: Yeah, you have to pay now to have your events highly visible in a lot of cases.
It’s become so political!
The Huffington Post: How do you see fashion trends developing within nightlife?
This is how it kind of works in nightlife -- I’ve noticed that especially in New York there is always a trend, because I do parties for Susanne Bartsch all of the time -- she was one of the first people to book me for a major club, and she always gets me on board for fun parties. I’ve been working with her for two-some-odd years. There’s always a trend -– it’s weird how it happens. It’s not even like I sent a message like “girl I’m wearing this.” Because the girls don’t really plan outfits like that. But when you show up to the club and you’re like “yes! I look good in my rhinestone hat, my rhinestone hat is everything, it’s giving me life, I’m alive, this bitch better work,” and then you get to the club and you look around and there’s like five other people in rhinestone hats! It happens all of the time. It’s something kind of kinetic or psychic about the nightlife scene.
The Huffington Post: One thing Susanne is pushing right now is taking the art out of nightlife and showcasing it in a different context -- taking it into the galleries. What are your thoughts surrounding that?
I love it. Even when I work for Susanne myself, I would go in my look but I feel like I’m a walking piece of art. When I’m hosting for her sometimes, like when we did On Top last summer, I would just stand on the bar and dance my ass off in this structural Mylar headpiece. That’s what it’s about and she has every right to do that.
The Huffington Post: Do you see this kind of thing Susanne is trying to do, taking art from the clubs to the galleries, do you see that happening a lot more in the future?
Oh yeah. Even her party at the SoHo Grand -– that was awesome because it was personal, you could see people. You’re face-to-face, the music wasn’t too loud but there was a DJ. Joey Arias performed and Amanda Lepore did cabaret-style performances. I got to get people’s names for the first time after like a year of knowing them at the club [laughs].
Can I do shout-outs?
The Huffington Post: Sure.
Shout out to Paisely Dalton, Gerry Visco, Susanne Bartsch, Michael Musto, Kenny Kenny, Early Ross, Le Baron, Le Bain at The Standard, The Boom Boom Room, Eastern Bloc, and all the girls on the scene. Shout out to House of Field, Patricia Field all day everyday.
I have My Chiffon Is Wet at Eastern Bloc right now and we host with Alan Cumming every single week with Ruby Roo.
Thank you HuffPost! I love you!
Missed the previous installments in this series? Check out the slideshow below.