LA NIGHTS

GRINDR x SAMUEL DOUEK

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LA NIGHTS is a visual poem commissioned by Grindr's new online digital platform, INTO. It explored the burgeoning underground queer scene of Los Angeles through the eyes of a foreigner immersed  in a new culture, tracing the highs and lows, anxieties and achievements of a night out in the belly of the urban beast.

 

 

LA NIGHTS  -  EPILOGUE

LA NIGHTS is a visual poem inspired by my exploration of Los Angeles’ vibrant queer scene having recently landed in the sprawling city of concrete and palm trees as the foreigner in the land of the free.

Working with three of LA’s most infamous establishments and events, it traces the peaks and troughs, the anxieties and achievements, of a journey into the shadows of the night and the basements of a new scene.

Ultimately, it reflects my immediate isolation along a path of anonymous faces and my successive enlightenment, enamored by the freedom, beauty, culture and open arms of the city’s artistic underbelly where the divided populus; a megalopolis of clowns, queens, muscle hunks and big dreams, become united in their diversity.

It was the process of making a short visual excerpt that forced me to reflect upon the nature of the queer community internationally, both the physical realm of the dance floor and the virtual landscape of cyberspace; and It is these thoughts that I will comment on.

PRESUMPTION

But first, what is my position, as the protagonist of my own agenda? In the swamp of the American masses, I enter as the mid-twenties British immigrant, self-propelled from a life I know and love in London to the enigmatic world of getting high by the beach and green tea hiking: too stubborn to existentially reimagine my own identity, too naive to not be intimidated by this new odyssey into the arena of the unknown.

My presumptions had been limited to the muscle currency of West Hollywood, where worryingly deep suntans and fitted sportswear are compulsory uniform and there is no short supply of gogo boy emerging as the moon rises and the neon lights take on their familiar glow.

Perhaps this was the gay mecca that I was looking for? But as my eyes darted around me it seemed that this destination was not destined for me. Overpriced drinks and over policed dance floors led to frequent ejection from establishments. It seemed the British tradition of subtle and sustained drinking had no place in the disciplined heaven known as We-Ho as I was repeatedly ripped from the table that had been courteously acting as my stage.

RESOLUTION

It can be isolating as the new kid in a big town of strangers. You desperately scan social media for friends of friends whose interests you might share, grasping to recreate the intimacy of the relationships you have back home. Perhaps dating apps or yoga classes or dive bars become platforms of opportunity for yearning familiarity.

Personal discomfort is a common phenomenon in establishments where others reign. The beautiful girl with yards of legs and her wealth and her glamour may rule the sunset strip but she’s a nobody in the underwear party of Korea Town.

Was this film simply an exercise in finding a place where I feel comfortable, where I fit in? Regardless, my initial experience of LA and the presumptions that had been instilled henceforth resolved me to want to discover my place within the city.

So as the adventure unfolded, I identified three establishments that, for me, epitomized the broad typographies of queer venue available, culminating in a journey from foreign to familiar, which in turn became the structure and narration of the visual poem LA NIGHTS.

THE CLUB NIGHT

From the middle-aged businessman with glitter-adorned face to clusters of coordinated hipsters, the queer club night that occupies unexpected territories emerges throughout the city in isolated pockets of burgeoning culture.

Longstanding weekly events like Mustache Mondays, located in what appears to be a gentrified Downtown pizza restaurant, offer cesspits of RnB Divas and hardcore twerking. Here, diverse minority audiences are concentrated within the white tiled walls, deconstructing the typical imagery of cis-gender white gay LA.

Entering this epicenter of cultural richness, where you are the anonymous face amongst a sea of interactions that frequent similar nights, it becomes easy to slip into a real sense of liberation. Uninhibited dancing pervades the surface of the concrete floor, as the mélange of piecemeal society unite to the gritty music miles away from the euro pop remixes we tend to draw upon for association.

Queens bend over backwards towards their earthly delights, the newcomer is instilled with both inferiority and empowerment. The result; unanimous isolation, making the dance floor act as a whole. Everybody lost in their own dance, together.

THE AFTER HOURS

But whilst most venues in this sprawling metropolis close their doors to the endless pursuit of hedonism as the clock strikes two, institutions like Rhonda that often cater to over 1,000 clubbers serve as the next step forward into the gut of South Cali nightlife.  

Legislation might rule that club kids do not need to continue partying until the bitter end; but the After Hours institution is testament to the spirit of the night. Post club, the social boundaries that tie up race, age, gender etc into segregated areas of the city are broken down even further to cultivate environments where the umbrella term queer is truly celebrated.

From international models to curious bros, this dance dungeon of disco heaven with its blue and red strobe lights encapsulates the throbbing, pulsating beat of the queer movement, teetering on the edge of official city party and illegal rave, a prevalent phenomenon for the city that claims fatigue.

Here, in our kingdom, in the space we have carved out for ourselves, my initial journey of isolation dissipates, the newcomer becomes submerged under the swell of the crowd. They see you, summon you into the mosh and inaugurate you as one of them.

THE BAR

But what if you don’t like disco or have an aversion to strobe lights? Sometimes, lost in the crowd of searching faces and prying eyes it can all be too much. Sometimes you need to step outside; prepare yourself by indulging in light conversation with forward Americans who challenge your European reservedness.

Perhaps you find a friendly daddy dressed head to toe in leather with an impressive Cuban hanging out his mouth and a impressive Cuban hanging off his arm. Because against the stream of venues where you can find one and all, sometimes all you want is to step into the Eagle LA of Silverlake and flatter your leather fetish desires.

Across the city there are beacons of niche identity where one can find something directly appealing to their inner curiosities. In the city of angels, these opportunities are protected. As you wade through the hazy smoking area of leather, hyper-masculine bears draw you in with their softly spoken voices and take you under their wings.

Tongues out, guns out, but we all know the words to Single Ladies.

REFLECTION

Often the measure of a person is the company they keep, and by proxy, the spaces within which they themselves and their peers inhabit. Actions and behavioral traits are cultivated in certain environments that try and define us.

The fashion twink with his shaved bleach hair and platform boots takes safety in the comfort of similarity. The leather bear with his 9-5 office job is liberated by the anonymity of sexualized uniform that delineates him from the rest of society.

We are all just looking for a place to call home, a sanctuary for our blood and bone be it through the clothing, the bars or the friends we adopt. Born to stand apart, often banished from the family structures we desperately try and recreate.

The beauty of these spaces is that they nurture environments of creativity. As landscapes for freedom and artistry, the underbelly of the queer city becomes a model for progressive society.

An unfamiliar pizza shop becomes a world stage or a dive bar with fire painted on the walls becomes a contest for fetish achievement. The imagination and success of queer spatial appropriation is as inspiring as it is enjoyable. These tribes, these guys, these boundaries, these rules, become yours to embrace or reject for one night only.

As I begin to settle into this new city I find myself reflecting on the beauty of the community that I belong to through the lens of the camera that acts as a catalyst for human interaction.  I no longer walk alone, but thrive in my isolation of the crowd that adores me that accepts me, that forgets me.

As we take our first steps into a new year where the consequences of last years actions are to be carried out, if we could all respect and admire each other like the scene of the LA Night, then there might be some hope of lifting bans, stopping walls, preventing exits and living together peacefully.

Here we are together, forever, in the fleeting moment of this effervescent night. Because on your LA Night you can be whoever you want to be, from feigned shyness to outlandish performance. It doesn’t matter because everybody will love you for it.

 

By Samuel Douek

@samuel.douek