Review: Loose Ends at Phoenix on Oxford St. First posted on
‘…tunes laced with longing / you can only hear / if you’ve lived it / the others are thrashing / to instrumental change / and my heart is aching / like my dance – weary feet..’
– Candy Royalle Dance It All Away from her book A Trillion Tiny Awakenings
I don’t want to give away secrets to nights cultivated by defiant bodies living lives threatened by the status quo, 12 years deep in a ceremony of dance. I don’t want to betray the ephemeral magick of a whirling dance floor that you’ve been lucky enough to be told about by like-minded spirits or brought there by fate. What I do want to do is document and acknowledge the resilience and healing practices of spaces that act as sutures to our myriad openings as we live in a state of radical feeling in a shitstorm of confusion and injustice. In these performative spaces we make art by attendance, through participation. We are invited. We re-fuel hope on empathogenic dance floors.
A Saturday night in Sydney could be sneered at by the narrative enforced by the corporate cannibals in leadership who have seen gentrification of not only sight, but space and soul. Oxford St. What once was a strip famous for unending connective opportunity and protest now occupies a strange ‘tourist in our own town‘ quality, that although real and deeply disturbing has not defeated the fight for fun attitudes of parties like the beloved Loose Ends. And baby, there is a lot of ’em and they’re potent as hell.
Loose Ends ran for 9 years in an underground club called Phoenix on Oxford St. The club was beautifully dank and the toilets were totally metal with red light. The DJ was slightly raised above the floor and the room heaved, often times with certain long-bodied creatures swinging off the pipes along the roof. From gorgeous volcanic bodies shows would spring up parallel to the DJ decks. It was the first place I felt I was on a filthy fucking dance floor; it was where I met some of my closest friends and collaborators and I’m sure I’m not alone in that. It was every Sunday for a time and then monthly before it shifted to Oxford Art Factory when the gentrification of Sydney and the Luck – I mean Lock Out – laws claimed The Exchange Hotel which the Phoenix was a part of. The Exchange also housed a bounty of other vital events and is not alone in our city’s structural victimisation at the hands of ‘developers’.
But still Sydney DELIVERS.
Matt Vaughn (Loose Ends’ creator) gifts us sonic selections from the start and the night continues effortlessly with the musical intelligences of Stereogamous, Annabelle Gasper, Nick Wales, Simonetti and Kate Doherty. The compositions that ebb and feed the organism of the dance floor don’t disappoint. Dancers become players and faces old and new become familiars of movement. Whole conversations emerge through locked gaze and I instinctively move from one room to another to land in a new incubation of spirit. Spatial awareness, the absence of bumping into people (which seems to be the norm in more mainstream spaces) is evident as the collective body moves and syncs in time. The ‘audience’ here meets ‘performer’ in the dance. There is no domination of one body over another and no dictation on how to be, we just are. Vaughn has curated the evening to allow it to pulsate and swell at just the right notes.
The two rooms are their own biospheres. The glass cube joining the two is occupied by performance artist Rahda La Bia who I observe, obscured by crystalline gold curtains. They’re tending to dancers in their piece titled touch me, don’t touch me. The artist, reflecting on their Hindu heritage and the Deepavali festival of lights, anoints and massages those who, in Rahda’s words, ‘want to be touched or are needing to touch someone’. I gaze into the womb during one of my wandering moments and receive a transference of pleasure at the sight of three serene, still beings. One receives touch, Rhada gives and a third is laid out on the floor bearing witness. Through the glass on the other side, the other room throbs. It’s very comforting.
In voyeur mode, I make my way to the balcony that overlooks the main room. Sweeping beacons of light illuminate joyful, sensual flesh and the dance floor from the balcony appears almost like seaweed moving eagerly underneath currents of hope and respite. The dance floor is a sacred place, an ancient place where everything seems to fall away. Where you can get to the root of yourself. The mix of techno, house and contemporary disco across the two rooms gives you the gift of release. It’s simultaneously nostalgic and alien.
The thing that makes this party and parties like it different and vital is its creative personality, it’s queerness. People dress up, there are live performances and installations, the styles of music are highly theatrical and offer a psychedelic experience to the dancers with or without the help of substance. It is absolutely possible to get high off the spirit of this party, of its motivations and the shared hope of your fellow mover.
What elevates the night even more is the presence of the stage altar and the selected performer upon it. This Loose Ends sees beloved queer musician and performer Brendan Maclean give us show. Maclean is a queero pop rocking sprite. He is triple threatening and endlessly energetic. The crowd turns to the stage and witnesses Maclean, robed in sequins and fluro, give us his hits Inside Outerspace, Hibernia and House of Air. It’s an abundant display of how live performance interacts with the dance floor and we are happily entranced by his pure antics. When Maclean sings, he really means it.
With hallowed intention the dance floor is medicine, the meaning behind the ritual of stepping out and committing to dancing till the wee hours is evident in the embodiment on the floor. Each being with their own purpose but unionised, humanised by the ceremony.
To be transparent, my motivations that night were to be held by a room of like-minded spirits in a time of ongoing despair. Grief has stretched before community and the dance floor acts as a tonic for if not healing but a momentary lapse in time, where the pain is suspended and you are entranced by the sensual into a meditative state. A simpler way of being.
Loose Ends may be coming undone or gingerly tied together. They may be happy floating free individuals or the whole whirlpool igniting. Survival instincts spike up in some portal of fantastic creature behaviour and even in the come down, there is knowledge that you will dance again. Exercising ‘loose-ness’ in the face of such tightness and control is a divine action indeed.
Emma Maye Gibson (AKA Betty Grumble) is a Sydney based performance artist. Largely through the avatar/war mask/love letter/totem critter of Betty Grumble she engages her body as a political and medicinal site of performative catharsis often in a genre smash of ritual physical theatre, cabaret, performance art and multi-media– sometimes even making herself into a vulvic printing press. She is a proud ecosexual and believes in the shamanic/shawomanly power of live space.
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