Horse Meat Disco is everything a good weekly club should be: friendly, inclusive, not too pricey and playing music that’s defined yet unpredictable and adventurous. The story behind its success is a simple one.
The four resident DJs who run the Sunday party at Eagle in Vauxhall, London – Luke Howard, Severino, Jim Stanton and James Hillard – didn’t have a grand plan when they started off in 2003. Their only aim, a vague one at that, was to veer away from the clichés of other queer nights at the time: music with only two settings (hard tribal house or plastic pop) and a cliquey door policy that often left straight punters out in the cold.
Horse Meat flipped that attitude on its head. Although it is nominally a gay night, all are welcome, be they fans of HMD’s weekly radio show on UK's Rinse FM or just men who like to strip off and shake their bits on stage. Disco isn’t the only sound played (soul, funk and house all get a look-in) but it does define the club as much as its tongue-in-cheek logo, the Ferrari horse with a stiffy. As voracious crate-diggers, these guys know their field inside out, and their compilations for UK label Strut are testament to this. As Horse Meat Disco announce a date for Love International, we checked in with James Hillard.
Your compilations are always troves of disco oddities. Are you aiming for maximum beard-stroking respect?
‘We would have liked to put in some more well-known stuff, but we can’t unless we sell our soul to a major label. Majors are very, very reluctant to give people the rights – even when they haven’t reissued it themselves. So it takes longer to make the compilation and involves a lot more digging, but that can be a good thing. It keeps your repertoire a bit fresh!’
As well as London, you have residencies in Berlin and New York on the go. How did you acquire such an international reputation?
‘The main reason is that we’d always book international DJs like Todd Terje when other gay clubs weren’t doing that. A lot of disco DJs, who’d fantasised about playing in a gay club rather than to a bunch of nerdy beard-strokers, have a really good time then tell people about it. So we got to a place where DJs were saying to us that they wouldn’t need much money or would even just play for free.’
Are you surprised when people think of the night as pioneering?
‘We never saw ourselves like that. Playing disco music to gay people isn’t exactly rocket science! It was never going to be a hard sell: we’ve got Gloria Gaynor records, you know what I mean.’
Some of the other residents veer into house, punk-funk etc. But what is it that keeps you personally so focused on disco?
‘The beauty is that there’s a decade’s worth of brilliant music out there. People were putting out ridiculous amounts of good records. There was no “cost-benefit analysis” in the ’70s. “You wanna make a record about Pinocchio?” “Brilliant, do it, have loads of money!” ’
Is there something even a bit anachronistic about the idea of a gay club these days?
‘Yeah, I do think some gay clubs are quite anachronistic in their attitude towards letting people in. But it would be terrible if they went. I think, in a way, gay clubs are like our churches. Everything’s happening behind closed doors now – there’s an alarming rise in injecting drugs at sex parties and things like that. We need to support our local discos, because they’re great ways of meeting people and having proper, real social interactions, not just on the internet.’
Who’s your most prolific punter?
‘It’s probably Ernesto the Naked Poet. He has entered into Horse Meat legend – people always ask if he’s heading down. It’s great when he comes and shakes his thing. Literally. He’s a naturist. It’s nothing particularly sexual, he’s just a man very content with his body. I think a lot of people in the gay scene could learn from him. He’s not exactly buff and ripped. He’s just a man, a naked man.’