he last time I heard the Smashing Pumpkins blaring from a sound system in a gay bar in Sydney was -¦ er, actually, I’ve never heard the Smashing Pumpkins blaring from a sound system in a gay bar in Sydney.

This fact sucks. I may love Kylie Minogue as much as the next gay man, but the never-ending delivery of happy-happy-house music in Sydney gay bars occasionally drives me insane. I yearn for a gay bar that’s not afraid to rock.

London has had the phenomenally-successful Popstarz gay indie night since the mid-90s; Melbourne has had Q&A for almost as long. Even the Paris gay scene adds a little indie roughage to its bland diet of shrill Eurodisco with the monthly Popingay parties.

But Sydney -“ Sydney, gay capital of the entire fucking universe -“ can’t get it together to stage a decent alternative music night. Dykes (and their friends) have the occasional Scooter rock-chick nights at the Imperial, but there’s no sustained club night where gay indie-loving boys and girls can dance together. The last attempt to stage such a night in Sydney -“ Homo Not Disco at the Phoenix in 2001 -“ lasted but a few weeks.
It’s not as though I’m really saying anything new here.

An article in OutRage magazine posed these questions way back in 1995. In that story, Triple J broadcaster Lawrie Zion spoke to journalist Vanessa McQuarrie about the ghettoisation of gay music tastes and the relentless promulgation of dance music in gay venues.

There may be an anxiety that if [venues] play that sort of [alternative] stuff, it might tilt the identity of the patrons towards a mix that’s not gay enough, Zion said. And I resent that enormously, because I’m totally against any form of segregation in clubs.

Eight years on, and nothing’s changed -“ except Britney’s replaced Whitney on high-rotation.

Q&A promoter Richard Watts says the impetus for starting Q&A -“ which is at the Builder’s Arms Hotel in Fitzroy every Thursday -“ was when a friend told him and his mates to stop whingeing about the scene and start creating something for themselves. That was back in 1995.

Me and my friends actively avoided the gay scene, Watts recalls. We didn’t like the music, the fashion or the attitude.

On the rare occasions when Watts fronted up at gay pubs and clubs, he was sometimes refused entry for not looking gay enough. The fluorescent green mohawk I had at the time may have had something to do with it, he adds.

Q&A found its niche quickly, mainly on the strength of word-of-mouth, and has been ridiculously popular ever since, Watts reckons.

The crowd ebbs and flows, he says. We’ve perhaps become a little bit more mainstream gay recently, which means some of the old regulars aren’t coming. But we do what we do for love. We’re passionate about creating an alternative space, and we’re passionate about the music we play.

Eminem, Grinspoon, The Strokes and The Hives have topped the Q&A playlist recently, but Watts adds that musical diversity is the key to the night. Hip-hop, Britpop, electroclash, nu-school rock -¦ Q&A throws them all into the mix.

So why has an alternative gay music night flourished in Melbourne but not in Sydney? Watts has a theory.

One of the key things is that Melbourne has a very supportive community radio environment, he says. There’s also an incredibly diverse live music scene, and that’s reflected in the club scene as well. There’s something about the character of Melbourne that encourages that musical diversity.

Oh, for a little bit of that character in gay Sydney.

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