It’s a Tuesday night at Zuzu in Cambridge and things are getting sloppy. A DJ at the back of the small room is barely visible behind a sweaty, twisting throng. Someone spilled a drink, and the tacky residue coats the floor, releasing a sour aroma that sits in the air like fog. A tall dancer flings her—his?—long limbs in a virtuosic whirl, while two women sway slowly in the corner. In the thick of the crowd, a lone figure dances, shoulders gyrating towards an invisible partner.
Things look different in the sunlight. By day, Zuzu serves kebabs and hummus, and what was once a dance floor is now hidden beneath tables in straight rows. DJ LeahV, who co-runs the Tuesday queer dance parties at Zuzu with DJ Blk.Adonis (aka Justin Cameron), sits by the wall and sips a beer. She wears her hair half-buzzed and pulled back in a long ponytail, thick bangs tousled over dark, expressive brows.
“It’s not easy to do a weekly party in Boston for five years,” she remarks. “It’s actually damn near impossible.”
And a queer party at that. For nearly five years, the Tuesday night parties at Zuzu—or “Zuesdays,” as they are known—have been a sanctuary for the LBGTQ community of Boston and Cambridge. It is one of the few nights that fashions itself explicitly as a queer event—as opposed to gay or lesbian—and this, says LeahV, accounts for the sheer diversity of its crowds, a veritable rainbow of sexual orientation, color, and gender expression.
The Zuesday parties attract “a lot of brown and black people, a lot of trans people,” says LeahV, who is a native of Medford, and the winner of the 2011 Boston Music Award for best DJ artist. “That’s because we’ve always promoted this place as a safe space for everyone to party, no matter who you are. ... And to know that you’re kinda in on something that not a lot of people are in on.”
The queer billing is a conscious effort to project openness, particularly towards transgender and non-gender-conforming people, who have long struggled for acceptance even within the gay community. Zuesdays are publicized with very little besides unobtrusive events listings; the simple subtitle, “queer dance party,” is intentionally vague, an open invitation to any and all. “We really wanted to go underground,” LeahV explains. “Be a very word-of-mouth, if-you-know-about-us, you-know-about-us type thing. And if you know about us, you’re probably kind of cool. ... It’s inclusive but it’s exclusive at the same time.”
The Zuesday DJs don’t just spin Top 40 and Madonna remixes. Since its inception, the party has been a place for up-and-coming DJs to try new things, and, according to LeahV, this means that Zuesdays are on the forefront of whatever trends are emerging: “We went from playing electro and new disco, when that was really happening a few years ago, to switching over to trap and juke and bass.”
It also means that Zuesdays are a great place for queer DJs on the fringe to make a name for themselves. The party helped launch the careers of DJs Rizzla and D’hana, who for several years ran first and third Tuesdays at Zuzu.
Over the years, notable guests have included Los Angeles-based DJ/producer Kingdom and DJ Venus X of New York. The presence in the queer scene of tastemakers like Venus X, who is in high demand at New York fashion shows and art openings, speaks to the subculture’s growing visibility in the mainstream. For example, “hip-hop’s getting this queer penetration now that is really cool to see,” says LeahV. “It’s surreal to see this widespread acceptance of what’s going on now [in the queer subculture], and even having it be cool. We’re setting trends, and people are paying attention to what this community is doing.”
Yet this does not mean that the urban club scene is one big, happy, impossibly-diverse family. In her professional life, LeahV still feels her otherness acutely. “I don’t get certain bookings, and I know it’s because of the way I look,” she says. “I know it has something to do with that—or the fact that they don’t really know a lot about me, and they don’t want to do the research, and see that I’m not a ‘lesbian’ DJ. Like, I don’t even know what that is. What is that? What is a lesbian DJ? Cause that’s not what I am. I’m just a DJ.”
There is plenty of reason to hope that someday, in the not-too-distant future, DJs like LeahV will just be DJs. Until then, there’s always Tuesday.
This article was originally published on October 03, 2013.
This program aired on October 3, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.