Last Halloween, DJ Dame Luz took a risk.
She moved her annual LGBTQ+ Halloween party, Halloqweens, then in its fourth year, from the dark and intimate floors of The Barbary in Fishtown to the cavernous FringeArts space overlooking the Delaware.
Luz, the cofounder of the well-loved and now-defunct queer dance party Cutn Paste, had been hosting wildly popular '90s dance parties there that summer, a massive crowd spilling out into the streets in the warm night dancing to the likes of TLC and Usher. But those were free and not as expensive to produce. For Halloqweens, with the performers and DJs she was booking and the cost of building a stage inside FringeArts, the stakes were higher.
But the night was a success, she says. Six hundred people showed up.
The party, Luz says, aims to put queer and trans people of color at the forefront because they are so often underrepresented in mainstream gay culture and beyond. Trans folks have also been targeted by the Trump administration, most recently in a memo that showed the Department of Health and Human Services is spearheading an effort to define gender by the genitalia that one is born with.
But the party also comes as the queer nightlife scene in Philly has thrived: For the last year, DJ Bearcat and Cutn Paste cofounder DJ Precolumbian have been hosting their Seltzer parties at a warehouse in West Philly — the annual Seltzerween is also this Saturday — and earlier this month, Sway, a new monthly queer party from the folks behind Stimulus Philly, launched in the Gayborhood.
DJ Dame Luz talked to us about the move to FringeArts, what it's like bringing counterculture to a more mainstream stage, and why that's important to her.
What was it like to go from the Barbary to a bigger venue like FringeArts?
It was terrifying, like, super terrifying. But also, liberating in this way, because, here we are at the margins, queer people who are not seen or heard in the greater scale of LGBT culture, and here we are doing this big thing. Not at a like, small dive bar.
Was that part of why you wanted to move it to a bigger venue?
Yeah, that's been my mission, to upgrade us. [Laughs] Like, why can't we? Why can't queer and trans people of color be included and be a part of big events?
I'm tired of seeing these things and these people get co-opted. For instance, ballroom culture. All over the world, people are throwing quote-unquote vogue balls and they don't even include people who are part of the scene. So this year, I have Delish, who's a ballroom DJ, who's very prominent in the ballroom scene around the country, and Precious, an announcer, an emcee at a ball, the person who chants and gets everyone hype. She's hosting. It's a really big deal for us. I'm really excited about it.
What scared you about the shift to FringeArts?
It was a lot more money to produce, so I was like, "Wow, are people gonna come?" There are definitely parties that I've put on that no one comes to. It's a reality. That's just how it is. So, too much was at stake. Same with this year.
You have some parties, like Holy Trinity or your '90s parties at Fringe, that aren't branded as queer events, and then events like Halloqweens that are. How do you feel about non-queer people coming to those parties?
It depends on where your allyship stands. I don't wanna say that a person who identifies as straight shouldn't come and support their best friend. Just be aware of the space you're in and how you move in that space. You get every other space in the world, but this is for us. Just be respectful of that. There are quite a bit of straight-identified people who patronized Cutn Paste, Halloqweens in the past for sure.
Is there a tension that comes from bringing a scene that's more underground and counterculture to the mainstream?
There's a point where folks, they need to get paid for what they do. We can't just keep doing things for the culture. Ultimately, I think everyone wants to be successful and acknowledged for what they do. And I feel like you can still inhabit both those spaces.
And like I said, it's really important for me to bring underground artists and performers who deviate from mainstream gay culture to a space [like FringeArts].
For me, it's not that I'm opposed to staying underground. But it's also a space issue. I can't really host the kind of performances I wanna put on in a warehouse space that's dark and doesn't have a stage. I've done that for the last 10 years. I wanna give people more. We deserve more. If we want.