Listen to Krishna!
The Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) put on a great show on Wednesday, March 21 in Score nightclub, Lincoln Mall in South Beach with DJs Danny Krivit, David Harness, Kenny Carpenter and Richard Vasquez. Keep On Dancin' is a Garage party held annually during the Winter Music Conference. DJs have the opportunity to channel the spirit of notorious Diva-DJ Larry Levan, and return to the roots of EDM in Manhattan's Paradise Garage in the 1980s, right about the time the AIDS crisis began.
During the Garage years, I was thoroughly closeted, in large part due to a bone-deep fear of AIDS. But I am familiar with the music, and I felt at home when witnessing the Garage reincarnated once more in 2012.
We arrived at Score at 3 in the morning. The joint was packed, people jumping about and bouncing off each other as if sheer exuberance nullified the need for sleep and body space. Some of dance music's best talent was there to cut up, including Eddie Nicholas and Ultra Naté. Although I was exhausted after an already full night, the energy was infectious and I caught the communal flame.
Eventually, I dragged myself off the dance floor to speak with Krishna Stone, one of my favorite people at GMHC.
Krishna is the kind of person who brings light wherever she is, and she glows especially bright on the dance floor. She unabashedly merges with the song and the crowd in a way that makes her a pleasure to be around. This night was no exception - I felt badly taking Krishna off the dance floor to speak with me, we were having such a great time. But duty called and my feet were killing me.
"People think that AIDS is no longer a problem," she said, lamenting the blissful ignorance of the general public that thinks AIDS has a cure. "This is the thirtieth anniversary of GMHC, and we're seeing an increase in seroconversions, particularly among young gay men."
The Keep On Dancin' party is an emotional event for Krishna, as it is for many of the participants. I've seen her laugh with glee, and close her eyes as a particularly poignant song hits her. I have also seen Krishna weep, right there on the dance floor, as she remembers those who are no longer with us.
Krishna noticed something about the crowd at Score that night. "There were gay men of color, women of color, and White Gay men," she observed, "the primary demographic of HIV and AIDS in America."
She had a message for me: "Mickey, get the word out about what's happening with the AIDS crisis. We can't afford to be silent."
Carolyn and Ricky
The Paradise Garage was on my mind all of WMC week as I listened to the remarkable variety of sound and song that make up contemporary house music.
This included South African deep house parties. I love the pulse of South African DJs, the enthusiasm of their fans, and the sound of afro-deep. But I noticed something else: unlike gay-related events in places such as Mova, Chalk and Score, there was not even a mention of AIDS, much less anything LGBT. One South African DJ said that AIDS became a non-issue in his country when medication became available to the common person. With all due respect, I do not believe the AIDS crisis in SA is over any more than I think the AIDS crisis is finished in the USA.
I stand corrected: one person did talk about AIDS at the Soulistic party featuring DJ Black Coffee and friends. That person was Carolyn Harding, a house music star who remembers the days of the Paradise Garage because she had performed there herself. Her brother Ricky was a Garage kid. Ricky made sure he saw his sister when she sang at the Garage, and Carolyn made sure to be with her brother when he died from AIDS-related complications.
For Carolyn, the memory of the Garage is a blood link, the pulse of life and rhythm that links her to Ricky. It is strange to think that a club that closed over 20 years ago is not so much a ghost but a living legend, a continuing saga that confirms by its very existence those famous lyrics:
Not everybody understands house music
It's a spiritual thing
A body thing
A soul thing
I recited these same lyrics to all kinds of house-heads during WMC, and I never got past the first line without them smiling and saying, "It's a spiritual thing!" even if they were only 21 years of age, born after the Garage had technically died. Even if they were not from the USA. Even if they were from South Africa.
GMHC and the Deep South
I am happy to say that Keep On Dancin' is alive and well, thanks to the efforts of GMHC and the other fine organizations that organize it, including Krishna and the following people:
Brent Nicholson Earle, American Run for the End of AIDS
Sharlene Shortt, Lifebeat: The Music Industry Fights HIV
Let's not forget the people at Score or the DJs and musical performers who donate time and energy to make it happen. And, of course, the dancers.
But there is more that could be done. If the roots of deep house are indeed in Chicago's Warehouse and NYC's Garage, the offshoots are GMHC's natural allies. The strongest offshoots are African, both on the continent and abroad. In the USA, there is strong ashé house coming out of Brooklyn, Newark and the Bay Area played by fierce women-of-color DJs who are making their mark as well as the men. Overseas, we go to the Deep South of Jo-burg, Durbin, Cape Town. It makes sense to bring South African DJs and musicians into this conversation.
WMC becomes more international every year. Music is an excellent means to unite us all and speed the day when AIDS is no more.