MikeQ Explores NYC's Queer Spaces
The Black and Latinx queer communities have always promoted the creation of nurturing safe spaces that bolster self-expression, and the importance of preserving these cultural landmarks should not be understated. We teamed up with adidas Originals for the release of the ‘Home of Classics’ pack, a stripped-back collection based around archival styles, inspiring the wearer to weave their story into the fabric of the shoes.
In New York, we meet three local icons who show us around the spots that have shaped their identity, sporting the Classics that connect them. We linked up with seminal local and label head DJ MikeQ, who takes us to Christopher St Pier and his own night, House of Vogue, to hear more about how these cultural touchstones operate as safe havens for the city’s queer youth, and offer opportunity for travellers to better understand and reflect upon New York’s unique cultural history.
Christopher St Pier
Operating as a safe space for queer people of colour along the Greenwich Village waterfront, Christopher Street Pier is a respected site in the community for people of all backgrounds.
This area has a steeped history for the LGBTQ+ community, notably since the 1980s when the pier ceased to function as part of the New York docks and evolved into a place for gay men to cruise at night. It served a particularly important function for the homeless youth in the city, who were able to meet here, with many organisations such as Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) providing clothing, food and other support. The death of trans activist Marsha P. Johnson - the “mayor of Christopher Street” - whose body was found floating in the Pier in 1992 sent shockwaves around New York and beyond. Johnson’s death underscored the importance of maintaining the character and sanctity of Christopher St Pier for queer youth, particularly queer youth of colour. Christopher Street Pier has meaning in lots of different ways for different people. It is a place to practice ballroom, view important artworks from queer artists of colour, touch base with other members of the community, or simply to hang out and meet new people. The area was immortalised in historic 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning, and more recently in Kiki (2016), showing how precious this beloved is for the art scene at large. For tourists, it is enjoyed as a chilled-out spot to enjoy unrivalled views of the Hudson River. This is an area suited to the conscious traveller. To revel in this space - going for a run along the waterfront, reading a book, art-spotting with friends - is to imbibe the rich history of one of the West Village’s most esteemed locations. By shining a spotlight on this locale, we urge you to travel in New York being cognisant of the city’s important meta-narratives found weaving through the streets.
"Christopher St Pier is one of the only places in New York that still has attachment to LGBT life”
Mike is something of a vanguard for the local area, and his hip-hop jazz and soul-inflected beats are often the soundtrack to people perfecting their vogue routines on the Pier. He is known for being one of the few DJs creating specifically for the ballroom scene, and he does so because his early formative experiences spent down at the waterfront became pivotal for this role as DJ and creator.
For him, "Christopher St Pier is one of the only places in New York that still has attachment to LGBT life”. He speaks warmly on the transformative potential of the space for anxious queer youth unable to thrive within their home, work or school environment, in some cases due to rampant homophobia and transphobia. “It really was freeing for my identity”, Mike assures us.
Time spent over the years navigating young adulthood with friends here at the Pier have furthered Mike’s sense of solidarity toward others like him in the city, who might otherwise find themselves adrift. The Pier’s landmarks are unwavering, despite ever-pervading threat of erasure, and comprise a subcultural geography that is unapologetically queer. The LGBTQ+ communities that disperse from the axis of Christopher St are all the more vital for kids wanting to come together at the waterfront and seek repose from stigma and hate. A distinctly nonconformist attitude, when coupled with the strong ties associated with community, mean Christopher St has staying power.
House Of Vogue
House of Vogue, a night held once a month, is re-establishing vogue ballroom as part of the queer dance music canon in New York. Staged in House of Yes, a glitzy ballroom in Bushwick, Brooklyn, House of Vogue echoes the format of traditional vogue houses, offering a creative hub and home for New York’s Black and Latinx LGBTQ+ communities, while refreshing and reviving the scene at large.
MikeQ is committed to the rebirth of vogue in Brooklyn, aiming give back to a queer subculture that nurtured his artistry: “I wouldn't be a DJ if it wasn’t for ballroom”. Approached by Meanred Productions to start a monthly night at House of Yes, he realised his own label Qween Beat could find a home in the venue, already famed as a showreel of artifice in its varying iterations - theatre, circus and dance. Mike was confident that House of Vogue could signify the rebirth of the iconic vogue movement, a resistance to the current epoch where queer culture is increasingly binaried and commodified. “I’m trying to build a safe space away from that” Mike tells us. The voguers tend to feel as if this is a second home for them, a place of sanctity and joy.
Ballroom hails back to the 1920s, pre-prohibition and grew as a response to the stigma and persecution levelled toward the LGBTQ+ community. As a remedial measure from widespread homophobia and transphobia, vogueing constitutes a cultural practice that has evolved into an independent community of its own.
Reminiscent of catwalk modelling and high fashion editorials, vogueing comprises fierce poses and hip-hop or breakdance influenced dance moves, with participants competing with each other whilst being marked by judges. Mike tells us that this practice nurtures a sense of healthy camaraderie between competitors. The act of voguing constitutes a redressal of popular arts and fashion culture that may act as exclusionary force against queer identity, both individual and collective. Boosted by the popularity of ballroom drama Pose, House of Vogue hopes that the heyday of vogue culture will be restored to the city’s ballrooms.
While Mike believes ballroom culture will always maintain an element of subversiveness and won't propel to the pinnacle of the mainstream, increased visibility will assist with reaching out to marginalised queer folk. Fundamentally, any support these spots receive ensure that House of Vogue and House of Yes continue to thrive in their pursuit of uniting LGBTQ+ people in a supportive environment, where voguers feel safe exploring their artistry.