In high school, I was the designated mixtape DJ, and a damn good one. I knew what songs would entertain my company on long drives and at house parties, I had an ear for discovering talent before they made it big, and I called out indie songs before they became inter- national rock anthems (“Lightning Crashes” by Live, anyone?). Who knew five years later I would be throwing some of the biggest gay parties in New York City and traveling the world to DJ at major clubs and festivals like Southern Decadence in New Orleans and Nikki Beach in Turks & Caicos. I was well known in the gay nightlife circuit as DJ Jimmy Im, with residences in New York City at popular watering holes like Eastern Bloc and The Cock, while throwing a wild, Michael Musto–approved weekly party called Bang! at Number 1 Chinese.
As I focused more on my day job in 2011 (no one actually knew I was a journalist), I reluctantly transitioned out of the gay nightlife scene at a crucial time when gay bars and clubs were hit by a wrecking ball in the form of the Internet and social media. Sites and apps like Friendster, then Grindr, came dressed as the Grim Reaper, and the LGBT community no longer relied on the window of nightlife to socialize and interact. With uncrowded dance floors and poor bar sales, well-established parties were starting to pull the plug. Promoters worked thrice as hard getting revelers to their events, and pundits were deeming gay nightlife officially dead.
Even promising new promoters and DJs in the nightlife industry came at a disadvantage: they really had no idea how to resuscitate a suffering nightlife scene, with no choice but to eventually throw in the towel (which was already trapped between the coffin and the nail). It was a sad state of affairs, and iconic party promoters like Suzanne Bartsch, Josh Wood, Michael Fesco, and John Blair cringed at the demise. After all, it’s gay nightlife that made the gay community stronger all over the world, a place where people could mingle with likeminded friends, embrace their identity without judgment, often meet the man of their dreams, and, of course, party like it was 1999. As instant-gratification culture expanded, gay nightlife continued to shrink.
Thankfully, it hasn’t completely kicked the bucket. A handful of gay nightlife gurus across the globe have injected life into the fateful state of after-dark ragers, and some even say these wizardly promoters have jump- started the party scene in their respective cities. Fueled by ambition and a commitment to foster a new tradition, they have fought to maintain the pulse of nightlife culture, bringing imaginative themes, exciting crowds, and, of course, killer DJ sets for rapturous nights out. The baton has been passed, and a new generation of party promoters are taking reign, while familiar faces are experiencing a renaissance with their iconic events. From New York City to London, these movers and shakers in the nightlife indus- try are destined to become legendary, changing the nightlife game with innovative approaches that stick while providing unforgettable, sweaty, boozy, and electric nights for the diverse spectrum of gay subcultures— from hipsters and bears to EDM junkies to circuit boys. Proving dance culture in the gay nightlife scene has an auspicious future, we rounded up five prominent, noise-making trailblazers who are dreaming of tomorrow and taking back the night. See you in da club.