ANALOG CLUBBING: A TALK WITH JEFFREY HINTON
Text by Riccardo Slavik
Clubs, gay and mixed ones in particular, have always been places of freedom, experimentation, creativity, they are historically the birthplaces of an outsider’s ‘extended family’ . It’s usually in clubs that we, as gay men or women, freaks or creative outcasts, meet and build our own elective family, and in the wake of the tragic shooting at Pulse in Orlando, Florida, Jeffrey Hinton’s ‘Analog Clubbing’ acquires an extra layer of meaning. Being essentially Jeffrey’s own journey in Clubland from the early days of Punk to Raves and beyond, the video installation at Blanco is a joyous cut-up of creativity, memories, parties, fashion shows. A kaleidoscope of images and video clips that is as much a testament to a lost era as the proof of how important, free, and even political, nightlife can be. We had a little talk about it last week while setting up the exhibition ( I ended up putting up flyers for hours because that’s what happens when you work in a club).
RS: I wanted to ask you about the relationship between clubbing and creativity, because I think clubbing & nightlife have an element of freedom that often helps people get in touch with their true self and creativity.
JH: If we look at the times the exhibition starts from, the mid 70s, we were very poor, but at the same time there was a lot of excitement, a lot of things being invented, there were a lot of things going on politically too, Gay Liberation, Feminism, it felt like the world had to change and more importantly i felt like I was going to be part of that change. There was this backdrop in London, there were elements of the past but also you could feel change in the air. I always felt like an outsider and I found other people like me, my brother was older and part of the Gay Liberation Front, so early on I was going to marches and meetings and I met transgender people, ‘genderfuck’ people, as we called them, people who were quite out there, visually and verbally and I loved these people, I felt very strongly connected to them, and really, they are the same people I’ve met ever since, the same energy, even now. But in the 70s, there were still a lot of derelict buildings and squatting was very easy so we could meet and gather and be together in lots of different places and live together, in a pre-internet world, even the phone, we didn’t use so much, we were living together, we were with each other 24 hours a day, and the people I lived with were very creative, it was a volcanic hodgepodge of creativity and you were immediately involved in it, whether by your looks or through music, or film, you would play with every single medium, and there was a naiveté to it because you were creating for the energy of it rather than because you were trying to sell something or make a marketable product, i don’t remember anyone trying to make lots of money or get a career, we were doing things that felt good to us, to amuse each other, and clubbing was very much a part of that, all these clubs that are depicted here, were put together by a group of people for that group of people, it wasn’t done for the mainstream, in fact the minute it became mainstream we would move on to another place, some evolved into something else, Kinky Gerlinky evolved into something much much bigger, but at the same time that was happening at the peak of the AIDS crisis, people were dying, and in a sense it needed to be a bigger club where people could celebrate.. No matter your state of health you could become the goddess, or the plant or whatever you felt like being for the night, so the fact that it was getting bigger and bigger seemed to help, with the kind of grief that was going on…And then as with the exhibition it does move on into the ‘rave’ era where people started going to larger venues that were more about music…
RS: Personally I’ve always found it so interesting that such a small scene, and I’m thinking specifically about The Blitz and its scene, was so influential in such a global way.
JH: Because it was really just a group of friends more than an actual ‘scene’ and it carried on from Punk because the punks I knew where quite fluid in their sexuality… Even when I was involved in the Gay Liberation Front, it was more about liberation, period. The same people i knew from punk were in the end the same sort of people that would later be part of Blitz and New Romantic, and later at Taboo, Leigh Bowery. They were all attracted to a similar energy, and i really believe it IS about an energy from within, it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, it’s WHO’s wearing it.. Leigh Bowery was always Leigh Bowery, he wasn’t an outfit, a mannequin in an outfit, his energy was extreme and you always felt it, when i was with him I didn’t think about the drippy head or the latex costume, they were part of his character but it was still him, and that was kind of an important element to remain within these groups of people, you couldn’t just follow a trend, you couldn’t be dressing for it… It’s a NY kind of attitude, the idea of Club Kids and things like that, they were in a way an advert for clubs like The Limelight, they were a commercial product, ‘ come look at the freaks!’ that wasn’t the mindset in London, you didn’t walk around to be a freak, you were being you, more versions of you..
RS speaking of this particular video, is there a timeline or storyline you’ve followed?
JH: It pretty much revolves around me, because I’m at the center of it. I still do videos, take pictures, I’m obsessed with looking underneath the surface of the life around me, I’m looking from within at what I love about these people and this moment and this place in time, and this one in particular starts in a club called Sombrero, which was a very underground club that went through various phases, it went through a punk phase, and I loved it because it played very new disco and italo-dance from the time, and it was tiny, with an amazing lighted-up dance floor… and through the 80s we had amazing venues like that, that we could pick during the week, with amazing decor, we could take them over for nothing, like Le Kilt, The Beat Route, Billy’s, where The Blitz was, which was again a very tiny restaurant, and it was pretty much the same people, but it was such a collection of people, you had film-makers, designers, make-up artists, I never went to college but I learned from all these people, about film making about fashion, I didn’t know i was learning but i was helping them and learning, and I was obsessed with music so i was collecting music from around the world …
and I’d already lived in NY a couple of years, with poets, and that was another important time for me and then I came back and met more creative people, I already knew some, like Princess Julia, Jeremy Healy, Boy George… the scene had a very DIY attitude, and I don’t remember ever having a meeting and talking about it, we would just do stuff, we just threw it together and it became what it became
In London at the time pubs would close at 11pm and clubs at 2am and after that there were always parties there was always somewhere to go even though all the official places were closed and it would be someone’s house or something and we would ‘borrow’ toiletries and such as we never had much in the squat, actually that’s something we used to do at Blitz too since it was a restaurant, we would go through the kitchen and get bread and cheese and other things fill some bags with it have a dance and bring it to the squat…
RS: I think it was a very particular moment in space and time as so much happened from such a small group of people and without even really trying.
JH: About this particular time, i always remember the playfulness, the color, making an outfit in seconds and living in squats was great because there was lots of stuff everywhere, pretty smelly most of it, as we didn’t have washing machines, and some of the best outfits were made out of necessity because you had to find out which one smelled the least and kind of make that work.. and musically it was great ,there was a lot of great music coming out everywhere and we would play with it, which is what i did, i was chopping it up and editing it I did the same with videos, especially at Taboo where i was editing it all and going from stuff that was completely delusional to something kind of recognizable or completely normal then completely change again and that was what made it a great hedonistic environment and it made you feel like you were on drugs even when you weren’t, it was a kind of warped Wonderland..
But again it wasn’t like London today, we had spaces to do experimental things, now spaces want money just to let you use them… back then we could create a club out of nothing. I come from the small clubs where you had a mix of petty criminals, drug dealers, rent boys, prostitutes, outsiders and always a few people who didn’t really know where they were but liked it and stayed… that kind of quirky balance was integral to most underground and avant-garde clubs up to the 90s, and people like Bowie, or actors and other famous people could go there because it was such an odd insular mix and nobody bothered you.. at the same time I have no nostalgia, I love working with younger people who maybe make me see things in my memories i haven’t noticed, but I wouldn’t look at these times through rose-tinted lenses, because even the things in this exhibition, these clubs and parties, they were fun but it was also a very sad time for me, I wasn’t that confident, i was shy, it was all ‘growing up’ time, a good one, and it taught me lots of stuff, an endless amount of things, but at the same time it wasn’t a walk in the park, i was having fun but there was also a lot of pain, not just AIDS and its effects on the community, but also just general stuff, life. Look at the images and see the positivity, the energy, there is a positive energy of fun and creativity, nobody was really making money or getting paid so I think a big part of it is showing how much was done just with creativity and just the desire of doing things.
ANALOG CLUBBING is at Blanco, Piazzale Lavater 18, Milano till the first week of August