At a secret loft party thrown on a desolate block of Crown Heights last year, the U.K. collective Horse Meat Disco (DJs James Hillard, Jim Stanton, Severino, and Luke Howard) hit the decks after midnight and in quick succession dropped evergreen New York disco tracks like Bumblebee Unlimited’s gleeful “Lady Bug” and Arthur Russell as Loose Joints’ filthy yet fun “Is It All Over My Face?” before swerving into a stripped-down, pulsing version of Janet Jackson’s “The Pleasure Principle.” They’d quickly triangulated the tone for the night.
For eight years now, Horse Meat Disco have thrown a decadent disco party, deemed “the queer party for everyone,” that residents in the Vauxhall section of South London get every Sunday night at a pub called the Eagle, Berliners enjoy once a month at the Tape Club, and folks in Lisbon now thrill to at the Oceanside Lux Club. New Yorkers haven’t been able to partake in the partying as frequently, although that’ll change with the HMD boys making no less than three appearances in the area this summer; this weekend, they’ll spin at the Pines Party on Fire Island and at South Brooklyn dance party Mister Sunday, and on September 3 they’ll help wrap up this year’s installment of P.S.1’s Warm Up series.
“Every kind of musical genre that I’ve ever been into has either come from New York City or been heavily influenced by this city,” says James Hillard from his flat in London, where he is gearing up for his next DJ set. “Everything happened there. New York is an important city for me.”
For years, Hillard worked at the now-defunct label Nuphonic, which was responsible for releasing a crucial set of music from disco godfather David Mancuso and his hallowed Loft party. He first came to visit the city soon after September 11. “Adam Goldstone (a New York producer who unexpectedly passed away in 2006) took me to the seedy and chichi places all in the space of a week,” Hillard fondly recalls of his first New York experience. “We went to the United Nations, to J’s Hang Out in the West Village, and to some place called Cokie’s in Brooklyn.”
Hillard and friends started Horse Meat Disco soon after, and it was as inspired by the vibrant gay subculture of New York City as it was frustrated by the stagnant scene back home. “It’s not rocket science, doing disco parties for gay people. But when we started here, the gay scene had gotten so commercial and was only about drugs, sex, and mediocrity. We wanted communion.”
Over the course of the party’s eight-year run, Hillard, Severino, Stanton, and Howard have hosted Gothamites like Daniel Wang, Rub-n-Tug, and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem in London. “To craft a party that everyone from all different walks can enjoy is what’s so lovely about disco,” said Hillard. “I like to think we bring a certain je ne sais quoi to the proceedings.” Writing liners for their latest mix CD, Wang recalls that even in Berlin “HMD’s dance floor is much less a competitive arena than a carnival, with a healthy touch of British camp and soul.”
Yet the crew still keeps NYC in mind. When HMD played at the Glastonbury Festival in 2008, their stage setup re-created a New York sidewalk circa 1978, complete with tenements, pimps, and drag queens. Their recently released double-disc mix, Horse Meat Disco III, evenly splits the set between current nu-disco trends and what New York in the early ’80s sounded like at 5 a.m. The Stanton- and Severino-curated first half percolates with remixes from the likes of Dmitri From Paris, Chicago house legend Ron Hardy, and Scandinavian Todd Terje; familiar bits like “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” and Talking Heads’ “Born Under Punches” bubble up to make it all feel oddly familiar, like some lost weekend out under strobe lights suddenly recalled.
For the second half, Hillard and Howard looked back to the halcyon days of the East Village gay dance mecca the Saint. (Never mind that they were too young to have ever danced under that club’s dome.) Their delirious set contains a peculiar subset of ’70s–’80s dance music given the misnomer of “sleaze,” a chugging strain of music often played “at that time in the club when the drugs are still kicking, but it’s now morning,” says Hillard. “Sleaze is slower, about 100 BPM, very pretty and grandiose, not naughty and grimy. They’re beautifully orchestrated and arranged songs about love, not fucking.” Think Sylvester’s “Don’t Make Me Wait,” Phyllis Hyman’s “Loving You Losing You,” and Love Unlimited Orchestra’s lush “Love’s Theme.”
New York City might not have the same status it did three decades ago, but Hillard feels honored to have Horse Meat Disco play Pines Party 2011, an annual fundraising event for the Stonewall Community Foundation and Fire Island Pines Property Owners Association Charitable Foundation that doubles as a weekend-long celebration: “It’s quite intimidating thinking back to the days of the Ice Palace and to try and get an idea of what was getting played there all these years ago,” he says. “It’ll also mean me being on the beach for the first time this summer, too.”
Horse Meat Disco spin at Fire Island Pines for Pines Party 2011 on Saturday night and at Gowanus Grove for the Mister Sunday party on Sunday