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Mixtape returns with Pride party

June 8 event promises ‘joy on the dance floor’



Shea van Horn and Matt Bailer are back with Mixtape. (Photo by David Claypool/Kalorama Photography)

From a chance 2008 dance floor meeting at legendary bar DC9 to the Pride Party in 2024 at the 9:30 Club, gay DJs Shea van Horn and Matt Bailer have spun together for more than a dozen years. As the D.C. nightlife scene has changed, their partnership has endured under the moniker of Mixtape.

Mixtape started in 2008 soon after the two met each other spinning at DC9. “We had so much fun playing their mix of music for folks, we decided to start a monthly party together,” they said. Four months later, they hosted their first Mixtape party at the Ethiopian restaurant Dahlak in Adams Morgan. From there, over the next decade, the party grew. They held Mixtape across the city at diverse venues: the Warehouse Theater, DC9, EFN Lounge, the Rock and Roll Hotel, Black Cat, Howard Theatre, U Street Music Hall, and ultimately the 9:30 Club. 

Notably, these were not explicitly gay spaces, yet they were explicitly for gay crowds. In 2018, the DJ duo decided to retire their regular rotating monthly event, having reached the heights of the D.C. party scene. They did, however, keep the party alive, hosting an annual Pride Party at the 9:30 Club for a couple years. They paused during the pandemic. This year, they’re back. “It’s crazy that it was 16 years ago,” says Van Horn.

Inspired by parties like Taint and Homo/Sonic, Mixtape was part of a movement in the late 2000s that saw a proliferation of DIY dance parties in D.C., including SHIFT, RAW, CTRL, WTF, Pink Sock, Bearzerk, and others.  

Given this setting, the duo place Mixtape as part of the “alternative” queer dance scene in D.C., giving LGBTQ audiences the dance party that spoke to them. Contemporary Top 40 jams have their place – just not at Mixtape. Their audiences wanted more, from old-school Robyn to electronica to their own underground favorites. 

“Mixtape always aspired to create a safe space for the LGBTQ community to come together and dance to its signature mix of music that often featured queer artists,” they say. “There’s joy on the dance floor.”

Bailer (a D.C. area native) has been heavily involved in the city’s LGBTQ nightlife scene for two decades after overcoming a drug addiction early in his career. Each month at DC9, he hosts his long-running ‘90s dance party, Peach Pit. Bailer also helmed the DJ booth at Nellie’s for many years, running hugely popular parties there on weekends, like Kickoff. These days, he’s spinning all over D.C., including at Trade and Pitchers, plus bar newcomers like Kiki and Crush. Van Horn took a hiatus from DJing after the pandemic but is back on the scene—both as himself and his drag alter-ego, Summer Camp. 

With Van Horn back behind the booth, he notes that “we always look[ed] forward to our annual Pride Party, but this one is extra special. It sees the original lineup of Matt & Shea DJing together for the first time in six years.” Queer DJ duo, JUGS will provide the opening set.

Van Horn is enthusiastic about the future of his partnership with Bailer after the semi-self-imposed hiatus. They will be joined in the refreshed queer party space by gay DJ collective CTRL, which re-debuted recently at Trade, and is now back with monthly dance parties. For their part, Van Horn and Bailer spoke about resurrecting Mixtape parties on a more regular basis, perhaps even to pre-2018 frequency. The due are working with collaborator DJ Tom Hausman, promising to host a party together in time for next year’s World Pride events.


a&e features

D.C.’s queer nightlife scene thriving, bucking national trends

Deep Cvnt, Crush, other bars and events keep city venues bustling



Deep Cvnt is a ‘mini ball deluxe-inspired party.’ (Washington Blade photo by Joe Reberkenny)

John Etienne is familiar with the drifting sounds from vodka-fueled conversations and the tapping of feet against the floorboards of Trade, a gay bar in D.C.’s Logan Circle. On any other Thursday night, Etienne — a party host, judge, and queer nightlife socialite — would be up on the dance floor, sipping a gin and ginger ale, dancing to the new Beyonce song with friends.

But this is not just any Thursday.

Tonight he is sitting directly beneath the dance floor in a salon chair, adjusting his sparkly green dress and white go-go boots, flipping between checking his phone and looking at the clock, waiting for the other judges to arrive. It is just after 9 p.m. and Deep Cvnt is about to begin. 

Deep Cvnt is a “mini ball deluxe-inspired party.” Etienne hosts the event once a month at Trade where queer people from across the city come to walk down a runway in categories, show off their best outfits to an established theme, and ‘vogue the house down’ making the “dive bar with a dance floor” feel like the set of a 2024 Paris is Burning. The party’s name is based on a slur, reclaimed into a symbol of feminine and queer empowerment.  

During the day, the 25-year-old works as a Digital Fundraising Director for the House Majority PAC. To him, gay bars that host events are instrumental in fostering a feeling of welcome and belonging for those who identify as LGBTQ.

“[For me] It’s the sense of community,” Etienne said. “ I think that being able to go to a spot where there are people who are like me, in some shape or form being that they’re queer or from a marginalized community, and can find refuge in these spots is something that’s incredibly important. And then, too, I think that these [queer] spaces are just a lot more fun.” 

Historically gay bars have acted as places for the LGBTQ community to gather, celebrate, and mobilize for political causes when the general attitude was more hostile to the community. D.C.’s unique queer nightlife scene sets it apart from other major gay hubs, like New York or San Francisco, due to the city’s number of welcoming spaces, its business appeal, and the strong presence of the federal government in its culture, allowing for the country’s capital city to be a statistical anomaly. 

Nationwide, gay bars have been on the decline since the 1980s. Damron’s Travel Guide, a database that has been recording the locations and ratings of queer/gay bars since the 1960s, found that in the year 1980 there were approximately 1,432 gay bars across the United States. A recent study published in the National Library of Medicine found that the number of gay bars in the U.S. has nearly been cut in half, with only 803 queer-identified bars in existence despite increasing numbers of public support for the LGBTQ community.

This trend is occurring at the same time as a record number of anti-LGBTQ legislation is popping up in state legislatures across the U.S. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced so far in 2024. These laws restrict the ability of transgender Americans to get gender-affirming care, force teachers to out their students to parents, and ban First Amendment-protected actions like performing in drag, among other issues. 

Meanwhile the number of bars that cater to the LGBTQ community in the nation’s capital has increased from six in 1980 to at least 22 in 2024. 

The LGBTQ population is still large in D.C., with some estimates putting the number at just over 66,000. Historically the “gayborhood,” or primary LGBTQ neighborhood was on 17th Street and in the Dupont Circle area. That has changed as numbers have increased over the years, making the whole city feel like the gayborhood.

“Being one of the gayest cities in the world — with one of the gayest per capita populations — that is kind of baked into the fabric of the nightlife economy,” said Salah Czapary, director of the D.C. Mayor’s Office of Nightlife and Culture, when asked about how the LGBTQ community has changed the landscape of the city. “If you look at these certain neighborhoods [17th Street and Dupont], their character has really been defined by the ‘gayborhood’ in the area. That has kind of changed and now you can’t really point to one area as being the sole gayborhood.”

Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened, causing the government to pause all non-essential businesses, including bars. After the pandemic, the growth in the number of gay bars accelerated.  “I think that’s kind of just generally after COVID, people are willing to take a risk on something new,” Czapary explained when discussing the impact of the pandemic on the gay bar community. 

Ed Bailey, a well-known DJ and co-owner of gay bars Trade and Number Nine, located around the corner from each other in Logan Circle, agrees about the economic opportunities COVID was able to provide but says that gay bar success boils down to the economics of real estate. 

“I have a very boring and not very sexy answer to why I think these things happen,” Bailey said when explaining the history of the prominent locations of gay bars in D.C. “At the end of the day, it’s all about real estate. Over time the gay community’s bars, restaurants, and nightclubs that catered specifically to, or were owned by, gay people were in underdeveloped neighborhoods… It wasn’t available to us to be in the high-priced areas. All the clubs and the bars were kind of on the ‘other side of town,’ whatever that meant.”

Bailey said the COVID-19 pandemic helped create a path for the current sprouting of gay bars all over D.C., especially in what are the mainstream, popular areas. “I think luckily the pandemic, at least in D.C., did open up an opportunity for a number of entrepreneurs to say ‘Hey! I have an option here.’ Some of these businesses are looking for people to buy them out or to move in, and so a bunch of people took advantage of that.”

The LGBTQ community has always had a presence in the city. It has been recorded that as early as the 1950s, Washington had become a space recognized for its ability to bring LGBTQ people together. 

“I feel like every time I take two steps, I run into another gay person,” Etienne said about living in Logan Circle and the queerness of the city. “I love it. I also think about the nature of what goes on in D.C. Historically, the government has always had a significant number of gay people working for it. Looking back to the Lavender Scare and even before then it’s always been a spot where gay men have either come professionally or personally.”

Mark Meinke, a 76-year-old self-described gay historian founded The Rainbow History Project, an organization that works to “collect, preserve and promote the history and culture of the diverse LGBTQ communities in metropolitan Washington, D.C.” His research supports exactly what Etienne described. 

“Between the [19]20s through the [19]60s, most of the gay spaces were owned by straight people,” Meinke said. A consequence of this, he explains, is that there was less of an outward recognition of these spaces as being LGBTQ friendly, keeping the community a secret. “Tolerance comes and tolerance goes,” he said as he explained why the number of accepting spaces increased and decreased during that time. 

This fluctuation of accepting bar owners began to change in the 1960s, as places that offered a safe space for LGBTQ people to meet, dance, drink, celebrate, and politically organize became more frequent and owned by more LGBTQ people. Meinke was able to track the increase of acceptance for the LGBTQ community by collecting advertisements from past issues of the Washington Blade (originally called the Gay Blade) from the ‘60s on as more gay-owned or more publicly gay-friendly establishments began to distribute the newspaper. Meinke also tracked additional gay literature in these gay bars, like that of Franklin Kameny’s Mattachine Society literature and their “Gay Is Good” buttons. The literature Kameny distributed was some of the first documented forms of LGBTQ activism in the U.S. and encouraged LGBTQ people to mobilize. 

Meinke noticed that during this time, one gay bar called JoAnna’s on Eighth Street in Southeast D.C. became a popular designation for gay people after the owner installed a dance floor. 

“In 1968, in Capitol Hill with JoAnna’s, a new social option had emerged for women, one with a dance floor,” Meinke said. In his presentation for the 2002 Washington Historical Conference titled “The Social Geography of Washington, D.C.’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Community,” Meinke said that the gay community wanted more gay dance floors.

This inspired others in the gayborhood to create more dance spaces. “Johnnie’s (across the street [from JoAnna’s]) saw the future and installed a postage stamp-sized dance floor, and began getting lots of customers…Same-sex dancing in the clubs was perhaps one of the greatest innovations on the social scene in the 1960s,” Meinke wrote.

Not only did the expanding gay bar scene impact who was visiting the city, but the presence of the federal government and the number of universities located in the area also helped attract the gay community, Meinke explained. 

As more LGBTQ people moved to D.C. to pursue careers related to the federal government, a backlash was brewing and created a time we now call the McCarthy era. This era, which extended from the early 1950s into the 60s, brought in political repression of left-leaning individuals in D.C.

This repression and eventual prosecution of people based on the fear of communism was led by Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy and became a major part of the Republican Party’s platform. This fear also heightened political tensions, eventually leading to Republicans accusing homosexuals of espionage. This period was known as the “Lavender Scare.”  

Robert Connelly, an adjunct senior professorial lecturer for American University’s Critical Race Gender and Culture Studies Department, explained that this scare was real for many LGBTQ people working in the government. “In [McCarthy’s] mind, homosexuals’ perceived duplicity and emotional instability made them susceptible to foreign espionage and blackmail, you know, which meant that the gays were giving away our secrets,” Connelly said. 

This fear prompted the 34th president to take more legal action against the LGBTQ people working in government. “When Eisenhower took office in 1953, one of his first executive orders that he signed was Executive Order 10450,” Connelly explained. “This codified the exclusion of perverts from government employment and thousands of lives were ruined because of this in the early 1950s.” This homophobia eventually led to the firing of thousands of LGBTQ people within the federal government during the ‘50s and ‘60s. 

This systematic injustice triggered many LGBTQ people to adapt techniques other marginalized communities were using, mostly inspired by the increasingly successful Civil Rights movement, to politically mobilize and reclaim their power. The homophile movement, one of the earliest precursors to the modern gay rights movement, had major players located in Washington to help push for gay rights. The activism ignited by LGBTQ people during this time endured for decades, addressing a multitude of issues, including anti-war protests and the fight for expanded civil rights.

Some, like Chadd Dowding, 35, a regular patron of gay bars across Washington said that Washington’s gay bar scene has been successful due to the high number of LGBTQ residents and their desire to feel connected to their community. 

“I think D.C. has the largest gay population per capita of any city in the country, so that draws a larger audience of queer folks here,” he said. According to the Williams Institute, D.C. still holds the highest percentage in the U.S.  “I think there’s also a need for spaces for community, mostly because a lot of people in D.C. are transplants from other parts of the country.” 

Others, Like Bombshell Monroe, a drag queen from the House of Mulan (a chosen family, that works to support and mentor queens in Balls and beyond) said that contrarian attitudes are baked into the nature of the city. 

As Bombshell slipped on her flower-adorned flared jeans and orange tank top, getting ready to make her first appearance on the dance floor of Trade for Deep Cvnt, matching the spring bling theme of the night, she explained why she felt D.C.’s gay nightlife has been able to grow.

“I feel like D.C. has always been a place of independence and where people, even if we’re not accepted, will fight to be accepted,” Bombshell said while pulling on a fuzzy white and orange bucket hat. “I’m D.C. born and raised and can attest personally. I think that it’s so crazy because it’s political, but it’s not political. I feel like once we get the pushback from other states, we’re the ones that take it and say, ‘Well, bitch! We got something for y’all. You don’t want the gay bars here, we’re gonna put another one here!’” 

And put another one they did. Within the past three years, at least six new gay bars have opened up with very different styles and goals. Some bars cater to particular groups within the LGBTQ community, like that of Thurst Lounge on 14th Street N.W., which is a predominantly Black gay space. As You Are Bar, at 500 8th St., S.E., seeks to make an accessible and comfortable space for all in the LGBTQ community, focusing on often overlooked female and non-binary members of the community. Others focus on creating unique nightlife experiences, like that of the craft cocktails in Logan Circle’s Little Gay Pub with its Instagram (and Grindr) famous selfie mirror, or like that of the freshly opened Crush bar, focusing on creating a dance bar for LGBTQ people. 

Regardless of the specific reason people visit gay bars, It is clear that they offer platforms to authentically express queer identity in a world that does not always deem this acceptable. 

“If we get to a point where we have to start sacrificing more physical spaces for online ones, these spaces could be easily invaded by people who may not have the best intentions,” Etienne said, preparing to head up the scuffed stairs to Beyonce’s Jolene.  “There is something very valuable about having a physical space with a physical location because, at the end of the day, that’s what we have fought for.”

As the lights dimmed the Trade dance floor began to hush. A path opened up in front of the stage as the crowd of floral wearing ballroom fans stepped back, accommodating Etienne’s entrance. With the glittery green dress, knee-high go-go boots, and oversized sunglasses it is clear he is in charge of the night. 

“Since this is Deep Cvnt I need everyone to raise their hand up,” Etienne said with a smile. “And now put it below your waist. Check how deep your motherfucking cunt is.” The crowd roared with laughter and cheers. “Alright let’s get into it!” Deep Cvnt has begun.

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Ed Bailey brings Secret Garden to Project GLOW festival

An LGBTQ-inclusive dance space at RFK this weekend



Ed Bailey's set at last year's Project Glow. (Photo courtesy Bailey)

When does a garden GLOW? When it’s run by famed local gay DJ Ed Bailey.

This weekend, music festival Project GLOW at RFK Festival Grounds will feature Bailey’s brainchild the Secret Garden, a unique space just for the LGBTQ community that he launched in 2023.

While Project GLOW, running April 27-28, is a stage for massive electronic DJ sets in a large outdoor space, Secret Garden is more intimate, though no less adrenaline-forward. He’s bringing the nightclub to the festival. The garden is a dance area that complements the larger stages, but also stands on its own as a draw for festival-goers. Its focus is on DJs that have a presence and following in the LGBTQ audience world.

“The Secret Garden is a showcase for what LGBTQ nightlife, and nightclubs in general, are all about,” he says. “True club DJs playing club music for people that want to dance in a fun environment that is high energy and low stress. It’s the cool party inside the bigger party.”

Project GLOW launched in 2022. Bailey connected with the operators after the first event, and they discussed Bailey curating his own space for 2023. “They were very clear that they wanted me to lean into the vibrant LGBTQ nightlife of D.C. and allow that community to be very visibly a part of this area.”

Last year, club icon Kevin Aviance headlined the Secret Garden. The GLOW festival organizers loved the its energy from last year, and so asked Bailey to bring it back again, with an entire year to plan.

This year, Bailey says, he is “bringing in more D.C. nightlife legends.” Among those are DJ Sedrick, “a DJ and entertainer legend. He was a pivotal part of Tracks nightclub and is such a dynamic force of entertainment,” says Bailey. “I am excited for a whole new audience to be able to experience his very special brand of DJing!”

Also, this year brings in Illustrious Blacks, a worldwide DJ duo with roots in D.C.; and “house music legends” DJs Derrick Carter and DJ Spen.

Bailey is focusing on D.C.’s local talent, with a lineup including Diyanna Monet, Strikestone!, Dvonne, Baronhawk Poitier, THABLACKGOD, Get Face, Franxx, Baby Weight, and Flower Factory DJs KS, Joann Fabrixx, and PWRPUFF. 

 Secret Garden also brings in performers who meld music with dance, theater, and audience interactions for a multi-sensory experience.

Bailey is an owner of Trade and Number Nine, and was previously an owner of Town Danceboutique. Over the last 35 years, Bailey owned and operated more than 10 bars and clubs in D.C. He has an impressive resume, too. Since starting in 1987, he’s DJ’d across the world for parties and nightclubs large and intimate. He says that he opened “in concert for Kylie Minogue, DJed with Junior Vasquez, played giant 10,000-person events, and small underground parties.” He’s also held residencies at clubs in Atlanta, Miami, and here in D.C. at Tracks, Nation, and Town. 

With Secret Garden, Bailey and GLOW aim to bring queer performers into the space not just for LGBTQ audiences, but for the entire music community to meet, learn about, and enjoy. While they might enjoy fandom among queer nightlife, this Garden is a platform for them to meet the entirety of GLOW festival goers.

Weekend-long Project GLOW brings in headliners and artists from EDM and electronic music, with big names like ILLENIUM, Zedd, and  Rezz. In all, more than 50 artists will take the three stages at the third edition of Project GLOW, presented by Insomniac (Electric Daisy Carnival) and Club Glow (Echostage, Soundcheck).

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D.C.’s gay DJ collective CTRL returns

Electropop group resurfaces at Trade on March 30



CTRL is back after a six-year absence.

Finger lasers, confetti cannons, drag shows, photo booths, throwback tunes, and a touch nerdy: after a long break, D.C.’s gay DJ collective CTRL is throwing its first party in six years.

Born in an Eritrean restaurant more than a decade ago, this longstanding gay nightlife electropop group is resurfacing with a comeback event at Trade on March 30.

Gay DJs Adam Koussari-Amin, Jeff Prior, Devon Trotter, and Brett Andreisen hosted the first CTRL party at now-closed restaurant Dahlak, on the corner of 18th and U Streets. After a year of hosting pop-ups in that restaurant’s dining room, they upgraded down 18th Street to now-closed gay club Cobalt. There, the parties grew: drag shows, a pop-up photo booth from David Claypool, and quirky activations like throwing hot dogs into print-outs of Putin’s mouth. Their productions grew as well, like producing the now-defunct Brightest Young Gays (BYG) Pride events at Wonderbread Factory and Union Market and the ‘Get Wet’ pool party with David Brown’s Otter Crossing at the Capitol Skyline Hotel.

CTRL wasn’t done. The group received its biggest stage yet after a call from Ed Bailey, the owner of now-closed gay club Town, as well as current gay bars Number 9 and Trade. At Town, the opportunity “allowed our creativity to flourish with even bigger performances, bigger photo experiences, crazier hand-outs, and the same electropop dance vibes our fans had come to know us for,” says Koussari-Amin.

CTRL pressed pause when Town shut down, which “was a huge loss to the LGBTQIA+ community and D.C. nightlife in general,” says Koussari-Amin. After that, it hosted an occasional spinoff called QWERTY. Post-pandemic, Koussari-Amin has spent a few nights solo as DJ at Trade and other venues.

After connecting with Jesse Jackson, the Trade general manager, as well as with Bailey, who agreed to host the inaugural event, Koussari-Amin was determined to shift CTRL back to life.

However, getting the old band back together proved to be a challenge. While the rest of the group have either left Washington, D.C., or are pursuing other projects, Koussari-Amin received their blessing to stay on and find new members. 

“When it came to finding new partners, both DJ Dez [Desmond Jordan] and DJ Lemz [Steve Lemmerman] were obvious choices,” he says, noting that “they also have distinct styles and interests.” Dez has a residency at Pitchers and Kiki as well as pop-ups, and Lemz throws events like Sleaze and BENT.

 “It seemed important to come back to the nightlife table with an experience that could complement all the amazing experiences that have even built up since CTRL threw its last event at Town. Bringing back both the DJ collective and the CTRL event with Dez and Lemz means new voices, perspectives, sounds, and excitement.”

“CTRL is an opportunity for the community to come together, enjoy music, drinks, and good vibes,” adds Jordan, noting that for him, it’s an event that celebrates queer identity.

And after months of planning, CTRL will kick off its monthly party series at Trade on March 30 for the first gig after its glow-up.

The trio says that its core inspiration “is driven by the indie and electropop favorites of new and old, like Goldfrapp, Ava Max, Charli XCX, … We’re also all huge fans of slut and trash pop music like Kim Petras, Slayyyter, Cupcakke,” as well as pop diva remixes, new bops, and songs that reside inside and far beyond the expanse of Top 40.

CTRL is also bringing back its activations that complement the tunes. Summer Camp is set for drag performances, David Claypool is back with his photo booth, and Koussari-Amin promises “to have all sorts of weird and wacky handouts like we used to.”

After the March premiere, April’s party is “CTRLella”, a Coachella send-up. Future events will feature various different themes, and they plan to throw a party during Capital Pride; they’re also looking to be a central part of Trade’s expansion into the adjacent space.

 Koussari-Amin says that “the event’s signature experience [is] a lynchpin in connecting D.C.’s expanding generations of queer folks, giving everyone a safe space to let loose and feel a rush no matter who they are.” 

For his part, Bailey continues to support CTRL and its collective intention, expressing its essential nature as a party for partiers by partiers. “CTRL is the kind of party that represents what people want. It’s just a real party by real people that just want to hear good music and dance with their friends.”

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