Sunday, 25 April 2010

Cardiff Gay Scene: A Return

A long time ago (okay, two or three years, but that’s an era to some people), I blogged about the state of the Cardiff gay scene and argued it could be seen as a microcosm of gay culture as a whole. The article was…scathing seems the right word, as I dismissed the scene as being stunted; not diverse enough to be of any use to anyone but the most vacuous of twinks.
I stand by that conviction.
But as I mentioned, two or three years is like an era to some, and there have been a fair few changes to the scene here in Cardiff.
In Cardiff these days, gays are now presented with a number of new venues and events. The gay scene is spreading itself across Cardiff, with Churchill Way and Charles Street seemingly competing for the title of gay street of Cardiff, and a new event that is increasing in popularity and numbers around the castle area. There is a tiny gay bar aimed at the more well off members of the community (i.e. old and with lots of disposable income) down the Bay, and the old standard gay pubs, The Golden Cross and King’s Cross (now named King’s X in an effort to make it seem all cool and stuff).
The most significant new event in Cardiff would have to be Hell’s Bent. HB is an alternative/indie/electro gay club night, the first of it’s kind in Cardiff. Well, the first successful one; King’s once had an Indie night, that didn’t last long, and which pretty much only played Indie music that had managed to make it high up the charts, obliterating it’s ‘alternative’ cred. Gay fans of punk, rock or more obscure indie still had nowhere to go. Thus, Hell’s Bent.
HB began life as a once a month club night at The Point, an old church (thus the name) and one of Cardiff’s best music venues until Cardiff Council decided it didn’t like the idea of a diverse music scene in Cardiff and caused it’s closure (a rant for another time, I assure you).
Now, HB continues to go from strength to strength. It is now held twice a month, once at Clwb Ifor Bach and once at Barfly, which just goes to show how much it is needed and wanted.
A gay night for all those who hate the gay scene, but gay enough for those that love it too, HB is exceptionally inclusive. No matter gender or sexuality, all are welcomed there, and the atmosphere as such is vastly improved over gay pubs and clubs in Cardiff’s scene. Overall, this leads to a more enjoyable night; no one feels judged or frowned upon, everyone feels welcome, even the straight mates of the gay patrons. And I’m not just saying this because I was featured in a picture with my ex in the Gay Times, when they wrote about the night.
Or maybe I am. If it was anything like the usual gay night, me and my then boyfriend wouldn’t have had our picture taken (okay, he might’ve for being very cute). Instead, some skinny, hairless, topless mainstream kid would have. You know the kind: they look like they’re maybe on something, and are probably pretty easy at the best of times anyway.
HB however embraces mainstream but celebrates the alternative, heard in the choice of music, seen in the mix of regular attendees and felt in the welcoming atmosphere.
There is also the fact that the crowd is a little different between the two locations it’s held at. The regulars pretty much attend both nights. However, Barfly seems to attract a younger crowd too, and the music slightly changes to reflect that. An example of fine DJing to be fair, to realise the change in audience and atmosphere. Both nights are incredibly welcoming and fun, and is a glowing example of the kind of variation the gay scene needs.
Of course, Hell’s Bent isn’t the only new addition. As I mentioned before, the gay scene has expanded exponentially on Churchill Way.
There have been three new additions to the street: 4Play, Wow, and Wow Deli.
Now, obviously, a deli doesn’t exactly do much in the sense of diversifying the scene, other than providing gay-prepared sarnies, but they are lovely, and I certainly recommend going. Wow, the bar/club next door, however, does.
The atmosphere in there is again very welcoming, with a good mix of young and old, skinny twinks and hairy bears, and Drag Queens aplenty. In fact, it’s a slightly different feel to most of the other bars in Cardiff, sitting somewhere between general let’s-get-shitfaced-pub and a show bar like Minsky’s.
The feel of all-inclusiveness is exemplified by the smallest detail that I only noticed there the other day: beneath the usual gay pride flag sticker on the door there is a Bear Pride flag sticker too. Which I honestly cannot say I have seen anywhere else in Cardiff.
4Play I can really say little about. I have yet to go, but have heard some second- and third-hand reviews, all of which are pretty mediocre. Owned by the same people as Pulse, I have heard it’s the exact same kind of night and club, but vastly smaller…which is a feat in itself, given that Pulse is reminiscent of a meat market.
The old standards too, I am glad to say, have changed, but only minutely. After three years they all run the same kind of events and special nights. King’s X still by and large attracts an element of gay culture that gives any straight ‘interloper’ evil glares the moment they step over the threshold, Pulse is the same monument to youth as always, and so on.
In fact, it’s only the subtle shift in the taste of gay culture as a whole that has caused the subtlest of changes. As a whole, gay culture seems to shifting ever so slightly away from the stereotypical skinny gay twink image, and this can be scene on the cover of most of the big gay mags out there. Instead, cover stars (and reader’s tastes) seem to be skewing more towards cubs, bears, athletes and boy-next-door types. In fact, even articles seem to focus less on waxing off all your body hair in some narcissistic-masochistic fashion trend, and more about trimming and taming body hair, but essentially keeping it.
The focus seems to be less on forcing yourself into some kind of manufactured aesthetic, and judging those who don’t do it; instead, it’s more about accepting what is more natural, including appearance and personality.
This can be seen more in some of the younger patrons of the gay scene: I stumbled into Pulse on what must have been some kind of student night, and was welcomed with a vision of hundreds of hairy, young University cubs. You can still hear the squeal of vapid queens over the throb of Lady GaGa (replacing Britney these days) but it’s a welcome change to the aesthetic.
In fact, Cardiff Gay scene as a whole is feeling a little bit more welcoming because of the more diverse selection of venues, events and people going out and enjoying that scene. It’s still not perfect: we still have nothing catering more to the Bear aesthetic (unless you count the Locker Room, but there are plenty of Bears who aren’t into saunas and sex clubs, I’m sure).
So Cardiff is no longer stagnant; it is changing slowly, but surely. And if you have avoided the gay scene in the past, fearing the judgemental glares of some vacuous, make-up caked queen, there are now options for elsewheres to be, or even feel like they are the minority, not you. The air is generally friendlier, and the Cardiff gay scene can only continue to get better and more diverse on this path. And I for one would welcome that.

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