Founders of A Club Called Rhonda remember Donna Summer
Donna Summer left us many legacies, and one of the most fascinating is the way her music brought gay and straight audiences together on the dance floor. For decades, her music has been a staple in gay club playlists while also topping mainstream pop charts.
Her music blended the sexual and the spiritual with sonic invention that forever changed the way we party. That contribution is perhaps nowhere more evident than at A Club Called Rhonda.
The peripatetic L.A. club is famous for its polysexual hedonism and mix of classic disco and adventurous electronic dance music. We asked the club's founders to assess her legacy, and how it informs today's nightclub culture.
What does today’s dance music explosion owe to Donna Summer -- both in terms of sounds and the larger culture of disco?
I think Donna Summer is a perfect example of the life and experience you need to make great dance music. Raised in a church culture, a fan of rock and pop and Motown, with American and European influences, and with a passionate and polysexual fanbase. Her voice was direct and real, while still maintaining the drama and excitement that the best dance music captures. She could be confident, vulnerable, honest, emotional ... her voice could express all the incredible highs and lows of life, sometimes in the same song.
--Alexis Rivera, manager of A Club Called Rhonda, as well as artists Bonde do Role, Chromatics, Glass Candy and Poolside.
Rhonda revives the adventurous social atmosphere of disco’s heyday, a home for gay culture and people of color. Donna Summer was a major icon of that era. Talk about how Donna’s career informed what you wanted for Rhonda.
Disco, and especially Donna Summer, helped kick the door open for minorities in mainstream music. She personified disco decadence in my eyes. She glorified extravagance and brought a sexual air to music and culture that we in particular can never thank her enough for.
"I Feel Love" is still a dance-floor filler that makes people lose their minds and embark on whole new sexual adventures that they might not have if not for her setting the vibe. That same vibe is something we always strive to re-create with our club: a feeling of anything goes, lost in ecstasy and passion, full acceptance, no-consequences revelry, and Donna's music will always be the perfect soundtrack to create and accompany that feeling. The people of Rhonda love and respect this woman, and will dance to her songs with an intensity and devotion that the queen deserves. She will forever be missed.
--Gregory Alexander, host of A Club Called Rhonda
Disco experienced such a backlash at the end of its '70s popularity, but it’s definitely come back as both the defining sound of pop and as a distinct dance music culture in the U.S. again. When you play her songs at Rhonda, what kind of reaction do you get?
The backlash against disco was unfortunate but ultimately irrelevant because the discotheques always remained full and the music lived on and continued to evolve and morph into what dance music is today. As a modern listener/DJ, her music will always have a place in my heart, especially "I Feel Love."
I think "I Feel Love" would appear in more top 10 lists of DJs than any other record on the planet. Its huge sound allows it to stand alongside any modern track. It's the closest we'll ever get to heaven on earth. Dance-floor perfection. The 15-plus-minute Patrick Cowley version is one of the dance music wonders of the world. Every single time I play it, someone asks me to never let it stop.
--GODDOLLARS, resident DJ at A Club Called Rhonda
-- August Brown
Photo: A Club Called Rhonda organizers Loren Granic, on sign, center, and Gregory Alexander, on sign, right, are joined from bottom left, in clockwise order, Lisa Katnic, Matty Pipes, Adelaide Bourbon, Natalie Martins, Maurice Harris, Ryan Granich, Phyllis Navidad, Steven Castillo, Russ Lee, Cody Fitzsimmons and Sebastian Hull. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times