Harnessed queers twerk on their kitchen floor. A woman in a frilly nightgown and feather boa sways through her stylish, plant-filled living room. Two teens in Euphoria make-up lying in bed vaping at the camera. A guy in a leather jacket, a cheetah print speedo and chaps fist-pumps in front of a Lysol-themed filter. A chic turtlenecked man grooves from his couch with a glass of red. A queen drops it low a few times, before hitting a bong. A mustached Spandex-clad figure gyrates through Bernie Sanders’ pixelated face. A girl in a McGill sweatshirt climbs up on her couch to moon the screen while her friend hypes her up. An older bearded daddy with headphones on just sits at his computer, smiling widely and bobbing his head to the booty bass. Each is caged in their respective one-by-two inch cells tiled across my laptop screen, but we’re all in this together.
Welcome to Club Quarantine, the best virtual gay club you’ve ever logged onto.
Every night Eastern Time since March 15, anywhere from 100 to a 1,000 people have gathered on a Zoom conference call to drink, dance, flirt, get dressed up, and escape their hellish solitude during the global coronavirus pandemic. You can attend by yourself, with your roommate, or “meet up” with friends quarantining across town. In some ways, it’s the perfect club. The music always bangs. There’s never a cover. Drinks are free, albeit BYOB. If you’re not feeling it, you can just hit “Leave meeting” and walk a few feet to your bed, no Uber required.
Club Q was founded by four queer Toronto creatives in their late 20s: Brad Allen, Mingus New, Andrés Sierra, and Casey MQ. MQ is a producer, and the club’s resident DJ. New is a digital artist, who makes Instagram filters for Facebook. Allen is a comedian and off-duty barista. Sierra is a musician, who appears on the party’s line-ups as a DJ and performer. It started out as just a way to hang out in quarantine. “Someone recommended Zoom to let more friends join. The next night we added music. With that, it just became this wild moment,” says Allen. A few days later, they had an Instagram and a premium Zoom subscription with 1,000 spots per party.
The experience of “attending” Club Q is something between playing Chat Roulette and watching High Maintenance on speed. Organizers arrange a line-up of DJs and performers each night, who stage highly creative sets from their apartments. Producer and cabaret performer R. Flex’s striptease ended with them taking a shower. Another artist staged an aerial water routine in their living room, hanging like a pretzel from a chain above a kiddie pool, all their furniture covered in plastic.
But partying isn’t a spectator sport. Unless a performer’s on-screen, the entertainment is each other. All night, moderators toss the “main screen” to partygoers at random, creating the effect of a virtual dance circle-cum-kiss cam. People light up when they recognize themselves on the “jumbotron” and start delightedly freaking it for the camera. Meanwhile everyone gasses them up in the chat: “YES DISCO HUNTY,” “face face face face,” “serving health and wealth,” “ALRIGHT I SEE YOU GLASSES,” “Do that again girl!”. It’s like a big group chat with hundreds of friends you’ve never met. “Tfw when you leave club q to try to m*st*rb*te but your song comes on,” someone writes Monday night. “SHAKING MY ASS FOR CLOUT,” someone else chimes in. “Can I bum a smoke from someone?” “Don’t forget to rent strike y’allllll.” “PLAY LIPGLOSS SOPHIE REMIX.”
Watching the night’s cast of characters flick by is deliciously voyeuristic. The screen can flick from a club gay voguing in full regalia (there is a unique joy to watching someone roll around nude on a bearskin rug on the same interface where you conferenced with your boss a few hours earlier), to roommates doing a puzzle at their kitchen table, to a teenager in the kitchen with their mom in the background. Sometimes, the selected person won’t even notice they’re on-screen, and will just keep bobbing their head or texting, which is entertaining in its own way. Alternatively, many opt to take advantage of Zoom filters, turning the tiled pages into a tour of queer pop culture. Partiers gyrate atop Doja Cat, Marianne Williamson, Kim Petras, Paris Hilton, Nicki Minaj, Wendy Williams, a bowl of peaches, a pack of Marlboro Reds, bottles of poppers, Studio 54, Bratz dolls and of course, Joe Exotica.
Somehow, the reality of having hundreds of eyes on you captures the IRL stakes of going out. What’s a party without the fear of humiliation? But while Club Q can get your adrenaline racing, the atmosphere is overwhelmingly friendly, goofy and often, heartwarming. You can get dressed up and go as hard if you like, but Club Q is come as you are.
And for now, the club is miraculously non-exclusive. The Zoom code drop every night around 9PM ET on Instagram, available to all. It’s a rarity that someone can’t get in, with the exception of the now-legendary night that Charli XCX DJ’d. The pop star heard about the party through word-of-mouth, and reached out to the organizers herself. “All of us literally screamed when we saw a ‘Charli XCX x Club Q?’ subject header pop into our email,” says MQ. Angels flooded the Zoom within seconds (Charli hinted she’d play her cult deep-cut, “Taxi”), locking a few regulars out. Capacity might become an issue for Club Q as they wrangle heftier artists, but typically the parties are wide open, hovering between 200 and 500, the capacity of an average club or venue.
“Getting done up and sweating every night with all of these hot, funny and creative strangers has given me so much joy,” says Allie, a 25-year-old in Toronto who knows the organizers from a queer basketball league. “Club Q’s organizers have somehow distilled that euphoric moment that sometimes happens at the club where you lock eyes with a stranger on the floor and you just like… see each other both giving everything you have, you know?”
“Everyone in the club is so supportive and caring,” adds Lindsay Jewell, a 19-year-old from Florida on her second night at Club Q. “We all just came to have fun and hang out to get away from our lives in quarantine. For me, coming to the club is a break from quarantine and gives me somewhere to release all my pent up energy!”
“It brings a sense of everything you would find at your local queer bar which I normally attend a few times a week and I’m very much missing that social aspect,” says Mar Sanchez, a 30-year-old Toronto resident attending for their first time.
Club Q’s founders were keenly aware of what the shuttering of clubs meant to queer people specifically. “The club tends to be one of the only safe space for queer people, and it was natural to adapt this world of isolation to maintain that safe space,” says Sierra. Allen adds, “A lot of queer people may not have the support others do during quarantine. They may not have access to their chosen family or the spaces that make them feel at home, so this may fill that void just a bit. Clubs have always been our churches, almost spiritual in a wild effed up way, so this is just us praying at home.” Club Q welcomes allies, but asks that people who don’t identify as queer to leave to make space should a party fill up.
While there’s technically a guest limit, Sierra points out the virtual aspect of the club, in some ways makes partying more inclusive. “Club Q has opened up nightlife to people who otherwise feel like clubs are inaccessible to them. We’ve had a lot of people with disabilities or mental health issues express to us how much they appreciate bringing the club to their homes.”
Despite the saturation of livestream opps under COVID-19, in just two weeks, Club Q has become an institution. Through word of mouth and tagging, the Instagram account has accumulated nearly 30,000 followers, including Robyn, Hunter Schafer, Mykki Blanco and Jeremy O. Harris. “Just being there with the first 20 people you just kinda knew it was gonna pop off,” says Stephen Dunn, 31, a friend of the organizers based in Los Angeles who hasn’t missed a night. “I’ve met so many people off it, and invited friends from all over the world to hop on.”
Club Q is only getting bigger and better. The organizers now conduct sound checks each night to ensure tech runs smoothly. The Zoom fees are 100% covered thanks to the Club Q Paypal, and all four organizers are working basically full time on the club. The line-ups have become musical events in their own right. At first MQ booked mostly local acts from Toronto and Montreal like Bambii, Bénédicte, Martyn Boootyspoon, Sofia Fly and Korea Town Acid. Now they’re pulling talent from all over, including folks like NYC’s West Dakota, Venus X and Sky LeBeija. “We’re reaching out to other local scenes, DJ’s and club nights. I try to go through every DJ submission to get a sense of their sound and keep each night fresh,” says MQ. “One night, we had a hyperpop set followed by dancehall and soca for the rest of the night with a drag performer in between.” The club has also started collaborating with partners. Tonight, PAPER co-hosts Club Q, featuring friends of the magazine, Tinashe, Kim Petras, Aaron Joseph, Myst Milano, Lucy Stoole, Lez Pop and Denim Pussy.
“This past week alone, I’ve heard unreleased music from Charlotte Day Wilson, I saw Kiko (the Japanese super model) in the club and a Charli XCX set (which was fun and cute but not as good as house DJ Casey MQ),” says Dillea, a 29-year-old mom from Toronto.
Followers and clout aside, in two weeks Club Q has become a lifeline for its devoted revellers. During one of the party’s first ever nights, someone tattooed “Club Q” tattoo on their arm live on Zoom. Almost every night, a crew of regulars create their own Zoom “after-party” links, which get shared around the chat as the last DJ closes up shop. The club is more than a replacement for IRL partying. Dunn never went to the club this much before. Now, he says,”I feel like I can’t go a night without logging on.”
“While half my life has crumbled away, and instead of working on my summer pop-up I’m now a full-time teacher to my eight-year-old… Club Q has been a total release,” says Dillea. She’s attended every night since day three, though after running into her ex too many times, plans to start spending more time at Club Hunhouse, a new Zoom party that appears modeled after Club Q specifically for queer women, trans and nonbinary people.
Federal social distancing guidelines already extend officially till April 30 and are likely to be extended at least a month longer. This is to say nothing about when, after the pandemic is over, people will truly feel comfortable walking into a crowded, sweaty club. As isolation settles in as our reality, places like Club Q will only become more crucial.
Sadia, a 19-year-old in Seattle who attended on Monday for her first time, says since last night’s Zoom session ended, all she’s been thinking about is when she can get back on. “I’ve been home just in my thoughts reading about the death rates… For once I didn’t go to sleep worrying about what’s going to happen.”
Photos courtesy of Club Quarantine