A Club Called Rhonda: Equal Parts Dance Party And Polysexual Playground For Self-Expression And Discovery

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All Photography by Michael Mendoza (Rony's Photobooth)

We’ve always been fans of Limelight, Studio 54, Paradise Garage, stuff that I’ve never been to but there’s such a mythology about it and such an element of purity to it...That’s what we’ve always strived for—we’re a 100% devoted to hedonism. -GODDOLLARS

It’s a warm August night in Los Angeles and a Club Called Rhonda is in full swing. The crowd is a colorful mix: gay, straight, underground music heads, club kids, drag queens and fashion devotees. In the main room the dancefloor is dark, foggy, dripping with sweat; bass rumbles under our feet. A man in a cut out leather unitard with full face paint is dancing atop a booth, glitter dusts off his skin like confetti. The guest DJ, which has been kept secret until now, is revealed—Detroit legend Theo Parrish. As Parish drops his signature deep house and techno soundscape, we know we’re witnessing something special. The crowd erupts into a full on frenzy. Rhonda is unleashed.

A Club Called Rhonda is LA’s nod to the nostalgia of Club Kid era fantasy and disco decadence. Since its launch in 2008 by Gregory Alexander and Loren Granic (aka GODDOLLARS), the monthly club night has captured the underground spirit that emerged in the gay underground dance music clubs of nightlife’s past, where house music was born. Its clubland predecessors, legendary US spots of the ‘70s and ‘80s such as NY’s Paradise Garage, Danceteria and David Mancuso’s Loft; Chicago’s Music Box and the Warehouse, and ‘90s landmarks Limelight and Tunnel, are re-imagined through the lens of this new generation of partygoers. Rhonda is equal parts themed dance party, dress up podium and playground for self-expression and discovery. Rhonda’s promotional tagline sums it up: House, Disco, and Polysexual Hard Partying.

“We’ve always been fans of Limelight, Studio 54, Paradise Garage, stuff that I’ve never been to but there’s such a mythology about it and such an element of purity to it,” says Granic, “That’s what we’ve always strived for—we're a 100% devoted to hedonism.”

The birth of Rhonda was influenced by a house party, the guys’ eclectic social circles and night at Hollywood mega club Avalon, where Granic had gone to see Green Velvet DJ to a bottle service, uninspired crowd. “It was a total bummer. So we wanted to get a place for people that love the music, that don’t want to shell out $30 to see a great DJ, with cool people and a great environment.” The house party was called Black Diamond and thrown in a residential area of Highland Park by an art school collective, with whom Alexander and Granic later collaborated. They’d spend a week preparing decorative themes, such as a psychadelic mermaid set up, for virtually no financial gain. But the standout characteristic of Rhonda has always been its mix of crowds, a direct result of Alexander and Granic’s friendship.

GODDOLLARS:

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Gregory and I have been best friends for like 10 years. It’s always been kind of unlikely in the sense that he’s gay and I’m straight. We’d always be hanging out and we’d have to go either to gay things or straight things, even though I have the same amount of love for all my friends. I don’t want to have to go to separate things and have them be so segregated, so political. We had this idea of an ideal party for a long time that was just floating around in our heads, when we started doing it, it started making sense.

Alexander:

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Loren and I have always been partying together but we’re completely different at the same time. We would go to raves then we’d go to these hip-hops clubs, then we’d wind up at a bunch of house parties. It’s like trying to get all of our friends together in one place, which is what we’ve said even in a lot of the propaganda that we create. I want to see all of my friends at once, everybody together going batshit crazy. There are just so many different parties that cater to only one thing, like you’re gay or you like punk… even within the gay world it’s like, You’re gay and you only like bears so we wanted to bring all of those people together.

Rhonda began as a biweekly event at Guatelinda nightclub in East Hollywood, a mirrored, vinyl booth, Latin-dive-lounge. At that time, several promoters had taglined “disco” and “fashion” to their parties, none of which united the said segregated scenes that Rhonda attracted, and with a cheap cover, unheard for headliner DJs. What cemented the night’s authenticity was their homage to disco’s past, booking legendary dance pioneers like Nicky Siano of The Gallery / Studio 54 fame and Greg Wilson of Manchester’s infamous Hacienda.

“It’s our responsibility to show that music to people,” says Granic. “A good percentage of the crowd at Rhonda might not know who we have booked. We never think of it as will they draw. We’re trying to bring music to people, not necessarily having the DJ’s name bring people. We had Nicky Siano which was a total dream. There’s no reason why they should take second in line to some young kid who is playing the same thing and not as good. “Instead of just depending upon the name to carry the party, people depend upon Rhonda to show them what good music is,” adds Alexander.

Their run at Gualindo ended and Rhonda took a brief hiatus before launching at El Cid, a Silverlake Flamenco lounge in 2009. Two originals partners left, and later that year Alexis Rivera joined the team. Rivera is head honcho at Echo Park Records, a management company that reps acts such as Bonde De Role, Jacques Renault and Glass Candy.

Unlike most of the legendary members-only dance clubs of yore that prided themselves on the “exclusion” factor, with strict door policies and hand-plucked attendees, there is no sense of hierarchy here. This is intentional. Phyllis Navidad of Pop Tart gallery has run the door since the beginning.

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I knew this was a good party when some lady offered me $150 just to use the bathroom. I thought to myself, damn, if the pisser is worth more than $100 bucks, you know its a legendary evening. -Phyllis Navidad

“I want it to fall on us for the crowd to be good rather than have it all on the door to make the party good,” says Granic. “It’s our responsibility to get people to dress up and to get cool people here. I love the fact that there will be a 7-foot tall tranny next to some USC accounting student.”

“I don’t think you’re going to find three people in LA who like LA more than us,” Granic continues. “Part of what makes LA, is that it’s this total melting pot. For us to turn our backs on that would be an insult to not only LA but to what Rhonda is about.”

“The city is made up of so many different groups and minorities that we want all of that represented,” Alexander adds. “That’s why Phyllis has been with us forever. I mean she has a Rhonda tattoo. That wasn’t a requirement.”

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The team puts a lot of effort into making Rhonda a success, taking an entire month to set up one event, with custom stage design and décor. The theatrical aspect of Rhonda comes equally from its attendees, whose participation by creating costumes and ensembles are equal parts of the night’s DNA.

“When you love somebody or something you want to dress nicely for them,” says Rivera. “People love Rhonda and want to look their best. It’s not about getting fucked up, although, we’re all serious fucker uppers, it’s about letting yourself go.”

“I definitely did not want to wear some of those things I’ve worn at that party,” Alexander laughs.

“Like the piece made of plastic balls?” I ask.

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“That thing, I’m still finding balls all over my yard. Everyone starting grabbing them off of me and I would get more and more naked throughout the night. There’s a respect to this character, Rhonda. If she tells you to bring it hard you want to bring it.”

With a low-cost cover charge and El Cid’s 350-person capacity, the guys have been able to book world class DJ talent on a limited budget—mainly due to personal connections and word of mouth support from other artists. “At first we had this problem of trying to adjust to [artist fees] and tell them we may not have the money but we can give you a good party,” says Granic. Alexander explains, “At this point I think almost every DJ that we’ve had, the day after will post something saying ‘that was an insane party, my favorite time in LA.’ That’s what has helped us grow, especially amongst the DJs and their friends. I think the crowd trusts us at this point.”

They have a long talent wish list and book according to it, never revealing the talent until the week of the event. “Explain that to every agent,” says Rivera. “And since I’m a manager they go ‘you wouldn’t want that for your acts’ I say I know. But Rhonda is different, it builds anticipation and excitement.”

Part of Rhonda’s allure is the element of the unexpected. Perez Hilton attended Rhonda and tweeted about it. “First time here—and LOVING it! Hugs to Phyllis Navidad!” Long time friend of the club Dita Von Teese follows Hilton and wrote “I love Rhonda too.” At 3 am on a Saturday night Rhonda was the #1 trending topic on Twitter. “All these people were going ‘who’s Rhonda, what’s Rhonda?” says Rivera. “For a flamenco club in Silver Lake, that’s amazing.”

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Is Rhonda a real person?
Granic: She’s my favorite person in the world. She’s like a synthesis of every person that we respect or want to be.
Alexander: She’s based off a lot of real people. She’s done a little bit of everything and makes no apologies for it. She’s a commanding presence. She’s not your mother but you want to listen to her.
Rivera: Our intern thought Rhonda was a friend of ours. One night we were like what happened to you last night and he said, “I went to Rhonda’s house, we were there until 7 am. Rhonda, the person the club is named after, you don’t know her?”

Rhonda is part of a growing dance music scene in Los Angeles, which is rightfully establishing its own identity alongside other world-class markets. Many producers, bands, and DJs are relocating here, attracted not only by the climate, but also by other creative and licensing opportunities—not to mention a fresh music scene. The last global dance impact may have been rave, but the city’s musical lineage is far more deep rooted.

Rivera:

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There was a great ‘70s punk scene here. They don’t talk about it in the same way they do about NY or London and when they do they talk about the Hollywood punk scene, like the Go Go’s rather than people in east LA, South Bay, Orange County. There were all these great punk bands out there—even the Rhonda logo references the Germs. Rhonda is punk in spirit.

GODDOLLARS:

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Punk not necessarily embodied by the violence or the music, but like the attitude and how far you’re going against the status quo. I think there’s nothing more punk than dudes without their shirts in Chicago dancing in an illegal warehouse until 4 am. That’s fucking punk rock. I feel like we have a lot in common with that.

In September Rhonda hosted an intimate departure dinner on the club’s terrace to celebrate their last night at El Cid. Several of the club’s regulars were in attendance, including Alexander’s lovely mom.

“I met your mom,” I said.

“My mom likes to party,” Alexander laughs.

“Oh and I met your mom’s husband.”

“You mean my dad?” Oops.

“So what are you gonna wear?” I ask.

“A tuxedo, then I’ll change into a dress. What do you think, fitted pants or wide-legged?” Wide I say.

He emerges 15-minutes later buttoned up to host the festivities. At this point the entrance line has curtailed around the block. Within minutes the place is rammed. In typical Rhonda fashion, intervals of guests are invited on stage to dance. And if they aren’t “bringing it” they are kindly booted off by MC Russinbox—a crowd-hyping staple of each event.

As one door closes another opens. Rhonda’s one-off party series called Rhondavous will pick up where A Called Called Rhonda has left off following their El Cid departure. Rhondavous has recently launched monthly at its new home at club 333, an LA nightspot famously co-owned by Prince in the ‘90s. This month’s event takes place Saturday, December 10th with DJs Switch and Todd Edwards. Club 333 accommodates roughly 1000 people, three times that of El Cid.

“We’re finally going to be able to serve all of the people that come,” Granic explains. “We were holding out for the longest time until it made sense. We’ve lost out on a lot of possible revenue by not having a place that could fit our crowd. It will allow us to do way more Rhonda than we’ve been able to.” The team plans to continue A Club Called Rhonda as a smaller, more intimate night. Both events are anticipated for monthly or bi-monthly installments. Visit their website to get newsletter updates on all events.

In addition to the night’s expansion, Rhonda will continue running their record label, Rhonda International. Partnering with Scion, they released their first 12” this year and are currently working on their next release, expected within a few months. They’re open to collaborations with other companies, as long as it’s got their level of quality and maintains their vision.

“We will hold for eternity until we get somebody who will work on our terms,” Granic explains. “We’re ready to bring it hard if we work how we want to work. We’re not out there whoring ourselves out, absolutely not.” This includes the idea of possibly launching Rhonda in other cities as well as event production partnerships. “We definitely would love to make a full fledge operation,” continues Granic. “No matter what we do we’re going to have that same drive and same attention to detail. We may appear to move slowly or to not take every opportunity but that’s because we don’t want to go into something unless we can give it the production value that we want, to make memorable, make it Rhonda.”

“I can see taking it as far as it can go,” Alexander adds. “Hopefully it will become easier.”

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Rhonda is still as much fun as it was three years ago. It’s still a LA club without the typical LA attitude; where you easily make new friends at the bar and often dance with strangers, where you dance until your makeup melts or your clothes come off, whichever comes first. What resonates is that it embodies that spirit of exploration and letting go and allows us to chase the clandestine feeling that the underground seduced us to begin with.

So where do the guys see themselves in five years? “I would love for us to be able to still be having one of the premiere places for dance music in LA. I would love for LA to be an even bigger landmark, where it’s a destination similar to other big dance music cities.”

It was started at this weird little dingy nightclub where trannies were making out in the corner and we were just having a good time doing what we wanted to do... We’re so glad that it resonated. We’re very grateful for that. -GODDOLLARS

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