In a time of social distancing, Club Quarantine (AKA Club Q) managed to do the unlikely and formed a global community. Founded by four Toronto queer creatives, Club Q is an international virtual dance party hosted on Zoom with guest appearances from Charli XCX, AG Cook, and Yaeji, just to name a few.
In Club Q fashion, HUSTLE zoomed with Cérena Sierra, co-founder and performer of quarantine’s hottest and non-exclusive club on the importance of found communities, Toronto’s own dance scene, and the future of Club Q.
HUSTLE (H): Club Q came into existence during the middle of a world-wide pandemic. How did it all come together? How did you all meet? And if you could, just tell me a little bit more about yourself.
Ceréna (C): My name is Ceréna Sierra. I am one of the co-founders of Club Quarantine that I co-founded with Casey MQ, Mingus New, and Brad Allen. We were all friends before this. Brad and I, of the four of us, had a longer relationship than anyone else. Casey, I’ve known since a child, but our lives [weaved in and out] and now we’re here. And then Mingus, I met through Brad because they dated once upon a time.
The first day of lockdown, we were at home and I was called in on IG video chat and it was just six people because it maxes out at six, so we were all on that original call. Then it became like an IG group where we added more people and someone mentioned to use Zoom because we could actually see each other on there. So we downloaded it and then we planned our first kiki and at that time, we hadn’t even figured out how to use the audio. It was shit but we were just having so much fun because we could see all of us. It was 15 of us or something. We were exploring virtual backgrounds and that was a lot of fun. Because I was having so much fun then, there were other djs at that first party who was like, “Me next, me next! I want to play” and then that is just kind of how it kept the ball rolling. Because we’re club kids here in Toronto. We are very well connected within the queer underground nightlife, so we had a plethora of djs who just wanted to play and on that first night, one of the peeps made a joke Instagram
@clubquarantine and we all tagged it. Then it just started taking off and we were like, “What the hell? How did we get a thousand followers overnight?”
H: And now it has over 60K, which is amazing! I heard the Toronto club scene is unreal. I’ve never been but do you mind telling us what the nightlife is like there and how you got into club culture?
C: Here in Toronto, we don’t per se have designated spaces that are really kind of hot, besides like spaces in the Village but those are not really where the parties are at. What there tends to be a lot of in Toronto are party collectives and it moves around just wherever they’re going to give us space.
Some collectives that were known for being in the parties were like Pep Rally, Yes Yes Ya’ll, Raven’s Vision, which is Casey MQ, one of our founders, that’s his collective.
Myst Milano (@mystmilano), one of our moderators, who has also been taking over our IG for the time being, is also part of that same collective. They were really on the foreront of brining the queer underground techno sound. Up until then, Toronto was very much taken over by the Top 40, Drake Ovo kind of moment that everyone was like, “Oh, this is Toronto” and so that’s really straight, mainstream Toronto. When you go to the Entertainment District on King West, that’s what you expect from just very generic nightlife so the underground stuff...that’s really where the fucking shit is happening. It’s just wherever we take up space, we go.
One of the first parties that changed my life was a few years ago on my birthday. It was a rave at a random warehouse in the middle of the west part of Toronto and that was put on by High Power, which at the time was run by @Manifesto_TO, who were putting on parties more in that reign where the djs were just gonna be a lot cooler. You had a lot of queer people, POC djs, that kind of stuff versus the big, white mainstream djs that you get from everything else.
H: Totally. So since quarantine, now that we’re all social distancing, how has your relationship to club culture changed. Obviously you started Club Q but how are you still staying connected to those communities?
C: I mean definitely right now it’s been a very interesting moment. We had our first meeting back because we have a party tomorrow and we have three parties this week. But it’s crazy how it happened because we had quarantine, we had lockdown, and then that was the perfect opportunity, moment, serendipitous accident for Club Q to birth and to hop off. We had those first two and a half months of quarantine in this bubble where everyone is just twiddling their thumbs, figuring out ways to be kept busy and then George Floyd happened and that changed the world. So maneuvering through all that has been very, very, very interesting as a platform and understanding that people are fatigue as well. We were all fatigued and trying to figure out what does our space really mean during this time and before it all went down.
The space itself was an act of resilience and an act of activism. As queer people our safe spaces are always being shut down and before the quarantine, they were already on the shutdown. They’re just trying to put more fucking condos and destroying the culture that exists there, so going online and moving online was a way to create a space that was gone from us because it really came from a need of connection. That’s literally what it boils down to and the nightlife is that connection. It is one of those few spaces where we can be free, so understanding that our place is a place of refuge already for people who are marginalized because that’s really also what amplified us so much was the community, the global community that was built around Club Q.
H: These are crazy times and people do need this safe space to relax and collect themselves but also to re-energize, which is why I’m so appreciative of Club Q, which leads me to my next question, what’s next?
Social bans are starting to lift across cities. Do you plan on continuing online? Would you possibly turn this into its own collective?
How it works: At 9PM EST the day of a party, Club Q leaves the Zoom code on their IG bio for anyone to join. Having mastered the art of Zoom, one of the co-founders or mods screens entry to avoid any trolls and to maintain a safe space for all. The dj or performer, meanwhile, are the only ones with access to the audio as the club members dance into the night, hit up the chat, smoke weed, or play Animal Crossing like in any ordinary club. . .
C: First of all, I think it’s crazy that New York is reopening. It’s crazy that anywhere in the fucking US is reopening is what I have to say about that. That’s government neglect.
It’s hard to even think of what’s happening next week, let alone the future of Club Q. Those conversations would always come up in interviews and they were always hard to answer but we always say the future of clubbing will stay virtual. We also talk about how this was able to bridge the gap between people with disabilities or people without access to the club, to queer culture. Club Q was a refuge for them. People who are not able bodied or people who are immunocompromised and queer would tell us how this was their first queer club experience and how they’re loving their lives but could never do this in ‘real life,’ so we never want to sever that connection. We would always say we would bring this into real life but we would maintain the virtual aspect of it.
But here we are, June 15th, and since then, Zoom has proven to be problematic. Zoom chooses to make security a premium feature and not accessible to everyone, which is inherently racist. Classism is racist. They live head to head together and to not give that security to everyone blows and we don’t fuck with that but we cannot exist without it, so that conversation had to be had, where it’s like clearly, we are at the hands of Zoom in terms of that they are the best with the technology to be able to house our parties but if this is all we can use, let’s keep making the most corporate, most straight app ever into the queerest app.
H: I love that. I saw the post about the Zoom update and that was my next question, as to whether or not you found a new platform.
C: That one’s hard. There’s no other platform out there that exists that could house a thousand people the way that Zoom houses it and we don’t have an investor right now.
H: Speaking of the platform, what are some of the more memorable moments on the virtual dancefloor?
C: We’ve had so many iconic people come through quarantine. Big Freedia for me was one of my favorites. It was this wicked ass performance from her backyard and even though the sound was shit because the setup wouldn’t allow for better sound, it was still epic, epic, epic.
There was a performance artist by the name of Anne CuntyHam (@anneeham) and I love, love, love them. They did this brilliant performance where they were dressed in plastic bags and the virtual background was the earth and they performed to an edit of Katy Perry’s “Firework” where it kept repeating, “Do you ever feel like a plastic bag?,” throughout the entire slot. It was very hot topic, political commentary. It was brilliant. They had a photo of Jeff Bezos and they ripped it.
Do you remember or do you know the story–this is before my time but–Sinead O’Connor? It was this pop star, this big artist from the 80s. They had a shaved head and they performed on Saturday Night Live and they did this a cappella performance and they ripped a picture of the pope on SNL and they were canceled immediately because it was the 80s. And of course, the pope. How dare you! But she was fully criticizing the popes, the Catholic Church, and the problem of pedophilia. She was canceled and her career was over after that. Anyway, that’s what CuntyHam used in the mix. It was wicked.
There’s also Yovska (@yovska) who is a drag performer. They’re like something out of a nightmare. They did this number where they did Christina Aguilera’s “Dirty” and they were like a mop monster. They started in the laundry room of their home and performed [the song] and would dip their mop titties into a bucket and then they ended in their washroom, taking a shower. It was wild. I just love seeing when performers really utilize the technology and understand the medium and give us a show like that.
H: I love the idea of Zoom as a medium. That’s great. My last question is for people who don’t have access to these communities. If you could just say what Club Q is to you and elaborate on how you maintain a safe space and what that responsibility means to you?
C: Our community is very vocal and we love [them] because they will keep people accountable and we see it in the chat. One time we had a white straight dj and was playing this song with homophobic lyrics and the chat went off, off, off.
It’s wild because before-George Floyd and the way we had push back for certain things. When we said we don’t want this artist because they have said homophobic shit or racist shit and the way these institutions would tiptoe around those things and push back and say it will be good and give all these reasons why it would be good and we had to be like absolutely not. Versus now post-George Floyd, everybody is Black Lives Matter and all these things but these instituitions turned the blind eye before. There was always push back and we have been pushing for representation on these lineups. When celebrities come through with these lineups, that’s when it becomes white cis. That’s when we have to push for more visibility and for more diversity.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Since this interview, Zoom has decided to offer end to end encryption for all users around the globe, free and paid. All images are courtesy of Club Quarantine.