Destiny’s Child’s “Bootylicious” is blazing through East London queer bar Dalston Superstore. Someone in a black facemask is rolling, thrusting, and gyrating their body like sex appeal will fend off Corona. There are people in the bathroom scrub scrub scrubbing their hands in frothy soap, arguing over whether it’s 20 seconds or 50 seconds before agreeing on a timed “Happy Birthday” ballad. It is 6 weeks ago, and the world hasn’t metaphorically collapsed yet.
Corona’s coming, but tonight it actually is a birthday: Fèmmme Fraîche, one of the world’s best dyke parties, is turning four years old. Londoners aren’t missing this one; they’re strapping on their facemasks, squirting on their anti-bac, and taking their dykylicous selves to the dancefloor.
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Fèmmme Fraîche is a consistently fabulous monthly queer gal party run by East London’s dyke mayor Michelle Manetti. She’s a world-renowned DJ who’s been serving deliciousness behind the decks in London, Brighton, and Berlin for almost twenty years. Her party is sliced into two halves. “It’s a total dichotomy offering something for everyone: a full-on sweaty dance downstairs, a hairbrush sing-a-long upstairs,” says Michelle.
True to form, on Fèmmme’s birthday, the first floor saw tipsy people getting their life from cheesy, cheeky, guilty pleasures — Prince, M.I.A., Candi Staton — and sipping G&Ts while wailing lesbian anthems about cunts gettin’ eaten (“212”) & pussies gettin’ worshiped (“Pussy is God”). This floor is usually womxn-ed by an up-and-coming DJ. Michelle makes a point of selecting hosts, performers, artists, designers, and DJs at various stages in their careers, from fresh blood to party pundits. “I try to use my night as a platform to support queer womxn,” she says. “Each event, I highlight their talents by interviewing and showcasing them before the party, making it feel more community driven than just a pure party.”
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Michelle’s career started when she was thrown in the deep-end and offered a set at a prestigious queer party in Brighton, UK. She is now giving the same opportunity to others. “It’s nice to think I’m passing that on and paving the way for new talent.” she says. “I guess, in a self-indulgent way, it gives me a great sense of well-being.” As such, she also runs free (or very cheap: £5) DJ workshops, where a group of non-binary and queer womxn sit in a circle like contented kindergarten kids as Michelle shows them the ropes, teaches the tips and tricks and the dos and don’ts of the industry. She’s a real catalyst in the London scene, a game-changing community curator and activist who — let’s get biblical — is teaching the queers to fish, not just giving them a tasty fish supper for the night. Every community needs someone like this, and with this energy at the helm, Fèmmme Fraîche is an absolute blinder of a party — so fundamental yet fun, generative yet joyous.
Meanwhile, in the basement, Lord have mercy on all our souls, as undulating, rolling, hypnotic techno and house rhythms pour like honey over the expectant crowd. Michelle plays first, followed by a guest DJ. In the past, this has included queer royalty Honey Dijon, Joyce Muniz, and Lauren Flax. Tonight, Hannah Holland’s behind the decks. I’ve started this new thing where I don’t drink and avoid substances at parties so I can properly soak in the atmosphere. Hannah’s set had me quite literally in ecstasy — dancing, spiraling around, eyes closed, seeing shapes, living my best night-life — so much so, that I had people coming over to ask, “Are you okay, hun? You look like you’re having a really great time,” and holding my hand through what they thought was a very intense night with Molly. The strobe lights swung; the smoke machine churned; people melted, mixed, and merged; we were putty in the DJ’s hands. This was a dyke party on cloud nine.
Hand-washing aside, the vibes were sky-high all night with palpable, infectious joy oozing through the bar and everyone inside. “It was everything I hoped it would be,” said Michelle. “The guest DJs and performers were top notch. The residents slayed as usual. It was super rammed, full of fab, wonderful people from beginning to end. The vibes were awesome — [you] can’t ask for more than that.”
Nightlife is a serious art form. It isn’t about going out hurtling into oblivion and looking for people to shag (though obvs that’s fun too). Nightlife, especially to queer communities is and always has been about belonging, transforming, and healing together. It is a sanctuary, a refuge, and a little universe, free from phobias and discrimination, patriarchies and politics, borders and divides, inequalities and bills. And right now, free from the constant statistics, updates, TikToks, memes and status’ about Corona Corona Coronavirus.
Parties have the potential to heal. Excellent DJs like Hannah Holland and Michelle Manetti are healers, providing space, time, and rhythms for people to rearrange, reconnect, and realign. Obviously, a party can’t cure Covid-19, but it will make you forget the mania outside and online, remedy your heightened anxiety and isolation at this time, and reassure you — once again — that you’re a dashing dyke and that’s a fucking fantastic way to be.
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Fèmmme Fraîche has been raising the standard, setting the standard, and sharing the skills so others can do the same for four sublime years. Dyke nightlife — in London, in the UK, in the world — has evolved exponentially thanks to Michelle Manetti. Now’s the time to strap on that bejeweled facemask, and cross our fingers that she’ll be able to turn up again in a few months — a little light at the end of this highly sanitized tunnel.
Fèmmme Fraîche is a monthly queer womxn/nb clubnight at Dalston Superstore, London. Next party: TBCorona-proofed https://www.femmmefraiche.com