Explore House Music’s Queer Roots With These 15 Fierce Tracks

From banging cuts for the ballroom to surprisingly tasteful early big room house, these tracks expose the genre's roots in queer American club cultures.

Words by Finn Johannsen

House music is gay music. The sound emerged from the queer black and latinx club cultures of New York and Chicago in the ’80s. Strangely, these roots of the culture are not very well represented on the global touring club circuit today. There seem to be fewer big name openly queer touring DJs than their straight cis-gendered peers. Likewise, as techno and tech-house have become more popular, main room dance music has lost a lot of the queer qualities that it once had.

To combat this, we put together this guide, which is a chronological celebration of releases that express their queerness with pride. It covers everything from the early days of house music in the ’80s to ball room culture of the ’90s and beyond.

The Children, “Freedom (Factory Mix)” (D.J. International Records 1987)

This one is an anthemic Chicago jack track by Adonis and The Children. The naming is significant: This one is decidedly for “the children”, the dancers on the floor who did not fit in with the majority around them. As the song says, “I have nothing to prove. I‘m this way because I wanna be. Can‘t you accept me for what I am?”

Steve “Silk” Hurley, “Cold World (Mommy Can Your Hear Me Mix)” (Atlantic 1989)

Jamie Principle rides a bumpy groove and takes a stand against ignorance within family and society. The lyrics have echoes of the Pet Shop Boys’ “It’s A Sin” and Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy”, but they have no time for pomp and detailed narrative.

Danny Xtravaganza, “Love The Life You Love (Le Palage Mix)” (Nu Groove Records 1990)

In 1990, the success of Jennie Livingston‘s documentary Paris Is Burning brought New York’s ballroom culture into the limelight. It was partly responsible for the ‘90s vogue craze that hit its peak with Madonna’s exploitive hit, “Vogue”. Danny Xtravaganaza belonged to the “House of Xtravaganza”, and in this song he introduces a life-affirming message while simultaneously providing a glimpse of success against a merciless ballroom jurisdiction. The house groove hits, and then it’s, “Ten, ten, ten, ten, ten, ten across the board!”

Jackie 60 Presents Jackie MC’s, “The Jackie Hustle (Johnny D’s Duelling MC Mix)” (Minimal Records, 1992)

As its name suggests, this one was the theme song of ‘90s New York club Jackie 60. The track is a sweet mellow house groove with a cheeky reference to Van McCoy’s “The Hustle”. That’s all good, but the best part is the lively MC work on top, which greets the Jackie legends and hustlers as they enter the room. “We got a lot of superstars in the house tonight. Hello. I wanna welcome all the Jackie virgins, all the Jackie wannabees.”

Ralphi Rosario, “Bardot Fever” (D.J. World 1992)

Ralphi Rosario provides a swinging piano house track for a showcase of Chicago’s self-proclaimed club legend Byrd Bardot. Actually the way she constantly pronounces her name throughout the track was perfect to throw a pose to. “Do you feel it? Fever? Lots of fever? I bet you do.”

Moi Renee, “Miss Honey” (Project X Records 1992)

A kicking house track that gives more than a slight nod towards Masters At Work’s “Ha Dance” from 1991 (probably the most interpreted sound template of ballroom house music). But here we also have the late, legendary Moi Renee, telling that unfaithful bitch some news in her very own style. Her almost mantra-like rant inspired a lot of vocalists to follow in her steps, although they mostly went way more into detail. “Where’s the bitch, she’s got some nerve. Here I am, and feeling fierce!”

Frank Ski, “Tony’s Bitch Track (Original Dirty Version)” (Deco Records 1992)

The “Tony” in the title refers to Miss Tony, a queer MC and vocalist who was a big part of the so-called “Baltimore club” music scene. The genre isn’t particularly known for its queer performers—actually quite the opposite—and that’s part of what makes Miss Tony such an intriguing figure. Though there are a lot of tracks with Miss Tony, this is the one that shows what this legend is all about. As a Todd Terry-style hard house beat blares, Miss Tony intones, “I‘m a man, I‘m a man, I‘m a man, I‘m a man. But you know what y‘all? Sometimes I feel just like a woman. And if you don‘t believe me, ask your father.”

I.M.T., “I.M.T. Theme (Free Yourself) (Miss Girl Hopes 2 Become Mix)” (Miss Girl Records, 1993)

I.M.T. only released two singles, but both were very remarkable. Their music was an eerie and idiosyncratic take on house and techno. Their message was an encouragement of transgender determinedness that referenced quotes from Paris Is Burning. “It’s your turn. And it’s your time. To free yourself to become yourself.”

The Ride Committee feat. Roxy, “Get Huh!” (E-Legal 1993)

Roxy punished the competition in a lot of seminal ballroom house records, but this wild Louie Balo production is still among her fiercest. Don’t mess! “She‘s got really dreadful skin. She’s got Ethel Merman’s chins. I hate huh! Get huh!“

Candy J, “Shoulda Known Better (M.D. Rubba Dub Mix)” (Vinyl Solution 1994)

Candy Jackson (a.k.a. Sweet Pussy Pauline and Hateful Head Helen) was a true icon of the Chicago house scene. She has released some very self-confident and often very explicit tracks since her debut in 1986. But this striking Mike Dunn production shows another side: It tells a very moving and bitter story of abuse to the girlfriend (and us). “Now I’m in the hospital. I got a black eye, a sprained arm and one broken leg. I can’t see him the way I used to, I can’t hold him the way I want to and I got thoughts that I want to hop back to him when I get out. Am I crazy? Am I still delirious?”

Junior Vasquez, “X (Sound Factory Mix)” (Tribal America 1994)

The Sound Factory was the big room playground of the ‘90s New York ballroom scene, and its resident DJ Junior Vasquez was its undisputed and imperious ruler. This pounding track is an example of how he merged DJ Pierre’s “Wild Pitch” sound template with the club’s floor theatrics and drama. It’s also a tribute and something of a theme song for the House of Xtravaganza, and its late house mother, Angie.

Rageous Projecting Franklin Fuentes, “Tyler Moore Mary (Banji Bite Mix)” (Strictly Rhythm, 1995)

Here you can hear Jerel Black working a butch, Todd Terry-esque house track while the notorious Franklin Fuentes delivers a vicious read, “I’m the New York Times, baby. And you’re Street News. You get the picture?”

Tronco Traxx, “Runway (Grease Monkey Drag Queen Mix)” (Henry Street Music, 1996)

Royal House’s “Can You Party?” served as a point of reference for many ballroom house tracks. This Robbie Tronco production takes that basis to its extreme to create a truly hard hitting dance floor track. This one is for the true devils on the floor. “Butch Queen vogueing femme. Butch queen voguing like femme queen. Bring it to the runway.”

The Ones, “Flawless (Phunk Investigation Vocal Mix)” (Groovilicious 2000)

The Ones (pictured at the top of this article) were a group that consisted of a number of New York scene veterans: Paul Alexander, Nashom Wooden and Jo-Jo Americo. Their track, “Flawless”, flopped when it released in 1999, but it was transformed into an irresistible big room house anthem thanks to this remix by Italian crew Phunk Investigation. It was frowned on by purists at the time, but it’s actually pretty flawless.

Aaron Carl, “Hateful” (Wallshaker Music 2004)

The late Aaron Carl surely was a unique phenomenon in the legacy of Detroit techno. Respected by fellow artists and fans locally and internationally, yet determinedly outspoken about every point he felt the need to make about himself and those that stood in his way, and also gifted enough to succeed with every artistic statement he wanted to make.

However endearing he could be, he was neither ready to compromise, nor would he ever put up with everything, and “Hateful” was a testament to that. “Tearing down the future, living like the past. If you can‘t tolerate my kind, you can kiss my fucking ass. I‘m feeling hateful, because you think I‘m weak. I give it all, and you take it away from me. I fight fire with fire when I‘m in this state, and if I can‘t find love, I guess I‘ll hate.”