Colourful, carnivalesque, transgressive: the club that’s saving queer nightlife

As gay clubs close across the country, Sink The Pink is revitalising the scene with its gender-screwing, club-meets-cabaret vibe

A 6ft 5in drag queen on a crucifix is wheeled out on stage; a lithe boy in nothing but a jock strap drops to the floor; two woman dressed as men are kissing. The scene is as chaotic as a Hogarth painting, only it’s set in the modern day, and nothing is quite what it seems.

This is Sink The Pink, quickly becoming the UK’s biggest and most outrageous queer night. It’s the party breathing new life into club culture with its dedication to freedom of expression and fun. Four times a year, 3,000 partygoers, file into an art deco concert hall in Limehouse, east London. They come here to escape reality and to find a safe place to dress and dance as they like. There’s a ballroom-style pageant, choreographed dance routines executed by packs of burly men in tight dresses, drag queen lip-sync battles and sets from a DJ in a Mr Blobby costume. It’s colourful, it’s carnivalesque, it’s transgressive.

The first time I went to Sink The Pink, what struck me wasn’t the sight of a man in a lobster costume and seven-inch heels, but the sheer scale of the operation. Its founders, Glyn Fussell and Amy Redmond, two friends originally from Bristol, started the party off in a gallery in 2008, then moved it to a traditional east London working men’s club. This year, they’ve hosted a float with Ab Fab at Pride and, in September, will perform with Candi Staton at Bestival. One constant has remained, however: they don’t do traditional. By avoiding typically gay spaces, their club has an edge of both subversion and inclusivity, attracting a mixed audience that has long been missing from UK nightlife. “It’s at its most magical when it’s in a place it feels like it shouldn’t be,” says Fussell. “I mean, can you imagine anywhere more heterosexual than a working men’s club? The contradiction was amazing.”

It’s easy to see why Sink The Pink has won over people who love pop music and dressing up in the silliest way conceivable. Gay bars have been shutting across the country. In London, soaring rents have lead to the closure of gay venues The Joiners Arms and The Black Cap, while Manchester has lost institution Eden. The rise of dating apps has meant that gay bars are no longer everyone’s go-to destination when it comes to getting laid and, as such, many of these venues have found their profits dwindling. By eschewing traditionally gay venues, Sink The Pink has never been without a home. And by revitalising usually heterosexual spaces with their parties, they’ve created something rebellious and novel – not to mention wildly successful – in a scene that seems to be struggling.

Sink the Pink, London.
Sink the Pink, London. Photograph: PR

“As a gay man, I never felt comfortable being ghettoised in a gay bar,” says Fussell. “I thought: ‘Why can’t we have a venue that isn’t sordid or seedy?’ I wanted somewhere celebratory, where even my family were welcome.” Do they feel welcome at Sink the Pink? Fussell laughs: “My mum, my dad and my brother have all been! When I first came out to my brother, he didn’t understand my sexuality. Then I got him along to STP and he loved it. That’s when it feels more than a club night; it feels accidentally political.”

Sink The Pink is not only changing hearts and minds when it comes to sexuality and gender but providing a vital place for frivolity in a bleak time for the queer community. Last month, after an STP party fell on the same night as the shooting at Pulse gay club in Orlando, a photo of three Arab men did the rounds online. They were in full drag, on their way to Sink The Pink. “It made this amazing statement,” says Redmond. Fussell says that Orlando made him consider that the same thing could have happened for them. “The feeling I always have when I leave STP is euphoria; you feel unbreakable, it’s power en masse. When I found out about Orlando, it took that sheer level of joy to the lowest level, but it reminded me why what we do is so important: for other people to see the unity.”

Sink The Pink, London.
Sink The Pink, London. Photograph: Luke Dyson/PR

Sink The Pink are now taking their gender-screwing, club-meets-cabaret formula further afield, with their crew of up to 20 core drag dancers. Later this year they’ll embark upon a freshers’ week tour around the country – Swansea, Hull, Glasgow, Dundee. “We’ve had kids at uni gigs trying to get their heads around Sink The Pink and at the end they’re doing selfies with drag queens,” says Redmond. “The straight boys see the girls loving it and think: ‘I’m more man if I love this, too.’”

They may be fast becoming a brand but Sink The Pink’s roots remain firmly in DIY club culture: the pageants, the dance routines, the thrown-together costumes all remain integral. Redmond and Fussell unanimously agree that their biggest challenge is to keep the “raucous energy” the night started with intact, and to keep building communities. I ask what it is about Sink The Pink that brings so many people together. “I think there’s something really bonding about dressing up,” she reflects. “If I put some glitter on me and then I put it on you, we’ve got something in common. That’s what Sink The Pink is about.”

Miss Sink The Pink is tonight, Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, E2; Sink The Pink returns on 17 Sep, The Troxy, E1


Amelia Abraham

The GuardianTramp

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