Glitterbomb was important, precisely because it was rubbish, argues Oliver CooneyStevie Harding with permission for Varsity

Let’s face it, most gay clubs aren’t that good. While It’s a Sin and Pose depicted fluorescent mazes packed with well-dressed models, thumping basslines, and subversive social attitudes, many I have entered have been stale, sticky-floored, and sparsely populated. But it wasn’t until Vinyl announced the end of its weekly queer night, Glitterbomb, that I began to value my time in these shoddy queer clubs.

If the news of this closure comes as a surprise, I don’t blame you, it has done to everyone I’ve told. But I encourage you to think when the last time was that you went to Glitterbomb, or Vinyl at all for that matter. The introduction of the intelligently named replacement, ‘Get Duck’d’ comes after Vinyl saw a sharp decline in weekly attendance and profits. For the most part, this was brought on by racism allegations against Vinyl staff and the university-wide boycott. The establishment of the POC-focused Queer Get Down, and the (albeit short-lived) addition of Raid put the nail in the coffin for what was formerly Cambridge’s only queer club night.

And I can’t say I’m surprised. Glitterbomb was my first night out in Cambridge, and while Vinyl’s light-up dancefloor and mirrored ceiling are fun for a first timer, the gimmicks get old quickly. QGD and Raid brought talented DJs, nicer venues, and most importantly, a sense of safety for Cambridge’s queer POC community. With their experimental, hyperpop soundtracks and well-dressed, alternative crowd, they stand much closer to the nightlife I imagined as a teenager. But they set an unrealistic standard.

“Stories of small-town folk moving to the big city and learning to be themselves aren’t reserved for movies”

Coming from Manchester, complete with its very own Gay Village, I had the chance to spend my pre-uni years in many gay bars – most of which were rubbish. But lower quality clubs take away the fear of being a lower quality attendee. I didn’t have to be well-dressed or know all the songs because Paul (the plasterer with a wife and two kids) loved my outfit, and Keith (the 53-year-old DJ in a cheap wig) would play whatever I requested. Lowering my expectations meant I could gradually get used to the newfound freedom of a space that actively encouraged queerness.

For a lot of people, Glitterbomb served the same function. Stories of small-town folk moving to the big city and learning to be themselves aren’t reserved for movies – they aren’t even reserved for big cities. For many of my friends, moving to Cambridge was moving to the big city, and accepting their queerness came hand-in-hand with accepting an invite to Vinyl. As a ‘baby gay,’ entering a queer space can be incredibly daunting. Through no fault of the organisers, this remains true of both Raid and QGD; the music, though well chosen, is obscure, and the attendees are terrifyingly cool. With the DJ’s poor mixing skills and the excessive overhead lighting, Glitterbomb felt more like listening to a playlist in your bedroom than going to a club. If you came from a family of countryside conservatives, you could ease into it.

“With the loss of Glitterbomb, we lose a crash course, and big city gay bars become a culture shock once again”

Though it’s devastating to admit, seeing two men kiss can be difficult for a lot of queer people. Give one of those men a harness, the other blue hair, and those fresh out of the closet are in an identity crisis. I don’t mean to seem critical– I have both worn a harness and had blue hair– but I mean to illuminate that queer culture, in all its glory, can be intense for newcomers. Cambridge is probably one of the easiest places to be unapologetically different, and I thank QGD and Raid for contributing to that ethos. But outside the bubble, queer life is different.


Mountain View

The Cass Review fails to move beyond ideology

Glitterbomb was an introduction to queer culture, often more accurate than other events. Its weekly drag show showcased both local talent and huge (inter)national names. It remains my most embarrassing memory to have drag superstar, Danny Beard, yell “drag show’s over here, gay boy” at me for snogging a stranger while she performed. But it taught me what a drag show is really like, and what to expect at another. Between lip-syncs, the Glitterbomb stage was home to ‘go-go boys’: conventionally attractive, scantily clad dancers hired to keep the party going. At Vinyl, this meant your supo partner was down to his underwear, spinning to an old Britney track. Outside of Cambridge, you’d be hard pressed to find a queer club without either kind of performer. But near-naked dancers and gender-bending artists aren’t a regular feature at Mash. With the loss of Glitterbomb, we lose a crash course, and big city gay bars become a culture shock once again.

Will I miss Glitterbomb like I’ll miss Raid? Not at all. Even beyond its poor quality, its irreparable relationship with the POC community meant it couldn’t last. But if Raid is what you’re expecting from queer clubbing, be prepared to be disappointed. Glitterbomb, in all its mediocrity, was a pretty representative example.