How To Party with Michelle Lhooq
The writer and Weed Rave proprietor goes off on PARTY GESTALT, GOING TO THE CLUB ALONE and PARTYING IN YOUR 30S, 40S AND BEYOND
Photo credit: Jacob Andrew
How To Party with Michelle Lhooq
Hey guys, what’s up?
Remember how before the pandemic I was trying to make this blog semi-regular? That didn’t end up happening, and if I’m honest with myself the idea that I was ever going to really write this blog every two weeks was a bit of a stretch, and the whole “what should you do in New York” thing is something other people do better, and I don’t even know if making this blog location-specific is that great of an idea. But I do want it to come out more regularly, and feature more types of content, and to that end I’m starting this series How To Party, which will feature interviews with knowledgable, thoughtful people in nightlife.
Michelle Lhooq is a nightlife journalist whose groundbreaking subcultural writing on on music, parties and drugs spans nearly a decade. She throws a party in Los Angeles called Weed Rave, which I haven’t been to but looks and sounds incredible, and she’s author of Weed: Everything You Want to Know But Are Always Too Stoned to Ask. For this inaugural edition of How To Party, I caught up with Michelle after a mid-day Yoga class. She biked to a riverbank in Los Angeles, and schooled me about party gestalt, how to go to the club alone, and nightlife beyond your 20s. The interview is edited down for clarity and to make me sound less dumb.
ADLAN: I was just listening to you on the H0l0 podcast, and you were talking about how, even though underground spaces are less regulated, you often feel safer there than in mainstream clubs. How did you find yourself specializing in underground and subcultural nightlife?
LHOOQ: I think I’ve always straddled both worlds. I started going to venues like Webster Hall when I first moved to New York because it was one of the places you could get into under 21. At the same time, I was also discovering the Kandi Kid rave scene and those raves were happening often in Upstate New York, or in abandoned factories or parks and stuff. That was extremely underground and very ecstasy-driven. I was navigating both of these spaces of the same time, and honestly I was more just in pursuit of the music. Because Webster Hall did bring in these DJs like Boys Noize and Deadmau5, whoever was trendy at the time. At the same time I found a freedom in the underground, the decommodification and diversity. When I became a music editor at VICE, it was often my job to go to really popular festivals. And I was also going deeper and deeper down into the Brooklyn nightlife wormhole, which is where I felt the most myself.
But I always feel like the idea that you can only exist in one side of the line is a false binary. There's so much to be learned and so much that's interesting to think about when we're talking about mainstream EDM festival culture, the way that power structures are working, and it frustrated me sometimes that the underground had this innate sense of elitism that we don't fuck with EDM, it's stupid. Yeah, it's stupid, but we can still all analyze it in a smart way. But you know, I think my heart will always be in the underground. And I feel like increasingly this year and last year, actually, have renewed my faith in the underground.
ADLAN: What inspired that renewed faith?
LHOOQ: I think launching my own newsletter and existing in an underground media space and connecting with readers who are able to find these sorts of niche spaces. It made me really appreciate the quality of staying a little bit hidden when you're talking about semi-legal scenes and drugs and things like that. I just felt so much more of a connection to readers who really understood these things deeply versus mainstream publications that are often angled towards grandmas, not to downplay the actual subversive value in talking about K-holes to grandmas. That's cool too, but like the conversations that are happening on my Discord and discords for other sorts of underground media spaces that I subscribe to are so inspiring.
And I think the underground has exploded in the last few years. It’s easier than ever to hop across the fence and come into the dark side. And it feels like you can actually subsist stuff off of [the underground] and it can support you. And yeah, it just feels really rich now, it's like, not just tiny little parties in small venues, it's its own world.
ADLAN: So can you make a living in nightlife without being the worst kind of Meatpacking District scumbag or turning into your community's version of that guy?
LHOOQ: Definitely! And I often advise DJs who are really striving to climb that career ladder to think about where they really want to be positioned, because the mentality that so many people just unquestionably take is to strive to be the Coachella headliner or play a ton of branded corporate gigs. There's nothing wrong with making money, but they don’t even like the music that they have to play for those audiences.
I think it’s really about the hybridity and being able to intersect these worlds. Like, I think of SOPHIE. She collaborated with Madonna, but she made Madonna weird. She did a McDonald's commercial! But it was like a funny art performance, and it was very authentic.
Michelle Lhooq with SOPHIE in 2017.
You have to be able to kind of play the main stream in your own way. And I think Eartheater is doing a really good job of that right now as well. I love that she calls herself like a former underground Cinderella. Who's now sort of like really approaching mainstream success, you know, Mugler muse, blah, blah, blah.But at the same time, she has managed to keep her spirit so strong. And I think like staying strong and true to your weirdness, um, and being able to scale that is really the key, the challenge that artists should be thinking about.
ADLAN: You’ve had a successful career producing events yourself. If someone wanted to get into producing parties, they wanted to throw their first fundraiser or ticketed event, what's the first thing you would tell them?
LHOOQ: Every party that works well for me starts with a vision and a concept. It can't just be like, I want to throw a party because I want to throw a party. Think of it as a work of art, you know, I think parties are a form of social art, creating something out of multiple components and building it into a larger vision.
So, what ultimately are you trying to capture by bringing this event to life? What's really cool about parties is that they often are a screenshot of a certain scene or social network, or ideas that are floating around. And they really help to concretize something that might be otherwise ephemeral.
I would love artists to really think a little bit more than slapping together artists on a lineup and putting them in a warehouse.
My party Weed Rave really came out wanting to create an environment for people to experiment with the modality of social cannabis. We're entering this new era of legal cannabis, where there's so many different products that you can try, whether it's a weed drink or a CBD lube, and people are really sort of craving safe spaces where they can experiment with getting stoned and socializing at the same time. And then from there, the concept grew into like, how do I build an environment that fits how you want to feel when you're stoned? And having a sense of dynamism, I think really helps a part become more interesting rather than one static environment all night, like having at least two rooms. To me, the best is to have three. One is outdoor, and then an ambient room and then a more crazy extreme dance room.
Allowing people to flow between like different energetic states helps to create a sense of journey, which is ultimately what the night is about, transporting people from how they walk in to how they walk out.
ADLAN: Suppose someone wants to come to Weed Rave, but their friend that they were going to go with bailed at the last minute. And now they're wondering, should I go to Weed Rave by myself? I'm a little bit nervous. What would you tell that person?
LHOOQ: I totally understand the anxiety surrounding the idea of going to a party alone. eIt's so easy to fall into the mentality of, “oh my God, everyone's going to think I'm a loser with no friends.” Especially if you grew up feeling a little bit marginalized and struggling to find acceptance as a teenager, you regress to that insecurity.
It's funny, I will go to at least half of the parties that I go to alone, especially when I was like really deep in the music journalism, party reporting days. Recently I went to [Electric Daisy Carnival] by myself. And so many people were shocked and couldn’t understand how I was able to navigate that kind of like really intense space alone. And I want to tell them, babes, I've had so much training to be able to get to this point.
And now I feel so comfortable just like running around, doing my own thing. And I find that when I go, especially to like queer underground parties, that people are so friendly. They'll just start talking to you smoking area. So, just showing up and being open, not being fearful because people can pick up when you're feeling really scared and maybe they'll interpret that as like, you don't want to be approached.
I think it’s really eye-opening to people how easy it is to make friends at a rave, ‘cause ultimately that's what a good rave really is about, is forming a sense of kinship with strangers because your bodies are already moving together to the same beat.
ADLAN: Yeah, it's something I encounter a lot with my friends. I think my self-identifying as a “nightlife journalist” has empowered me to go to shit alone without feeling that self-conscious—at this point if I didn’t go to most things alone it would be a real roadblock in my “career”—but then sometimes I’ll talk to someone my age and they’ll tell me they’re afraid to even go to a concert alone. And then clubs are a whole other level, but I’ve always thought of clubbing as an interior experience, even when you’re with people.
LHOOQ: [When you’re alone,] you get to be really present with your own enjoyment of the party as well. You're so much more attentive to your feelings, your needs, the way that you're processing the music when you're alone, because your attention is able to kind of chart in words.
It's the same thing as when you go to a restaurant alone and eat, you sometimes appreciate the food more because you're paying more attention to your experience of it. And so you're not distracted by how your friend is appreciating it, you know?
If you are able to push yourself past that boundary, what can be really beautiful about going to a party alone is the independence of being able to follow whatever you feel like doing in the moment versus being subject to someone else's ideas and whims. Like, if you want to take a break from the dance floor, you can do that. If you want to just totally be invisible and not talk to anyone all night you can do that. If you see a trade on the dance floor that you want to talk to! Being alone is the best way to be able to flirt with people because your friends are constantly cockblocking you, you know what I'm saying? So, you know, if you're trying to cruise, going to a party alone is really advantageous.
ADLAN: Sort of on this topic, I think a certain segment of people are really enthusiastic about nightlife right now, but also, people have gone through so much transition in their lives. Like, I feel like a lot of people have moved to new places, had their lives change in a number of ways, and now they're kind of wondering, how do I include nightlife into this new phase of my life, whether it’s my 30-somethings or this new town where I don’t know anyone, or in my marriage.
Especially if people think of nightlife as being this scary, semi-compulsory thing from their twenties or college, I imagine a lot of people are wondering if there’s space for it in their life now, maybe in a healthier way. That was an incredibly long winded non-question.
LHOOQ: That is something I've really been working on in the last few years, how to build a more sustainable relationship to nightlife. I feel like nightlife is, especially in America, so often assumed to be a young person's game. And if you're at the club in your forties, there's something wrong with you. And I really, really push back on that. Cause I think if you truly understand nightlife and its value, you understand that it is not about self destruction. It is about transcendence, and about feeding your soul. It’s about, like, having a temporary reprieve from the structures that we’ve built around capitalism.
And that nourishment is something that you'll need for your whole life, really. So why give it up to the children?
And I think what's useful for me to think about is like the way that I approached nightlife in my twenties was very…how do we say it? Very slutty. I was just going to every single party that seemed appealing to me. And it was really cool because I was able to like, experience such a wide variety of nightlife experiences. I would say probably I've experienced more parties, in terms of diversity, than anyone that I know. And that allows you to kind of refine what you like. And so as you get older, you don't have to go to like every single random techno warehouse because you know which parties you like.
So that’s one. Two, I think that switching the drug diet that I was on from stimulants and Benzos, prescription pills, and moving towards psychedelics. When you're on acid or you're on shrooms, often, you don't want to put nasty things into your body. Like I smoke fewer cigarettes when I'm on acid.
And then three, and honestly this is something that I'm still working through, not thinking of nightlife as the be all end all to life that will give you all the answers and save you from all your trauma. Like I'm kind of coming to terms with the reality that it might've been very idealistic of me to really glorify nightlife as something so revolutionary.
Unfortunately, I think the reality is that nightlife still is very much an escape for a lot of people. And so right now I'm trying to figure out how nightlife can still retain its like political bite, which is one of the biggest reasons why I devoted myself to it. There are so many illusions and fantasies and nightlife because it's such a sort of shadow space. And I think there is unfortunately a lot of political performativity that happens in it, so trying to really locate, authenticity to it, in order to be able to continue believing in the rave is my work right now.
Well, I'm gonna let you go, but I want to just say that I really I look up to you as a nightlife journalist and someone who's done this work for a long time, so I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.
Oh my gosh. I appreciate you saying that a lot and reaching out and connecting with me as well. Have a good rest of your day as well. And hopefully we'll get to party together someday.
Yeah okay, so the year’s pretty much over! Here are my favourite songs from this year if you go in for that sort of thing:
Okay, do you guys care about my Bowery Presents recaps? Sometimes I think I should post about them here, but then I’m like… anyway, for BP I’ve recapped a bunch of shows including Men I Trust, 100 gecs, Caroline Polachek and more. Check them out here.
I think that’s it!
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