A Club Called Rhonda is Back, Bitch
A Club Called Rhonda is Back, BitchJune 25, 2021
Who is Rhonda? Despite her mysteriousness and slinky ambiguity, she’s well-known in party hubs around the world, including her hometown of Los Angeles. Represented by just a pair of stilettoed legs, she’s ageless, she’s fabulous, she’s art, she’s the life of the party. Rhonda is all of us — the sparkliest, fiercest version of ourselves we could possibly be.
“You should be the star, as the person who’s coming,” A Club Called Rhonda co-founder Gregory Alexander explains, sitting across from me at the charming, pink-hued Casita del Campo, a popular LGBTQIA Mexican restaurant he recommended.
“That’s why there’s never really been a face to this person that we created. You are her. You are this being that is ever powerful and ever present.”
Back in 2008, with the fearlessness of the 21-year-old ravers they were, best friends Gregory Alexander and Loren Granich launched A Club Called Rhonda to fill the void they felt in the L.A. party scene. Granich was raised amongst tens of thousands of vinyl from his DJ father (both he and his brother Ryan are resident Rhonda DJs, as GODDOLLARS and Paradise, respectively) and Alexander came of age as a teen at Catch One (under Jewel Thais-Williams’ ownership), and both are fans of disco, house, techno and drum & bass. At the time when EDM and the “rave industrial complex,” as Granich aptly puts it, was taking hold in L.A., they craved a radically inclusive space that honored the queer and POC roots of dance music, something that harkened back to iconic venues like Studio 54 and Paradise Garage.
They couldn’t have known how big Rhonda would get, but they’ve been down for the ride. While they both underscore that they’ve made many mistakes along the way, their focus and vision have always been clear, allowing them to create a much-needed safe haven in the L.A. club scene and in 17-plus cities across the country.
“I think L.A. has always had a bit of an identity crisis with its club identity,” Granich says. “We’re so happy to have been a part of that renaissance of L.A. nightlife. There’s so many cool brands, labels and people that really take clubbing seriously now and really spread the gospel of dance music in a true way.”
Honoring dance music’s radical, queer roots of color is deeply embedded in the brand, and effortlessly educating partygoers is part of their purpose. “It’s an honor for us to be there [at Catch One],” Alexander beams. “It’s really important to make sure that people understand the history of those spaces, and that people respect it. And if we can be some sort of continuance of that history, we’re just honored to be a part of it… We’ve always tried to teach people that the reason you’re able to party is by standing on other people’s shoulders, and that dance music and club culture were built by queer people, people of color, people from underprivileged backgrounds, from inner cities.”
They also see their lineups as a crucial piece of raver education. “Our booking is not, ‘Oh let’s book the biggest touring white straight DJ who’s the head of house right now.’ It’s always been a mixture of like, let’s get the person who’s listening to Grimes now to also listen to Derrick Carter from Chicago, let’s mix those artists together so that there’s some sort of educational aspect to the experience. And then hopefully, in our promotion, we convey how important each of these people are to the scene, to the history, and to the future,” he adds.
Alexander shares the powerful story of how booking legendary Detroit producer MK for a party, at a time when he was working primarily in the R&B space, brought him back to dance music. Playing the Rhonda party showed him his ’90s house classics like “Always” and “4You” (the latter released under his 4th Measure Men alias) could still tear up the dancefloor. They’ve also booked New York club legend Nicky Siano, who founded The Gallery and DJed at Studio 54. Detroit legend Carl Craig just played their Antigua fest alongside two of Motor City’s newer stars, DJ Holographic and Ash Lauryn, and Carter returns for their first San Francisco party of the year (on July 9 at Great Northern).
While Rhonda would not exist without the blood, sweat and tears of the dynamic duo, they are quick to acknowledge everyone who’s become a part of their family and been key to their growth and success. For example, father-son nightlife impresarios Steve and Mitch Edelson, who run El Cid, Los Globos and more, gave them the chance to do their thing from the beginning. They were glad when they bought Catch One in 2016, keeping the memory-filled venue alive and safe from developers.
“Loren and I are only two small parts of the people who build up Rhonda. And so it’s really important to respect and honor all the people that have helped build us up, which there are many, and some of those people are not even with us anymore,” Alexander implores, choking up a bit. “It took a lot of people for us to get here. I’m so appreciative of all of them. I wish that they could all still be part of this.”
And when people show up for Rhonda parties, they show out. The looks are inspiring, creative, sexy, queer, sheer, colorful, glamorous and always with something a little — or a lot — extra. How you choose to express yourself is really not important, it’s the intentional decision to consider and play with that expression, an art form that’s central to the LGBTQIA community.
“The way you present yourself to the world is a really important part of who you are. I think oftentimes, you’re given a dress code you have to adhere to in order to make a living or to not offend. But that doesn’t allow you a lot of space to be an individual, and to express who you are inside. Our biggest thing has always been ‘Be who you want to be in your dream scenario and be that 110 percent,’” Alexander says.
“I think that ability to do whatever you feel like for the evening, to put yourself on full peacock display, to allow all of your feathers out, is a really important freedom people don’t allow themselves very frequently,” he continues.
For some of their guests, that freedom has been truly life-changing. “There’s been so many people that have found themselves through the experience of the club, which is really amazing to hear. People that are part of our family now that were like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know where I could go to play around with gender roles and stuff.’ And now they’ve fully transitioned. And they’re like, ‘I found that through the experience of being in the club.’ I can’t even put into words how that makes me feel.”
Despite the legendary ‘fits served up like candy, they’ve never had a dress code. In terms of how they encourage people to serve their best looks, Granich sees it as “a soft touch.” “We didn’t want people to ever feel the door drama,” he explains. “[We’re] like, you better work a look no matter what you’re doing, you can be dressed in trash bags with bobby pins, or you can be super glam… I think that that is part of why we go so hard on dressing the club up. And I think that that is why we get that response from people.”
“We’ve become very good at providing a lot of nudging, in an encouraging way. Our ultimate goal is to get you to be the best version of you,” he adds. “Our team always gets messages from people that are like, ‘What kind of party is this? What do I wear?’ And we’re like, ‘The dress code is come as the best version of yourself.’ Once we say that, and people are like, ‘Wow, thank you.'”
In 2021, it seems Rhonda is perhaps needed now more than ever.
After announcing their first IRL event back — Rhondavous at the iconic Catch One club in L.A. on June 26 — they saw their fastest ticket sales ever, selling at least 1000 the first day.
“People are ready to get down, to lose their minds, to reconnect, to feel free again. And luckily, that’s always been something that Rhonda’s been known for, to be able to give them that release. We’re happy to provide it as long as people want it,” Alexander says.
Like everyone working in nightlife, the pandemic was challenging for Granich and Alexander, but they got through it, ready to return to the dance floor.
“I have to preface this by saying, when putting things in perspective, I really have no place to complain because I am fortunate not to have lost anybody that’s close,” Granich shares over Zoom. He’s currently sitting beachside in Antigua, ahead of the debut of their 150-person island resort festival, Rhonda Does Antigua. “But [the pandemic] was a really hard personal journey. A lot of people had a lot of things taken away, but [Rhonda] was our whole life, our whole livelihood. We were paying a lot of people in our communities; a lot of people were relying on us, financially and emotionally,”
While their 2020 plans were completely derailed — they had a packed calendar but held just three out of their 30 to 50 annual events — Rhonda wasn’t fully in hibernation. Because so much of the magic of their events is in the tangible elements — those shimmering disco legs, neon affirmations and the other playful decorations, along with the fabulously dressed partiers, and the experience of losing yourself in the music — Granich and Alexander had trouble envisioning what a virtual version would look like. Then they received money from Red Bull to throw one. And in December, created an immersive ‘80s-inspired game show/variety special-style event, giving $10,000 away to their community in the process.
And now, after the ample pause to reflect and regroup, as they get back planning IRL events again, Rhonda’s future has never felt brighter or more expansive.
“I think this pandemic has given us a really interesting view on what we need to do and what we don’t. Like I said, the intention is always really important, also figuring out what the strongest things we can do instead of just being busy. It’s also pushed us to realize that we don’t need to just do one type of experience. For instance, Rhonda Resort, Rhonda TV, or Rhonda Live,” Alexander muses.
“Also, I think it’s time to put our family on a platform. Loren is building out a studio where people could produce music, so hopefully we can help them to achieve their goals as creatives. That’s been a longtime goal of ours that we have not had the time to really focus on.”
Granich echoes this optimism. “I feel like the sky’s the limit. And we are at a point where we’ve been through so much that we know what we need to do. It seems so clear. The clarity of purpose that we have is absolutely shining on the horizon.”
Ana Monroy Yglesias is a Staff Writer for GRAMMY.com. Music and storytelling are her first loves and going to shows is her lifeblood. Her eclectic, expansive music taste is firmly rooted in the disco and ’80s she grew up on. She is especially interested in the intersectionality of music, art, culture and social justice and truly believes that greater representation and more diverse storytelling in media can create greater unity and understanding in a big way. Follow her on Twitter.