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In the face of official homophobia, Budapest’s queer clubs are defiantly hedonistic and inclusive

Around the world, clubs provide space for LGBTQ communities to express themselves, and Budapest is no different. Gentrification and government pressure hasn’t stopped a dedicated scene from emerging in the city’s underground

Budapest in focus

For decades, club spaces have played a crucial role for the LGBTQ community worldwide. These dark, dingy, seemingly unremarkable places, from basements to bars to disused warehouses, can be transformed into dazzling temples of love and inclusivity where the community comes together and cutting-edge creativity thrives. Queer parties create safe spaces to shine, unwind, and meet like-minded people, but they are also a powerful means of political expression. In countries where political conservatism still reigns, queer nightlife offers a parallel reality separate from a public space governed by judgement. In Russia, queer parties like Popoff Kitchen and Grahn’ are part of a wave led by the new generation of LGBTQ creatives. In Kyiv, Veselka represents a yearning for freedom which goes hand in hand with the post-revolution Ukrainian rave movement. And in Budapest, an emerging scene represents both the rise of home-grown techno and a vision of equality the Hungarian LGBTQ community is keen to bring to life.

“The beauty of the Budapest techno movement, especially in the queer scene, is that every party matters,” says Menishu, one of the founders of OMOH, a pioneering queer party which has been happening in Budapest since 2016. “In a place like Berlin, whatever you do, it’s just another drop in the ocean of nightlife. In Budapest, OMOH is a revolution because it’s about so much more than just entertainment: it’s empowerment, body-experimentation, a support network, a vehicle for sexual liberation and social transformation, a political statement.”

Image: OMOH/Facebook

Image: OMOH/Facebook

Menishu started OMOH together with Alexandr, another prominent DJ on the scene. Both have been deeply passionate about music for years. Menishu was drawn to rock and studied jazz guitar at Budapest’s music conservatory, but after visiting Berlin in 2013 he fell in love with techno and house: in his words, “kick drum has been an endless source of happiness in my life.” Alexandr, a party organiser and half of feminist music collective A C I D W I T C H, had been a music collector since her teens, spending days on end searching for new music online, before she started playing at indie-electro parties with femme-forward queer audiences.

“The main concept was to bring quality, sexually-fuelled techno and house music to the queer dance floor in Budapest,” Alexandr says of OMOH. “On the visual side of things, many ideas came naturally from our name, borrowed from the Russian special police unit — the biggest fag-beaters of all. We also make 40-minute mixes before every party, giving people a taste of the full spectrum of the OMOH musical experience.”

“When we started, there was simply nothing like it and there still isn’t. OMOH is a decidedly queer night, with all the hedonistic freedom that we feel isn’t possible in any other context, but without the horrible pop music soundtrack of other queer nights,” Menishu adds.

“The beauty of the Budapest techno movement, especially in the queer scene, is that every party matters”

Running a queer night in Budapest means operating in a highly challenging environment. The government’s homophobia is well known. For many years, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party have advocated for “traditional” family values and dismissed LGBTQ rights as dangerous and imported values that threaten the country’s Christian roots. The changing cityscape of Budapest is also not so easy to navigate for party organisers. Rapid gentrification means that grassroots and less commercially-minded initiatives get priced out; sometimes club and bar licenses get revoked specifically to free up space for a different business. “Corvin bar, which hosted OMOH once a month, got closed down using a totally fake and unlawful ‘drug raid’ as an excuse,” Menishu explains. LÄRM club remains the single consistent reference point in the techno scene, while most queer nights happen on a pop-up basis.

“We don’t really have queer underground clubs, but there are places which are openly queer-friendly where it’s possible to organise a night. Another factor is that, although we have lot of queer nights, the scene is very small, just a couple of hundred people,” says Barbara Pongrácz, who used to co-run a queer party called Distriqt. “If you go to Pride-related events, there you see all kinds of people, it’s really a huge celebration, but it’s only once a year. On a weekly basis, it’s usually the same group club-goers who are the core audience.”

“As you would expect from a conservative government, there is a complete general disregard for nightlife as an art space, or as something with therapeutic value to heal,” Menishu adds. “And with Budapest also becoming a popular destination for cheap bachelor parties, it’s true that it’s hard to see the artistic value in nightlife sometimes. But sadly, local governments here don’t see the difference [between the two] and have no real plan other than letting it go until it makes money.”

Read more It’s been a turbulent decade for Hungarian techno, from club closures to illegal forest parties

In recent years, Budapest’s burgeoning electronic music scene has been not only incredibly prolific in terms of its homegrown sounds, but also forward-thinking in the values it espouses. DJs and producers like LAU run music workshops which prioritise women, while big events like Kolorádó festival use their platforms to educate the public about the inclusivity, safety, and respect which are essential to healthy club culture. Inclusivity is also at the centre of a new night, Persephone, founded by Alexandr and Klayman in 2018.

“We are focusing on female, queer, trans, and people of colour, from local talents to international artists. However, Persephone is not only a queer party — we are trying to reach a wider audience and gather different, open-minded music lovers in one place. We mostly play house and disco, but we are open to experimenting with other styles, too; we also had a party built around darker styles, like acid and electro. So far we’ve featured Tama Sumo, Prosumer, Luz, Lakuti, and Analog Soul,” the DJ says.

Image: Ádám Csábi

Image: Ádám Csábi

Alexandr notes that the Budapest scene has become more diverse in the last few years: “There are a wide range of techno parties, a lot of new crews and DJs, so the scene is more colourful than ever. You can meet more queer people at a regular, ‘straight’ techno night, too. I think OMOH contributed a great deal to making techno more popular in the queer scene, and also inspired others to start doing something similar.”

Perhaps this sums up the broader role that queer parties play in the nightlife ecosystem — teaching wider audiences that the energy cultivated on the dance floor can be carried through into one’s way of life and beliefs. “Back in the late 70s, club culture started out as a safe haven for people on the fringes of society: blacks, browns, latinos, and most of all gay people. Even though it lost more and more of that meaning as it was sucked into the mainstream, for us it’s still the same,” Menishu concludes. “We’re the outcasts, the weirdos, the people who are ‘too much’. We don’t fit into the straight world, or the neoliberal image of gay life; nobody wants us for what we really are, and everybody would rather just forget we exist. So, we create spaces where we can be free of all this bullshit for a night at least, heal our broken souls together, recharge, learn, teach, and then go out into the real world again — but stronger.”

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