Share This Article
It’s a Friday afternoon at Dalston Superstore. The upstairs bar is lit up by the late sun, and the seats are filled with smiles as old friends catch up over mimosas and pornstar martinis. It’s the calm before the storm: as evening sets in, the shutters come down and the party stretches its legs and begins to shake its hips.
Drag dancers flail across the tables and podiums, as the sound system is maxed out and the colourful space descends into a cauldron of debauched chaos. The stairwell is opened to the industrial, downstairs club, where the lights are dimmed and anything from groovy, laid-back house to driving electro and techno music feasts the ears.
“There’s a certain kind of magic that happens after midnight here,” says Michelle Manetti, a Dalston Superstore regular DJ and promoter of Femme Fraîche, a recurring female, non-binary, and trans focused night at the venue. “It’s a place where people really let loose and don’t feel inhibited.”
The partygoers are diverse, from an array of walks of London life, and all entirely up for a good time. “There’s different bodies, different nationalities, backgrounds, genders. It’s a kind of melting pot of really colourful, quirky queer people,” she continues. “It’s not gay, it’s queer – and there is a real difference.”
Dalston Superstore is nestled on the ever bustling Kingsland Road, in (you guessed it) Dalston, east London. The road was once home to a thriving, bustling nightlife scene – in 2015, a 10-minute stroll would have had you pass notable venues like Dance Tunnel, The Nest, Alibi, and Birthdays.
As Superstore gears up for its 13th birthday celebrations, the clubs that once bookended it are now consigned to memory, leaving the club as the final pillar that stands of a once thriving, electric club venue scene. Its durability, within a rapidly gentrifying Hackney, is testament to the community of queer party-goers that it has built. So what’s the secret to the Superstore’s survival, and what is its enduring draw?
“Before I moved to London, I used to look at the website of Superstore,” says Emma Kroeger, aka Milk Shandy, the head of bookings who curates the parties and music at the venue, who originally moved to London from Perth, Australia. They continue: “I always felt that there was something lacking in my experience of queer nightlife, and to me Superstore was kind of the mecca of the queer nightlife scene that I wanted to experience.
“The sorts of gay bars and clubs I had been to very much catered to cis, white gay men. Superstore was a venue that was truly about catering to every sort of microcosm within the queer scene.”
Diversity is clear not just in the crowds who flock to the club, but also within the programming of the nights and the music policy. Parties include the every-Wednesday Transvisions party, a trans-led night, Them Fatale, a non-binary and gender non-conforming night and Jungle Kitty, which is catered to be a safe space for the QPOC (queer people of colour) community.
“I know a lot of people, particularly trans and non-binary people who say that they feel safe in this space in a way that they hadn’t in more traditionally gay spaces,” says Max Beecher, one of Dalston Superstore’s duty managers. “It is something that is really special and is an important place for people.”
In allowing people to feel safe within its hallowed walls, Dalston Superstore provides a colourful canvas for people to explore their sexual and gender identities, and importantly, find their own ways of expressing their queerness. Its importance to the queer community was put under a spotlight during the pandemic, with nightclubs being forced to shut.
“Lockdown really hammered home how important queer spaces are, because for the majority of queer people, being in that environment, with the people that they choose to be with – they are able to be authentically themselves,” says Michelle. “Having that community, it’s their chosen family. These queer spaces are sacred.”
Being unable to open meant not only that the venue couldn’t generate income, but also DJs couldn’t spin records and dancers were unable to strut their stuff. “Having to close really showed us how strong the community around Superstore is,” says Emma. “We set up the Hardship Fund, which was for some of our queer freelancers, like our DJs and drag performers, who were unable to be furloughed.”
The hardship fund raised tens of thousands of pounds, according to Emma, which helped to keep their freelance workers financially afloat during the difficult times.
Surviving the pandemic at a time where a number of other clubs in London (22 per cent) weren’t able to is testament not only to the community around it, but to the Superstore’s adaptability. Its varied lineups of nights, which cater to all varieties of queer people, are a deliberate response to an ever-changing world and the fluidity of identities.
“We’re constantly listening to what people have to say about their experiences here,” says Emma. “And just ensuring that we are platforming marginalised people within the queer community. It’s very much about representation.”
“A lot of the management team are trans and non-binary, so the need for spaces came from outside – us responding to what we saw lacking, but also responding to what we felt we needed ourselves,” says Max.
“The things we do feel like a collaborative community effort,” they continue. Max explains that a lot of the regular parties reflect the ethos of the space – the unique feeling of the Superstore is a cumulative product of the people that work here, the people that attend the parties, the DJs that play and the hosts who put on the events.
As the Dalston Superstore continue to look forwards and evolve, the big red “X” on the upcoming calendar is the not-so-small matter of their 13th birthday, which will be celebrated at the beginning of next month. Their anniversary is always one of the most memorable parties of the year.
“All of the most iconic moments I’ve ever seen in this place have tended to be around birthdays,” Max says. “It brings out all of the people who have been coming here for years and years.”
The birthday party tends to run for 10 hours, from around 8pm to 6am. “Those are always just crazy, crazy, messy nights,” says Emma. The lineup, not yet fully announced, will feature some big names, with Lady Shaka and Jason Kendig on the controls.
The party is not to be missed, but neither is their usual programming affair. “Every weekend has its own sort of nonsense that unfolds,” says Emma, with a wry smile.
So if you’re stuck with what to do on the May bank holiday, consider sliding Superstore’s celebrations to the top of your list, and save some space for a pornstar martini or two.
Enjoyed this article? Read more here: London’s best LGBTQIA+ nights and clubs