Unskinny Bop is a monthly club night in London. It has promoted itself as an attitude-free alternative to many of the image obsessed nights on London's alternative scene. It is a queer run club night that welcomes everyone regardless of looks/size, sexual persuasion or gender and that diversity is reflected in an eclectic playlist. They also occasionally produce a mini zine loosely based around the topic of body image/fat phobia featuring contributions from the likes of Charlotte Cooper and Bill Savage and cartoonist Lucy Sweet.
The 2 girls that run it, Ruth and Tamsin proudly proclaim that they are "for batties and fatties --- providing disco dancing opportunities for girls, gays and misfits." And perhaps most revolutionary of all, they say AS IT IS AT THE DISCO, SO IT SHALL BE IN LIFE.
How did you start out as DJs?
I think really the origins of deejaying for both of us was in being obsessive mix tape makers and realising that the technical skills come second to the main criteria of having a good record collection and knowing when a song will sound good next to another one. Before we met we had both been doing bits of deejaying here and there, Tamsin at Debbie's Smith's various club nights in London, Ruth at Poptastic in Sheffield and Manchester.
Do you have any tips for anyone wanting to be a DJ/run a club night?
DJing: 1. Listen, think and talk about music non-stop and always be on the lookout for new great songs.
2. Don't get too hung up on genre --- if you think a song is good, play it, people will come along with you (there are some exceptions to this, I was shocked when I played MmmBop by Hanson at the Bop and didn't get a round of applause much less a heaving dancefloor).
3. Go out a lot and dance. It's always good to know what other nights are doing and what songs feel good on the dancefloor.
What do you like/dislike most about DJing?
Best thing definitely is creating dancefloor magic, playing some crazy mixes of songs that seem to only make sense in your own head or dancing in your bedroom and having the kids go wild. Worst thing is serial requesters who never even dance to the songs they have hassled you into playing!
What's been the most memorable night so far?
Probably the Halloween special featuring Zombina and the Skeletones and The Priscillas. The venue was absolutely packed with a queue down the street, almost everyone dressed up in amazingly creative and scarey Halloween costumes, we had Delia from the A-Lines and Schla La La's as guest DJ and we had two of our most favourite bands in the world playing. Shame we were too stressed out to fully enjoy it!
You sometimes do themed nights like the Dolly Parton/Kenny Rogers one --- what themes would you like to do in the future if you could?
It is possible that we will do a Summer Fun night at the August Bop but that depends on our powers of organisation in advance, the next fully themed night will be a Divas special featuring a dress up as your favourite diva competition and a countdown of the official Unskinny Bop Top Ten Divas. I would also really really like to have some Karaoke going on but not sure if it will be feasible so can't promise anything --- We haven't set a date for this yet but it will be fully advertised on our website etc.
You also sometimes put on bands like The Priscillas and Zombina and the Skeletones. Who would be your dream bands/singers to have at UB that you haven't had yet?
We only do gigs occasionally as it is hard hard work, and the Bop is definitely more of a disco than a band night. That said we are both currently completely obsessed with The Long Blondes and have been fantasising about having them play for us.
I know that you do an occasional mini zine as well to go along with your club night which I really love. Do you have plans to do anything else like a bigger zine or an Unskinny Bop compilation CD?
We will definitely be doing another zine at some point but not sure about a compilation CD --- I think making a compilation should be as much about the recepient as the person making the CD so I think it would be quite hard to make one for general use. Also we are both quite square and good so would be worried about being sued for infringement of copyright etc. The good people of Homocrime did mention the possibility of us curating a CD-R compilation release of songs by bands we know and love, so we might give that a go at some point.
Unskinny Bop has a very diverse and eclectic playlist even for an alternative club. I think that's what appeals to me most, that you don't just play all indie music and that I get the feeling you play stuff because you genuinely love it not because you think it's "ironic". Is there anything in particular you would recommend indie purists should check out that they've maybe not considered before? Anything that you've played that people have loved and they maybe wouldn't have thought they would have done.
We would never dream of playing something ironically which is why the whole idea of "guilty pleasures" as a musical genre is annoying --- why be guilty about liking something just because it is perceived to be uncool? I don't think it is in any way weird or wrong that I love listening to Girls Aloud as much as Girls At Our Best. I don't have anything against indie purists as they tend to be so obsessed and obsessive about music that they have got enough stuff to be going on with without checking out the new Usher single. What I object to is casual rock fans who devote masses of time and energy on criticising Avril Lavigne for being a fake --- she's a popstar, she doesn't have to be real!
In terms of recommendations, hmm, I think that most indie purists are essentially in love with a particular strand of pop music and that it is a real shame that they are blinkered to pop in its other guises. I blame the NME, who wouldn't? In my experience, unfortunately, (straight, white, male) indie purists are reluctant to accept music recommendations from fat lezzer Dolly Parton obsessives but I would encourage them to listen to other stuff with an open mind and not be so hung up on credibility.
I read on your website that you said one of the things that inspired Unskinny Bop was the increasing feeling that even alternative clubs were becoming more fashion conscious and body fascist. Do you think the London scene has changed and why do you think this is?
Basically we set up Unskinny Bop based on our experiences of 8 odd years of gay, indie, and gay indie clubbing in London and the regions. In the old days the notion of a gay indie club was very subversive and cool and fun, but after a few years the music policy of the principal clubs didn't change with the times and it's got very stale and boring. Around the same time as we were getting disillusioned with this scene, electroclash happened and was immediately adopted by the gay and straight alternative scenes, which drove all the fashionista types into what were previously 'our' places. Where before you would get wrecked on Red Stripe and happily flail around the dancefloor, now you had to queue up and meet a particular dress code (read: body size code too) just to get in. Once inside, there was no joy in the new music, just blankness and moral voide. It sucked ass.
So, empowered by Ladyfest, we just decided to do our own thing, play music from all genres motivated only by our love and passion for the songs themselves and the desire to create a happy, inclusive atmosphere where all were welcome. Since then electroclash has died a bit of a death so we can be less antagonistic but our raison d'etre remains the same.
What made you decide to promote Unskinny Bop on the positive body image front and what kind of feedback have you had (positive and negative)/
It basically came from feeling that Ladyfest was a good platform to feature something to do with body image as obviously it it such a massive issue for so many girls and women but we didn't want it to be all po-faced and Mein Kampfy, we just wanted to have a big old celebration of chubsters. Our mainstream culture tends to measure success in terms of how much money one has and how thin one is, and the best way to challenge that assumption (we thought) was for us to host a massive free party honouring our podgiest of popstars.
Also we just thought the phrase 'Unskinny Bop' would be a good name for a disco for fat people! Apparently though it refers to having sex with a circumised penis. Anyway. Since the first Unskinny Bop the explicit pro-chub focus has diminished a bit, as we aspire to be a haven for all sorts of misfits whatever their size, but we hope the fact that the club is run and DJ'ed by fat lezzers helps encourage an inclusive, accessible and fat-positive atmosphere.
How would you describe Unskinny Bop to those of us who've never been and why should we all come along?
Best. Disco. Ever. It may ruin clubbing for you forever though as nowhere else you are likely to go will be a as good.
What are your Top 5 songs at the moment?
Lust in the Movies --- The Long Blondes.
Gypsy --- Fleetwood Mac.
Zombie Hop --- Zombina and the Skeletones.
Diamonds (Remix) --- Kanye West featuring Jay-Z.
Baby I'm Burning --- Dolly Parton.
THIS INTERVIEW WAS DONE BY E-MAIL IN JULY 2005. ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN OCTOBER 2005.
UNSKINNY BOP ARTWORK FROM THEIR MINI ZINE.