TASTY NIGHTCLUB RAID: INTERVIEW WITH GAVIN CAMPBELL

Electronic music has been a welcome refuge for many. Dark nightclubs and lyric-less tracks provide the perfect cover to explore identity, create a new one or simply escape the grind of daily life. For this reason clublands and electronic sounds have brought us all together; indiscriminate of race, sex, religion or sexuality. Sadly forces of judgement and discrimination entered the walls of the Tasty nightclub on August 7th, 1994, in the form of a police raid. 

Tasty had recently brought progressive, underground, gay clubbing to Melbourne. The combination of incredible music, an inviting atmosphere and friendly regulars made it an instant success. A certain Melbourne police unit however, were not as welcoming towards the club and its patrons. On August 7th, 1994 they raided the club and forced all 463 attendees to be strip-searched, cavity-searched and falsely imprisoned in a fashion aptly described by the Premier of State as “extreme” and “disturbing”. Full nudity was enforced and searches performed in full view of other patrons, with no one permitted to enter or leave the venue for around seven hours.

While the raid was clearly an outright violation of rights, it was also a turning point – Melbourne’s own “Stonewall” to this day. Little did the police know, but within Tasty’s walls that night were a handful of Melbourne’s influential – those who stood up for their own rights and the rights of patrons, fighting so successfully that they changed gay rights and the entertainment landscape in Australia forever.

Gavin Campbell, former Tasty resident DJ and promoter, electronic artist, and Razor Recordings owner, held a party at Melbourne’s Poof Doof this August to remember the 20th anniversary of the raid and how it changed the community since. We were fortunate to chat with him further about the raid, changes within the community as a result, as well his own his music and record label.

When did you start making music and DJing Gavin? 

I started DJing in 1983 at the opening of the first club night I promoted, called ‘Swelter’. 

I started making music in 1990, when I first set up Razor Recordings, which was named after the second of my self-promoted club nights, Razor.

When did you set up Razor Recordings? 

Razor Recordings began in 1989, when I licensed a pair of old disco hits from the US, “Dance Across The Floor’ and ‘You Get Me Hot’, both by Jimmy Bo Horne. The label was then picked up by Mushroom Records in Melbourne and we started to make our own local dance music. 

Razor Recordings was a few years too early for the Australian market, as there was no media or retail support for dance music back then. Hence, Razor Recordings is now being re launched, now that Australian dance music has been accepted by the music industry.

Was that before or after Tasty had started?  

Tasty opened in 1992 at Temple.

What was the vision for Tasty; both at its first home Temple, and later at Commerce Club? 

Tasty was opened as an alternative gay dance club; alternative to the mainstream clubs that had previously been the only type of gay dance venue in Melbourne. 

We simply wanted a space where we could explore new music and a more progressive style of entertainment, rather than traditional drag shows.

3 words to describe the nights?

Underground. Progressive. Original.

How do you feel that clubbing and the scene has changed since then? What would you say is different when comparing Tasty to the nights you run and play at now? 

Tasty was unique, in a club landscape of mediocrity (in my opinion). 

Today, most gay clubs are still mediocre when it comes to music and entertainment, so nothing much has changed. I’m not usually critical just for the sake of it, however, the general consensus in Melbourne is that our gay clubs and entertainment are very staid and boring. There is one bright spark though, Poof Doof, which is trying to forge ahead with new music. 

Tasty was the first really underground, no holds barred gay dance club in Melbourne, so it’s kind of in a league of its own, in terms of uniqueness. It’s hard to compare anything else to it, on that basis.

I understand you weren’t at the raid, so I’m guessing you wouldn’t have thought the night would turn out as it did? When you realised what was happening inside the Commerce Club – what went through your mind? 

I knew there was going to be a raid but had no idea it was going to be as heavy-handed as it was. 

We were warned by concerned members of the police force. There had been a similar operation about five years before the Tasty raid, where only six people were strip searched, privately. We believe that the police at the Tasty raid panicked because they couldn’t find any drugs, so they got unnecessarily heavy-handed.

How did you mobilise the community and fight for justice, after the event? 

There was a community meeting at Joy FM on the Monday morning. A strategy was put in place and the media alerted. The rest, as they say, is history.

It was thanks to Tasty organisers and patrons standing up for their rights, that this event changed things for the better, for everyone in Australian music events. 

What do you perceive helped the outcome? 

The fact that 465 people had the same story, no drugs on them and they were falsely detained and their human rights abused by being strip searched, without authority or corrector procedures. All we had to do was stick together. 

The laws were changed and the police put back into place, so Melbourne benefited through new rules and regulations, which are still in place today.

How have things changed for gay clubs in Melbourne and Australia since an event that represents Melbourne’s own “Stonewall”? 

Well, now people know their rights and more importantly, the authorities know that we know our rights, so we are more free to party than any other state in Australia. However, in general, there is a raised awareness due to the Tasty raid. For example, there was an incident at Mardi Gras last year, where the police were heavy handed with a young gay man and plenty of mobile phones were out, recording the incident. I think gay crowds are much more aware that they can stand up and complain about being treated badly.

Do you feel that the club scene in Melbourne is thriving as it should be now? Or could it be different? 

If club owners and promoters had more courage to be different, I think things would get more progressive. 

Venues need to engage the services of creative, forward-thinking individuals and allow them to express themselves, through music policy, entertainment and decor, and marketing, to achieve a more progressive product. 

The club scene is alive but I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s ‘well’, as there isn’t a lot of innovation going on. There are pockets of it, however, not much at all in the gay scene. Even the coolest underground gay dance party in Melbourne, ‘Trough X’, follows an old familiar format, though the music is very underground. That’s what Melbourne expects now; they want to know what they’re in for but that it will be adventurous with the music… if the right DJs are playing it.

And tell us about the Tasty Raid 20th Anniversary Party that happened in August?

We premiered a Razor release called ‘The Saboteurs’ with guest vocalist Evangeline and the crowd response was good. The Tasty raid 20th anniversary event was magical at Poof Doof – we will have to do it again in 2015!

Read more about the night and those who made a stand in The Age article, ‘Cheeky promo shines a light on 20th anniversary since the Tasty raid’ 

Words by: Sonia Miles-Kahn, CDR Melbourne

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