A girl scrambling after a lost earring finds it near the graffiti-strewn skate ramp that fills the right side of the room. Two men in matching crop tops kiss while their neighbors cheer. It’s an eclectic crowd. Some patrons are leather-clad or bare chested; others wear Polo shirts or pastel Oxfords buttoned up to their necks.
Tonight the club is theirs; it's as safe a space as possible for those who live at the margins of Cleveland’s mainstream LGBT culture.
In two years, In Training has become one of the most innovative dance parties in Cleveland, both for its spotlight on underground electronic artists and its founders’ mission—to host an alternative LGBT event for those who feel like outsiders at the city’s popular gay bars. Brian Bohan, Aerin Ercolea and Shane Christian hosted the first In Training in a 15-foot by 15-foot basement to an audience of 25 friends. Today, their monthly shows attract almost 200 people a night.
“The idea that we’re combatting is that everyone fits into this one idea of what it means to be gay or transgender,” says Christian, a 20-year old transgender woman who DJs as Kiernan Laveaux. “And also that that idea needs to make straight, cisgender people comfortable.”
In Training was born from a conversation Ercolea and Bohan had the first night they met two years ago, standing on the same Now That’s Class patio where their party’s patrons now take cig breaks. Bohan lived in Bay Village at the time. Feeling stir crazy one night, he rode his bike all the way to the bar that’s on the border of Cleveland and Lakewood and soon encountered Ercolea, a transgender woman who DJs as MX Silkman. They bemoaned Cleveland’s sparse electronic scene when Bohan told Ercolea about his idea for a new gay dance party in the tradition of classic LGBT House clubs. They talked so long that Bohan didn’t notice when someone stole his bike.
“There’s nothing here along the lines of what we wanted to do.. [so] three or four days later, Aerin hit me up on Facebook, and she was like, ‘I thought of this; we can do this here,’” says Bohan, who DJs as Father Of Two. “She brought it basically to me fully formed.”
After that first show in their friends’ basement and the addition of Ercolea’s roommate Christian to their resident DJ roster, the three took In Training back to Now That’s Class in October 2014. Despite the Monday night showtime, almost 60 people came to see two local “techno workout” DJs, an Italian post-punk act and a L.A.-based queer synthpunk artist. Since then, In Training has consistently booked one of the most diverse electronic lineups in town, one night pairing Detroit dark techno with cacophonous industrial and another night featuring a Cleveland DJ duo with Swedish electronic mainstay Dungeon Acid.
Aesthetically, In Training is just as varied, mixing Goth decor, video installation and club strobes. Their name references gay leather/BDSM training, and their online event descriptors dabble in classic camp. The result is a subversive electronic patchwork with a nod to the genre’s origins and a spotlight on its evolving future—a queer dance outlet that seeks to challenge and entertain.
“Electronic music, in the way that we do it, was founded not only out of the experiences of LGBT people, but marginalized people across the board— just freaky dropouts out of society,” says Ercolea. “In Training is definitely an act of resistance against the homogenization of cultures and the way that people were told they had to act. People were sold a lifestyle.”
It’s this “lifestyle” — especially the “assimilationist values” of popular gay bar music and aesthetics — that In Training aims to combat,.
“I’m a person that doesn’t fall easily into the categories of straight or gay, so I have never gone to any gay bar in Cleveland and felt like anyone there is ‘my people’,” says Christian. “Everyone is very entrenched in this strange status quo that has evolved for ‘how to be gay’ or ‘how to be trans.’ It’s a really bleak feeling going to a gay club and musically, personally—you’re still just a square peg in a round hole.”
Ercolea shared the feeling. She came out after discovering electronic music she’d never heard in mainstream gay bars, feeling “liberated to participate in an art form that allows for deviance from hyper-masculinity.” For her, In Training is designed to foster similar epiphanies.
“It has allowed us break away from the established LGBT culture and create a definite force of creative and performative artistry for queer people, and space for self- expression that I don’t think there was much of before we started doing this,” says Ercolea. “I hope that it only leads to more people finding something about themselves that they can capitalize on, with us as a conduit.”
That seems likely. Since In Training launched in 2014, it’s become the flagship event for a new collective of electronic artists, a group that includes the In Training trio, plus the crews behind Heaven Is In You and Disco Paradiso, radical dance parties hosted at multiple local venues. On Saturday, In Training throws its two-year anniversary party at Now That’s Class. The collective then hosts a Halloween benefit with Disco Paradiso at 9 p.m. on Oct. 28 at the club. That show will benefit Guide2Kulchur’s Books2Prisoners and the International AntiFascist Defense Fund.
“It’s been so amazing to see people take the energy that’s popped up and interpret it in their own way,” says Bohan. “I want to see people that I haven’t even met before start something cool. I want to see not just us grow, but the whole scene grow.”
In Training, a monthly DJ “queer-run, queer-enforced” electronic event held at the punk club Now That’s Class, regularly draws 100-plus people. At one recent event, video collages of nuclear explosions and retro cartoons light the wall behind a raised metal platform, where DJs and live acts play deep house, techno, and experimental electronic.