17 long winters ago the usurper Mark Ames launched a new dynasty of clubbing in London and now he sits on the XXL fur throne as undisputed king of the bears. This Saturday his loyal Night’s Watch will be celebrating 17 years of disco magic at the XXL Bear of Thrones birthday bash. Dave Cross sought an audience with the king and also some of his own Night’s Watch DJs who tell us which song they most want to play at the party.
Hi Mark, happy 17th Birthday are you looking forward to Saturday, do you enjoy the big events?
I thought it was common knowledge I just love anything that is bigger, bolder and better.
We are loving the Bear of Thrones theme, what can we expect on the night?
We’ve got guest DJs Bobby Blanco and John Logan joining the residents plus cabaret from Myra DuBois, Danny Polaris and Doctor Woof, it will be epic!
We’ve got you as Jon Snow on the cover, is there another character in Game of Thrones you’d like to be?
Nope, being the leader of a load of men dressed in black leather that constantly wave their big weapons works for me.
We’ve asked the DJs to pick their favourite XXL tune, do you have a favourite from the past 17 years?
There’s really too many to choose. But if one tune was to define when I used to DJ at Arcadia it would be a white label I was given by Frankie Knuckles in New York of Whitney Houston’s Whatchulookinat/It’s Not Right But It’s OK mash up that sadly never got released and I’m told only 70 copies ever got given out. It not only set the club on fire, I think its words and attitude with Whitney’s range and delivery combined with Frankie’s driving garage house beats and baseline was far more a tune of today than then. I have to admit I do miss the DJ booth.
When you started the club 17 years ago it was to make a space for bears and bigger guys where they could feel comfortable, do you think the scene has become more accepting and diverse since then?
For bears I think it has. Bears have gravitas as part of the whole scene now and the influence of bears can be seen on every high street and dare I say in the beard culture we see all around the globe. It’s sad that some bears are as derogatory about non bears as Muscle Mary’s can be about them and I still see a lot of attitude in some younger guys who seem to think it’s OK to come in to XXL and moan about bears and chubs. So, yes things are better but still sadly not equally level and let’s not forget chubs and super-chubs still get jibed at by all sides as much as do really skinny guys. Barriers still remain most definitely, but not at XXL. I admit I love big beefy beer bellied hairy hunks and blokes who don’t try too hard at being sexy they just are what they are, but I also welcome non bears and chubs to the club.
What would you like to see change on the scene?
I’d like the bitching and hating to stop. There’s enough LGBT+ haters out there in the world out. I’m bemused how communities can turn on themselves.
We know that XXL has become a hugely successful club and brand, but what does it mean to you on a personal level?
Mmm, that’s an odd one. The club’s a bit of a selfish mistress, demanding in one way or another and it’s an addictive role with amazingly diverse experiences both good and bad. It changed my life and caused a relationship split and my current 12 year relationship is often tested by it. Highs and lows aside I never forget it started because it was needed and I wanted to make a difference and I’ll keep doing it to the best of my abilities.
This year you worked with other promotors on Bear Pride, how was that for you?
Fantastic, the first three Bear Prides had been the best for me and then it lapsed a bit for loads of reasons until this year. Working with the guys from the Eagle and The RVT in Vauxhall, and the Duke of Welly and Kings Arms in Soho it felt, not just unified but equally supported by punters and the venues. It has set up next year to be even better.
What are your dreams and plans for XXL going forward?
I’ve ventured outside the UK with XXL and all the gigs in all countries have been successful, but they are hard work and home is where the heart is and mine is in London. There are lots of things in the pipeline but it’s never good to brag about things before they happen, let’s wait till they are fact
The Night’s Watch DJs
Kryder and Eric Morillo – Waves, is a brand new collaboration from two of my all time favourite DJ/Producers which I have been supporting for a couple of weeks now. Waves is a huge EDM house track and sees US legend Erick Morillo back on top form. It got a great reaction when I first played it at XXL a couple of weeks ago, and I am looking forward to playing it at the 17th Birthday event.
My big tune for the birthday is Wap Bam by LouLou Players/Kolombo – an amazing re-boot of a big crush of mine from Smash Hits days, Matt Bianco’s Wap Bam Boogie.
The first time I played at XXL was the 7th birthday night way back in 2007, and it was a James Bond theme. So the first song I ever played at Europe’s biggest bear club was The Man With The Golden Gun. For this year’s birthday, I’ve asked Paul Morrell to remix it especially for me, and if Lulu gets her act together and sends him the original vocals, that will be the highlight of my set. That or Disco Tits by Tove Lo.
I’ve been editing my music lately and rediscovered Alexis Jordan’s Happiness. Forgot how much of a massive tune it is. Such a feel good Pop/Dance number that fits in perfectly with my sets. Plus, what’s a birthday party without some happiness?