While Tel Aviv’s nightlife has changed unrecognizably in the last two decades, one thing remains stable – the PAG gay club party night, which celebrates its 15th anniversary Friday in a 36-hour party with 18 DJs in the city’s Alphabet club. In addition to being the oldest night club in the city, the PAG is also the most radical, colorful and influential event in the city’s gay or straight nightlife.
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The hip, raunchy rave was established in 2003 by Roy Raz and Eitan Tal, in a bid to offer an underground alternative to the existing FFF Shirazi gay party production, which was held weekly at the TLV club in the Tel Aviv Port.
“When we started we didn’t set out to change Tel Aviv’s nightlife at all, it’s just that there was only one place to go,” says Raz. “It was clear that if you’re gay you wear certain clothes and go to hear certain music. You had no other option.”
“I started it as private loft parties in my place in Florentine until it grew, exploded and wrecked my house,” says Tal.
Over the years they were joined by two young partners, Liel Bomberg and Tal Maman. Raz is an advertisement and video clip director, Tal is a fashion photographer, Bomberg is a graphic designer and Maman a musical content manager.
“We have our professions and our lives, but this we do for fun,” says Tal. “That’s why we don’t do this all week but stick to a once-a-month format.”
Whoever knocks on PAG’s door unexpectedly on a Saturday morning may mistake it for a dark cellar in Berlin. The idea was born on Tal and Raz’s trip to London. “At the time there was a club night there called Nag Nag Nag,” says Tal. “There we realized what we want in a party.”
The party night’s main trademark is a Berlin-style sexual liberation and a permissive, circus-like atmosphere, with dozens of dancers, actors and accidental revelers in masks and specially designed costumes taking to the dance floors at a certain pre-determined time. What began with Shirazi’s vampire and hedonism nights in 58 Allenby Club continued with a 2000s twist and endless creativity.
“There are numbers I prepare in advance for 9 A.M., like a man in a rabbit costume distributing chocolate milk and a roll to people leaving the party,” says Tal. “At that stage the audience is like plasticine and you can imprint it with amazing things. It may surprise you to hear but we have quite a few straights performing with us.”
Asked if he isn’t afraid to cross the borders of good taste, he says: “Once, when we were in the Barzilay Club, someone came to the party naked with his penis between two rolls. Even when it’s sexual and almost without clothes it’s always with humor. The moment you inject humor into sexuality you neutralize the bad aspect and leave the fun.”
The sophistication in the night club’s artistic language is seen in recent years with the introduction of melancholic atmospherics and ‘90s rave and acid culture.
“I wanted to add something different, that hadn’t been in our nights before,” says Bomberg, who designs the production’s fliers and posters. This design attracts a different audience that would probably go to another club night. “It’s much easier for me to put a muscular guy on the flier, but I prefer instead to write half sentences with a melancholy air,” he says. “My inspirations always come from the fashion world.”
All the party night’s weirdness came out of the club’s Tel Aviv’s Gay Week events last year. The Alphabet Club, in which the PAG guys are partners, was open for 36 consecutive hours. The production also took part for the first time that year in the Gay Pride Parade on a float that stood out in its black décor.
Over the years the event had several regular DJs, including Gili Aliash, Roy Perez, who became resident DJ for Berlin’s Panorama Bar, and Avichai Partok, currently The Block Club’s resident DJ.
“PAG was a strange bird from the day it began and its strangeness was also its driving force,” says Bomberg.
“It didn’t look like anything that had been in Tel Aviv before, not only compared to the gay parties, but compared to anything. Roy and Eitan took it on themselves to cross the borders, shock and move people every week anew, keeping away from anything expected. This attitude was a great inspiration for me as a DJ. The event was launched with a bang with the electroclash wave with Tiga and Miss Kittin anthems, and as time went on it explored lots of musical styles. For eight years I did it every Thursday. It’s a kind of residency that almost doesn’t exist today. It’s a weekly relationship with a fixed audience based on music. You build hits, create a musical language and create trust that enables you to do pretty much as you please, and often quiet extreme stuff. “In other words, when you go to DJ at three in the morning and on the stage in front of you people are wrestling in grease while a huge drag queen is stepping on your gramophone and a confetti cannon is firing into your face, why not open the set with Madonna’s ‘Open Your Heart’ and play kitschy ‘80s hits for an hour, then proceed with techno into the morning?”
The club night has also had regular foreign DJs. The German disc jockey Severino of the British Horse Meat Disco quartet was one of them. “I was invited to play regularly at the club night about four years ago, when it was still held at The Block,” he says.
“There were always Israeli men there, but also a lot of women. There was always a sense of freedom in those parties’ atmosphere that kept us all united and dancing,” he says.
Asked how they prepare foreign DJs for the party, Maman says: “I’ve never told a DJ how to play. I love it when disc jockeys who don’t know our theme come and go wild from how the party develops. I come with them for a sound check when the place is totally empty and they’re always surprised that the club doesn’t look big, and during the party they go crazy from the number of people. We get 1,500-2,000 people here a night and some stay to the following afternoon. I’ve heard many amazed responses from DJs after a PAG night. One even shed a tear when he finished playing and came off the stage.”