This wasn’t supposed to be how it went down. For the past four years, Rod Thomas, who performs under the alias Bright Light Bright Light, has DJ’d an afternoon dance party called “Romy & Michele’s Saturday Afternoon Tea Dance” in New York City at Manhattan’s Club Cumming and Brooklyn’s C’Mon Everybody. Last month, he released the first track, “This Was My House,” a fantastically fun disco bop off his forthcoming album, Fun City (due out in September). And for the video, which debuts today, he involved a slew of New York performers — Glow Job, the Illustrious Blacks, Angelica Torres — as well as other activists, philanthropists, and friends to share their joy of nightlife. Instead, every club in the country is shuttered and queer people around the globe are attempting to forge virtual party bonds.
“It’s really strange balance between not trying to contextualize and do too much overthinking about putting out in a time of crisis,” Thomas explains by phone from his apartment in the East Village of Manhattan. “I’m being mindful about wanting to share with people about how they can stay safe and — listen to my new song! At least it’s an upbeat song people have enjoyed dancing to at home.”
The video for “This Was My House” opens with Thomas lounging on a sofa in his living room, a big glittering disco ball between his thighs as he calls up his pals on a pink phone while playing a board game. “This was my house and I was not supposed to worry ’bout it/ This was the place that I was not supposed to fear,” he sings. The lyrics are meant as an ode to LGBTQ+ safe spaces, and should be a new staple for Pride events everywhere, but it’s easy to now interpret public health crisis with millions urged to shelter at home while social distancing. “It’s cold outside/ And this should be my shelter/ Nothing here is comfort to me/ Oh it’s cold outside/ But I can brave the weather,” it continues in its bittersweet vein.
Thomas says he’s grateful he’s a “mom-type” artist, planning and prepping way in advance, so he actually filmed the video (which is directed, shot, and edited by Tyler Jensen) in February and had it ready to go. While he used his own apartment for the at-home scenes, the party shots were captured at Bedlam, an East Village club staple. “Finally it’s paid off, all that planning!” he says with relief. But he’s quick to share his concern for the clubs and bars and staff who are all struggling economically. “These spaces have been threatened and they feel even more attacked than ever.”
While firmly rooted in our contemporary world — the song was produced by Initial Talk, best known for his remixes of songs like Dua Lipa’s “New Rules” and Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” — the throwback references are also strong (and not just because of those pink leg warmers). Thomas credits Madonna’s “Truth or Dare” and its ensemble for introducing him to queer culture, so having Niki Harris and Donna De Lory — Madge’s longtime backup singer duo — on it meant the “world to me.”
At the moment it seems a disco vibe has seeped into the mainstream, with pop artists such as Dua Lipa and the Weeknd releasing their own take on the catalog. And Bright Light Bright Light’s latest song offers its own buoyant beat to dance through pain and trouble. “For me, it’s sort of dancing through pain and struggle; the subject matter of disco is turmoil and defiance,” Thomas explains. “You have this call to arms: don’t give up, push on through, find the joy where you can.”