You can’t stop The Village People

Felipe Rose can’t contain his enthusiasm that the Village People are coming to Perth. The original member of the band shares with OUTinPerth what gay life in New York City was like at the time of liberation.

Rose, who has been the Indian in the iconic band since it first formed in the 1970’s, said it’s the band’s 39th visit to Australia, but by his recollections will only be the fifth time they’ve made it to the west coast.

The Village People are coming to town to celebrate their 40th anniversary, and Rose recalled what the early days of the band were like, sharing that they were undoubtedly born out of the rise of gay rights and the heady days of disco.

“It was crazy, when the first album dropped, with San Francisco and Hollywood, it was the time of Anita Bryant and it was the summer that everyone came out.

“It was a time of Liberation, it wasn’t even pride yet, nobody was calling it that. It was ‘we’re liberated’, ‘we’re coming out’, ‘now you can see who we really are’. Rose said.

When the group first started Rose didn’t think it would last more than a year, and his approach was just to have fun and enjoy the experience.

“We never set out to be a gay band, and we would never have lasted this long if we had.” Rose said, sharing that producer Jacques Morali was the one who put lots of gay references into the band’s songs.

It wasn’t until queer culture moved into the mainstream that people looked back and saw all the band’s references to San Francisco, Fire Island, Key West, and Liberation, not to mention being ‘In the Navy’ and heading to the YMCA.

The band scored a string of big hits in the late 70’s and then made a feature film, a fictional version of how the band formed. Can’t Stop the Music was panned by the critics, but its soundtrack album was a success.

In the early 80s as new bands like ABC, Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet entered the music scene The Village People shred their character personas and rebranded as New Romantics and released their next album Renaissance. It was a monumental flop.

“That was done in  a spiteful way,” Rose said recalling that the producers were so upset about the failure of the movie, ‘They said let’s ditch the costumes and re-brand, and you should never do anything is a spiteful manner because it will come back and bite you in the ass”

The record is now finding love via a new generation of DJs who are discovering it’s previously unappreciated disco tunes. And while the band fell out of favour and broke up for a few years in the 80’s, since they reformed they’ve been embraced by fans around the world.

“We’re now one of the most sought after bands in the world from our era, we have two international booking agents, and we’re literally fighting for every calendar date” Rose said.

As soon as the band’s Australian tour ends they get just one day off before they head to Lima in Peru. Rose said the only thing stopping the band from paying more shows was the speed of airplanes and time zones.

Even though the bands greeted by enthusiastic fans everywhere they go, Rose reveals he still gets nervous before each and every show.

“No two audiences are the same, and every venue is different, the energy is different every night, the anticipation you can feel it in the arena.”

The Village People are playing Crown Theatre on 21 May, where they’ll be joined by Bjorn Again. Get your tickets now.

Graeme Watson

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