By Jerome Stuart Nichols
For many, clubbing is an excuse to drink too much, dance until 2 a.m. and celebrate the energy of youth. For others, it’s a release from the work week. For event producer and self-proclaimed “cultural contributor” Adriel Thornton, it’s a way to bring people together, pay the bills and bring some spirit back to his hometown of Detroit.
Detroit’s electronic music scene is legendary. Not only is it capable of influencing tastemakers worldwide, it also has a following whose passion is only matched by the Los Angeles rock and Brooklyn hip-hop scenes. It was this passionate and thriving community that first appealed to Thornton.
“Initially what attracted me to it was the music and the culture of the electronic music scene here,” he says. “It sort of epitomized what I thought we should be striving for, this very equalized environment, in which it didn’t matter if you were black, white, gay, straight, boy, girl. You find yourself in a room with every type of person you can think of and the fact that nobody cared about any of that was amazing to me.”
While most successful people started their careers in a calculated effort to be great, many of the most legendary careers in history started with the same passion and luck. Thornton’s career took the latter approach.
“I was introduced by a friend of mine to Detroit’s underground electronic music scene,” Thornton says. “You know, you’re a kid – 17, 18 – you just want to get involved.”
He approached Carlos Oxholm, former owner of the now-defunct club The Alley, with an offer to promote for him. Oxholm accepted and Thornton’s career took off.
“As within any scene, you begin to get to know people and begin to become a part of it,” he says. “Once you get started in something, if you really have a passion for it, you grow from it and the things you do grow with you. Next thing you know, you have a career.”
He transitioned into promoting events to reach out to the people of his city and invite them into the happiness he’d found. He wanted to spread the love he felt for the Detroit underground electronic music scene.
“I had this culture that I really felt at home in and to be able to reach out and share that with other people via promoting and creating other events was really sustaining. It gave me a mission,” he says.
That mission: to bring people from all walks of life together.
“That’s always been a mission of mine … to create spaces and moments for people to gather and share that energy in a really positive way.”
Thornton believes that a fat bass line has power to unite communities and break down the barriers people place between themselves.
“As human beings we have a tendency to become siloed in our own little world. When you bring a wide range of people together it creates an environment where you have to open yourself up to what’s in front of you.
“It would be nice to have that utopian, Martin Luther King Jr. vision of equality in America, but we all know we’re not there yet. I feel that being part of events that showcase positive things about what major America views as a marginalized group of people is important.”
Despite all his numerous contributions to the Detroit nightlife and party scene, Thornton recognizes there’s still a lot more to be done.
“In a metropolitan area that’s roughly five million people, I feel like we should have multiple options every single night,” he says. “Our club scene here is adequate but not all that it could be. Unfortunately, the metro Detroit market is still very segregated, not only by race but even in a socioeconomic way.”
He has hopes to develop more parties, events and outlets for new media to help solidify the Detroit LGBT community and build bridges that would help people feel comfortable in every situation. He has seen plenty of reason to be hopeful already.
“Gay culture is being absorbed more into the mainstream society,” Thornton says. “I think a lot of people are much more comfortable going to a non-gay bar with their boyfriend or girlfriend.”
Thornton’s passion for nightlife has made him something of a party ambassador for the city of Detroit. In 2011 he took part in a panel at South by Southwest about the revitalization of the city through a media-based economy. He also serves as the operations and outreach manager for Detroit-based media development think-tank Allied Media Projects.
In the LGBT entertainment and culture sphere, he served as an entertainment director for Motor City Pride since its move to Hart Plaza in Detroit. He also previously ran Family the Tuesday electronic music/queer night at Motor.
These days he’s the producer of Cream, the LGBT party night at The Shelter at Saint Andrew’s in Detroit. Every Saturday night, Thornton offers a unique after-dark experience to Detroit’s gay nightlife. It attracts over 300 people every week.
“People are hungry for that downtown experience where you go out in the big city and just have fun,” he says. “We’re pulling in some of the community from downtown and Midtown but also the suburbs … a nice diverse mix.”
While diverse, the crowd does share one important similarity: They’re all out to celebrate the night.
“These people seem to be more into clubbing than into bars,” he says. They get dressed up a bit for it. You rarely see someone going out in sweats; they really make the effort to look cute.”
For the record, he shamelessly claims Cream as his favorite place to go on a Saturday night, naturally.
“We don’t have a drag queen that comes and stops the party,” he says. “We have DJs and a very cool venue that we use, which gives it a cool underground vibe. Cream takes clubbing back to its roots.”