Before there was Queen Bey and Mother Monster, there was Whitney, Mariah, Madonna, and Missy. These women – strong, talented, and often forced to live out their flaws publicly – are deserving of celebrations of grand proportions, and that’s exactly what Sarah Michaelson and Jón Olafson – Mama Cutsworth and DJ J. Jackson, respectively – the indelible duo behind House of Gold Diamonds, aim to do with each party.
“We want every party to be memorable for you, as an audience member,” says Olafson. “What we do specifically is about having people go ‘remember that time X happened?’ and that, to us, is so special, because we feel that way too, so that’s like a big thing; we’re crafting an experience,” he adds.
Michaelson and Olafson had been toying with the idea of doing something together for a while – Michaelson jokes that it was always her secret plan to bring Olafson out of DJ retirement – but nothing had taken shape. Then, on February 11, 2012, Whitney Houston died, and the pair turned that tragedy into a tribute.
“We phoned each other that night and we were like oh my God, Whitney died, and we were like kind of freaking out with one another, and we had already decided we had wanted to do something together, but it hadn’t taken any shape, and that’s when we decided to turn our first party into a tribute to Whitney,” says Michaelson. “So it was only a few weeks later that we were paying tribute to her at this party at the Lo Pub, and that has turned into an annual event,” she adds.
Since that inaugural party, House of Gold Diamonds has taken off, and their parties have come to be known as fun, irreverent, inclusive places for all sorts of people to let loose, dance, and sing along. It’s not unusual for their I Wanna Dance With Somebody party to reach capacity – that’s five hundred people – before 11 pm.
While their rise has been a quick one, the pair is mindful that each party they plan has to be special, so they use a values system in planning everything they do. All of their parties are founded on five key values: are they inclusive, are they genuine (are they the duo’s genuine interests) are they joyful, are they classic (either music or imaging), and are they creative.
“My favorites are joyful and genuine, because I feel like when we’re on stage and we’re lip synching and it actually stops being lip synching and I’m singing so hard and I have a sore throat the next morning, that’s so real, where we’re like crying because we just like being together so much,” says Michaelson. “It’s genuine and very special to us,” she adds.
In addition to the values, Michaelson and Olafson have embraced the word diva.
“When we use it for having diva parties and stuff, it’s celebrating the strength in women, and independence in women rather than the classic opera diva, for example, going way back, or the like bitchy, pretentious, spoiled diva kind of person,” says Michaelson. “We’re talking about these strong women that are almost, like, they stopped being human, and you’re like who is this powerful person I want to emulate, or learn from, so that’s kind of our definition of diva.”
Through their values, and through their diva definition, the pair is carving out a niche in Winnipeg nightlife that is all about a positive, strong, safe space for to people come together and be who they are, whatever that may look like. No matter the venue – a smaller space like the long-gone Lo Pub, or The Good Will, or a large venue like Union – House of Gold Diamonds sets up shop for all.
“We kind of feel like we take over spaces, at this point, like I feel like we just infiltrate,” says Michaelson.
“Literally what Sarah (Michaelson) said, it’s a takeover, whatever the space is that vibe is created by us and the music but also by the people that come and make that House,” adds Olafson.
It’s not just the party goers that appreciate what House of Gold Diamonds brings; venue owners and staff also look forward to each party.
“The owners of Union love it, and the staff of Union loves it,” says Michaelson. “We get constant, very specific feedback, they’re always so happy for us to be there. The bouncers are like ‘that was the best night, there were no altercations,’ and the bartenders are like ‘the crowd’s so positive, they tip well’. We also have a mix of ages, which I think is a big thing, I’m really all for that,” she adds.
“Especially I notice when it’s at Union and you look out and there’s like a fifty-year-old gay man dancing, and there’s such a variety, and you don’t usually see that at specific clubs,” adds Olafson.
Their parties also provide an opportunity for people to experience things they maybe haven’t before. At the last House of Gold Diamonds party, there were drag queens, a first for Union, and something Michaelson and Olafson are incredibly proud of. Tyra Boinks, Breyanna Burlesque, Vida Lamour DeCosmo, and Satina Loren put on a hell of a drag show, and for some in the audience, it was their first drag experience.
“Honestly, if kids who have never heard of us show up and expect the like, more clubby style of party, I’m happy for them to be exposed to a bunch of big ol’ drag queens just sassin’ their faces off, and just exposing these people to things they might just need to see, and seeing how fun that is because a lot of the kids who go to a club night that is maybe not super female or queer positive is that they also don’t know any other world yet, potentially,” says Michaelson.
After the I Wanna Dance with Somebody party this Saturday, their next party will be in June, for Pride, and they’ll have a diva party in the fall. The duo is also looking at bringing in guests from out of town. Not content to settle, Michaelson and Olafson are always looking to top themselves for every House of Gold Diamonds party. This includes looking at destination events, like special locations that aren’t always used as a venue, to have a party in.
Whatever they think up next, the pair has shown that if you throw parties based on values like genuine, inclusive, and joyful, everyone will want to come to your house, especially if it is built of gold diamonds.
House of Gold Diamonds Presents: I Wanna Dance With Somebody. Saturday, March 21st, 2015, Union Sound Hall, 110 Market Ave. Doors open at 10 pm, $10 at the door
[For those wondering: This is an accessible venue with an elevator]
Sara is in a committed relationship with Winnipeg. They fight, and sometimes need to take a break, but they always come back to each other. You can follow her on twitter.