Sydney's queer dance party subculture has received little recadily accessible documentation, and a felt need to make up for this lack animates Fiona McGregor's Chemical Palace (2002). Tracing the transition from the mid- 1990s to the early years of the current century, the narrative follows a group of self-styled "freaks art sIuts and Outcasts" (198) as they move through the vicissitudes of friendship. romance, and creative collaboration, and between and within the spaces of inner-city Sydney. The parties they stage - bacchanalian events fuelled, as the novel's title indicates, by drugs such as ecstacy, MDA and crystal methamphetamine-provide a ritualistic focus in which their various shared passions coalesce and are distilled. The parties provide an opportunity to hear and to dance to various esoteric genres of electronic dance music, and they provide an arena for the expression of forms of identity, predicated on non-normative erotic practices (sadomasochism, "kink," promiscuity); above all, perhaps, the parties provide a focus on and a vehicle for various modes of performance, a central motivation within the lives of the characters. For the participants in the queer scene, "performance [is] life itself"; the staged shows and the elaborately costumed personae ("Mal Practice," "The Green Woman") that characterise the parties are intensified expressions of an everyday practice of theatricalised self-invention. Characters are nearly all known by aliases (such as Shifty, traffic and Bee) and dedicated to decking themselves our in constantly varying, outre sartorial and tonsorial assemblages-what the novel calls "dress-ups" or "looks."
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2005 LITERARY STUDIES