Life is a Jarty. Dress for it.


A few weeks ago, Richmond techno pop group Belly of the Heart hosted a “jarty” to celebrate the anniversary of their album Deep In Club. For those who don’t know, a jarty is a party where goers are intended to be clad head to toe in denim. This particular sweaty soiree was held in an apartment of sorts that the fire marshall may have had some words for (though there were two exits). Normally, a party like this—one in an unofficial venue where the least breathable clothing imaginable was the dress code—would sound like something I might instead call a Panic Attack Contest or, simply, masochism. But I had a friend who’d attended a similar event recently, sans the denim. They’d described it as “horny as hell,” and said, “new scents were created that night.” If those descriptors alone weren’t enough to pique my curiosity, I may as well have been dead. So, if only to prove that I am, in fact, alive—although to whom, I don’t know—I went. There were going to be three DJ’s: MAIYA (@superbhatt), for whom this gig would be her first, Huey Lightbody (, a local DJ and visual artist, and Orangina (@livpiggy), Liv from Belly of the Heart.

As a late teen and early twenty-something, I spent nearly every weekend driving to D.C. to see shows in dirty, sweaty, cramped environments. Black Cat, U Street, 9:30 Club. I didn’t have any social skills, so I’d both arrive and depart from these shows alone. But I loved the feeling of closeness I got in those rooms; the lasts bits of oxygen in the air being sucked up by those to my left and right, the clouds of man-made humidity condensing above us, the stinks of beer and weed and body odor all intermingling into a concoction Lush might call Last Night

But as I got older, my tolerance for the world of sticky, smelly, smoke-filled rooms faded. The bands I’d been into evolved or disbanded or got too big to drop into tiny venues. They moved on and so did I. Now when I go to shows, I buy tickets for upper-tier areas where personal space is most of what you’re paying for, or shows with seats you are expected to remain in. Sweating at those venues is usually only an indication of bad layering or nervousness. 

Recently though, I’ve found part of me misses those slightly stomach-churning chambers and this DJ set seemed like a perfect opportunity to jump back in. So I threw on my best Bruce Willis getup—some ass-grabbing light washes and a black t-shirt—picked up my camera, and headed out to the jarty.

As I approached I told myself I shivered from the cold, but it was probably moreso from nervousness. I told myself it was just my reaction to the weather I hadn’t properly dressed for because, apparently, lying to yourself is quite an effective way of combating anxiety. Next time you feel like you’re about to pass out from a case of the collywobbles, just start telling yourself you’re desperately excited for whatever is about to happen. Physiologically, anxiety and excitement are essentially the same thing; the difference is just the story we are telling ourselves. Obviously it won’t always work, but it did for me that night.I was shivering only from the cold that I hadn’t dressed for and I was about to have a great time. 

I knew I was in the right place because a splayed out pair of jeans was plastered to the door. It opened into a strange lobby-type area with glaring fluorescent lighting and a table full of Belly merch. I was greeted, paid my entrance donation (cash is fake money so I was feeling generous and paid the high end of the sliding scale), and made my way to the doorway ahead draped in a classic tinsel that tickled and carressed every guest that walked through. Ascending the stairs, I was defrosted by the air, already thick and warm with human presence, left without an internal cover story for my shivering. But I doubled-down on my lie to myself about being excited and continued up to the party. 

Upstairs was a stark contrast to the blinding light of the lobby and much more what I had been expecting: a disco ball, string lights, denim streamers, and parquet flooring. The first DJ, Huey Lightbody, was already spinning. (Do you call it that if it’s all digital?) He was playing a song I recognized, I think it was Aphex Twin, maybe, or one of his other numerous alter egos. (Two days later I still couldn’t let it go, so I messaged him on Instagram. Turns out it was Aphex Twin.) Good music always puts me at ease. I also had my camera; having an objective sense of purpose also tends to alleviate my anxiety. No one is going to pick on you for not dancing if you have a camera. It didn’t matter what I did or how I looked, I was allowed to be a wallflower tonight. With the dopamine surge from the music and the confidence afforded by my trusty camera, I made my way around the apartment.

There wasn’t much going on yet, so I went back outside and took a lap around the block. I indulged in a bit of a certain vaporized herb and, with each step I took back up to the dancefloor, I was getting deeper into my feelings. The room had become a stormy, blue-jean colored sea. I felt a pang of anxiety at this sight and held tight to my camera, my buoy. Like watching mitosis unfold, the crowd continued to multiply. Normally this would have added to my anxiety, but, as I looked around and took a few deep breaths, only immense positivity was radiating from everyone on the dancefloor that was nigh on caving in. My grip on the Nikon loosened. 

Huey was wrapping up, a remix of the Powerpuff Girls theme song definitely being the highlight of his set for me. Next up was MAIYA, whose set was full of early-aughts and twenty-tens throwback favorites that gave major middle and high school dance vibes without any of the angst. The crowd had definitely fallen into a high-vibrational trance, moving in perfect unison with the music and with one another. The only outliers being a few brave souls going positively ballroom right in front of the DJ booth. Main headliner Orangina unveiled a full EP of Deep In Club B-Sides that the crowd absolutely went wild for. It was special to watch a local artist play directly to their community, having their lyrics screamed right back at them.

I wandered back to my previously scouted rest zone for a seltzer and a seat. I didn’t want to spend too much time staring at my phone, but I opened up my notes app and managed to jot down, “Individuality. Queerness. Everyone is hot.” And that evaluation holds up. 

As I sat people-watching, I found myself pondering millennials and zoomers. Every single person there was so unique in their presentation. The cynical, judgemental part of my mind (a part that I have been attempting to shut up more and more) made the claim that maybe it wasn’t really true individuality fueled by a strong sense of self, but individuality fueled by a need to feed an online presence. A fabricated identity powered by the hope of being caught by the right person’s camera, ending up on the right person’s story, and gaining the right followers. But then I thought better of that. Richmond as a whole has an astonishing level of uniqueness that I’d argue could honestly put NYC to shame. Sure, some of it might be fueled by less than authentic motives, but that really doesn’t take away from the fact that every person in that room found a new way to be incredibly, uniquely hot. These two generations are more themselves than any before them. This is especially true for the queer community. I’d certainly argue that most of what you see on the streets, at parties or on social media are trends started by someone queer.

I also became very introspective. For a moment when I arrived, my anxiety made me feel like I’d been transported back to being nineteen again, remaining silent and alone in a room full of life; feeling out of place, feeling like everyone else got the memo and I was left standing by myself with no idea what the assignment was and no partner to help me. But I could see things differently now. My ten year evolution since that time has made the person I was then unrecognizable. I felt confident in my right to enjoy myself in a different way. I knew not talking to anyone that night didn’t mean I was worth less as a person. Not dancing didn’t mean I was a downer. The room respected that. While there are outliers, these zoomers and millennials have a greater understanding of what individuality really means. If we just bide our time and stick together, a better world is coming. I see proof of that every day. This jarty was no exception.