Originally from Detroit, the flamboyant Cyon Flare is creator, promoter and host of United House, the Monday night residency at Hydrate that aims to bring House Music back in Chicago’s Boystown. He’s also a vocalist that’s recorded tracks with DJ Dealer, Georgie Porgie and Edson Pride. His fabulous personality brings light into every community, crossing every boundary – just don’t call it a persona.
Your night is called United House, and you do frequent benefits and things which would seem to indicate there’s more to it than just a place to party. What’s the vision and ideology behind it?
The vision is simple. It’s in the title: “United House, A Night of Unity in House Music”. The bigger vision is to see more people – black, white, latino (no matter the race), straight, gay, bisexual, transgender, lesbian, all those that love House Music – come together. And if you don’t love House Music, come to United House and experience the energy in the room and I think you’ll change your mind!
So “Unity” is the vision and focus and ideology. You know, House Music was considered to be “gay” music – maybe not now but in the beginning. Now it’s universal and I think it’s time to bring it back to the gay community. My hope is to Reach One, Teach One, Remind One.
It’s interesting you mention that. As the mid-2000s rolled around, House seemed to fade from the gay community. Why do you think that happened?
I think it’s due to some of the gay club/bar managers and owners leaping on trends. Now this isn’t a Cyon Flare idea! You can hear or read this from other sources as well – even in Detroit, at one time there was nothing but House clubs.
The gay community, like any community, can be very trendy, focused on “what’s hot now”. In the ’60s there were blacks fighting for civil rights, then Stonewall, and even now the LGBT community is still fighting for civil rights. We needed to find or create our space for us to be ourselves. Like Disco, House Music was a very important part of finding that place. When that space was established, some of the managers and owners became caught up in things like how many people are paying cover or buying drinks and staying on trends to maintain those numbers. For some there’s a fear that if they didn’t follow trends, they would find themselves left behind or losing crowds or money. Many owner/managers said, “It’s too risky, let’s play more mainstream radio pop tracks.” By doing so, clubs became more like jukeboxes and lost their creativity, with House Music fading in the background.
When this happened, it was such a gag to me – I mean, like suffocating! No more House Music? What? It was very emotional and it took me a long time to accept the change. As a black gay man growing up in the clubs in Detroit – even in the black clubs, House Music was being pushed out and Hip Hop was being pushed in. This for me was the most difficult because House Music made you dance and release your problems on the dancefloor, whereas some Hip Hop is not for dancing. It’s for chillin’ and standing around. None of this is to say that I don’t like Pop or Hip Hop, but I don’t see the children/people dancing any more. Instead I see, “I don’t know this music, I can’t dance to this music.” I’m hoping United House can help change that.
United House in Boystown is important. You know, Halsted Street is Main Street to many people and everyone knows what happens on Main Street. It’s important to have it there. Before House Music dies out entirely from the gay scene in Chicago, I want to do everything in my power to bring it back and keep it alive. Many of the young people in the LGBT community have no idea that House Music was born in the gay clubs. While my soul is happy that the straight community has embraced the universal message of House Music, the children/people of today need to know that Madonna, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry hung out and sometimes still hang out at the gay bars where House Music was the only sound you heard in the speaker.
How do you select talent? For instance, with your weekly resident DJ Semaj or monthly residents FLX and Ron Carroll – why did you select them?
The how and why of the talent I book is based strictly on their energy and talent. DJ Semaj is my resident not because we go way back twenty years and we are family. It’s because of his energy. To my personal taste, he’s a fierce House DJ. That’s first. The fact that he’s family is second ’cause we’ll always be family.
The very second I met FLX, he radiated love and positivity. I had no idea the connection would happen. That very second – that’s when I decided that I wanted to work with him. With Anji, people said, “Oh, her energy! Oh Cyon, you’re going to love her!” With Ron Carroll, I met him so many times but we never had a conversation… but you could feel his energy from outside of the bar/club wherever he played. No disrespect to the talent, but I want to choose a DJ based on their energy not their name. I need to know and feel that they care about the music and the vibe that they’ll be creating and nurturing throughout the night.
I am the creator, promoter and host of United House. It’s not an ego thing. It could say anything on the flyer. It’s not all about me or the DJ. It’s about A Night of Unity in House Music.
Do you keep one foot in Detroit? I notice you still have a 313 area code…
One foot is in Detroit for my mom. My mother is my world – she’s my chain and my link. She has heart disease, and has had two open heart surgeries in the past 5 years and she has a history of aneurisms. At the moment she’s doing well but her health is unstable. I keep the (313) area code just in case of an emergency. A couple of weeks ago she had another mild heart attack but she was able to remember my number in the emergency room and had them call me while she was waiting to be admitted. To miss that call would be much worse than not being there. I love my brothers and sisters but my mom and I have an amazing connection. One of those connections happens to be that she’s a lesbian and my biggest fan.
There was one point before I moved to Chicago that my granddaddy, two days before he died, was in Veteran’s Hospital in Detroit. My mother was half a block down the street at Harper Hospital at the same time. My granddaddy told me, “Robert, do not wait for me to go before you start living. Go follow your dreams, go travel and sing. You’ve taught me so much about loving gay people. I used to hate gay people but I learned to love them and accept them because of you.” It was very emotional, and after this I went to visit my mother and she told me, “Baby, your granddaddy is right. Don’t wait for me to die either before you start living.” So I moved but keep the (313) area code for my momma.
When did Cyon Flare come into existence?
Cyon Flare came into existence on July 24, 1970! It’s me. Now the name – that was created because Mike Macharello [owner of Circuit and Boi Magazine] was giving me my first gig at his club. He said “I can’t advertise you as ‘Robert’. I need a name that I can advertise…” So I took some time to think about it. I wanted a name that wasn’t specific to gender, not male or female, but a name that represented energy. So I created the word and name “Cyon” (pronounced SIGH-on) after the color cyan, which is a bluish green, and “Flare” after solar flares from the Sun.
The truth is I’ve always been Cyon Flare! My mother never became a different person whenever she put on her make up or took it off. So why would I be two people? Anyone who says, “Oh, your Cyon Flare persona…” – you need to go talk to my mom! My mom told me, “Robert, you were always fabulous! Now that you’re famous” – that’s how she thinks of me – “now that you’re famous, you should know that you were walking around in heels when you were just a baby!” It’s true – at the age of 5 I was walking around in heels. That’s not a “performer”. That’s not an actor or a personality. Half of my family is gay, and growing up in my household, doing such a thing was never viewed exclusively as a masculine or a feminine thing.
So let’s talk about your music career. You know, DJ Dealer has only pitched one story to us, and about two years ago, that story was about you.
Wow, I didn’t know he did that! I’m going to have to call him up after this and thank him. I really do love Dealer: that is one man I do not want to lose! When we met, he said, “Oh my god, I’ve never met anything like you before, Cyon Flare!” We bonded immediately, and he said, “What you’ve done for circuit music is cool but let’s do something different for House Music.” I just said, “I’m ready, let’s go!” I was dying to do it and we had a meeting of the minds and created our first track called “Fire”. I love it! It’s technically my first House track. Bless you Dealer!
But I have to get this off my chest. From Sylvester to Boy George, they heard it back then and I still hear it today: “You’re too flamboyant! You need to tone it down!” This makes me angry sometimes. This is who I am. In the famous words of Sylvester when he was on Joan Rivers’ show back in the ’80s: “I’m not a Drag Queen – I’m Sylvester/Cyon Flare!” How could being yourself be “too much”? It makes me angry to have a producer say to my face, “I could never work with an artist like you” or “The world isn’t ready for Cyon Flare! Too much make-up! Tone it down! Straight DJs won’t play your record!”
I have four tracks. The first two, “Everybody Everybody” and “Rise” were produced by Georgie Porgie. “Fire” was with Dealer and the most recent, “Free Your Body”, was produced by Edson Pride and written by one of my best friends, DJ/producer Daniel Borrero. I haven’t been back in the studio in the past year but I’ve never stopped writing. What I need is someone with vision who can see me for the artist package that I am and collaborate on something positive and real without contract traps. I can sing, I can dance, I can talk, I can holler, I can be serious or silly. Let’s do it with Flare and make it happen!
Well, we covered your vision for United House pretty well. What about your message as an artist?
As an artist, my message is love and unity, for all people. My message, like my dreams, aren’t LGBT dreams or straight dreams – they’re human dreams. It’s not my dream to preach to one community or another. It’s my dream, for example, to have an event like Lollapalooza, open to all. Why not? It’s all about the music and entertainment, and neither of those things are “gay” or “straight”. I want my message of love and unity to reach and benefit all communities.
I want people to understand, as a promoter, my goal is to use United House as a doorway to give back to the LGBT and straight community. For example, HIV/AIDS and cancer affect all communities, not just LGBT. My dream for United House is to be among and partner with all the other powerhouses that help to serve the community by educating/advocating and fundraising for a good cause. I want to help unify where there is division. I want to make a difference and I believe I can. I’m someone that tries to give back with everything I do. I’m not afraid to lose $5 when it comes to giving back.
United House is a place where people can go and feel good about who they are: LGBT/straight, black, white, latino, HIV positive or negative. United House, a night of unity in House Music, is about coming together for the love of House Music where all are welcome.