''Fire Island, for me, it's the mecca of disco. You read about it in old disco books,'' says Russell Small of the British dance duo Freemasons. ''It's just a pleasure to be asked to come and play.''
Small and his Freemasons partner James Wiltshire will headline this year's Ascension beach party in the famed New York gay resort, set for Aug. 15. It will be the island's fifth Ascension event.
''There was a void in the month of August for guests coming out to the island,'' says Sean Patrick Ryan, who helped launch the party with Eric Von Kuersteiner of Fund in the Sun Foundation, which puts on the gay dance benefit for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, among other charities. ''He had the idea to create a destination-type event for gay guys all over the world.''
They've more than succeeded. It's now the largest party of its kind on Fire Island, the relatively secluded gay paradise, only accessible by ferry, where no cars are allowed. ''In five short years we've turned it basically from a local, daytime beach party to a world-class, heavily attended international event,'' says Ryan. After a couple years away, Ryan has returned to help produce the 5th anniversary event, expected to attract 5,000 partiers, or nearly 1,000 more than last year's event with DJ Tony Moran and a performance by Kelly Rowland.
This year's guest performer ''will be a perfect pair with the Freemasons,'' says Ryan, declining to announce the name just yet. DJ Roland Belmares will open for the Freemasons at the Sunday, Aug. 15, party right on a cordoned-off section of the beach in Fire Island Pines, one of two communities on the island.
The Freemasons' Small says they'll debut a new single, ''Believer,'' featuring New York-based singer-songwriter Wynter Gordon. ''It's a little bit more [progressive house] in style,'' he says, ''but it's got the lush strings in there,'' a Freemasons' signature. Small says they also hope to have ready a commissioned remix of George Michael's ''I Want Your Sex,'' eventually set for release as part of a 25-year celebration of the album Faith. The duo will also spin for four hours, or an hour longer than usual. ''We're going to chop up some classic disco and just sort of take you on a little bit of a journey,'' he says.
Though it is the main attraction, the beach party is just the weekend's peak -- especially this year, with more elaborate and far-flung events than previously. One event new to this year is a Saturday evening tea dance, featuring DJs Twisted Dee and Phil B performing on a platform built out into the Great South Bay and culminating in a fireworks display.
Other events include a Friday night VIP launch party featuring a performance by Countess Luann De Lesseps of the Real Housewives of New York City; a Saturday afternoon pool party with ''Fire Island favorite'' DJ Lina and DJ Charlmix; and a one-man-show by comedian Leslie Jordan (Will & Grace). The weekend ends with a closing party with DJ Xavier at the Ice Palace in Cherry Grove, a 20-minute walk up the beach, or through the notorious cruising ground known as the Meat Rack. ''The pool will be open, the dance floor will be open -- it should be a pretty wild party right there,'' says Ryan.
Every night also ushers in rotating tea parties at all of Fire Island Pines' bars, and late-night dancing at the Pavilion, one of the nation's most historic gay nightclubs.
Visitors to Fire Island mostly stay in rented beach houses -- there's only one hotel in the Pines, for example. Ryan recommends visitors look for available houses or rooms on Craigslist, or contact Island Properties.
''A lot of people just get creative,'' explains Ryan. ''They try to find their sixth-degree separated friend, even just to sleep on a couch. It's a really friendly place to be.''
Ascension marks yet another notch in the Freemasons' rapid ascent to the upper echelon of DJs for the American gay circuit. ''We've always played a lot of gay parties,'' says Small, who is straight. ''Our music is quite uplifting vocally, which suits a gay crowd.''
It's a remarkable feat given that the lads made their American debut in May 2009 at Town. ''Town's a great club, we always look forward to playing there,'' says Small, who anticipates a return gig.
Ascension Weekend takes place Friday, Aug. 13, through Sunday, Aug. 15, in New York's Fire Island. For tickets, visit ascensionparty.com.