Why DJ Michael T. Takes No Requests

After a couple of decades in the club biz, labels make way for legendary status. I am often described as “a legend” when someone is introducing me to someone. I always find it to be embarrassing and I always check my pulse to see if I’m still kicking. For some reason I find it a bit insulting. It discounts my "now" and concentrates or wallows in my past. Michael T. is still kicking it, so much so that this Sunday, he’s launching his second New Romantic Ball at Le Poisson Rouge. He is one of my favorite DJs. Just don’t ask him to play your favorite track.

For those who just stepped off the boat, tell us who you are… and do get into “Motherfucker” and that old shit.
I’m Michael T., performer/DJ and producer of "rock n roll" events/parties for over 20 years. My parties attract both gay and straight. The ones that are truly mixed are always the best parties. I’ve been going to clubs regularly since 1985. I started working in them on and off from ‘86 on. I’ve worked in clubs consistently since 1989.

The first party I ever "produced" was called "New York Nights." It was held at The Pyramid Club on Avenue A…when it was still dangerous.
It was on a Monday and it ran for two years. [‘91-‘93] It was an "alternative" party, both musically and people-wise.

After that, I had a band called Killer Lipstick [‘93-‘95]. Before/during and after this period I did what a lot of people do in clubs to secure a gig and survive, be it door/guest list, go-go dancer, performer etc. Eventually, this lead to DJing, which seemed to be one of the more "stable" of jobs as far as clubland goes.

Anyway, my first "real" DJ gig was at the now-shuttered The Tunnel at a party called "Kurfew" in the Kenny Scharf room aka “the fuzzy room.”
This was 1998-99. At this time, I also had a monthly party “Heroes” at a club called Mother called "Heroes.” I was also the emcee and DJ at the now-closed S&M restaurant "La Maison De Sade.”

Halloween Night, 1998: While DJing at “Kurfew,”-I took ecstasy for the first time. It was a mind-blowing experience.
The second time I took it: Jan 18th on my birthday [again, I was DJing] I had an "epiphany" of sorts. I thought how amazing it would be if I somehow managed to get the right group of creative people together in order to create the ultimate, outrageous "Rock N Roll Fantasy" party. Thus, the seed to "Motherfucker" was planted that evening.

Fast forward a year and a half later and Motherfucker was born at Mother. Chi Chi Valenti gave us the name, who in turn was given the name
by Clark Render. Apparently, Clark would often ask her why they [Johnny and Chi Chi] never did a party called "Motherfucker" at Mother.
Needless to say, we all thought it was a great name.

At any rate, Motherfucker grew and grew and grew and it became the biggest roving rock n roll party in NYC. We sold out the Roxy, Limelight, Spirit, Eugene, Rebel [with three to four rooms] for the next seven years.

Two moments that I will cherish forever was when I booked Willie Ninja & The House of Ninja and The Cramps [not on the same bill].
The other "infamous" party I did was "Rated X/The Panty Party" with Theo Kogan, singer of The Lunachicks.” It ran for six years, and every week we had naked people on stage competing in our 3am "Hot Body Contest" to win a whopping $100.

This is your second New Romantic Ball. In fact, it is called Romantic Ball II. What’s the difference between a ball and a party? What can people expect at the Ball and what is expected from them besides just showing up with a $20 bill?
Well, they’ll walk into a real club with proper lights, sound, a great dance floor, and CLEAN bathrooms!!
They’ll also see four bands, two burlesque shows, and hear three DJs, and hangout with a bunch of colorful hosts.

What’s the difference between a ball and a party? A ball usually pertains to an event that is held once or twice a year; they’re special events and, therefore, you make that distinction. Besides, everyone these days throws a “party.”

That stated, the main attractions of the night are the tribute shows we put on.They’re done with a full, six to seven-piece band. That’s just my band.
My partner, Ben Ickies, has a 20-piece orchestra. Where can one go today and see a rock show with a 20-piece orchestra?!?

All of our shows are rehearsed. Plus, we always have guest singers. However, let me state that we have REAL performers on stage. This is NOT a glorified "scaryoke" night. The artist[s] or genre we pay homage to is done with the utmost respect. We really love that artist or time period in music that’s being reinterpreted for the evening. We don’t do these shows to be "ironic.”

If you’re wondering what bands fall under "new romantic,” they’re all bands from the U.K. that flourished in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, roughly ‘79-‘82. Just about all these bands were heavily inspired by Bowie or Roxy Music.
ie;Duran Duran, ABC, Visage, Gary Numan, Adam Ant, etc.

In short, you get to see a great show for your $20.

Le Poisson Rouge is a very artsy, creative friendly environment. Talk about the joint.
Well, it’s one of the last "legit" clubs in NYC. It has an incredible stage, excellent sound/lights a greenroom, a big DANCE FLOOR! Plus, it has a very professional and courteous staff.

It’s such a delight throwing parties or balls there. It’s a venue that really helps you achieve your artistic vision and isn’t just concerned with the bottom-line – what a rarity in this day and age. In all my years working in various clubs, I don’t think I’ve ever met a more pro-active staff…from busboy all the way to the GM.

You and I have DJd over the centuries. You are adamant about not taking requests. Explain that and your take on your job as a DJ.
I don’t take requests for the most part because either A) people have shitty taste in music; B) They’re rude; and also C) I’m not a juke-box.

The main reason, however, is very simple: I know what I’m doing. I’ve been DJing since 1998. Whatever venue I’m working at has hired me for that reason. I just find it outrageous that people feel it’s their "right" to make requests and get "offended" if you don’t comply.

Here are just a few lovely examples of the crap you hear from people: "I like what you’re playing…but.” Or, if I was DJing, I’d play this next" etc.
Can you imagine, if I walked into an office and told someone I’ve never met that they should do their job "like so"!?!! I’m sorry, I simply don’t stand for any of that nonsense. If you don’t like what I play, fine, go somewhere else. You won’t be missed. Believe me.

What is your overview of nightlife in the terrible 2010s?
It’s tragic. I don’t really need to say much…you pretty much answered your own question. The state of nightlife is at an all-time low.

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I disagree with Michael and find fun everywhere…but then again, I take requests. Something on my hmmmm list is Yiddish Cabaret going on at The Box tonight at 10pm. It’s somehow a gig anticipating the opening of Soho’s new kosher restaurant Jezebel. You can buy tickets here. I have been told to look out for a Ms. Jonas’ rendition of "If I Were a Rich Man." Oy vey, I’m leaving Brooklyn…for this?

Talking About Drag, Blunderland, and Banzai with Eric Schmalenberger

Last month, I gushed to everyone I met about the Blunderland party, held in an underground space in the netherlands of Brooklyn. It was, for lack of a better word, FIERCE. The crowd was amazing. One of the DJs was moi. I asked event producer Eric Schmalenberger what I should play and was told, "It’s Brooklyn; play what you want". I did and had so much fun. The talent on stage was brilliant. Anytime I hear the laments over the loss of the "good ol’ days" I want to shake them and stir them. Clubland is vibrant and creative and all that but it is rarely found in the high-rent districts of Manhattan where creativity is rarely rewarded. That was the thing about The Box: although at times it seems forced – shock and awe for the sake of it – at least they don’t offer up the same ol’, same ol’. They make loot by charging the swells, and to this day are crowded with a great crowd… if you pick your time slot. Age takes its toll on creative people and creative clubs, but they still can give it a go, as can I. Last Saturday, when many clubs were slow for Mother’s Day, they were packed.

Eric Schmalenberger is my hero. He produces and MCs the Blunderland soirée and I can’t wait for his next shindig. I caught up with the maniac maestro and asked him a few questions.

WTF are you?
I ask myself that every day. The simple answer would be that I am primarily a performer, and I am a curator and producer when I feel that I have a really good idea. I sometimes feel like a professional collaborator. I’m really into sitting down with folks whose ideas turn me on and figuring out how we can make something new and exciting happen. I have been doing large-scale art and performance events for the past four years, and that has become a big part of what I do and who I collaborate with.

These parties are thematic. Tell me about party theory. How do you throw a good event?
I think something that is important to me when trying to throw a good event is giving the crowd something they haven’t seen before. There is so much of the same out there and I like a challenge. I really like the idea that nightlife can get an emotional response from its audience, on many levels. Anyone with a sound system and access to booze can throw an event. To go the extra step and keep the audience always wanting more – now that is a good trick. Giving a crowd a full evening is always important to what I do. I like having several sets of performance involving burlesque, circus arts, performance art, comedy, and live music with damn good DJs to keep the energy up between the sets over the course of the evening. I also have recently started serving food at some of my events, which is an extra bonus. The way that all these different parts of the evening come together is what really makes the night. Also, never resting on your laurels: keep surprising people and they will keep coming back, wondering what you will show them next.

I DJd at your last event and had a blast. Tell me about that one and the next one.
The event that you DJd at was Blunderland, which is a very performance-heavy celebration with a certain amount of elegant chaos. Some of the first parties that I went to as a very small Eric were Jackie 60 and Squeezebox. They were these incredible nights that blew my brain in just the right way. For this Blunderland, I was incredibly blessed and honored to have Chi Chi Valenti open the performances with a reading of her poem, “Take Back The Night,” which truly celebrates the New York that I want to be a part of.  Over the course of the evening, the crowd got to enjoy dadaist burlesque, comedic drag, two incredible dance companies, a couple with a thing for bullwhips, a live set from an incredible funk band, and a singing wolfman who never fails to break the audiences hearts.

Curatorially, I am sort of all over the map, but I really like putting together the sort of show that I personally would most like to see and, more importantly, most like to share with others. Next up on the docket is Banzai!!!! which is a project with my collaborator, Muffinhead, that has been going on for just over three years. Banzai is a chance for Muffin and I to present the work of over 50 artists of all different media. This time up we will have a live show with Joey Arias, The Pixie Harlots, Soigne Deluxe, Stormy Leather, Vangaline, The Rachel Klein Ensemble, and Trixie Little and the Evil Hate Monkey. We will also be presenting the work of over 30 visual and multimedia artists. That show is gonna be on May 26th at 9PM at the Red Lotus Room (893 Bergen Street). It is a fun one.

The Red Lotus space is insane and often used for a bunch of different events and purposes. Tell me about it.
The Red Lotus Room is one of my favorite spaces to work in New York. For Blunderland, I keep it very much in its natural state; dark, candlelit, filled with mirrors and antiques. t is the kind of space that New Yorkers dream about – unexpected, incredibly special, and one of a kind. For Banzai though, Muffinhead and I transform portions of the space into a beautiful gallery filled with art, while having other areas of the space be very different and like they usually are. It is nice to be able to work in a space that is so versatile.

What will you be when you grow up? … okay,  if they make you.
HA! Planning too far ahead usually ends up being a disappointment. For right now, I just would like to keep on being busy working on projects that inspire me. Who knows what will inspire me next? I like a lot of different things.

What else are you working on?
Oh boy… I am in the middle of shooting a pilot for a new sitcom called Black Box – that has been a pretty incredible adventure. I’m also in a show called Symphony of Shadows with Rachel Klein Productions that will be opening at Dixon Place on June 7th.

Can you talk about your bad drag?… Talk about Miriam.
Miriam is my awful female alter ego that myself and my friend Michael Newman created back when we were in college. She MCs, does spoken word, and sometimes insults people at the door at The House Of Yes (but in a very charming way of course). She wears the most garish clothes possible, and doesn’t shave her face, and is incredibly crude. She is a parody of drag but in a very fun-loving drunk older chick you would like to hang out with but very well might shiv you with a blunt object- kind of way. I adore her.

Bow Down to Princess Xtravaganza and Her Royal House of Magnifique

For over 20 years I have attended balls. The balls I attend aren’t the ones seen in old movies, with rich white ladies in gowns and rich white gentlemen in tuxes, sipping champagne and listening to the unlistenable. That’s not really me and I’m never really invited to those except when some misguided publicist thinks I might cover their charity soirèe. The balls I attend are the balls thrown by the houses sometimes referred to as the voguing houses. I was honored to be a judge at an Xtravaganza Ball a couple years back. This culture became popularized by Madonna with her song "Vogue." The world learned to pop, dip, and spin, and the balls were never the same. In reality, balls and this culture have been around for a century. I am a regular at the annual Latex Ball which is now turning 21. This ball is presented by the GMHC, now in its 30th year of helping educate and support people with AIDS. Education helps with prevention. Despite a very relaxed attitude by the general public regarding this scourge, HIV and AIDS are still killing people.

The houses play an extremely important role for people who are sometimes left out of the process we call society. They serve as a support group for people who are sometimes shunned by family and schoolmates and their surroundings. They are perceived as different, often made outcasts by a world of the straight and narrow, and more often than not – racist. The balls are an opportunity to show the community and family of like-minded souls what they have and why it is wonderful.  
 
The date of this year’s Latex Ball has not been announced, but I was told that it will be held, as is the norm, on the third Saturday in August. The August 18th bash is by far – at least for me and mine – the best party of the year. You will scream and cry and yell and laugh and protest and agree as judges of reputation and qualification award prizes to the best in 20-something categories. As we get closer to the event, I will inform you.
Princess Xtravaganza
 
I am writing about it at this early juncture because of an announcement which has shocked and awed the Lewis household…in a good way: my dear friend Princess Xtravaganza has announced the reformation of the House of Magnifique. It gets better. She is now once again Princess Magnifique and she has asked me to play a major role in this endeavor. This is a great honor and something that I had always wanted. As a straight white male, to be asked to be part of this legendary House is something I didn’t think was possible. It has left me speechless and you all know how impossible that is. 
 
Princess has asked me to be Emperor of the Royal House Of Magnifique. Chi Chi Valenti is Empress. Princess will be the Mother of the House, and  Adrien Xtravaganza will be the Father of the House. Before I was anybody except my parent’s son, I hooked up with the Ramones and, as a friend of their’s, was awarded access to the best clubs in town, including the legendary Mudd Club. There I was, able to learn the club world and meet many different types of people that my Queens upbringing had denied me. I had regularly met up with Joey Arias and Klaus Nomi at Fiorucci and on St. Marks place. They taught me to think outside the box that everyone I grew up with accepted. My head always tilted to the left of my upbringing and, until Joey and Klaus, I thought I was alone.
 
Although connected, I wasn’t connected enough to gain access to the VIP second floor of Mudd. Chi Chi Valenti was the separator, the door person. She denied me time and time again. Not deterred, I studied the crowd she embraced and came back one night in torn jeans, a Ramones t-shirt, and carried a perfect red rose. I presented the rose with my head bowed slightly for Chi Chi and she smiled and let me in. I have never left. She is to blame for my club career – an honor she may or may not embrace. Now she is the Empress of the Magnifiques and I am there.
 
This probably sounds like a bunch of hooey to many of you. I urge you to google voguing balls or The Latex Ball and such and see this world that has now honored me with acceptance. I see this as an opportunity to do some good…make a difference. Punk Rock Frankie is one of the original Magnifiques and his blessing was all-important. I asked Princess to tell us all about this happening.
 
Why are you relaunching the Royal House of Magnifique? 
We were such an amazing House, and when it started getting stronger, I forgot what really happened – why Punk Rock Frankie closed the House. But it’s been on my mind for some great time to reopen this again. I just felt it in my soul that this time is the right time to make this bigger than ever… powerful and in the name of Punk Rock Frankie.. so this is why I’m not letting this Royal House die. Point 1: This is where my roots are I’m grateful that I have Punk Rock Frankie’s blessing. I’ve got to bring this back on top. This is not a game, point blank.  
 
What is a House and what is the history of the Houses as you know it?
What is a House? Well, this House is a group of powerful, talented people that not only go to a ball, in battle for trophies. We are a performance house that travels the world, showing what Magnifique is made of. This Royal Family is of every color and background, gay and straight, boys and girls, men and women. This house was born in 1986 and now again in 2012. 
 
Who else is joining you?
You ask who else is joining… only the chosen talented, and some of the most colorful and artistic people that are powerful and fit – what I’m looking for and what Magnifique stands for. I’m holding a casting next month to requite new, fresh, talented members. 
 
You gave asked me to be Emperor of the Royal House of Magnifique. I am deeply honored but must ask this…as I am a straight white male… isn’t this a departure from the norm? Am I qualified. Am I worthy of this honor. Is it a statement that the Magnifiques are going to be traditional but unafraid to break new ground?
Yes, I ask you, Steve Lewis, to be the Emperor. It really does not matter if you are gay or straight. You have that personality to do it, so I fell you can do it. You must believe in yourself. Bring it. Chi Chi brings it all the time and she is the Empress of this Royal Family. 
 
Will there be a ball to celebrate?
Yes, of course we will be having a major ball to really announce our return. 
 
How does belonging to a house help you in your own life?
Just because you belong to a house… you can live your life as you always do, or you can also benefit from belonging to a strong talented house full of people that are talented in every known way. It really depends on what type of house you belong to. 

Bowing Down To Stevie Nicks Tonight & Why I’ve Been M.I.A.

 

Hey all, sorry I’ve been M.I.A. (That’s Missing In Action, not Miami International Airport). I have been very busy completing the new Birch Coffee Shop on 96th and Columbus. I think it’s hot, and the coffee is beyond wonderful. Check it out. I’ve been completing the design over at The DL where I just added these wonderful glass lanterns I bought at Milly & Earl on Graham in Brooklyn. Everything in that place is to die for. I frequently go in and find myself saying I’ll take 10 of these and 12 of those. Me and mine are also completing the design of the front lounge of XL Nightclubwhich will be named "Rosebud" –  not a movie reference.

I am running back and forth to Huntington, Long Island doing a restaurant that’s to-be-named later. It’s a big gig and I love it. I am also finishing up a quaint little restaurant on Avenue C which I will brag about when it’s a little closer to opening, which I think looks like 4 weeks. And tonight I’m Djing atEVR, my favorite place to spin. It’s an afterwork crowd and I get to play stuff that just won’t go over in a club environment. There’s so much more, but enough about me. 

Tonight I’m bowing down at the feet of Chi Chi Valenti, Johnny Dynell, and Brian Butterick (Hattie Hathaway)  as the23rd Annual Night of a Thousand Stevies returns to the Highline Ballroom. This is, for me , the number 1 can’t-miss-for-nothing-no- how event of the year. A list of legendary characters will perform all thingsStevie Nicks. The crowd will dress the part and sing along. It is, of course, sold out – save for 100 tickets that will be offered at the door on a first-come, first-serve basis. Doors open at 9pm.

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