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.

Banzai: Muffinhead and Eric Schmalenberger at Red Lotus Room

There is soooo much to do these days and only seven days and nights in a week. For starters, there are still tickets available for an event that cannot be missed. The event in question: Eric Schmalenberger and Muffinhead Present Banzai!!!!! an Art & Performance Melange, next Saturday, November 16th from 9 p.m. until 3 a.m. Oh my god, November 16th already! Where has the time gone?

Banzai!!!!! will take place at the Red Lotus Room, a rather marvelous space at 893 Bergen Street in beloved Brooklyn. Scott Ewalt will DJ and the list of performers include Amanda Lepore, Dee Dee Luxe, Johanna Constantine, The Rachel Klein Dance Ensemble, Soigné Deluxe and Shane Shane. Visual artists include Greg Accopian, Dan Baker, Tracy Von Becker-Legge, Michael Blase, Kirsten Bode, Ryan Brennan, Wren Britton, Ryan Burke, Adrian Buckmaster, Soigné Deluxe, Anaïs Delsol, Dolly Dharma, Scott Ewalt, Ms. Fitz, Erik Foss, Heather Garland, Veritée Hill, Sam Hill, Antoinette Johnson, Matt Jones, Stacey Mark, Joshua David McKinney, Ted Mineo, Brian Montuori, Sarah Alice Moran, Muffinhead, Kembra Pfahler, Jeffrey Ralston, Kenny Scharf, Max Steiner, Andrew Strasser, Gerry Visco, Cindy Waters, Wonderpuss Octopus, Jaimie Warren and Sergio Zuniga. If Eric Schmalenberger says come I dial Metro Car service snap!

There will be a late show by Teen Pussy and the world premiere of a swirling, psychedelic video called “CAKE SHOW” by Adam Dugas and Casey Spooner. I mean whew. This is an incredible night planned by incredibly talented people—if you don’t know what I’m talking about how did you get this far in this post? Risks will be taken, norms exposed, and most importantly boredom will be banished. Although it may be true for some, most of these creative types you see out at night aren’t just dressed up with no place fabulous to go. They are performers, brands, and essentially living art. They spend the time between cocktails and parties thinking of new ways to push the envelope. This event at Red Lotus will shock and awe you. Your hands will hurt from applause.

One of the organizers/presenters is Muffinhead. I have never met him but I’ve heard so much—all wonderful. He burst onto the scene in the mid-2000’s and his talent and charm made an impression on the fashion and nightlife crowd. He was at all of the important parties and his name, actually his brand, became a staple on important invites. I caught up with Muffinhead and asked him all about it.

So, let’s talk about the event. It says you and Eric Schmalenberger “present”—what does “present” mean?
We wrap it up in a box, slap a ribbon on it and pull the pin! Present meaning we’re the guys who give birth to the art monster. We’re the ones who start it off with sticky notes, some wacky maximalist ideas and a good solid sense of mischief all the way to the end. The end as in even when we’re trudging home through the snow with paintings and bags of hammers.

The talent involved is wonderful. What will the public see and hear at Banzai?
Thank you so much! At first glance Banzai can come off like a madcap crazy-pants art party, and it is, but overall we worked hard to curate a selection of artists who present work that is both imaginative and visually spectacular. The idea is to bring in both emerging and veteran artists and let them tear up the scenery. We never have a theme; the theme is Banzai, which is basically just a schizophrenic art octopus. This time we have Amanda Lepore headlining the performances along with Johanna Constantine who we’ve been trying to get for years now. We’re also very happy to be showing some pieces from veteran artists like Kenny Scharf and Kembra Pfahler side by side with fantastic emerging talent like photographer Ryan Burke and gothic designer Wren Britton.

Years ago this would have to take place in Manhattan, but now it feels natural in Brooklyn at the fabulous Red Lotus. What is the difference in “feel” between Manhattan and Brooklyn?
The difference is huge. I don’t know if it’s even possible at this point for anything even slightly underground to happen in Manhattan. Nowadays there’s this gloss about the city that can’t be avoided while Brooklyn is still gritty as fuck, but also a bit cozy and familiar which makes it ideal for what Banzai is. It’s not about big money and bottle service. At its core it’s about the inspiration of the artists we involve.

You came to New York in the mid-2000’s well aware of the club kid movement of the 80’s and 90’s. There was a great deal of boredom for a minute after that scene self-destructed; what do you think is different in this creative era? Have we gone beyond that scene to a new plateau or is what we see at Banzai and in the current party circuit for the fashion/artistic set just a redux of that moment?
Well yes and no. Personally, when I came to New York I was fairly ignorant of what the “club kid” movement had been. When I was in L.A. I had no idea who Leigh Bowery was—I thought I had invented the whole thing. You can imagine my surprise when I found out that there was a similar movement that had already come and gone.

What we have now is a natural creative evolution. “Walking art” or whatever you want to call it, underground fashion, DIY fashion, to me it’s still in the infant stages as a medium. There are endless variations on what one can do with their own personal style in public. I think we’ve turned up the volume a bit and thrown some modern technology into the mix. We have artists like Nick Cave pulling off amazing thoroughly enchanting work in museums, but I feel that the job won’t be complete until it reaches the mainstream. The point of all this is to alter the concept of individual style and to open it up in a way that allows the public to enjoy the freedom of their own vision outside of going to a nightclub or celebrating Halloween.

I think society has taken great strides socially. What do you see when you look at the world? Is there a renaissance going on or we still very backward?
Oh yeah, there’s always a battle to be fought. Whether it’s for acceptance or understanding, or just to explain oneself as an artist to the outside world. I think that’s ok though, it’s important to not be asleep at the wheel. That being said, I think we’ve come a long way.

Where will your art take you?
Japan! I see myself in Japan for some reason. I would love to take part in more design work, whether for others or myself. At first this was all about grabbing attention in many ways, but the longer I make art the more I simply want to make things that can be enjoyed by the public. I have an aesthetic to tend to but I can do that anywhere from Africa to outer space…both preferably!


Correct Culture: Man Bags, Muffinhead, Max Steele

Take the Picture – There seems to be a never-ending plethora of artists dabbling in the at times indulgent art of self-portraiture these days, but few ever rise to the fierce degree of established and still relevant talents like Cindy Sherman or Robert Mapplethorpe. Photographer Gregory Moon is that rare exception, and though his work is way different from the aforementioned art greats, he adds his own singular touch to his work, which veers from the ultra-sexual to the uber-sexy. Constantly revealing and evolving, he shows absolutely no fear in expressing his unique vision of himself and gives pause to those seeking only an unhealthy dose of counterfeit astonishment.

imageStyle That Doesn’t Suck – I’ve never been a fan of the “man bag,” those supposedly fashionable but oh-so-strange-looking oversized sacks of stylish indulgence that designers like Gucci, Prada, and Louis Vuitton have tried to convince us normal male mortals (and not just the gay ones) that we need to complete our daily ensembles. I still rock a $12 black nylon backpack from 14th Street. But then I came across the superbly sublime designs of San Francisco-based accessories designer Basil Racuk, and I’ve been singing a decidedly different tune. A 20-year veteran of the fashion biz, Racuk worked his magic for several large houses before striking out on his own as an artisan working directly with private clients and a few select retail stores. His passion for California gold miners and the alterna-hippy vibe of Haight Ashbury has resulted in a collection of rare leather pieces dating back to the Gold Rush days. The pieces have a handcrafted, lived-in-already feel and feature such unexpected touches as handpainted finishes and ergonomic shapes that keep them fashionably current, yet comfortably minimal.

image Style Exiles – I first spotted Muffinhead on Facebook but didn’t truly take in his entire amazing self spectacle until spotting him at one of artist Kenny Scharf’s Cosmic Cavern black-light parties. Describing himself as a “performance absurdist and hyper-surreal cartoon character intent on bringing other worldly visions to life, he injects a bold and brash jolt of visual distraction that brings to mind such geniuses as Leigh Bowery. Since relocating to New York in 2005, he has brought his chaotic and somewhat obsessive panache to the city’s hottest galleries, events, and nightlife. His solo show The Exhibitionist at Arena Studios received rave reviews, and he has been a featured player in the Deitch Projects Art Parade since its inception. This “Art Terrorist” seeks first and foremost to see his concepts through to brilliant completion, often taking several grueling months to finish. His recent collaboration with Kenny Scharf called “SuperWow!” was one of those unique only-in-New-York experiences, bringing together a group art party, performance exhibit, and all-night dancing to dazzling effect.

image What Would You Wear to the Second Coming? – it/EQ collaborators Ethan Shoshan and Carlo Quispe create custom clothes based on psychosexual power relationships inherent in the wearer, uncovering unconscious desires and allowing personal liberation. The story of it/EQ is based on one of the principles of Shamanism, and that is imbuing meaning (personal, spiritual, social) onto things; that objects, people, places have special powers — living symbols of power — and to reach beyond the ego into a realm where we are all deeply connected. The first amulet that ever existed was the shell portion of a sea-urchin. It has a hole through it, called it/EQ (anus) and was made the first amulet because of its association with a particular power of healing through wind and breath. Ethan Shoshan, 29, is a social ecologist and multimedia artist born in Brooklyn. His works utilize many creative platforms using visual media, performance, sound, video, installation, clothes, and cooking. He is currently living and working in New York as yoga practitioner, macrobiotic chef, and volunteer for various community organizations. You can check out more projects and sign onto the mailing list at Carlo Quispe is 31, born in Lima, Peru, and now lives in New York in the Dominican ghetto of Washington Heights. Carlo’s work depicts men who have sex with men and their very private lives. His comic Killer Heights recently had a public showing in September at Printed Matter Inc. He is currently teaching visual literacy at the Hetrick-Martin Institute and is co-editing the next issue of World War 3 Illustrated, called “What We Want,” due out in early 2010.

image The Stuff You Need Right Now – With the continued advent of skinny jeans, finding the right shoe that keeps the elongated and lean line fresh requires footwear that doesn’t look bulky or make you resemble a modern-day version of Bozo. Nobody wants toothpick legs balanced on boat-sized feet. I usually opt for a classic pair of Chucks but was recently turned on to the reinvention of a true old school classic. Reworking their ultra-classic signature canvas kicks first introduced to the masses in 1916 by the company US Rubber, Pro-Keds has teamed with the uber-trendy boutique Opening Ceremony to create a line of red, white, and blue styles in faded washes, bandana prints, and even denim.

image Shop till Ya Drop – Live Fast is hands down the coolest shop on the LES. The carry and support an amazing array of independent designers who create one-of-a-kind pieces and accessories. Scooter La Forge, JackieHatesYou, Blue Tape Crew, Ramon Maiden, Bullets, Stiletto Leatherwear, OAP London, Michael Nirenberg, and Nickels & Dimes can all be found here, and the shop also creates rock-n-roll-inspired wedding/gala event dresses from their in-house studio. Owner Cecilia Anton opened the shop in 2005 and soon after turned the basement into a wildly popular gallery featuring artists like Nick Zedd, Vanessa Bucci, Joe Simko, and Monica Casanova. Upcoming shows include the aforementioned JackieHatesYou on October 31 from 6-11pm, and Scooter La Forge’s “Mega Monsters” on November 20. If you haven’t figured out your Halloween costume yet, get your ass down there ASAP as this is definitely the spot to put something together that will look fiercely fresh and stand out in a likely crowd of Sarah Palin wannabes.

image Fiercely Correct Art – New York-based painter Lara Jochim has pretty much done it all in her quest to keep things creative. Between serving up stints as a DJ, fashion stylist, record store clerk, theme party host, and 9-to-5 publishing gal, she “relaxes” by painting abstract figurative landscapes of swirling colors and collaged distraction.

image Caution: Correctness Ahead – Max Steele is a NYC-based performance artist/ blogger du jour/ go-go sensation whose personal sense of style often includes random correctness such as the Mickey Mouse tank he sports above. The kids in NY are really working the vintage again, thank God, and I’ve noticed that even though this never-ending 80s retro regurgitation refuses to leave us, there is a current of the future starting to creep up. I sat down with Max recently to ask him a few questions.

Tell me about growing up- where you’re from, were you out, gay, and performing? I’m originally from LA, but my family moved to a tiny island Bay Area suburb called Alameda when I was nine. My parents are both actors, so I was out from the get-go. Real artsy hippie CA vibe, I’m very lucky.

What made you come to NYC and what was the first fierce thing that happened to you? I came to NYC because when I was in high school this really cute punk band played SF on tour and I had a crush on the guitarist and they said they were from New York. The first fierce thing that happened when I got here was that for the first time in my life, dudes started cruising me. All of a sudden I existed.

What do you aspire to, and what inspires you? I aspire to share my work (performance and writing) with more and more people. I want to widen the discussion to include as many people as possible. I’m inspired a lot by the work of my brilliant friends, and by literature.

What all do you do to do what you love to do in NYC? I work days as a law firm receptionist, I go-go dance, and do freelance writing gigs to get money. I wish I could support myself without having a 9-5, but I’m still young.

Favorite color / drink / restaurant / club nite / performance-nightlife artist? Green, soy White Russian, Kate’s Joint, three-way tie (Queers Beers and Rears @ Cake Shop, JUDY! @ The Hose, and whenever there’s an East Village Boys party), Tayisha Busay.

Upcoming projects, dream jobs, and correct e-mail/web site contact info? I’m playing Starr Space on 10/17, opening for Ana Da Silva from the Raincoats, working on a new solo performance art show called Encourager, and writing the next issue of my psychedelic porno poetry zine Scorcher.

imageFast Food Fashion – I am a huge fan of irreverent t-shirts, the less in good taste the better. My new guilty pleasures come from Mike Hawk Teez, started by childhood friends Rick Ramos and Frank Guerra, who based their collection of crude sayings on stupid phrases they would come up with back in their college daze. They come up with the fictional characters Mike Hawk, the typical dirty-minded guy, and Betty Wacksitt, the empowered hot girl who tells it like it is. Not politically correct by a long shot, which is exactly why they are SO very correct.

San Francisco Street Treat – Just spent a few weeks in San Francisco, where the street art scene is completely off the hook. Ironically, several of that city’s leading artists have been migrating to NYC and leaving their mark on both coasts. So if some of these images look familiar, you’re not trippin. The era of bi-coastal tagging is alive and well.




All photos except Basil Racuk, Gregory Moon, Lara Jochim, and Mike Hawk Teez by Walt Cessna.