DJ, promoter, glam rocker… he’s done it all, coming from an era when nightlifers were actual superstars. And a superstar he remains, as he turns 50 at a venue that’s become his home base. Get your wisdom, and bask in the glory, of Michael T!
Thotyssey: Hi Michael! Thanks for talking to us and happy birthday! 50 is a wonderful milestone, particularly in nightlife. What do you think the key to a long and successful nightlife career is? Is it about always staying current, or always staying true to what’s good?
Michael T: I’m not concerned with fads. I do what I’m good at and stick to it. In short, I’m true to myself and my core audience.
2016 was quite a year in regards to the loss of many vital performing artists. Prince, George Michael, Pete Burns and of course a major influence on your own work: David Bowie. What do you think has been Bowie’s greatest contribution: to music, to fashion, to pop culture, or whatever?
I don’t think it’s possible to describe Bowie’s enormous influence in a few sentences. That said, for people who grew up with Bowie pre-Let’s Dance era, he was a glorious beam of light, hope and inspiration. He made you embrace what’s uniquely queer about oneself, as opposed to rejecting it. I suppose that
message has carried on to future generations who deem themselves “outsiders.”
Are you able to listen to his final album Blackstar? I find it too painful.
I’ve only heard it once. It is painful, but it’s something he needed to do, so that’s all that matters.
I was wondering what your hometown was, and what ultimately brought you to NYC?
My hometown is NYC, so nothing brought me here.
A native… you’re a unicorn! You’ve played in some bands over the years, but many in nightlife worship your work as a DJ and party producer.
Well, just two bands, really. I’ve worked with many different musicians over the years, be it my projects or guesting in someone’s band/show etc.
You came up in the world of the Big Clubs in Manhattan like the Tunnel, the Roxy, the Limelight, etc. This was a time when “straight” and “gay” venues weren’t as much of a thing, and everybody came together. Why do you think that basically ended? Is it simply because these big venues had to close and and it was easier for people to just fraction off into these sub-groups and smaller venues?
The whole gay/straight thing has always coexisted [including today], as well as being separate entities from one another. It’s not so much the venue. It’s the scene that you’re aiming for, the producers involved with the event, and a few other variables.
That said, IMO, the best parties–be it at small venues or large ones–are the those that are mixed. There tends not to be a dominating vibe, and in turn inhibitions begin to loosen up faster than a typical “normal” night out.
I think the reason you don’t see that many “mixed parties” is because no one is really trying to do them. A few exceptions, of course. Nevertheless, a certain amount of effort has to be applied in order to execute certain types of parties, properly.
What’s the major difference between partiers today and partiers from that nightlife heyday?
The main difference I see today is there’s not the same sense of abandonment when people go out. Before, a night out meant you were really gonna go at it to it’s fullest extent! Be it the dancing, drugs, the sex, or a combination of the three. I rarely see that today.
The phone thing has really ruin the atmosphere and magic of the “nightclub”. Young people are more involved with their phones than with each other. Tragic.
It seems like these days, a club DJ can either be a schooled professional who knows how to take people on a journey, or just a cute person with an iTunes playlist. Was there always some version of this “you’re a real DJ v. you’re a poser” dynamic in DJing?
Hmmm. Like in any profession, there are always tiers, and certainly not everyone is equal. I started DJing seriously around 1998. I was part of the last wave of DJ’s who had to know their history and not Wikipedia it.
I absolutely agree that a proper DJ should take you on a journey. It can be done in a low key manner, or fueled to the max. The whole iTunes thing is fucking lame. Regrettably, there are way too many “DJ’s” today that get hired because they’re “young” and “cute,” and not due to their capabilities or musical knowledge.. In other words, another watered down profession.
Similar to how everyone today is a “photographer.”
Do you think good music is still being made, or is it all derivative garbage now?
The latter. I suppose some good music is being done, but way too many fools with a computer are thinking they’re gonna be the Mozart of beats.
You and several other well-known DJs just played Stimulate, a festival that embraces goth / darkwave / industrial etc. Aesthetics come and go, but goth has remained steadfast in one sense or another for 40 years. What do you attribute its staying power to?
Well, it’s a sub-culture, so it attracts niche audience. The same way punk does, or rockabilly, or new wave, etc. Of course, once something is around for more than a few years, you get into Stage 2, 3, 4, 5… [laughs] and so on and so forth. Clearly, it’s not the same “goth” scene as it was in the 80’s or even 90’s.
That said, even with all those passing years, the fundamentals are still there. It’s always gonna be a little weird, spooky and dark. Frankly, the majority of people don’t feel all that comfortable with that sensibility… thankfully–hence, it’s staying power.
Tell me a bit about your current band, Michael T & the Vanities. When did you all start performing, where can we get any recordings, and what’s next for you all?
I started my first band in late ‘92 / early 93. It was “Killer Lipstick.” A few years later it segued into “The Vanities,” but it was something I just did, here and there.
I was heavily into promoting from 1999 on, so performing took a back seat for just about a decade. After I stopped doing Motherfucker, Rated X, et al I started to focus on performing and my band again. So, I suppose it started to get serious around 2009/2010. No recordings, but we do have a lot of YouTube videos. As for what’s next… we’re figuring that out.
The Vanities did a lot of shows at Le Poisson Rouge, which is one of the last big venues of its kind in NYC. Will we ever be seeing you there again?
I hope so. I have a great relationship with that venue, so I don’t like doing anything there unless I feel I’m going to bring enough people to fill it properly. There’s nothing worse than performing in a room with too few people and there’s no way of “masking” it..
And, yes, it is one of the last great venues in NYC. Great staff too, might I add.
How was Sweetie’s birthday at the Highline Ballroom recently? Everyone I spoke to who went said it was just a really magical experience.
I’ve been part of many “legendary” nights, and Sweetie’s was up there. It gave me faith in humanity, which seems to dwindle with every passing day.
It’s really incredible what a difference we can all make if we just try a little, be just a wee bit kinder to one another [myself included]. Simply make the time for someone…everyone today is so allegedly “busy,” we really take ourselves and our relationships for granted. We think we’re gonna be here forever–we’re not, and tomorrow is never guaranteed.
“Magical” is accurate. We were a collective that night. We came together as a community for someone who has contributed a lot, and we needed to give back in Sweetie’s honor.
And speaking of birthdays… let’s get to yours! You’re having it on Wednesday the 18th at Beauty Bar in the East Village, which is a totally fun spot… a preserved old-fashioned beauty parlor re-purposed into a bar, where you can still get manicures! It’s kind the perfect space for the party that you’re throwing, which features a tons of beloved DJs and musicians, burlesquers and drag queens (including two of our favorites, Stephanie Stone & Peppermint!) How psyched are you for this?
I’m pretty psyched! I love a giant freakshow. Yes, Beauty Bar is the perfect spot. It’s, by nature, kind of campy and feminine, so the douchiness factor is kept at bay from the git-go. Plus, it’s my home away from home. I’ve been the resident DJ at Beauty Bar for 7-8 years. I’ve known the owner Michael Stewart since 2000, and he’s rad. Thank you, Mr. Stewart, for putting up with me all these years!
Are you going to be performing/spinning as well, or are you just gonna sit back and enjoy?
I definitely won’t be “sitting back”. That’s not Mother’s show…ever! I’ll be doing a little bit of everything. I can’t wait for my Lip Sync number…going back to my performing roots!
So yeah, you and Twig the Wonderkid actually have been spinning the Saturday night weekly party there at Beauty… Remake/Remodel! What’s that like?
Fun. A bunch of young kids dance to music that came out long before they were born. Seriously, it’s great to spin on a Saturday night and not spin any fucking top 40!
I’ve known Velocity for a long time…probably since the late 90’s. It’s a shame it’s ending. Even if I don’t take part in things that often, I don’t like seeing other “kooky” parties come to an end. However, I suppose everything does, sooner or later. I’m sure that night will be quite colorful.
Look for me in dark corners-looking salacious! Ahh…I’m just DJing here and there… may have a show in February, but not confirmed, so don’t wanna mention it.
Okay, in closing: We’re gonna need the community, the distractions and the second-family dynamic of nightlife in the next few years… possibly more than ever before. But it sometimes feels like nightlife is losing the war to community boards and astronomical commercial rents, and nobody having living wages in the city, and a stagnant scene, and our Smartphones. How can we turn this around and Make Nightlife Great Again?
It’s not gonna happen. Night clubs/nightlife won’t end, but the days of significantly shaping culture, fashion, music etc.. are over.
Everything you mentioned is part of the problem. Furthermore, people simply don’t have that desire anymore. They don’t fight for things. Also, everyone is beyond self-entitled–it’s dreadful. Many of the great movements from the 20th century are coming to an end.
Let’s hope someone mummifies the “nightclub generation” for some semblance of historic preservation. It could be the new Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
We’re glad you’re hear to keep it real (and glorious) for us, Michael! Happy birthday again!
Michael T spins “Remake/Remodel” Saturday nights with Twig the Wonderkid at Beauty Bar (10pm). His all-star 50th birthday bash will go down there on Wednesday, January 19th (10pm). Michael can be followed on Facebook.