A true icon of New York City’s DJ booths who kept us wet at Splash and hot on Fire Island, Max Rodriguez is currently turning the party in two of Manhattan’s most important venues… and today, he is Thotyssey’s one thousandth On Point Interviewee!
Thotyssey: Hello Max, thanks for chatting with us today! So, Halloween is nearly upon us… do you like this time of year?
Max Rodriguez: Yes, I do! Halloween along with Pride and New Years Eve are my three favorite days / nights to play. Great energy and themed music.
Agreed! By the way, quick editor’s note: this is officially my one thousandth On Point interview!
Wow 1000th? I am deeply honored, Jim, to be a part of it… and so appreciate all you do for NY gay nightlife. And congrats on Interview 1000!
Thank you! And you are the perfect person for such a moment. You’ve seen many eras and trends of nightlife here in NYC over the decades… what do you think about this particular moment, post-Covid, in NYC in regards to bars and clubs? Are these hopeful times, creative times… are there causes for concern?
I think initially when the bars and clubs reopened last spring / summer, there was lots of hope. People were so happy to be back in the bars with each other again, and it was a rebirth. The whole of summer 2021 was one long party that, with the exception of a couple of Covid spikes, lasted until the end of Spring 2022… at least in the City. The gay resorts then got the “rebirth” on steroids this past summer. And during the rebirth everywhere, more bars and clubs either opened or expanded to ride the wave.
I think that has peaked, though… partially because the ability to go out at your desire has returned, and partially because going out has gotten more expensive. Even happy hours, for the most part, have disappeared at many establishments. There is also a cause for concern that the amount of new spaces has diluted the bar-hopping public in the post “honeymoon” period, especially during the week.
And some places have gone back to allow–and even promote–sex in the clubs… a return to gay clubbing from the 70s to the late 90s. That concerns me, not because of it happening (not judging), but because in the day of cameras and instant social media, it perpetuates one of the stereotypes of the gay community. But I understand: you gotta do what you gotta do to keep the doors open.
Despite that, hope still prevails. And as rents and costs rise, some will survive and thrive, some will close, and new bars will bloom. The cycle of gay nightlife continues.
As the World Turns! So back to Max, the man of the hour. I see that you began DJing in New Orleans… is that where you’re originally from?
Yes, the Big Sleazy, lol! The French Quarter was the greatest school you could attend to learn the business of partying and all that encompasses it, especially the soundtrack.
What ultimately brought you to New York, and what was the club scene and general lay of the land like when you got here?
I was taken under the wing of a very talented DJ named Ricky Merewether in New Orleans. He told me I have to go to New York to see the Pride parade and go to the Mecca of gay clubs, the Saint. So he brought me here for the first time. After that life-changing experience, I returned to New Orleans and DJ’d locally for another few years. I decided I needed to learn music production, so I took a six month course in audio engineering in NYC. I fell in love with life here, and never returned to live in New Orleans.
New York at that time was coming out of dark times with a bankruptcy from the late 70s. Crime was everywhere. Graffiti and empty storefronts were everywhere. Homelessness was everywhere. It almost sounds like I’m describing NYC today, lol… but it was a lot worse then. However, there were what are now legendary gay bars and clubs with amazing DJs. I learned so much from these maestros. I like to say I’m a “classically trained” club DJ, lol.
Legends upon legends were making their name on the scene around the time you were DJing those clubs. I understand you were friends with the gorgeous Paul “Boom Boom Boom Let’s Go Back to My Room” Lekakis!
Yes, Paulie! My first gig was at a video club in Chelsea called Private Eyes. Paul was friends with the owner, and would visit us there. He and I became friends then. He had a performance at The Saint one Saturday night, and brought me with him. He introduced me to the manager, Jason McCarthy. A couple years later, Jason would come to my Sunday night gigs at the Men’s Room on 26th and 6th Ave in the early 90s. At that time the Saint had closed, and Jason was managing the Roxy. He liked my sound, and invited me into the Saturday rotation.
Paul also introduced me to Greg Jones at a Christmas party, who was the future manager of Splash. I was at Splash from beginning to end. So Paul Lekakis was a major catalyst in my early DJ career in NYC!
I’ll get to Splash in a minute, but first I wanna ask about the scene in those big clubs you DJ’ed like the Roxy, the Palladium, the Limelight… huge money-making enterprises where gay and straight folks danced together! Did that all feel really unique and special at the time?
Yes it did! Coming from Louisiana, gay people went here to party and straight people went there. Straights were prejudiced against homosexuals, and wanted them all eradicated. To come to New York and see the two sides not only partying together, but having hot straight bartenders working alongside hot gay bartenders–and that being perfectly normal–was Utopia for me. I didn’t think that was possible, but there is was!
Do you think we’ll ever come close to that dynamic again?
I’m not sure. When a culture becomes more accepted into mainstream society, you lose some of the things that make you unique… but you also gain some things from other cultures. I am seeing more and more straight men and women coming to gay bars because they are fun places, and they don’t care if it’s a gay bar.
But I’m also seeing many gays not too happy about that. They want to be accepted in society, but also want their own exclusive gay spaces. And I get that. I mean, a straight couple can go to a gay bar and flirt and kiss… but I wouldn’t suggest two gay guys go into a straight bar and kiss.
I think my generation largely associates you with Splash, a vital venue in New York’s nightlife history that like you said above, you were a big part of from the beginning to the end. You DJed dance parties and drag shows, and popular Broadway themed nights! What made Splash so special in hindsight, do you think? And did you ever use those showers, lol?
I think what made Splash so special was those showers. I mentioned earlier the club The Men’s Room–it was the first time gogo boys were used in a gay club, to the best of my knowledge. So Splash took that idea and ran with it: “just add water,” lol. It was even duplicated in a couple other countries. And no I never used the showers. I couldn’t compete with those hunks… plus, the water was too cold for me!
Another thing that made it special was “Musical Mondays“–always packed on a Monday with Broadway actors, dancers, and especially fans. And Broadway shows were lining up to come and do short performances to promote their companies! Where does that happen nowadays? Maybe Broadway Bares… which incidentally was where it was first done.
You’ve also been a mainstay on Fire Island for several years! Do you have any thoughts on Daniel Nardicio and company’s recent purchase of the Ice Palace? And, are you surprised to see those spooky Fire Island deer show up in the latest season of American Horror Story, lol?
Oh no I haven’t seen the latest AHS! The deer are evil? Now I have to watch. But I think from what I’ve seen out there, the deer would be the least of my worries, lol! And I love that Daniel and company have purchased the Ice Palace. It’s a great, historic gay venue, and he will do it justice and give it new life.
What are your thoughts about today’s music, by the way? Does it hold up to the classic dance lexicon you’ve been spinning since the 80s? Does anything or anyone new in particular stand out to you as great or fun?
I think todays’ music in general is in a better place than it was before the pandemic. At least, it’s heading back in the right direction. I loved a lot of the early 2000’s music–then in the mid to later 2010s, it started trending in the wrong direction. But the pandemic reset that as well. It was getting more downtempo, which is great for early or late… but dance music, especially in the mainstream gay dance clubs, was all about upbeat BPM energy.
We are returning to that. House music is getting a spotlight, too, thanks to artists like Beyoncé. Disco is getting rediscovered, thanks to nu-disco and current pop songs that are being mixed with disco grooves. The soul of dance music is returning. The new Tove Lo album is great, too. I have faith in current music again.
Let’s talk about where the kids can find you these days! First, there’s the newly rebranded Friday nights at the historic Barracuda Bar, “Nouveau Disco“ with host Justin Valentine and shows by Adrena Lin, plus yourself in the DJ booth!
OMG, it’s so much fun! Justin came up the with idea of a nouveau disco night this past Spring. It started off as a last Friday of the month thing in late May, and the response was fantastic. The second one was also a great crowd, so they decided to do it every Friday starting in late August… and it’s been going strong ever since. Even Luke Evans came by to check it out. The whole staff loves it too; it’s something different then the normal pop songs you hear in the bars on a Friday or Saturday night. And it’s a unifier on the dance floor between the older and the younger gays. They all love it!
I love me some Chelsea Piers! And Industry is such a large, one level space. It has a big club feel, and the energy there on Saturdays is just what you would expect to see and feel in a New York City gay club.
The kids need to have themselves a Max’ed Out Weekend! Okay, so lastly: given we’re in the spooky season… have you ever encountered any paranormal activity?
I wish I had a personal experience to share! Unfortunately, not that I can remember. And I spent a lot of times in candlelit New Orleans cemeteries this time of year! I did put an “X” in red brick chalk on the grave of voodoo queen Marie Laveau. Supposedly if you do that, she may grant your wish if you ask her. But she never appeared.
She’s just biding her time! Thanks, Max!