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Bob Mould and Richard Morel were already legendary in the early days of this century: Bob for playing with one of the best 80s punk bands Hüsker Dü and for numerous solo projects after that, and Richard for his role as a songwriter, producer and record company founder in the early days of what came to be known as “electronica.”
So when they started throwing dance parties at the Velvet Lounge the concept with greeted with an equal measure of interest and dismissiveness.
Seven years later, they’ve done something that most DJs would kill to recreate: established a brand.
Their dance music night Blow Off is more than just two guys playing house and indie rock music at the 930 Club–they’ve managed to make it synonymous with a lifestyle: if you’re a gay man in his 30s or 40s or one of the people that love them you’ve been to the party whether you live in Chicago or New York or San Francisco.
It’s rare that DC would export any musical commodity, and even more rare that it’s dance music related, so perhaps only folks with the name recognition of these two would be able to pull it off. No matter how hard it might be for his older fans to imagine a Bob Mould music event where a song like “Indecision Time” would be greeted with shrieks of shock, the class, culture, and inclusiveness of the party speaks incredibly well of our city and of both guys as human beings. Not to mention that it’s insane fun times, especially when paired with the MidAtlantic Men of Leather convention, when the place is so packed with bald hunks with beard it looks like that Teddy Bear Picnic song except with more vests.
We spoke to Bob and then Richard one after the other on the phone earlier this week about their second acts as dance music impresarios, and with the express purpose of getting them talk shit about each other. Sadly they were incredibly gracious and insightful about dance music, gay culture, and how to make a crowd get weird after midnight. Bob had just woken up when I called, and mentioned that he was in a different time zone.
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What are you doing on the West coast? Just hanging out?

BM: I actually moved to San Francisco a few months ago.

Really? I didn’t know that
BM: Yeah, I’ve been here for about 4 months.

Traitor! Just kidding. How do you like it?
BM: The weather is great. I’m excited to come back this weekend, but I’m not excited for this sub-zero weather. I think I’ve become a California weather wimp, already.

That was quick!
BM: Haha

I mean, particularly given Minnesota’s weather.
BM: Yea, I think I’m entitled after many years of cold weather.

Well, I’m calling to chat mostly about Blowoff and house music, but I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I’m a huge fan of yours.
BM: Oh, thank you.

Tragically, I’ve never been to Blowoff. I remember it started when I was living in Baltimore and there was some talk from some people, sort of more rock people, that weren’t really aware about your interest in dance music. But now it’s completely commonplace for people to go back and forth between genres, to the point where every band has to have a remix or do a remix. How do you think that happened and what was the process of that cultural change?
BM: Well, I started getting interested in electronic music about eleven years ago when I was living in New york City at the time. I was really fascinated with it and I was kind of getting tired with rock because I have been doing it for years and I sort of got drawn into that kind of music, especially a lot of the global underground compilations which gave me quick exposure to a lot of different styles and a lot of different acts. I started writing in that style, from techno to electronic. At that time, there wasn’t really a lot of people making the connection. There were things like, the Postal Service, you know, a lot of more musical stuff, but not to the degree that there is now.

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Why is that?
BM: You know, I’m not really sure. I think part of it is that the technology got accessible, because everybody has a cracked version of Ableton Live or Garageband on their laptop. It may have been musicians looking at it as another way to be able to make music or a way of cheap recording. I mean, maybe the whole thing kind of overlapped all together.

But when you started, you and Richard started at Velvet Lounge, isn’t that right?
BM: Yea, Rich and I met in ’02 up in New York right before I moved to DC. When I got to D.C., we got together and started writing music. One of the extensions of that was like, hey we should throw a party and DJ, and of course that was January of ’03 at the Lounge. Rich had done a lot of work, and I had no idea what I was doing as far as DJing, so it was just kind of like a monthly party just to get people together.

Was it very organic at the beginning? Did you have a vision of how successful it would be?
BM: We had no clue. Not one clue.

At the time did you say, “Hm there isn’t anyone really doing this kind of thing?”
BM:  No, but I’ll tell you, as we started to get a  couple of years into it and we started to test the waters a little bit, you know, we realized that we were on to something by presenting a musical dance night in a music venue. We were definitely catering to a more gay audience, and eventually sort of more our specific kind of audience. I think we lucked out in the setting  and that told us what the formula would be as we got more successful. You know, in New York and San Francisco and Chicago where we also do events on a regular basis, there is live music as well. I think that if there was any kind of strategy, that was where a couple of years afterward we said  “We are music guys that are making a music night” and that’s really where our strong suit is.

So, like you said, there is a target audience. How do you think think this weekend’s event in DC is going to be different what with the Men of Leather conference in town?

BM: Traditionally it is usually one of our biggest events of the year. We’re expecting a pretty good crowd. I know there are a lot of other thing in D.C. that kind of cater to the “Leather Folk” on Saturday night, but we’ll see what happens. We are sort of a proven commodity, and I know a lot of the guys that come every year really look forward to the Blowoff. A lot people are coming in from New York, a lot of people are coming in from Chicago, and San Fransisco as well. So, I’m expecting a big night. I hope it above zero, again not to harp on the leather, but running around in chaps in the cold is pretty painful.

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Haha! I didn’t consider that. I guess that’s probably true.
BM: You got to bring your chap-stick.

Lol so to speak. So you do anticipate it as a more dressed up crowed, sort of a more showtime atmosphere rather than a weekend night out?
BM: This one is definitely more of a spectacular night. We’re doubling up on coat check because everyone is bringing so much stuff. This is going to be a spectacular, really fun night. It should be a great time.

In the past, just to give us a preview, is there anything that you’ve seen go down down, that you can talk about, that has happened at a Blowoff. Anything that you have been like “Holy crap! That just happened on the dance floor.”
BM: Umm, no. It’s not too crazy. It doesn’t really get too out of hand. The guys are all respectful of the 9:30 club as a performance space. I mean, there is a lot of going on, a lot of friskiness. But, this is coming from someone who has been to Fulsom St. Fair, so…[laughs] I mean, it’s really fun, but I’ve never seen anything that has made me go and try to erase it from my head or anything

Is that one of the secrets to the Blowoff’s success, that it’s sort of highly curated, tasteful music, but also that its the kind of a space for a more mature crowd without some of the drama and spectacle of the younger gay clubs?
BM: I think so. Also, another thing about club nights is that the DJs have a lot more control than people think, whether it’s with music, or whether how Rich and I interact with the crowd. I like to to play music and dance, and kind of make a goof out of myself. When I’m not spinning, I’m out mingling and saying “Hi” to friends. I think everyone appreciates the relaxed atmosphere of it– it’s not like a proving ground or anything. I think, like you said, since it’s sort of an older crowd, the edginess of the club setting is there less and we want people to relax and be comfortable and enjoy the music. You know, I think since the election, we’ve been in D.C. and we have seen a lot more younger people come to the events, which we are really happy about and everybody is getting along great. The younger crowd has a different kind of energy and so  far it seems to really fit together, so we are really happy about that, too.

Do you have a straight following as well?
BM: I think there is a curiosity factor. There are some people that come and give it a try. I think it’s a small portion, like you said it is a highly curated setting, and people do come for the music, but again, the setting is a bunch of gay men doing what the do when they all get together at a bar. Not all straight people want to do that for four hours.

It seems though, at least in D.C., and kind of part of what BYT has been doing, is kind of breaking down these walls between “Gay nights” and “Straight nights”. Where do you come down on issues like that? Do you think that it is important to protect your core audience?
BM: I mean, that’s a really complex issue, and it is something that gay society struggles with all the time. I think that the older gays, you know, there used to be gay neighborhoods and ghettos, and this sense of being an outsider and almost liking it in a way because of the exclusivity. But as time goes on, you know, especially with the gay marriage situation and even with older television shows like Will and grace, that made these great advances to bring the rest of America, Middle America, around to acceptance. Those are great stride, but at the same time, a little bit of the identity gets lost. I mean, it a fine line constantly. I think any self identified sort of group goes through these kind of things. I don’t think it’s unique to the gay movement.

I see a lot of crossover, especially in music and specifically with Indie rock. There is a lot of gay commentary and culture in Indie rock. Is that more of a cultural change, or something specific to that music?
BM: I think it’s cultural. Kids now are coming out on Myspace when they are like 12! (Or Facebook I guess now [laughs]). But, its astonishing how many gay-identified musicians there are now. But in the end, I think there have always been that many, but now people are comfortable and we have made this progress, both as a culture and as consumers of music, where we are totally comfortable with an artist being gay.

One last question. Can you give us a preview of some tracks you are going to drop this Saturday that is going to make the crowd go nuts?
BM: Definitely. A couple things I have been working on lately. There is a fellow named Russ Chimes,  I have been playing a lot of his remixes. He just did a remix for  Marina and the Diamonds a couple months ago. I played a weird Block Party remix that was pretty cool. A song called Signs. I actually have to start putting some of that stuff together, but that’s kind of a little look at what I’ve been up to! I think it will be really fun Saturday  We haven’t had an event for about 6 weeks so I’m expecting a really fun weekend.

And now onto a chat with Richard:

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I asked Bob about how you all got started and he said some horrible things about you. Want to give me your side of the story?
RM: Ha! Well, we were working together on the Blow Off record…and I had a DJ rig and he said maybe we should do an event. To be honest Bob is way more social and outgoing than I tend to be, so I was interested in doing it on the musical side of things, but I had no idea of what it would develop into. I thought it was going to be working on putting together sets, working as DJs. But it wound up turning into this huge event in DC, which was great and opened us up to the idea that there was this whole community of people who were into a variety of music, from house to indie rock. So from there it developed into what it is now, where we’re traveling to multiple cities.

Are they markedly different scenes–from Chicago to San Fransisco to New York?
RM: It is different in every city. I’ve been in DC for 18 years, and I love it but…while DC has a great music scene especially at the 930 club DC is also a really reserved city in terms of the crowds and the people. So the willingness to embrace our thing was in some ways a surprise to me. I was kind of surprised at how well it worked!

Well DC doesn’t have as strong a dance music tradition as those other cities but when you’re starting a eclectic night like yours maybe it’s an advantage?
RM: That’s true it was an advantage. And in a small room, from the Velvet Lounge to the basement of the 930, you can get away with playing an even wider range. When you get into a bigger space, there are certain records that sound better in a bigger room.

How often do you play something that might test your audience’s limits of weird?
RM: Especially at the end of the night, I’ll still drop like an old Public Image track. You can sense where people are and where they’re going and hopefully they’ll go there with you. Hopefully!

I asked Bob about what this weekend will be like–it’s hard to picture, not being a man of leather myself.
RM: Well it brings in all the out of town guys. It is a little more over the top, kind of a carnival. But at its core it’s the same event. There’s a little craziness, but it’s still Blow Off.

And you’d still say the focus for you is on the music you’re playing rather than creating a “scene.”

RM: I’d say so. Years ago when I was working with Deep Dish and we were traveling all over the world I realized that even if for us it’s about the music, there’s this other aspect. Unlike a performance, everyone’s into their own scene, grooving, not watching the lights and the visuals and the DJs. To us, the music is the most important part but it’s still a party.

Finally, when I asked Bob what tracks he was going to play this weekend that would really make the crowd go nuts he said he was still deciding what to play…what a lazy guy amiright!?

RM: I just started putting stuff together too actually! One record I’m really psyched to play though is–Linus Loves just did a remix of my song Shoegazer Disco, he’s a Scottish remixer, and it’s unbelievable. Now, I hope everyone is going to go crazy when they hear it [laughs] but… we’ll see.

You should guarantee that it will, be confident!

RM: Ha, well I’ll say this…I was getting a bunch of remixes from guys in Europe and when that one came in I was like: “I don’t really need any other remixes because this is the one everybody’s going to play!” It’s just so right on and sounds so amazing. And I have this ATFC track “I Called U,”

and…well there’s a number of records coming out that I’m considering but I haven’t decided.

I KNEW IT WAS A SECRET! Anyway, thanks for your time.

RM: Thank you!
Curious? Come out Saturday at the 930 Club to see more.

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