Jackie’s House: The Black Madonna and Doc Sleep
The DJs look back at one of the Movement festival's best (and gayest) after-parties.
Jackie’s House: The Black Madonna and Doc Sleep
The DJs look back at one of the Movement festival's best (and gayest) after-parties.
Jackie House (a.k.a. Honey Soundsystem co-founder Jacob Sperber) is someone who, besides throwing some of the San Francisco’s best parties, can always be counted upon to deliver whip-smart (and often hilarious) commentary about the electronic music sphere without relying upon the stuffy sensibilities and bland dialogue that often governs such discourse. As such, we felt she’d be the perfect addition to the XLR8R team, and are proud to present a semi-regular column, ‘Jackie’s House,’ in which she can banter with artists in her own unique way.
When Mike Servito forced himself into a 7-Eleven taquito coma the Saturday night of Movement weekend 2015 and slept through his assignment to report on a new after-party, XLR8R was shit out of luck. Good thing I am the one they call when they need someone to buy toilet paper.
Club Towelette, a collaboration between the loudest homosexuals in dance-music—Honcho, Macho City, and Wrecked—poo-miered itself onto this year’s Movement festival’s unofficial after-party circuit. Aside from providing a safe space and pop-up for GLBTQ amateur pharmacologists, the much talked-about romp was to take place in a famous (famous like: try our Famous Cheese Fries or World Famous Gold’s Gym) gay bar called the New Menjo’s Complex. For many queens, Movement weekend is their yearly “return to the D” (Motor City Pride isn’t much the to-doo-doo for ex-ravers) and the thought of being able to do a dance in one of the last standing relics of “a gayer time” pushed the hype off this after-potty.
Club Towelette boasted a nine-person line-up of the who’s-who-of-who? of homosexualist boompty, including Detroit hometown hero Michael Trombley, Los Angeles underground queen-pin Chris Cruise, and a ton of other bottoms. But, like every great gay-ish party, the sex rises to the top, and someone has to pay attention to the music. For that job? Doc Sleep and the Black Madonna. Two of America’s hardest working women in dance music and the kind of gworls who can handle (or thrive around) the smell of shit and poppers. Being potentially the only reliable sources of information from that night, I set out to interview them both for their take on bio-femming the “Machoncho-muchachos” and the highs and lows of being so celebrated with the gays.
Doc Sleep, the founder of San Fran–based label Jacktone Records, techno producer and decades long waxslinger, met me for a Skype with the needs-no-introduction Black Madonna, who was literally getting her hair done when we called. Excuse me…did—was getting her hair did right when we called…
Jackie House: Hieeeee.
Doc Sleep: Hieeeeeeee.
The Black Madonna:Hieeeeeeeeeee! I’m getting my hair did. I am sitting here stepping into my inner blonde ambition as we speak.
Doc Sleep: Oh my god, I love it. Like platinum blonde? Have you done that before?
The Black Madonna: Oh gosh, yes. I was quite blonde all through the ’90s. I was paper-white until like ’97.
Jackie House: Literally going back to your roots?
Jackie House: Just a preface—if anything I ask you two makes you uncomfortable, we can stop at anytime. Or if your roots start burning, Marea.…
The Black Madonna: Oh, honey, I took a Xanax and have a glass of wine.
Jackie House: Ok, well, let’s let it loose, so to speak. Set the stage for us, pre–Club Towelette.
The Black Madonna: Well, to give you an idea of where this venue is—at 4am, we had to take the world’s most expensive ride out to Menjos, which of course is in the middle of bum-fuck Egypt. The driver had a look in the rear-view the whole time like “What kind of straight-white people are going out to Menjos at this time of night?” While I was thinking:,who the hell is going to take a 5 -times surge Uber out here with as little energy as the party kids had at that point? To my surprise, we pull up to the Coney Island Dog (the only one open 24 hours) at the end of the universe—and across the street is Menjos, with people everywhere.
Doc Sleep: I arrived quite early and was fresh as a daisy. I road-tripped to Detroit by way of Chicago with the Honey Soundsystem guys earlier that day. On our way there we did make an extended pit stop so Josh Cheon [of Dark Entries Records] could purchase a sparkly pink hat…a statement piec, in leather fringe and a leather hat. Anyway, I got there around 11, and watched it all unfold. There was no one…and then [claps hands] there were hundreds of people. You could tell by the shape people were in that this was definitely the last stop on their party choo-choo.
The Black Madonna: Yeah, there were some people in some very fine shape.
Jackie House: So the club was based around a theme and we know how much gays love a theme—or a statement cap. It was called Club Towelette.
The Black Madonna:It was not called Towelette.…
Jackie House: It was called Club Towelette, referencing the little known trend that gay men keep moist towelettes in their back pockets for both hygiene and because when you sniff them you can get a temporary head high. You guys have played a lot of gay parties, but maybe you weren’t aware of the towelette scene? I mean, were you guys in on the joke?
Doc Sleep: I was kind of hip to it when I started to see guys wearing graphic t-shirts out at clubs. I can’t remember what brand of towelette it was but, the t-shirt graphic was in the style of those Rush poppers shirts?
The Black Madonna: Wait, this is literally not a joke?
Jackie House: I mean, I am sure you guys have read or heard the oddball traditions from clubs past, where discos would put moist towelettes in the fog machine, or the club-kid trend of waving your towelette when they loved a track that was playing. You didn’t see any of that at the party?
The Black Madonna: Girl, you couldn’t see anything because the booth was not even connected to the dancefloor. All I was told was that a lot of straight boys took off their shirts while I was playing—and that really impressed Ryan Smith.
Jackie House: So he was flagging his towelette for you? That’s getting pretty big right now, too.
Doc Sleep: Ha ha—sure, Jackie. But Marea is right—it was hard to see because we were cloistered away up in that DJ booth, but I thought the setup was amazing. The dancers were very focused in the other direction, which coincidentally was like witnessing this very talked-about concern in underground dance, for the crowds to “stop staring at the djs.”
Jackie House: Edgy! Do you think since the night was so much about breaking conventions that dancers also came with the intention to decentralize the focus and push energy on this symbolically empty stage?
Doc Sleep: That—or they thought drag queens were going to come out onto the stage.
Jackie House: Were there any drag queens in attendance at Club Towelette?
Doc Sleep: I saw some kaftans and heels but I think that is as far as it went.
Jackie House: In fact did you see any drag queens at all Movement weekend?
Doc Sleep: Uh, just some kids in pink fuzzy boots—RuPaul was busy. And now that I think about it, I am not sure how safe it was for heels at Towelette. It was a skating rink in there.
Jackie House: Explain!
Doc Sleep: Between the transferring of fluids and dripping sweat, the floor was a fantastic hot mess—there must’ve been towelettes covering all the vents, obstructing the circulation of air.
The Black Madonna: It was the wettest club. At some point, I was sitting against the wall and water was dripping down my back. And as far as the air, there was this “je ne sais poppers.” Something that was everywhere Movement weekend. 2015 will go down as the year that straight kids discovered that poppers rock, and that daddies are hot.
Jackie House: Amen. I mean, other then maybe picking up poppers here and there, it seems as though you two still must get to join in on some very otherwise closed-to-straight-people activities.
The Black Madonna: My favorite thing about playing in these hyper-male gay spaces is that freedom, freedom knowing no one is going to try to grab my tits, and knowing all that other bullshit that happens in clubs is less likely. I luxuriate in the freedom of virtually no one wanting to fuck me when I am DJ’ng these parties. The last time I played in Laboratory, I played without a shirt on—I mean with a bra, but you know I wouldn’t do that anywhere else.
Doc Sleep: Aside from the moments a drunk bear hits on me because he thinks I am a dude, as a queer woman in that space I can get away with a lot. The shenanigans get pretty entertaining, especially because they aren’t paying attention to me like they are the boys on the floor, or in the booth. There was one night at Honey Soundsystem when it was still at the Holy Cow, and someone told me Peaches was coming, and I thought it would be funny to run with that rumor and within a half hour we had convinced the entire club Peaches was somewhere on the Holy Cow patio, and we had a search party going and everything—a lot of “oops, you just missed her” or “oh, there she goes!” pointing at the back of someone’s head as they walked away into the night—and then, I think a few drinks later, I actually believed my own lies and thought she was really there. But definitely—the Honey Soundsystem shenanigans were in full force at Towelette as well, I’d say.
The Black Madonna: You gotta look out for those Honey Soundsystem shenanigans.
Jackie House: Oh god, they’re happening right now.… Speaking of shenanigans, what is the dumbest thing a gay guy has said to you in at a gay club you were headlining at?
Doc Sleep: I was playing in Shanghai and there was this group of British queens, and one of them kept coming up to the booth and saying “Will you play Madonna? Will you play Madonna?” and I kept answering “no, sorry I don’t have that with me.” He was getting really agitated and kept coming up and asking and finally I just said, “Dude I am sorry, I am just not going to play Madonna.” To that he replied: “Oh, well—what are you going to play then…Melissa Etheridge?” and threw his head back, and cackled so loudly you could hear the cackling echo over the sound system. I couldn’t even be mad at him because it was so well-executed—quite a read, quite a cackle.
The Black Madonna: Probably my favorite moment like that was when I was playing at Snax. The only few women allowed to be in Snax that night I think were like me and Steffi, because as you know, it is a men-only event. After playing one of my sets, my husband and I were in line in the men’s room… yes, I took my husband on a date to Snax—and my husband went into a stall and I was now standing alone in line for the men’s stalls in Berghain. This guy comes out of a toilet and walks up to me, sort of wide eyed and very surprised and he said, “Are yoooou ooooooookaaaaaaay?” And I said, “Yeah, I am okay,” and he goes “What is it that you dooo here?” and I said “I am DJing” and he yelled a bit with concern “there are women in this building?” and he was very shocked. We ended up having a very sweet interaction, but it was one of the more interesting collisions for a woman in a safe space for queer men.
Jackie House: I dunno if I would call Snax a “space safe” for anyone.
The Black Madonna: It was safe enough for me.
Jackie House: Well, what may seem to come naturally to you guys is probably not to most women. Similarly, I am sure you guys have done your fair share of adapting to the sometimes-extreme gay environments—becoming comfortable with the colloquialisms and mannerisms of these men. How about this whole “gurl” thing—gay men referring to everyone, gender aside, as “gurl?” I have seen plenty a time where someone taking that, or saying that, in the wrong context has backfired. I can tell you plenty of times I said “gurl” to the wrong guy—even a gay man—and it lit the room on fire.
Doc Sleep: I do my fair share of being “one of the boys,” but there have been times when the language used feels problematic. I was hanging out with a gay guy one time and he kept referring to a trans acquaintance of mine as “gurrrrl.” I finally said to him, “You know, he just went through a lengthy transition and now uses the “he” pronoun.” He basically brushed it off and responded: “Oh gurl! I call everyone gurllll.” Ok, werq, I guess.
Jackie House: I mean it gets even more complicated when a straight man is calling everyone “gurl.”
The Black Madonna: Agh! that one gets me!
Jackie House: Responding to RuPaul-related memes, having to learn new queer terminology and be able to stealthily use it in comments, and potentially purchasing themed outfits or even safety gear for hazardous situations. Let’s talk about this rumor that some artists are asking for more fees ahead of gay events because the exhausting Facebook interaction that is required just to play at one of these events. Oh, and poppers—buying poppers.
The Black Madonna: I’m pretty sure that is a rumor, but anyone who wants to give me money for poppers…they can.
Doc Sleep: I do up my fee when I’m asked to include the hashtag “beardsofinstagram.”.Also, I think the Club Towelette event page on Facebook came close to shutting down the Internet. It was a toilet meme job well done.
The Black Madonna: There was some was some excellent Internet work done by people on this event. There was even a little bit of rivalry between someone who previously threw a toilet-themed party. I’ve never seen more photos, posts, GIFSs in an event page in my entire life.
Jackie House: Well, in the end hopefully, not all of the secrets and fun had by all will end up back on the Internet. Why don’t we end with some thoughts how Movement changed IRL this year?
The Black Madonna: I will tell you one thing, this was the Movement that was all about the after-parties. You saw the same people moving through different kind of events and different kinds of spaces and working together on that. This party was in the middle of nowhere and slamming at 6am, and was a perfect example of that. Jokes aside, the DJ booth at Towelette not centered and people interacting with each other made the party more about the music—and that is exactly how it should be. That is an awesome thing that happened—and, similarly, in many places around Movement that weekend.
Doc Sleep: Our scene in the States is popping off right now, and the after-parties really highlighted it. You can feel the excitement around these parties in Detroit, but, also as you talk to each person about what’s happening in their own city. I also think the fact that Club Towelette was so successful in its first year is not only a testament to the hard work and pull of each of the promoters and DJs in their individual scenes, but also that the gays have momentum, they have respect, and they are throwing parties that people want to go to—not just for drugs, not just to cruise, but, for the music.
The Black Madonna: I gotta go—hair is tingling—I will send you guy pictures of my hair at the end of the night. And don’t publish this without letting me read it.