The always charming and glamorous Michael T is the mastermind and key innovator of what has become New York's hottest party, Motherfucker. The man is a New York legend in the making, having been a staple of the downtown New York scene for over 10 years. Prefix's Kevin Dolak recently had a chance to sit down with Michael and talk about some history of New York's nightlife scene, the recent shifts in New York club culture, and of course, the three-year anniversary of Motherfucker at the Roxy May 25. Get more information about the party at www.motherfuckernyc.com.
Prefix Magazine: When was it that you started deejaying and doing club work?
Michael T: I started going out to clubs in '85. The Palladium was around, Ariel was around, Limelight was having its first wave. These we're still the days of Mass Hysteria. I basically came into the scene during the whole '80s new wave scene. I came after that, which is unfortunate, 'cause that's what I wanted to catch. The renaissance of the big clubs. Post studio, but this whole new breed. I started working in clubs regularly by the end of the decade, '89, as a performer and host. PM: Any Bartending, running the door, anything like that?
Michael T: I had some door gigs, hosted parties. Did a lot of Spade shows. I did all of that. The first party I did promotion-wise, where I was responsible for the event, was at the Pyramid Club in 1991. That party was called NY Nights, and that lasted about two years. It was on a Monday, moved to a Thursday, part of the whole new wave/goth/alternative scene, which had its heyday at that time, like Communion at Limelight. A lot was going on back then. Once that subsided I started working at Webster Hall, and that's when I had a band called Killer Lipstick. Lasted about two, two-and-a-half years. I think it was at Webster hall that I on occasion began to DJ. PM: When was your first real DJ gig?
Michael T: That would have been '98 at Tunnel for a party called Curfew. I was called by this kid named Brad. We've maintained our friendship, and now he's one of the door people at Motherfucker. He found out I spin '80s from Bar 13. I started on Valentine's Day of '98 at Tunnel. PM: When you initially started out you were known as an '80s DJ?
Michael T: That was sort of what I was known as, pretty much all I did. About 80 percent of the time, anyway. A great gig for me, it really helped me concentrate on a large dance floor. I was there every Saturday without fail. Decent publicity -- they had Ajax Next, all that stuff. Introduced me to younger kids, who weren't aware I was around for 10 years at this point. A little limiting 'cause the kids were all very young, but more positives then negatives. A comeback in many ways. PM: Were you there until Tunnel closed?
Michael T: I wasn't there 'til they closed ... I was there during the first closing. Everything was great until this kid overdosed. PM: Ecstasy or Heroin?
Michael T: No, one of those new weird designer drugs ... MD ... GBH. Those kids are always into those kinds of drugs. PM: The big rave boom.
Michael T: Once the kid, who was like 18, died it wasn't the same. At that point things were getting better for me at other jobs. So they closed, I went back for maybe a month after they reopened. But at that point I had Broadcast at Bar 13. And I had a party at Mother called Heroes. It started really sort of like a stamp collector, a monthly, very British early '80s, like '80 to '84, and we'd pay tribute to a particular artist every month. It was different from other parties we had started in '97. It was different from other parties in that we had this particular artist, and we were strict with the timeline. For the cool crowd of the '80s. PM: When exactly did you start Broadcast.
Michael T: It's gonna be four years, so in '99. PM: Initial success?
Michael T: It had a lot of ups and downs. I had a working relationship with the owners and managers. I was like, 'Hey, we should do an '80s night,' 'cause at this point '80s parties started springing up everywhere. I said, 'It's easy, it's simple.' They paired me up with this kid who it was one of those weird situations where he knew a lot of the people I did, I knew a lot of the people he did, but we actually never had met. We had probably been in the same room at the same time. However, that pairing was not ... ideal. PM: How So?
Michael T: We just didn't click. And so the night had a lot of ups and downs. Had a really good run last year. Things we're actually fine for over a year up until this winter. But then this winter was really bad. I have a feeling it wasn't just the party. PM: Yeah it's been a bad winter.
Michael T: It's very frustrating to see that. But you keep it alive. And it's going on four years, and I'm hoping we can make it survive. And if that's the case, then it's definitely the longest party I've had running. PM: Since it predates Motherfucker.
Michael T: Yes, and it's a weekly. PM: So shortly after starting Broadcast, Motherfucker started.
Michael T: Motherfucker actually came about because I was really fucked up one night at Tunnel, on my birthday, and I had this vision of sorts, to do a party that see my shift at Tunnel was very late, people were zonked out of their minds, drugs, but it was very young. On my birthday I had my friends come, plus the club kids, plus the bridge and tunnel kids, this whole weird sort of thing. Having a great time, to more my kind of music, ya know, not dance, not hip-hop, and I thought, How cool would this be if I could somehow do this party that incorporated all these different subcultures. All under one roof, dancing to rock 'n' roll, rather than dance music or something of that nature. PM: Now Tiswas was happening at this point?
Michael T: Oh yeah. I wanna say Tiswas started '95 or '94. What I considered the two premier rock parties were and Squeezebox and Greendoor. The whole D-Generation gang and squeezebox was of course Mistress Dymika, Guy from the Toilet Boys, Michael Schmidt's creation, and that was at Don Hills, and that lasted strong about five years, in total seven. And Greendoor lasted 10, but was very patchy towards the end. Had a great run in its heyday. I would say in regard to me, Motherfucker was influenced more by those parties than Tiswas. I didn't like Tiswas at the beginning. It's better at Don Hills, didn't have the right energy. Its definitely gotten better since Justine got involved. PM: You were more influenced by these parties?
Michael T: Well, Tiswas did bring in a Britpop element that I got into late in the game. I didn't really start listening to Britpop until it was more or less over, in the late '90s. I had heard of all those bands, but wasn't spinning it at all, I think the only one was Suede. So that was cool when I got into Suede more and Pulp, the Verve, and all those types of bands. In regards to Motherfucker, it was a combo of that idea as it came to me the night of my birthday at Tunnel and working at Mother. Then I finally decided who I was going to work with -- I couldn't do it alone. I knew I didn't want this party to be small but that it was not going to be able to be done alone. It had to be the right people, but not too many. PM: Who were the first people you called?
Michael T: Georgie SeVille was the first person. He was an original member of D-Generation, had many parties in the city, but was mostly known for this party called Glam2000 and then now also does this party at Lit called the Scene on Saturdays. Also does the On Party. He was first, Johnny T was second, who I knew from Coney Island High days -- he owned Niagra. Johnny also owns Black and White. Justine was my third. We had just met. I knew that I needed someone with a completely different audience, a different take on things, and Justine was a kid. So that was the nucleus. It was a toss-up as far as venues. I was thinking of going back to Pyramid. I didn't like what they were doing at Pyramid Club in the late '90s. So I decided I'm at Mother, I don't have the strongest night in the world. I can't thank Chi Chi Valenci enough. I told her the idea, we had a meeting, and she said, 'What day do you want.' PM: Very open about the whole thing?
Michael T: Yeah. I told her I wanted to do this party on holiday weekends, this must've been April, and I told her I'd like to do this on Memorial Day weekend, and she said, 'Yeah fine, the night is yours.' And I guess, as they say, the stars were aligned. It was all just perfect. Right people, right venue, right time. We had a goal. I wanted at least 300 people. PM: What was the legal capacity at Mother?
Michael T: Legal? I worked there so long ... on a good night at Mother the amount of people in there would be so much more than the legal capacity. So we did it on Memorial Day weekend and had 400 people show up. You couldn't move. From the get-go we realized we had something special. We figured we'd try it for the summer as a series of three, and if the three worked out we would continue. But a little glitch came -- Mother was gonna close. So it went from doing a party on holiday weekends and trying it for the summer to having to do a moving party. That wasn't a part of the original concept but in a way it ended up helping the party. It keeps everybody guessing. It makes sense with how we would get all these different groups of kids at this party, and stick them in a club they would never be in. The whole thing of adding this extra tension. PM: Keeps it interesting, keeps it alive. Since you couldn't do it at Mother, where did you go?
Michael T: The saints of club land were Brook Webster from Meow Mix. Meow Mix was smaller then Mother and they had finally decided to have the downstairs open, and we almost didn't do the party for July 4. But they totally saved us. We were able to do it, and that was our slowest MF, but we still had 300 people. And we did this in two weeks. The third place was True on 23rd Street. PM: I'd like to touch on the shifting nature of the New York club scene. Where it is now versus when you guys started, and where you think it's going.
Michael T: It's weird. When we were about a year old or so, everything was pre 9-11 Giuliani. Things were bad. He was a tyrant, and all these things people never paid attention to, like dancing and capacity, all of a sudden became an issue. But right before 9-11 Giuliani's popularity was plummeting, and I just think, (laughs) Why did they have to take the Twin Towers on the day of the primaries? It's such a weird ... it really seems that we were starting to come out of it, a light at the end of the tunnel. Then of course after 9-11, that first six months to a year, it was, 'Where is everything going?' In terms of the scene, it was the New York bands, the electro scene, that got us just so much press over the past two years as far as New York. So in that sense it's been great. But the flipside is that now we have Bloomburg, which is worse, him passing this smoking law. It's like the same thing all over again but worse. Even last week some idiot called the fire department and we got raided. PM: Is that what happened? 'Cause I remember the last time it was at Downtime it was during the massive snowstorm on Valentine's Day, and the place was no where near capacity, but in April you couldn't move.
Michael T: That was funny. We thought we were really gonna lose our shirts or it would be an old New York bond and everyone will make it out. PM: So last week the fire dept. got called, cops showed up ...
Michael T: Cops, fire department, an ambulance, basically we were over capacity. The club didn't have the new code, so that made it even worse, and their legal was showing less than it actually was. It was just a fucking nightmare. They came in at the peak of the night, so there was no way you can deal with this smoke-and-mirror act where there's over 1000 people at that time. It was one of those things where we got a lot of press, Justine was on the cover of Time Out. We were on a Friday night, which we had never been. The weather ended up being better. Things you can't predict. PM: Sounds like how it's gone, you never know how its gonna happen.
Michael T: Definitely a lot of unpredictable circumstances that go on with this party, which makes it frustrating for me as one of the head promoters. But in weird sort of way it certainly keeps in exciting. PM: How do you choose where you're gonna do the next one?
Michael T: Now were at a point that we have to chose a venue that can at least hold 800 to 1000 people. That's what a normal Motherfucker is now. The night of the blizzard we got 700 people through the door. Unlike the first year with the mid-size venues, where we had a few more options, when we decided to take the jump for our one-year anniversary, which was definitely risky, cause we knew we needed an additional 200 to 300 people. Once we got through that, we had to pick large venues, and then it becomes harder if were gonna have an act and we have to pick a space that has a stage and a sound system. And clubs, as we know, are scarce these days. And club owners can be very difficult. At this point we're really demanding with the clubs, and rightfully so, 'cause when we do the event there, we're a self-run organization. PM: So the club has no part at the door?
Michael T: Basically the club is responsible for their immediate personnel, which includes bar staff, security, and whatever staff they include. Anything managerial. Other than that, it's our doors, our performers, our dancers. So we make a lot of demands on the club, but in return they get a party that's packed to the gills the whole night. Their bar does very well, and it's a non-troubling crowd. PM: Yeah guns aren't gonna go blazing at Motherfucker.
Michael T: Exactly, you're not gonna hear gunshots. And I think that's important. Its horrible that you go out and part of your nightly fun is trying to get figure out if you're gonna get shot or not. Doesn't sound like a good time to me. But club owners are so gross and sleazy it's really difficult. I know promoters can be assholes too, but we have a great record now. I don't want to sound conceited, but we tell people, This is what we do, this where we've been. To answer your question, though, with the anniversary we knew we didn't want to be in a situation we were in last Friday. But with the one after we can't be at the Roxy - it's too big. There are some Motherfuckers that are even bigger than a normal Motherfucker. PM: New Year's Eve nobody can get into.
Michael T: The lines are out of control, but that's an example of the club people being assholes. The people at Discotheque are wonderful, but everyone else wanted literally an arm and a leg to do a party on New Year's. And I thought, The city is in a financial crisis! It's sleazy stuff like that hurts everyone in the long run and things like that happen, when we have too many people at a space that can't properly accommodate everyone. PM: You wouldn't think that Good Friday would have been a big one, but you exceeded capacity, so you know you need to bump it up next time.
Michael T: Well, it definitely seems that are at our peak now, which seems ridiculous 'cause when we came close to 1000, we would have thought that that was gonna be our peak. But ya know, since we work the press every time that happens, it's a whole new audience. PM: People pay attention.
Michael T: They latch on. It's great 'cause you need the new blood. You have your VIPS, and then the feedback we get is, 'Oh, its too crowded,' But then it's like, we're letting you in, and the other complaint is, 'I had to wait on line.' So it's really difficult. Now we're gonna be weary. If we're at a club that's borderline. We know that if the club is half-full by midnight that's when we might have to be stricter with our door policy. It's just part of it. PM: A compromise I'm sure.
Michael T: My friends say there are worse things you could be talking about, like there was no one at the club. PM: Let's talk about the bands. Who does the booking?
Michael T: Justine does a lot of that with Johnny, because I'm very hands-on with the other stuff. I get the spaces, I deal with our staff. I think Justine is more on the pulse with what's going on with what's new and what's hot. So her and Johnny, of course. He's been in bands, he owns places. Between those two they work that angle, but we're not opposed to working with an outside agent. Even though we're all resourceful, we have our limitations. We're not talent buyers, we're not Irving Plaza. We're just this crazy rock 'n' roll party. In terms of bands, they're not saying, 'We're coming to New York, let's see if there's a Motherfucker.' PM: That's why it's been mostly local bands like Radio 4, the Rapture and the Witnesses.
Michael T: We started with bands, then we stopped. When we hit our two years, we knew we needed something to fill the rock venue. We weren't gonna do that alone, and it sparked our interest in getting certain bands. Even though we get local bands at this point, we want to get someone that's up-and-coming. We had the Rapture. I don't want to sound snotty, but there's not a night that I go out and am not approached by someone in a band wanting to play Motherfucker. PM: I know you deejay every time, but you have guest deejays, like Carlos Dengler from Interpol. How does that work?
Michael T: Everything with this party is to create that kind of eclectic group of kids that comes together X amount of times a year. In terms of the guest deejays we have a side room, if not two, and it depends on what we want: a soul thing, an electro thing, a post-punk thing. We get good deejays that are gonna work a dance floor. Whether you're in a side room or a main room, you have to know how to work that room. MF is not a party where you're gonna sway around. You go to Motherfucker to dance, to get fucked up and to get laid. That's an important angle, and we try to utilize who has a good draw. Makes for a better party. And I want people to get their money's worth and their time's worth, and I don't want to ever be accused of doing anything half-assed, 'cause ultimately that's an early downfall. PM: As far as promotions, do you feel its word of mouth?
Michael T: For any good party, it's word of mouth first and foremost. Get that base crowd, that core audience. We have our press person and publicist. But the first year it was invites and word of mouth. We didn't even have a Web site. By 2000 Web sites were a normal thing. But by then it was about graduating - we were gonna take it to the next level. We have someone that sends out press releases to magazines, and certain magazines have done more articles, Time Out, the Village Voice, the New York Press. Aside from the press, we do about 10,000 invites, our email list, we have different kids we call sub-promoters, through their group of friends, and we do an ad in the Voice. And of course the listings through the press. You can never underestimate the power of press. And if there's a picture to go along with the press, even better. PM: I wanted to touch on the move to Los Angeles.
Michael T: We did one in L.A. It was good, but it wasn't as good as we would have liked it. A learning experience. We made some mistakes in L.A. Even though it's a party town, it's a different town then New York. But I would say we have potential to do it there again, and other places too. There's actually an offer to possibly do it in Europe. London has been mentioned, France has been mentioned, and the latest is Spain. If I could get one of the three I'd be happy. I'd like to do France or Spain, even though our party is completely Anglophile. We're not averse to trying it in other cities in the states.