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Party Summer

Party Summer


Legendary rock musician Bob Mould and dance music veteran Richard Morel created an innovative new nightlife with their Blowoff parties in Washington, D.C., and then New York. Now they're taking the action on the road

Above: Bob Mould and Richard Morel

A little over five years ago, some business-card-size fliers that had obviously been printed at a Kinko's began appearing in little stacks at Washington, D.C., gay bars. I remember a friend picking one up and telling me we should check out the party: Blowoff. It was at the Velvet Lounge, a dive bar for rock bands. In D.C. five years ago, no one threw a gay party at such a venue.

But that Sunday, we went, and Blowoff turned out to be fabulous. The space was cramped and grimy, enclosed within chipped brick walls; exposed wires and Christmas lights dangled from the ceiling. The crowd was young, sweaty, and groovy, the music downbeat and nasty. The whole enterprise reeked of a dirty sexiness that may have been typical in New York but felt like sweet relief in D.C.

"We got a little bit of a buzz going on" during those first few parties, says Bob Mould, the former Husker Du front man, who started Blowoff with dance music veteran Richard Morel in early 2003. They've continued to throw the monthly party in D.C. ever since (though they've now moved into the larger 9:30 Club), and this summer they took it on the road. In the past year they've burned through New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Minneapolis. (The next party will be at Slim's in San Francisco on September 6)

"The whole thing has gotten bigger and crazier, but the core of it is just like it always was," says Morel. Musically, it truly has stayed consistent: a blend of mid-tempo house and pop-song remixes, which speaks to the styles of the two men at the helm. Mould is considered a godfather of the '80s alt-rock movement, and Morel is well-known for his work remixing for house music duo, Deep Dish.

The timing for such a collaboration was impeccable. "People were getting tired of indie rock [in 2003]," says Mould. "It was starting to sound like a copy of a copy." At the same time, the strict rule that rock music shall not lie with electronica as it lies with guitars was beginning to disintegrate, and rock bands like the Postal Service were beginning to incorporate dance beats into their songs. The Mould-Morel teaming reflected this shift perfectly.

"He's obviously more of a punk rocker, and I may be a bit more of a disco guy," says Morel. "But '60s and '70s pop music is a huge overlap for us... in the '80s, there was a club called 1270 in Boston. You'd hear Billy Idol's 'Dancing With Myself,' and then it would go into Taana Gardner's 'Heartbeat,' which was this huge disco record, and then Madonna's single, and they would all be happening together. You would hear the Cult's "She Sells Sanctuary" and then Diana Ross. It was crazy, but it all made sense. That mix of music, it's kind of what Blowoff is. It's a throwback to when I first started going to clubs."

But if the music at Blowoff has remained constant, the crowd has metamorphosed almost completely. At the New York party over Pride weekend, I was shocked to find that the army of 20-somethings in rave gear and asymmetrical haircuts had largely given way new crowd that was older, bigger, burlier -- "bearier."

Mould chuckles at the suggestion. "I think the main reason [for the change in the crowd] is that Rich and I are both in our 40s now," he says. "We're beefier, hairier guys. I think it's people looking at the DJs and going, 'Well, these guys are sort of like us.'"

He also believes they've "set the tone by default toward the bear crowd" with the pace of the party. "We don't play really hyper music. We sort of keep it at a house tempo, in the 120 to 130 range, and it's a bit more song-oriented. I think that older crowd, in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, they get shunned by the circuit party guys. They love music, and I think they started hearing about this event being an 'all-inclusive but mostly older guys drinking beer' kind of crowd, and they were like, 'That's our thing.'"

Morel thinks part of it is also that their fans have simply matured with them. When I mention the Blowoff parties from 2003, he says, "Well, that was a while ago. Those guys have grown up."

Above: Richard Morel

For Mould, Blowoff has segmented life into two fairly distinct spheres. Many of the attendees at Blowoff probably have no idea what an infamous force he is in the rock scene, and many of his friends from rock have had only glimpses of his life as a gay DJ. But both lives still very much coexist. He released his most recent rock album just last February -- a raucous, rollicking, grinding punk effort called District Line. And on his website, a video features indie-rock stars like Alec Ounsworth of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, and Sam Fogarino of Interpol singing his praises as one of their greatest influences. Only Fogarino alludes to Mould's other musical life, however.

"I like the fact that he feels the need to explore other sounds and other means of expression through different voices. I champion that. I'm all for that," says Fogarino in the video. "But I can't say that I'm not pleased when he straps the guitar back on."

Mould remembers one night at the 9:30 Club when those two lives intersected. Blowoff was being held in the basement bar, and Death Cab was playing the bigger room upstairs.

"I remember Ben [Gibbard] came downstairs, and he hung out all night, just grooving on it," says Mould. "Culture has progressed quite a bit, and music has progressed as well. Even now in D.C., there's an early [rock] show on Saturday night, and the late show is Blowoff, and some people will stick around, and they'll be like, 'Holy cow, you're DJing? What the hell is this?'"

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