Seattle abounds with DJ nights (that Portlandia sketch about them isn't so much satire as documentary with regard to our city's nightlife), but a recent addition to the bounty, Gentlemen Take Polaroids, occupies a distinctive niche, focusing on "melodrama in pop music history." Its closest kin is probably that Sad Bastard night that used to happen at Havana. Named after a song by Japan, Gentlemen Take Polaroids happens every second Monday at Rendezvous; starting on June 8, KEXP's DJ El Toro (ex-Stranger freelancer Kurt B. Reighley) will join the GTP crew. I interviewed Gentlemen Take Polaroids' conceptualist/resident DJ, Domenica Clark, who also cohosts The Buoy and Bellow Radio Program on Hollow Earth Radio, about the new night's aesthetics and inspirations. (Tonight's edition starts at 7 p.m. [free, 21+] and features Clark's HER partner and husband, DJ Dusty Mantle.)
Congratulations on convincing a venue to let you put on such an esoteric DJ night. How did you work this magic? Who greenlighted it?
It was my co-DJ Lesley’s idea to have it at the Rendezvous, so I will credit her for that. I was surprised at how much the booker was into it. I wasn't expecting a venue to accept doing a DJ night based on such an esoteric idea either. I just put forward my idea to the booker and he seemed to like it. None of us are particularly big-name DJs, either, so it was extra surprising.
Please explain the significance of naming the night after that Japan song.
Honestly, it wasn’t so much about the lyrics, but about the sound of “Gentlemen Take Polaroids” and the fact that Japan are very important to the night. I guess there is also the fact that the night is inspired by decadence and artifice, and the song is about surface and being at a remove (thus, taking Polaroids). Although I would say the most accurate musical representation of our night would be Japan’s “Nightporter,” which is both eerie and sumptuous. We are all big fans of early Roxy Music and the way the saxophone is employed in both Roxy and Japan. Japan were obviously hugely into Roxy Music.
What is it about melodrama in music that appeals to you so strongly?
I largely blame Scott Walker. I discovered his '60s albums a long time ago now, and it really got me into this sort of music, and by that I mean often heavily orchestral, melodramatic music. At very first listen, I found his '60s music kind of cheesy, but once I opened myself up to it, I really started to understand the appeal of music filled with over-the-top, histrionic emotions. Also, my co-selector (and husband) Jonathan Grosvenor forced me to listen to ABC’s The Lexicon of Love, even though I protested at first, until I realized how great it was. That is another very important album to our night. Actually, he turned me onto a lot of this music, like the Associates, so I don’t think this night would exist without his influence. I think this music has been very underappreciated in pop-music history because it is kind of the opposite of what is considered acceptable in rock/pop music. A lot of rock, indie-rock, and pop music seems to have set rules about what is “authentic,” which is usually put in opposition to lots of orchestration, histrionics, and anything else that is bombastic or excessive. The kind of music we will be playing has just as much genuine feeling and emotion, even if it’s “buried” under lush strings or dated-sounding production values.
Give us an idea of representative artists you'll be showcasing.
The Associates are absolutely key, and I consider it part of my life's work to get people to see how great they are. Obviously, Japan and the Roxy Music sort of glam. And new pop by ABC and bands of that ilk. Girl groups and '60s soul singers. The first time we did it, we played artists like John Cale, the Shangri-La’s, the Exciters, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Twinkle, Lee Hazlewood, Tindersticks, and then the New Romantic/Brit Pop/Dream Pop/Goth stuff. The Passions' “I’m In Love with a German Film Star” is another really important song.
You have two sentences to convince the general public to go to Gentlemen Take Polaroids: What's your hard-sell pitch?
Come to Gentlemen Take Polaroids and hear music filled with grand (melo)drama, and experience the peaks and troughs of emotional and sonic extravagance and excess. Music that deals with the big issues—love lost and gained, hurt, desire, and release—as viewed through a lens, or from behind a mask.
Will Gentlemen Take Polaroids take place in the Rendezvous's theater space?
No, it is in the general area, but we are DJing the upper room with all of the red velvet. It is very appropriately decadent.
What have GTP's other DJs been up to lately?
DJ Lesley has been DJing at Pony and the Mercury a lot recently. DJ NoxAmour has never DJed before, but she has been super involved with the local music scene for a long while. I have also been DJing boogie, disco, and electrofunk for Spread Thick for over a year, but am on hiatus from it at the moment so I can focus on Gentlemen Take Polaroids.