"Things are better than ever," said Kevin Kauer, aka Nark, over lunch on Capitol Hill the other day. He was wearing a chandelier pendant that he had made into a necklace and had a diamond tattoo on his left temple. He was talking about his work as a party starter and promoter in Seattle for the last 10 years.
He moved here from San Diego (where he "couldn't relate to a single person") and got his start taking photographs and DJing in Seattle's underground music and queer performance scenes. Within months, he says, he was throwing parties of his own at venues like Pony and the Eagle, involving wild themes and hilarious costumes.
Since then, he's thrown parties just about everywhere, including off-the-grid venues, and all sorts of things have happened at them, including not-strictly-legal things. His vast photography collection includes "shots that didn't go up on my website because they were like people fucking or whatever," he said, laughing. "Lots of sexy stuff." The photos you are allowed to see are up at NarkMagazine.com.
His goal has always been to fill the voids he sees in the local scene, bringing ideas collected from his travels to nightlife hot spots around the world. "What I am trying to offer is a high-quality, inclusive, off-the-wall experience with performances and lots of fun," he said.
Currently, he's throwing three parties a month at Queer Bar, including the Make Out Party on the second Saturday of the month, Pigs Fly on the fourth Saturday of the month, and a rotating night of special guests on the third Saturday.
At the Make Out Party, "there's a make-out photo booth, and every time you make out with someone, you get a free Jell-O shot." He thinks of it as a "giant icebreaker to skip over the Seattle Freeze. At this party, you can just walk up to someone and say, 'Do you want to make out with me and get a free Jell-O shot?' So it just eliminates a lot of those social barriers, which I think is really cool."
Inevitably, concerned people ask about the risk of getting a cold. "I have never gotten sick," he said. "If anything, I think I must be immune by now. At the core of it, people go to parties because they want to make out with people. And I think it has also strengthened relationships, because it's freeing in a way. We've gotten a lot of flak for it, but it's actually super innocent and cute."
It's so successful that he does the Make Out Party in other cities as well, including Chicago and San Francisco (where it's popular), Portland and Vancouver (they will both have Make Out Parties this year for Pride), and Hawaii ("which did not go well"). Someone in San Francisco made out with 31 people at one party—the current record.
Pigs Fly is a fetish night at Queer Bar, and people come dressed in kinky gear, similar to the first Saturday kink party at CC's, although Pigs Fly is unique because there are performances. "We always do a raunchy drag performance at midnight," he said. He hires "hosts" to appear at his parties in costume, and they range from drag queens to Dan Savage's husband, a Tom of Finland model.
Nark parties aside, Kauer also runs a separate entity called Bottom Forty, a DJ collective and record label that produces Alternative Pride, five days of programming on Pride weekend. He thinks of his programming as an alternative to "people who want to dance to Cardi B on repeat." Instead, it gives partyers a chance to "develop a connection to a DJ" playing underground music.
Alternative Pride will take over Grim's this year, and it includes a Wednesday night fashion swap, a Thursday all-ages show at the Laser Dome showcasing queer DJs, and a Friday early-evening social gathering at the South Lake Union rooftop lounge MBar, which has some of the best views of the city. "It's beautiful up there," he said. "I want to get people together early in the weekend, booze them up, get them to mix, and make them appreciate this place. People who complain all the time about Seattle—I want to make them realize what's in front of them."
Later that same Friday night will be the Pigs Fly party at Grim's and a Make Out Party at Queer Bar simultaneously. A weekend pass to Alternative Pride also gets you into the Queer Bar Pride block party. As for Saturday, that is the beginning of Pride Is for Everyone, a 36-hour nonstop party at Grim's that begins "5 p.m. Saturday and basically ends Monday morning."
Wait, so what's going to be happening at, like, 8 a.m. on Sunday? "The bar will start serving again at 6 a.m.," he said. "Hopefully we'll have some breakfast snack foods catered." He mentioned the Berlin club Berghain—where club kids show up at all hours of the day or night, all weekend long—as an inspiration. And he said he'll release a set list in advance so people can stagger in to see particular DJs or performances.
As Alternative Pride approaches Sunday evening, the event will morph into another party he calls Back Door. "What is the concept, other than butt sex? Basically that," he said, laughing. "Last year, at LoveCityLove, it turned into a sex party. This year it will not be that, because we're in a public space, but it will still be a sexy party. Sunday is like last chance for butt stuff. I used to throw the Make Out Party that night, but on Sunday on Pride weekend, people don't want that."
Asked about his take on Seattle nightlife overall, he said, "What people don't understand is when you're doing something that's already being done, you're not going to have an impact." He also doesn't like it when parties are cliquey or "so focused on gay or straight. Bring people together for other reasons."
This month at Vermillion, Kauer is celebrating his 10 years of bringing people together with an art show "documenting and showcasing the underground Seattle nightlife scene of club kids, punk shows, leather men, sex dungeons, drag creatures, and more," according to the show's official description. "A big part of the show is a retrospective of the last 10 years of nightlife stuff," he said. It opens on June 13.