Before she began referring all correspondence through her lawyer, I caught Lisa Orth in a candid moment: “It’s ridiculous that a promoter can come into a club and have their creative energy taken.” Yet this is exactly what happened to her, she says, when she left the Capitol Hill venue Seattle Eagle last April and the event she promoted for two years, Vibrator, continued without her. The ensuing controversy offers a valuable lesson to unwary DJs and club owners everywhere.

It happened like this: In the late ’90s there were clubs for gay women (like the Wildrose, a lesbian juke joint), and gay men (like the Seattle Eagle, a rock ’n’ roll dive for leather daddies). Various club owners and promoters agree that neither of the groups was necessarily welcome in each other’s territory. In the spring of 2002, however, the Eagle devoted a week of events to Seattle’s defunct gay bars, including a night for Sappho, a defunct lesbian bar. Sappho was a hit; afterward, media marketing consultant Lindsay Marsak approached the Eagle’s manager, Keith Christensen, about repeating it on a regular basis.

Today, Marsak and Christensen agree that Marsak coined the name “Vibrator” and that she conceived its motto, “a club for dykes and their friends.” (“I was tired of getting looks when I danced with my gay male friends at the Wildrose,” she says.) Christensen teamed her up with DJ Kurt Reighley (music columnist for The Stranger). When Marsak left Seattle a year later, she says she handed Vibrator’s name and promotion to Orth.

Under Orth’s direction Vibrator attracted a vast, untapped niche in which gay men and women of all stripes could mingle under one roof and dance to contemporary indie rock, electro, and hiphop. It was a huge success, which is where the trouble began. “Franny” (who wishes to remain anonymous) says Vibrator’s success went beyond anything Christensen and Orth had ever experienced, and their respective naivety created bad blood.

In February, for reasons that are unclear, Orth announced she would leave the Eagle. (“I don’t want to get into it,” she said to me.) She told Christensen she wanted to retire the name, but Christensen announced that Vibrator belonged to the Eagle and that he was the event’s sole creative heir.

Orth was caught in a trap that amateur DJs and promoters often ï¬?nd themselves in after they fail to take legal steps to guard their creative property, according to Seattle promoter “Zooey” (who also wishes to remain anonymous). Zooey established what he calls an “event planning business,” through which he trademarks his events and draws taxable income from a percentage of the club’s cover charge. Not every local music-industry employee takes those steps, though. For example, Chop Suey’s local talent buyer, Colin Johnson, says deals are usually sealed by a handshake and further action isn’t necessary. In Zooey’s experience, though, differences inevitably surface—when they do, “things get ugly.”

When I called Christensen to discuss the issue, he sighed dismissively, “I’m over it now. I’m already moving on.” He continued, “The bottom line is, when Lisa owns a club and pays taxes the way we do then she can call the shots.” As a ï¬?nal note, he said, “I paid her very well.”

On March 1 Christensen acquired a state copyright for the name, “Vibrator.” Presently, the Eagle has posters all over Capitol Hill that state, “Vibrator is not dead!” The event is held Friday nights, and several DJs sharing the moniker “DJ Jambox” spin a broad selection of pop music. Orth has acquired a lawyer to dispute the copyright (she hasn’t yet ï¬?led a complaint). She and Christensen no longer speak.

But can Christensen actually re-create Vibrator? After all, DJs are hired for their ability to create unique, ephemeral experiences. Vibrator, in this sense, represents an existential issue—something that rests on an intimate connection between Orth and the club-goers who ally with her vision. Christensen, former manager of a circus freak show, envisions a wholly new Vibrator with burlesque and palm readings.

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Moreover, events inspired by or coming from the creators of Vibrator, like LICK at Chop Suey and Cherry at the War Room, now occupy its niche. And Orth is producing a co-ed event at the Wild Rose, “Le Freak,” that closely resembles her version of Vibrator. So perhaps the issue simply presents an opportunity for DJs and club owners to take a moment and reconsider the handshake.

editor@thestranger.com