You probably already love John Cameron Mitchell’s convention-challenging and gender-bending films, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus. And chances are, if you met him, you’d be just as fond of the multi-talented writer/director/performer himself. His down-to-Earth charm—sprinkled with a dash of punk rock and a pinch of glitter—can be felt on the packed dance floor at Mattachine, Mitchell’s monthly dance party at historic New York gay watering hole Julius.
Three years ago, Mitchell and fellow DJs PJ DeBoy and Paul Dawson (both stars of Shortbus) and multifaceted cabaret performer Amber Martin started the party, which is named for the Mattachine Society, a pre-Stonewall gay-rights group that famously challenged New York’s “no service for homos” rule at Julius in 1966. A hit with gay celebs like Justin Bond and Alan Cumming, and New York hipsters of all persuasions, the Mattachine party stands in opposition to “the metronomic, inorganic kind of thump, thump, thump traditional gay folk music. The fascist body culture. The age phobia. The conformist, sheep-like quality of mainstream gay culture today,” says Mitchell.
The ridiculously youthful 49-year-old goes on to reminisce that, “when I grew up, ‘gay’ meant ‘nonconformist’—each person was unique in their own gay way, rather than subscribing to a checklist of gay criteria. Which is part of the Radical Faerie thing too—find your own queerness. Harry Hay, the founder of the Mattachine Society, actually coined the term ‘Radical Faerie’ in the 1970s.”
It was while Mitchell and DeBoy (left) were off finding their own queerness this spring at a Radical Faerie gathering in Tennessee that they hatched the idea to spread some Mattachine love across the country. With a successful mixed-crowd debut in Denver –“full of cute fags, straight punk boys, baby dykes and hardcore Hedheads”—already under their belts, the Mattachine posse is now back on the road. They’ve teamed up with Hard French, another old-school party crew, for their San Francisco engagement, a daytime bash at El Rio in the Mission District. “When you’re dancing in sunshine, there’s nothing to hide. That’s the great thing about an afternoon tea dance,” Mitchell says, “it’s a well-lit good time.”
If you can make it to El Rio or one of the other Mattachine road parties (and we strongly suggest you do), expect a rip-roarin’ good time sweating it out to the beats of yesteryear—Sylvester, The Bee Gees, Soft Cell, hell, even James Brown. “The music philosophy is more like a high-school dance feeling,” John explains. “Isn’t all music dance music after all? We bring an eclectic kind of AM radio mix of styles. So you’ll get classic rock, country, punk, soul. My specialty is slow dancing.” As varied as the tunes may be, the DJs take time to let the crowd savor each song and each other.
“We play the whole song instead of going from climax to climax,” says Mitchell. “Climax to climax doesn’t make for good sex.”
Catch Mitchell and the Mattachine crew Sunday, July 31st, at San Francisco’s El Rio, and Saturday, August 6th, in Portland, OR, club Mississippi Studios. Mattachine DJ Amber Martin performs her one-woman comedy cabaret, Amber Alert, on Monday, August 1st, at San Francisco’s the Hypnodrome and Friday, August 5th, at Portland’s Wild Abandon. Mitchell will perform at both shows.
Photos by Mark Tusk