DARK ROOM, a queer drag dance party, prides itself on keeping it as freaky as possible. Celebrating its six-year anniversary this Saturday, the party embraces larger than life characters, spontaneous drag queen performances, and grandiose décor. Started by DJ Le Perv (also known as DJ Dead Icons), the idea of DARK ROOM was born while reminiscing about a time in his life when “clubs where over the top and fun, stylized and visually stimulating.” Six years later, the party has grown to include appearances by artists like Miss Kittin and Ladytron, while it continues its mission to challenge the norm of Bay Area nightlife.
We chatted with DJ Le Perv about his favorite local drag queens, the evolution of queer nightlife, and his love/hate relationship with San Francisco.
DARK ROOM will feature Raven of RuPaul’s Drag Race for their anniversary party which takes place this Saturday, 1/28, at its new home The White Horse Bar in Oakland.
SF Weekly: Congrats on six years of DARK ROOM. Give us a history of how it began.
Le Perv: DARK ROOM began in my apartment with my close friend Phatima. We were both already part of nightlife as producer/DJ and performer, and it was really quite organic. We were reminiscing on the times we used to go out and it would be this over the top circus with larger than life characters and patrons dressing up. It was very fringe and we worked hard to make sure the night was packed and that people would want to come back. At first, we featured live local bands and grew to host smaller international acts as well. I was the DJ and at some point we added the element of guerrilla drag. A set would be playing and a spotlight would fix on a drag queen and she would perform a number, and we would just continue on with the set. It has morphed, and we get big names. Miss Kittin came through, Ladytron did a DJ set, and the band The Frozen Autumn (from Italy) did a special live show. We had national bands messaging us to travel and perform. It’s really amazing.
SFW: Why did you decide to move DARK ROOM to Oakland?
LP: At the end of last year, I began to talk to Michael, former owner of The Stud. He was really up front about his desire to step away and just how tired he was. So I began the search. After talking with friends and patrons that I have begun to call family, we brought up moving to Oakland. So much of what is happening in San Francisco nightlife is exactly the same, in most of our opinions. We wanted to go where many of our friends who had been pushed out of San Francisco live. There is really a real hot bed of talent in Oakland. I think we may be the first group to transition the entire party to Oakland. Many of our guests make the trek to the city. And, if telling the truth, San Francisco has been home for over 20 years, and I have always had a love/hate relationship. Right now, it’s “complicated.”
SFW: What has been your best DARK ROOM experience yet?
LP: Queer mosh pits, a super free sexual vibe, I can’t pick just one. What I can say is the family it has created and the space it offered for people to make their debut on our stage, like Johnny Rockitt, Crème Fatale, Jillian Gnarling, Noveli, and many more got their first shot on stage and became part of our brand. They are all super talented and uniquely weird. Peaches Christ has worked with us, Heklina came to DJ a live set, and I did a live DJ set for the opening of Psychic TV. We became an amazing family of performers and we always hear that this was something never done before which made us continue to push boundaries.
SFW: How excited are you to have Raven of RuPaul’s Drag Race for the anniversary?
LP: Very! She has been on our stage three or four times now. She is humble and slays it on the stage. I couldn’t think of anyone better to kick off our sixth year of DARK ROOM.
SFW: What will be your outfit of choice for the upcoming party?
LP: BLACK ON BLACK ON BLACK and some BLACK.
SFW: As a DJ for over 20 years and someone who has also lived in N.Y.C., how have you seen the queer dance party evolve?
LP: Cities ebb and flow when it comes to nightlife. I have seen new music scenes evolve and take root (minimal, experimental, etc.), and more nights producing live bands, especially on the electronic front. There are long-standing parties I still attend, but they are largely the same. I will go to a new alternative night, and it’s the same DJs, promoters, etc. There was definitely not a queer-wave party that plays many of the alternative genres (death rock, new wave, post punk, electro, synth wave), before we started six years ago. I guess you could say I have seen promotions for current or new parties promising evolution, but it’s the same DJs, with a different venue and name. Even more of a drag, it’s the same DJs/promoters playing the same sets. Everything repeats itself.
Hell, I have had to evolve, as my patrons evolve. It’s the same in all cities really. After going out to a party and seeing no change, it can be a bit of a bore. I make sure to take friends and we become “the party.” DARK ROOM started in a sports bar, and we took four hours to transform it using wall coverings, lights, props, and human art installations to keep our night fresh. People would walk in and the display had such energy you couldn’t help feeling you were somewhere new and different. Many nights I attend play streamed computer sets or hit play after one song ended and the other began. We are not that! We mix live sets, blending tracks and creating and gathering unique remixes. I require DJs to digitally mix (no software DJs) and take pride in that.
So how has it changed? A lot of parties are Xerox copies of other nights, just a new font. I think the “goth scene” is very much the same from party to party. It’s been this way since I left home in the ’80s. I guess I hope the alternative queer parties will work at making their nights an experience, and not so predictable. Plenty of nights emerge and a small few struggle, but throw a fierce party! I hope they continue to evolve.
SFW: What’s something you miss from the past and hope can return for future parties?
LP: I am afraid in some ways for our city. Collectives that are cliques and the cost of living make it hard to create new nights. San Francisco has been known for decades as a city of creativity and pushing boundaries. Now, nightlife has higher cover costs, pricey drinks, attitude at the bars, and a general lack of enthusiasm. I pay to go into a bar and I want something for it, like an amazing performance or a great DJ with fresh sets and the unspoken acknowledgement that any party or bar is only as good as it’s patrons. Work to make us want to come back.
SFW: What’s a track that has always made you drop everything and dance?
LP: I would have to say two… Skinny Puppy’s “Smothered Hope” and Ministry’s “The Land of Rape and Honey.”
SFW: Who are some of your favorite local drag queens?
LP: Peaches Christ for being so authentic in her art. I also adore Raya Light, Noveli, Pseuda, Krylon Superstar, Dia Dear, and Abominatrix. Also my sister Phatima should be listed as family and one of my favorite drag queens.
SFW: And what’s something about Bay Area nightlife you often ask yourself?
LP: I am waiting for the dust to settle and hoping that the presence of the freak show parties will survive San Francisco’s gentrification. I have some parties I still like to go out to, but there’s an abundance of crackers and white milk.