Once uneventful, Tuesday nights at Denton’s Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios are becoming increasingly popular due to the one-two punch of shockingly low-priced drinks (75 cent wells) and a known punk rocker ignoring the historical scene hang-ups by acting as DJ for the evening.
Along with the help of other random non-DJ’s, Chris Pickering — who has played with local and national acts such as Teenage Cool Kids, Jah Breaker, and Fergus and Geronimo — spins mostly pop, punk, rock, and soul singles with minimal consideration in regard to genre; they just (mostly) have to be singles. Though this concept isn’t necessarily new, there is a certain novelty and charm imbuing Pickering’s weekly picks. At one moment, you feel as if you have stumbled into an exclusive underground record shop in the Midwest, and the next, you are waiting for a hair appointment in a cheap suburban salon circa 1988. Either way, it’s often undeniably fun. We spoke to Pickering about the Tuesday night gig.
Front Row: What inspired “Singles Going Steady?” You largely have a punk background and though you’re playing rock, pop, and even punk singles, there is still a stigma within that scene of anything associated with a DJ. Do any of your band-mates or friends give you a hard time? Do any working DJ’s give you advice?
Chris Pickering: The idea came to me at some awkward bar off the square, where [we] had come to endure awful music for cheap drinks. I had a feeling if another bar in town offered cheap drinks without the chance of a Metallica/Run-DMCmashup, that people might show up.
I played a show last year at Amnesia in San Francisco. There was a DJ playing records in between the bands, playing classic 45s. I suppose this is what gave me the idea for the “singles only” concept. As for the name, I was listening to a lot of Buzzcocks and “Singles Going Steady” just made sense with the DJ concept as well as the cheap drinks.
The anti-DJ stigma is an extension of the anti-hipster sentiment of the punk scene. We just need to remember that some punks are hip and some hipsters are punk. And some punks aren’t punk and some hipsters aren’t hip, and so on. When living in Dallas, I would attend Cool Out at the Cavern, and would run into lots of my peers from the punk scene. Who cares about a stigma; just have fun.
I did have a “Pro DJ” tell me everything I was doing wrong. I’m just playing records on mostly borrowed equipment. I don’t have “Serato” and a laptop. I was nice enough to pretend to take all of his “Pro Tips” into consideration.
FR: What led to the photo booth? That’s also something that one expects to hear maligned in punk crowds. Does it affect attendance? Are there any photo booths or local photographers that you have found inspiring?
CP: The original idea for a photo booth was playing on the irony of a “punk DJ night.” I remember laughing at LA scenester photo-booths online, but didn’t realize that they were actually a lot of fun until I attended some gatherings that had them. I figured a photo-booth would give people something fun to do, and give them a reason to mosey into the main room.
People love seeing themselves; they have a great time on the internet. If anything, the photo booth might help attendance and with the atmosphere. Goofin’ off in front of a camera with friends tends to get people in a good mood.
Not sure which of the legendary Denton photo booths has inspired me most. I’ve used a few different photographers based on their availability and willingness to work for free drinks.
FR: You often have a different amateur DJ to accompany you. What mistakes do they tend to make? Any individual record collections you remember being wowed by? Do you have a method for bridging the gap between your tastes?
CP: I’m an amateur DJ and I get friends to join because it’s fun. The lack of headphones can make it difficult to know where on the record you are, or what speed the record should be played at.
Usually there are a few mishaps towards the beginning, and then it runs smoothly until the end of the night, when we’ve had a few drinks and don’t notice or care. I’m usually pretty familiar with my friends’ collections before asking them.
My collection has grown in the classic 45’s department but I still have a ton of punk 7”’s. I’ll keep whatever mood going that works with my colleague’s records. Sometimes we’ll set a time frame, like “Let’s play punk records ‘til 11, then start playing older garage stuff.”
FR: The format seems to have no other parameters besides “singles only.” Does that ever get tampered with? Is there a record that gets played every time? Do you ever pander to a crowd’s taste?
CP: I like the format because it’s easier to manage. I’ve been a lot looser about the singles-only rule, because some collections consist mostly of LPs.
Considering my collection is mostly old 45’s, I play mostly “classic hits” or “deep cuts.” “In The Summertime,” by Mungo Jerry was getting lots of play but I retired it once the school year started back up. I play “I Do What I Do” by The Yolks pretty often since it goes well with older garage stuff as well as modern punk.
I try to play to the vibe of the party. If people are just sitting, around I’ll play chill stuff. If people look like they wanna boogie, I’ll throw down ABBA or Donna Summer.
FR: If you had to play nothing but local music, how much of a struggle do you think that would be? What are some of your favorite local single releases?
CP: I do have a lot of locals 7″’s, but it would be hard. The first thing I would do is track down the Bad Sports singles. I’d bust out the old Centro-Matic 7″’s for sure.
The Wiccans and Mind Spiders records are my favorite local 7″’s for the year.
FR: Has attendance risen steadily? Does it fluctuate? What has been your best night?
CP: Attendance did slump when the school year started, but now it’s getting consistently good crowds. My favorite nights were where everyone let loose and did some serious dancing. Sometimes it gets lonely in the main room. There have been a few nights where I thought the turnout was awful, until seeing the bar area was packed.
FR: What if a booking agent wanted to send you on tour and you became an international touring sensation? Would you go through with it, even if it overshadowed your other musical endeavors? Would you be offended that something you did on the side became your main source of income?
CP: Since the chances of that happening are so slim, I’d be a fool not to take an offer like that. My bands aren’t terribly active right now anyway, so I’m pretty sure I could work in a superstar DJ tour. I would never be offended about any situation where I was paid to have fun.
FR: How safe is it to price a double G and T at $1.50?
CP: As unsafe as it may be, a business must stay competitive in this harsh economic climate.