Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 29 / 20 July 2017
 

King of Clubs

Nightlife

Mario Diaz film & club night bring LA fun to Oasis


Mario Diaz (right, red T-shirt) and his Big Fat Dick gogo dancers. photo: Rolling Blackouts
Print this Page
Send to a Friend
Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on MySpace!
ADVERTISMENT

If you've been to Los Angeles recently, you may know that their nightlife scene rivals ours, and even tops it on occasion, such as the beefcake- and drag-loaded events created by impresario Mario Diaz. In addition to being the subject of a new documentary film to get its Bay Area premiere at Oasis, Diaz and his crew will also invade the popular new SoMa club with his own brand of party next weekend.

Club King, the film about Mario Diaz directed by former Bay Area resident Jon Bush, gets up close and personal with the creator of numerous club events in New York City and Los Angeles. The film features funny quotes from Justin Vivian Bond, Jackie Beat, and other nightlife and cabaret queens, plus some backstage footage of Diaz and his army of hunky gogo guys. The film screens at Oasis May 21. The next night, Diaz' complete entourage, plus many local talents, stuff Oasis with Big Fat Dick, featuring some of the hottest male dancers, and a midnight performance by Diaz' cohort, Connie (aka John Cantwell, who's also performing at 8pm on May 22; look for my interview with him next week!).

Since director Bush and subject Diaz were running around hither and yon in La La Land, we had an email Q&A, where the two men could discuss their projects in full. First director/producer Jon Bush:

Jim Provenzano: You've been a part of the San Francisco and Los Angeles queer and nightlife scenes for decades. What about Mario stands out for you as a subject for your film?

Jon Bush: In many ways, to me, he's the modern version of a Renaissance man: Club promoter, art director, stylist, actor, dancer, producer. He's incredibly talented and highly creative and has been thriving in a culture that doesn't produce many long-term careers. He's been throwing parties for over 20 years now and has been consistently successful, not only at the business of it but the art.

He doesn't just produce his parties, he hosts them, in a magnanimous, generous style that fills a room with his personality in a way that makes the scene feel wilder, more fun, more sexy. He's gorgeous, smart and funny. And, finally, he has this incredible history in 1990s East Village that is punctuated by opening the infamous queer bar, The Cock, that then took him to Los Angeles in the early 2000s to start all over again and change the face of queer club-dom in this town in the process. He's a real innovator and artist. Not knowing him at all personally before starting the film, the filmmaking process was a true journey deep into a fascinating person's life, un-peeling the onion one layer at a time.

Club King poster

Would you say that Mario's events compare well to certain SF events, current or past? For example, the legendary Product and its wildness, Club Uranus, or some more recent SF events?

I would say that Mario's events are the wild step-siblings of especially the legendary dark and sexy clubs thrown in early 1990s San Francisco by DJs Lewis Walden and Michael Blue; clubs like Chaos, Screw and Uranus. Those clubs definitely made a major impact on me as a young queer hippy raver activist, having just moved to the city in 1990. Mario shares the same kind of non-assimilationist and rather punk-rock aesthetic as those two legendary San Francisco promoters, so we had a shared history and aesthetic references and preferences right off the bat. 

Even before he opened The Cock, Mario threw wild parties like Cream and Foxy –which were radically sex-positive and filled with crazy performances and wild contests– that lit up the East Village in a time when it wasn't yet gentrified completely. It was also right when Mayor Giuliani was ramping up his War on Smut and there was a movement to "clean up" the town, so there was an activist element to the nightlife scene that was very heated in a different way than San Francisco at the time. Cops weren't just billy-clubbing AIDS activists in the streets, but, raiding and busting clubs and bars for playing porn on the video screens or nudity as well. Raids for dancing in venues without a license, that kind of nonsense. To those who lived through it, it felt like a war on queer nightlife.

Justin Vivian Bond, whom I met at Cafe Flore in 1991, migrated to New York around 1995, and almost immediately teamed up with ringleader Mario to co-host (along with drag legend Jackie Beat, World Famous BOB and Mistress Formica, among many other queer luminaries) the wildest parties and events, so I would even hear about this "hot, new club promoter" back then.

There was obviously a cross-pollination, sort-of sister-city relationship happening. It was exciting to realize that it wasn't just San Francisco blowing up with a new sort of quasi-underground movement, political and cultural, but Manhattan, too. I'm fascinated to capture at least a small sliver of this special time in LGBT history and preserve part of the culture in a documentary.

 

Mario Diaz

Mario Diaz shared some of his inspiration behind his more than two decades of club promotion and creation:

 

J.P.: Would it be fair to say that your New York 1990s events sort of helped revive the last gasp of Manhattan queer nightlife? 

Certainly not the last gasp, but we sure made an impact. I felt like when I got to New York City in the mid '90s, things were already starting to change. It was gentrifying and homogenizing quickly in New York, mainly due to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his "quality of life campaign." Not my quality and not my life, that's for sure.

The down and dirty nightlife that I read about and the sexual freedom that was being celebrated was slipping away, and I felt cheated. I've always felt, as a gay person especially, that being able to accept our innate sexuality without the shame so many of us carry with it to be of great importance. 

So I made it sort of my mission to bring back the sexy, wild NYC I moved there to be a part of. There were so many amazing clubs and parties that were a great inspiration to me at the time. Squeezebox, Jackie 60, Dean Johnson's "Rock and Roll Fag Bar." The list goes on.

I started promoting my own sexy, dark and loud, retro porn-inspired clubs that were reminiscent of the '70s gay scene that I dreamt of. I put in a back room at my party. The back rooms had just recently disappeared from the nightlife in NYC. I always felt they deserved a place in the dark corners of the gay underground. They were at one time one of the few places many men could hook up. Not so much these days, but I guess I'm old-fashioned. 

My point is, no matter what your urges, thoughts and desires were, they were okay... normal. We are all sexual beings and it's good. And all of this shame around our sexuality can destroy us. So I made a point to be In Your Face nasty, but with a sense of humor and great style. I wanted our sexuality, no matter how "weird," to feel fun. Because it should be!

This has been my mission ever since. I threw a few parties in the East Village and eventually did this wild party called Foxy, probably my greatest party to date. It was a real amateur exhibitionist scene where we gave everyone play money or "foxy dollars" and whoever ended up with the most at end of night would be crowned "the foxiest person alive." The sexy and weird things people would do for that money on stage would blow your mind. I loved it so much! Nothing has ever compared. It helps that it was just before cellphones took over, so people were more free to make a dirty fool of themselves. It was hosted by many of NYC's finest; Dean Johnson, Justin Vivian Bond, Jackie Beat and the World Famous Bob were a few of my regulars. 

So then I opened The Cock. There was a little bar in the East Village and I needed a place to throw Foxy, since it had been kicked out of its then third venue for one thing or another. The owner was very impressed by my ability to bring people, and we soon after became partners in the business. I was given free range with the venue, which at the time had non-painted drywall and no customers, so I was working with a blank slate. I called it The Cock, I promoted seven nights a week, booked amazing talent, staffed it with all my friends and we painted it midnight blue. We blew glitter everywhere and the rest is history. It was gangbusters every night for years. If those walls could talk. It was a special time in naughty New York history and I'm blessed to have been a part of it. 

Mario Diaz (in apron) with his dancers.

Can you explain a bit about your decision to move to Los Angeles and create events there?

I've always been a performer, and acting was my path of study and passion, so Los Angeles seemed the obvious place to make a living as an actor. And I knew I could deliver some fresh nightlife to a place that really seemed to need a revamp in that area. It just needed a little trashing up, I guess. People are always telling me how "New York" my parties here are. I just nod and say thanks. I always have the urge to say "That's because I threw these parties in New York too!"

But I bite my tongue. The gay scene here at the time was very bright and everyone looked like they had a bar of soap in their pocket. It didn't take much for me to get them to mess up their hair and get a little rough and tumble. They were ready for it.

Now much of the scene here feels similar, as is the way it goes.  Plus I love the sun and it's in abundance here. I wanted to move to LA, get some TV roles, get a dog and buy a house. And that's what I did.

Not to mention, my best friend Jackie Beat had moved here to write for a TV show.  LA has a bad reputation and many cities love to trash talk it but I couldn't be happier here. I love it. The amount of creative brilliance here is astounding and I get to have coffee on my sunny deck with my Joanie every morning. She's my terrier dog and my girlfriend. 

Mickey Mouse and bling-costumed gogo guys at one of Mario Diaz' (front) events in Los Angeles. photo: Rolling Blackouts

In the film, you're very specific about the look and style of your dancers and designers. Do you think people might be surprised by the specificity, and not know what it takes to create and sustain a nightclub event?

I am very detail-oriented and have always styled all my gogo guys from head to toe. Not everyone knows this. They must think I just happened to find the coolest group of guys in town. But if I didn't dress them they would just look like all the others, in their Andrew Christian undies, upper arm sweatbands and twinkie caps like the west side boys.

The littlest thing can make me crazy and my taste changes quite frequently. It makes it hard for me to delegate or assign a protege to take over for me. No one cares like one does when it's their own creative vision being executed. This is why I tend to be very hands-on with my events.

Right now I get a chubby for black socks but who knows? In a month, I may find them repulsive. There are promoters out there that just do as many events as possible and don't care much about the creative side. It's all about money. I wish I had a bit more of that in me. It would be nice not to care sometimes and I bet I could really rake it in. But I've always worked out of the love of the work, not just the money. But don't get me wrong; I'm a total whore.

Mario Diaz (left) with a gogo dancer at Big Fat Dick. photo: Rolling Blackouts

What would you consider one of your favorite nights of recent years?

I think the party Hot Dog I started when I moved to LA was a real stand out. I ended it a few years back, but it was LA's introduction to my aesthetic; a weekly theme, always a new set, and my dancers were always styled accordingly. There were boys, girls and drag or trans glitter sprinkled gogo dancers at every Hot Dog. It gave people a clear taste of what I was about and they ate it up like drunken gay banshees. I had about 800 people coming out to dance every Saturday night. They all had big smiles on their nasty adorable sweaty little faces. People ask me to bring it back quite often...maybe one day. 

A tattooed dancer at one of Mario Diaz's club nights in L.A. photo: Rolling Blackouts

What are some of the problems you face in bringing events to bars and nightclubs?

I've had such great luck in my 20-plus years as an event producer. I imagine the kind of party I want to be at, find a venue, cast the characters, create the environment and put on the show. People have responded well to what I've done thus far and I've had very few "flops," if any really.

It goes to show you that if you fearlessly follow your interests and passions, there tend to be like-minded people out there who identify. For me, the message is, you can be a total pig and still be a lovely, respectable, honorable and a fucking stylish successful person. No apologies. It can be frustrating when the laws make me have to tone things down or when other bars and promoters steal my ideas, but that's just part of being an idea person. At least I'm able to have ideas and don't make a living doing what everyone else is doing. I just do what I do and don't concern myself with obstacles. Who's got time for that?

Mario Diaz with a dancer at an outdoor LA event. photo: Rolling Blackouts

Wrangling gogo guys; favorites, biggest problems?

They tend to find me, so I don't have to do much wrangling. I've always had a rule to treat all my staff with great professionalism, which has earned me respect with my associates. There are many flakes in this world we call nightlife. I think I have been an example of someone who takes this business very seriously. It is my work, my job and I am a professional. I made a choice not to sleep with my gogo boys and have followed that rule since the 90s. I realized only recently I've made a huge mistake. What the fuck was I thinking?

That would be a tough task, considering how hot they are! You bring choreographed dance numbers to your events that are more polished than most nightclub acts. Can you talk a bit about your own efforts, and about the choreographers you work with?

I attribute my connection with the dance community to my choreographer Ryan Heffington, who I have studied with for about seven years now. He is the genius responsible for the recent works with musician Sia. His choreography in "Chandelier" and "Elastic Heart" has given him great praise and attention. We have known of his brilliance for years and he has given many of us a great gift with his work.

Dancing with him has been one of my great blessings here in LA. In fact I started my party Full Frontal Disco with him. It is now in its seventh year and I'm very proud of it. It is the event where I get to show some of the great dancers and choreographers that LA has to offer. Each month I have such inspired dance performances and love to get to share that with people in the nightlife that don't normally have an opportunity to see dance. Or at least they don't seek it out as much as they should.

Mario Diaz with his dancers backstage at a recent Big Fat Dick event. photo: Rolling Blackouts

Can you share a bit about the efforts to export an event like Big Fat Dick to San Francisco?

This is actually my first party in San Francisco and I couldn't be more excited. I love SF so much and it has always been my favorite vacation spots. I love the people, the history and the beauty of your town. And the boys are super fine. It's certainly more work having to import all my LA boys and get them housed. And not being there to promote is a little scary but I've always been supported wholeheartedly by San Francisco that I'm feeling pretty confident about it. I can't wait!

Plus I get to do my movie screening and party at Heklina and D'Arcy's club Oasis. They are two of my best friends out there and I'm thrilled to keep it in the family. Heklina often stays with me when she comes to do Trannyshack LA, so this time I get to be doing a party on her turf! It's gonna be a hoot. 

Two gogo guys at a Diaz event. photo: Rolling Blackouts

Yes, it's definitely the most appropriate space for you guys. Is there still an 'underground' queer culture, or have most things become so easily popular that there is no underground?

There will always be style makers and those who create fresh work, but there's not much of an underground left. There is simply too much mainstream acceptance and basic exposure for anything to be subversive. The young queers don't seem to have the edge we did. They don't have the same misfit and outcast attitudes that I loved so much growing up.

I'm not saying it's easy being gay, but it's certainly much more accepted than in my day. 'Grandpa Diaz is speaking, kids.'

I don't know. It just seemed to be a lot cooler to be gay back then. We had a better, more punk taste in music, better outfits, and I always knew we were having more fun than anyone else. It's still true, but our taste level has gone downhill if you ask me. But SF still has quite a few Show-Offs, Super Chicks and Queerdos to keep me happy. One of the reasons I love it there so much!

Promotional poster for Big Fat Dick at Oasis.

In Jon's film, you open up about very personal aspects of your family life. What's it like to know more people will have insight into that aspect of you?

At first I didn't think he was going to delve into my personal life very much. His plan was to be a fly on the wall of my work and amazing associates. But as we got into the filming, we began to share more. My parents both make an appearance, in fact. And I'm glad we did that. I'm happy to have this amazing biography documentary of what has been a very exciting and blessed life. And I'm still alive to see it, the good bad and the ugly. We all have a story and I hope mine inspires someone. That's all I hope for.

 

'Club King' screens May 21, 8pm at Oasis, with a special performance by Connie ($15).

Big Fat Dick invades Oasis May 22 (preceded by a full show with Connie, 8pm, $15). $10. 10pm-2am. 298 11th St. For tickets and more info, visit www.sfoasis.com








Follow The Bay Area Reporter
Newsletter logo
twitter logo
facebook logo