John Cameron Mitchell is a writer, actor and director, best known for his Off Broadway musical-turned-film Hedwig and the Angry Inch and the sexually explicit Shortbus. He recently added "DJ" to his extensive curriculum vitae, joining up with PJ DeBoy, Paul Dawson and performance artist Amber Martin for a dance party: Mattachine. He's bringing the whole gang and the party to Houston Thursday night, at The Flat.
CultureMap caught up with Mitchell while he was on the road in New Orleans.
CultureMap: So what exactly is this "Mattachine?" How did this get started?
John Cameron Mitchell: We're doing a tour of our party, Mattachine, which is a lot of dancing and a little performance. PJ DeBoy, Paul Dawson, Amber Martin and I have been hosting these monthly in New York for four years. It's predominantly gay and queer, but it also draws a mixed alternative crowd, people who want to dance. For this tour, we're playing in New Orleans, Houston and Austin. We're looking at a return trip to the West Coast this summer, and we're looking internationally as well.
It's predominantly gay and queer, but it also draws a mixed alternative crowd, people who want to dance.
It actually started because we kind of got bored with the nightlife scene. It was kind of a sameness, a chain store feeling about bars. A lot of it was technology, everyone always checking their phones and thinking about where else they need to be, an attention-span issue. . . So we kind of decided that it was a fast world, and it was time for a slow dance.
We first took over Julius, which is actually the oldest gay bar in New York City, where the Mattachine Society — our namesake — had a famous action in the '60s. . . Last April was our first out-of-town thing, at a sort of queer Burning Man at a commune called Short Mountain in Tennessee. It was so much fun that we decided to set up a West Coast tour right away.
CM: What sort of music do you all play?
JCM: We play punk, classic rock, disco, soul, with a cut off of about 1995 — with the exception of LCD Soundsystem. I specialize in slow dances in between songs. You know, it's a very friendly vibe. It makes you remember what it was like at high school dances. We also talk a lot, and do some comedy and singing.
We often DJ simultaneously, the four of us. We tag-team it, so we never know what's going to happen. It keeps it from becoming too formulaic — sometimes DJs get caught up in beat matching, but not us. We sometimes have skipped records, because we use a lot of vinyl, but we celebrate in our non-professionalism.
CM: What can we expect for your Houston show?
JCM: For this show in Houston, we're going to rent a tent and have it set up outside of The Flat. I'm planning to sing a few songs from Hedwig and the Angry Inch with a local guitarist [Erin Fisher Wright], and Amber Martin does this naked Reba McEntire impression that has to be seen to be believed. [Martin is a Beaumont native, and her mom may join her for a duet performance on Thursday.]
This is our first time doing it in Houston. The party went on until about 6 o'clock in the morning in New Orleans, so . . .
I actually see this as an antidote for Hollywood, a back-to-the-streets sort of thing. I feel more comfortable with this, to be honest.
CM: This project seems like a very different tempo and scene than your filmmaking — you go from working with Nicole Kidman to hosting a $10 dance party at a bar in Houston. How do you reconcile the two different lives?
JCM: I actually see this as an antidote for Hollywood, a back-to-the-streets sort of thing. I feel more comfortable with this, to be honest — Rabbit Hole was a great film to work on, but it was out of my marrow, especially since it was a different writer's work that I just directed. It felt good, but it's good to be back to my people.
CM: What's next for you, film-wise?
JCM: I am producing an animated feature by a graphic novelist, Dash Shaw. It's kind of a sci-fi meets The Simpsons. I'm also directing an adaptation for Neil Gaiman — who wrote the Sandman series and Coraline — I'm adapting a short story that's about punk rockers and aliens in London.
I'm also working on some commercials for Dior that are more like short films than commercials, starring Marion Cotillard. I've done two of those so far. And I'm also thinking about a theater piece.
Dance along to the tunes of yesteryear on Thursday at The Flat in Houston. Admission is $10. More information here. Mattachine will wrap up the tour in Austin with a show at Barbarella and another at GAYBIGAYGAY.