The PA's flirting with falling over because its rickety tripod's been pressed into service as a grind post for the scrum of sweating party kids staked out before the Dorkwave DJ crew's perch. Every few seconds there's a blast from the Dollar General strobe box that sits on top of the speaker, and its light field highlights a different dirty act with each jostle from below. The Corktown Tavern's carpet isn't memorable, the ceiling of its upstairs room is low, and the bar's darker corners teem with bare flesh and scrawny bird chests. JJ Fad's "Supersonic" has become Company B's "Fascinated," and it's only 2:30 a.m.
"I definitely love that kind of scenario, instead of some glitzy super-club," John MacLean says over the phone after hearing about the unmentionable mesh and "Didn't we have MySpace sex?" decadence of a typical Dorkwave monthly. "It's more like you're having a party or something."
The former guitarist for cult 1990s electro-punk outfit and Sub Pop stalwarts Six Finger Satellite, MacLean reinvented himself a few years ago as a DJ named "The Juan MacLean." Over a few early, immediately awesome singles and the 2005 DFA full-length Less Than Human, he hit reset on his influences, winding rock 'n' roll elements into a ball with threads lifted from Detroit techno, Chicago house and weird records from back in the 1970s, when synthesizers were as big as semitrailers.
It's a cocktail similar to what the Dorkwave crew's been serving since at least 2004, so MacLean should fit right in when he's the guest DJ for their Feb. 17 event, aptly titled "Love is In the Air."
Love (well, usually lust) isn't just in the air at Dorkwave; it spikes the drinks and makes the kids nuts. The Corktown Tavern's cramped second-floor space holds hookup options for anyone, from gays and straights to the curious or unsure, and the music is as varied as the persuasions a core sample of the crew's recent setlists reveals tracks from Gang of Four, Klymaxx (the dark-horse 1984 dance-pop hit "The Men All Pause"), David Bowie, masked Swedish electronicists the Knife, and MacLean's DFA labelmates LCD Soundsystem and Booji Boy High.
And MacLean is down with that, since a sexually charged atmosphere and the opportunity to blend genres and influences is what he's always been looking for.
"The indie rock scene of the 1990s was an entirely sexless subculture," he says. "It's like it was frowned upon to promote any kind of sexuality through your music. You'd look out from the stage and there'd be hundreds of people with their arms folded, and then after, they'd be like, 'Wow, that's the best show I've seen all year.' It had become so heavy and intellectualized. So, one of the things that really attracted me to the dance music scene was that it was such an immediately visceral experience when I would play. It was much more physical.
"Six Finger Satellite was a rock band with heavy dance music influences," he continues, "which is what we were going for. But now I can sort of cut to the chase, and be a dance music guy with rock influences."
Dorkwave featuring The Juan MacLean, Feb. 17, at Corktown Tavern, 1716 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-964-5103. Free. The Dorkwave DJs will also bring the heat to the Metro Times Blowout pre-party, March 7, at the Majestic Theatre Complex.Johnny Loftus is the music editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]