Vourteque and Debut Album ‘The Iron & Jazz Age’ – Interview

Vourteque has been one of most prominent electro-swing DJ’s in the Midwest since 2008, known for producing and playing conventions, circus-punk and vaudevillian shows all the way from Los Angeles to New York. He’s performed with numerous similarly prominent performers such as Frenchy & The Punk, Unwoman and he’s one of the founders of the award-winning Rouge!, Chicago’s only electro-swing night – if you’re a Chicago native, or you’ve visited and you haven’t been, well my goodness, you’re missing a real treat.

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In 2012 he released his first neo-vintage EP ‘The Swing Mechanical‘ and last month saw the release of his debut album ‘The Iron & Jazz Age, and boy, it’s a zinger! While it’s always good karma to support locally-based artists, here the music speaks for itself; it’s a superb album and absolutely worth your time and money.

Vourteque was kind enough to take some time out from his insanely busy schedule to answer a few questions . . .

Your debut album is described as ‘the imaginary soundtrack to a grand horror show or movie’ – can you speak a little more about the wonderful concept that drove the creative spirit of the album?

At Theatre BizarreHa ha, yeah that was a quote from Bart Sampson of Bart & Baker, a real electro-swing power house. It’s always great to have other people tap into your inspirations though. I had actually gone to school for script and screen writing way back when, well, I was in university. Though I’ve always been passionate about dance music and personally do not need a track or song to ‘tell a story’ it’s difficult for me to write one that doesn’t do that. Every track on the album actually has some kind of concept behind it, with an over-arching idea of this being music from after the fall of western society. Perhaps 100 or 200 years in the future. It’s not necessarily a hard line concept in the album, but the songs all do have conceptualized stories that I should probably get around to sharing. For instance ‘No Teeth‘ is actually about a community of people who have become so fundamentally pacifistic that they tear out all their teeth and make a set of dentures only the leaders can wear. I myself am a huge pacifist but I think fundamentalist thought in any way is dangerous and wanted to take something I value and explore a story that shows how even something a lovely as being a pacifist can become dangerous when it becomes fundamentalist. So yeah, a lot of the tracks have back stories like that with relatively cinematic or theatrical tones.

I’m going to assume that music is hardly your sole source for inspiration given the broad and eclectic styles you employ in your work. Can you speak about other notable sources and influences that stir up your creative juices?

photo-originalAbsolutely. A lot of my influences come from traveling and exploring actual places. I love going to places as obscure and bizarre as say my friends place, The Trundle Manor in Pittsburgh to giant gaudy tourist traps like The Mall of America. I also find a lot of inspiration on the road. Doubly, I’m utterly addicted to radio shows like Snap Judgement, Radiolab and This American Life, a lot of the stories and ideas on those shows leak into the work I do. I also used to watch TV and movies (I’ve since stopped watching TV almost all together and rarely really get to movies any longer), but certain shows have stuck with me, always loved shows like Invader Zim or Scooby Doo, shows that are at once really strange and dark but also completely goofy. Also, authors like Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman and graphic novelists like Grant Morrison have had ongoing influences. Finally there is just everyday experience, meeting people and having crazy experiences on your own, that’s the core of where I come up with my ideas.

I love the whole album, but my favorite track is definitely ‘No Teeth‘, the central theme of which you describe as being about fanaticism. Which track do you like the most, and why?

Yeah, No Teeth is one of my favorites too. When I first started working on the album I was planning on keeping it entirely ‘electro-swing’ based but as it evolved I decided to throw in my background in dark americana/country too, as it’s a genre I’m just as passionate about. In terms of my core favorite though, that’s tough, depending on my mood I find myself drawn to different tracks. I’m elated with how Tributelation came out – an instrumental track that’s supposed to be about the futility of faith based accomplishment unless you accept that the journey is the accomplishment unto itself. I also love Go Along Now, which is a kind of chain gang song. But Hot Sinner really book-ends the album for me opposite No Teeth. It was the first song I wrote for the album, with the concept of it being a man with the same fervor and energy as a fire & brimstone priest but who is trying to get his congregation to celebrate and love life instead of avoid it.

Your DJ work incorporates a wide variety of cabaret style accompaniments, which makes for extremely fun and exciting entertainment. You’ve no doubt seen some interesting times – what are some of the more notable experiences you’ve had during your performances?

JRovner Djing HalloweenHrm, well performing at Theatre Bizarre in Detroit is always an interesting and amazing experience. Last year I played a set for a steampunk themed weekend in Kalamazoo, MI called “Steam Dream”, it just starting pouring rain right before my set started and everyone just said ‘f–k it’ and took off half their clothes and starting just going wild dancing and drinking in the rain, it was pretty awesome. I’ve DJ’ed a lot of different shows and styles over the years too, from doing eurodance nights in Milwaukee to playing The Steampunk Ball in Tampa, and each one is pretty nuts.

Another time, after a big techno festival in Canada the bus we were in almost fell off a ravine and we had to wait in the late July rain at this garbage dump for some locals to get a dump truck to pull it out. I was a bit more wild when I was younger (aren’t we all?) I still have some wild times but I try to keep them a little less risky.


You’ve been part of the Steampunk community for a long time now – how do you think the genre and the community has grown and evolved? What would you say are the most prominent changes that you’ve observed?

Vourteque debonair colorWell that’s an interesting question. I see the terminology changing the most, back in 2009/10 when it was kind of starting ‘steampunk’ seemed to mean ANYTHING that had an aesthetic from 1870 – 1930. Then people starting parsing it out to ‘dieselpunk’ and ‘clockpunk’ and ‘circuspunk’. And while I don’t mind the terms when used kind of as a light hearted descriptor, I hate the use of them when it comes to people trying to define stuff. I’ve really tried to keep my ‘steampunk’ undefined, and folks who insist there needs to be definitions are, in my opinion, missing something in their life to begin with and are trying to fill a void with something else – which really doesn’t work if you ask me. I’ve started to move away from the term steampunk in my work and use ‘neo-vintage’. I think it better encapsulates my work and appeals to a broader audience. And, ha ha, get this, some kid of Reddit evidently thought my work wasn’t that steampunk so I guess he’s onto something – huh 😉

But in all seriousness, Steampunk has kind of swung for years between being really heavy on cosplay and geekdom and leaning more toward fashion and arts, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it find a comfortable resting point as I still hear people from both sides express skepticism and disdain for the other (geek vs fashionista, nerd vs. nightlife, etc). It feels like different sides want to own it, but I see the more arts / nightlife side embracing the neo-vintage concept more. Forgoing the idea of costumes and personas for just stage/party names and outfits. Electro-swing was, from what I can tell, a massive influence on this as those who are into steampunk but not really partying/clubbing may like electro swing and be into it, but you may not find them at all the parties. So you slowly have groups of people going in different directions. I’m also seeing more ‘steampunk’ events moving away from both the term ‘steampunk’ and doing them at convention centers. Steampunk culture as a whole does seem to prefer to see a cabaret act or band while drinking a cocktail instead of going to a book signing.

Your regular neo-vintage/electro-swing night ‘Rouge’ remains the one of the most popular alternative music shows in Chicago. We’re all eager to know what fun things you have planned for the future of the event.

Best of VourtequeOh yes! Well our two-year anniversary, Aug 19th, will be on the main stage at Double Door and feature a huge line up of cabaret and burlesque as well as our special guest DJ Dr. Danish, all the way from Asia, will be joining us. It should be a huge show and more info can be found at the Rouge! Chicago Facebook page.

Your music and stage persona conjures up images of dark circuses of strange delights, with hints of the bohemian-style travelling circus. What is it about this aesthetic and time period that appeals to you?

Man, I don’t know. I have just always loved it! The movies City of Lost Children and the Tom Waits albums Alice and Blood Money have been something I’ve gone back to over and over again. I love the circus and sideshow, I’m far more comfortable in that environment than I am just about anywhere else. Which is probably why I do it now. As a child dark and strange things actually terrified me, so in order to deal with that, I embraced them, and now I’m a dark and strange thing myself!


Electro-swing (not to mention industrial-blues/neo-vaudeville) is still seen as a relatively young genre. How do you see it expanding in the coming years?

Vourteque BlockheadI think electro swing will definitely expand, it has such pop and general market appeal. As for industrial blues and neo-cabaret etc, I’m not sure those will ever be very big. Maybe I’m wrong – they’re such odd ball genres, but I don’t think they’ll really die out either, because the people who are into them are really into them and they compliment electro swing and neo-vintage culture well. So I guess we’ll see! 🙂

What are you listening to at the moment?

Hrm, well I was listening to an old new wave mix in my car earlier, heh. In seriousness, I’ve been listening to a good amount of this gothic country band called Palodine lately. I’ve also been enjoying a host of electro swing mixes on Mixcloud by some friends and colleagues such as DJ Farrapo, Mr. Automatic and the like. Also DJ Spooky has this amazing downtempo/chill mix on mix cloud. Really enjoying Tia Brazda’s stuff lately and I’ve super enjoyed some of the singles from Incontrol and Dj Dunya. Dutty Moonshine has a new fun track out too. And there’s a whole slew of gothic country I’m always listening to 🙂

Even with an EP already out, an album under your belt and a tour in the works, I imagine you’ve got all sorts of other great plans cooking. Care to share a little of the future with us?

Whew, well for now I’m working on getting my festival together, that’s been a long haul with some set backs I’ll be happy to share with you over a drink sometime. Otherwise just booking, playing and performing as a vaudevillian and DJ as much as I can! 🙂


 

Vourteque’s album ‘The Iron & Jazz Age‘ is out now and available on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon and Bandcamp.

You can keep up with his latest goings on through Vourteque’s website and SoundCloud.

Check out a wicked little mix of album samples below:

Dr. Pembroke – surgeon, physician, alienist; his primary focus is weird and enlightening stories of medical history. Sometimes, he also reviews music. You can enjoy more of his musings, articles and general nuttery HERE. He’s on the Book of Faces too, because you know how much he likes those faces… oh my yes…


 

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