Posted on 27 October 2010 by dubs
DJ Shaun Slaughter Talks his Trade as Lipstick Turns 10
Words by Adam Saake – Photo by Matthew Burks
A jazz album plays in the background of Shaun Slaughter’s Midtown apartment as I sit down to discuss the 10-year anniversary of Lipstick, his indie dance club at Old Ironsides here in Sacramento. I guess maybe I expected a Phoenix song to be playing, or something along those lines, but then it all makes sense.
“I don’t want to have to play ‘1901’ ever again,” says Slaughter, half-joking. “I love that song, but I love it so much that I don’t want to play it so I don’t ruin it for myself.”
It’s like making burritos all day: you don’t hate burritos you just don’t want to have one right when you get off work. Alright, bad comparison. Indie rock isn’t really like burritos. But imagine for a second that Slaughter and Lipstick-partner-in-crime, Roger Carpio, are the tortillas. Wrapped up inside of these two musical encyclopedias is a plethora of songs that each have dug up from the depths of record bins and music blogs to play for a finicky crowd, week after week, year after year. Maybe you can’t eat Mexican food every day, but many faithful Lipstick-goers show up damn-near every Tuesday to see what the boys have drummed up now.
It wasn’t always as packed as it is these days; it was a bit of slow climb. And in the beginning it wasn’t always just Slaughter and Carpio. The original Lipstick lineup consisted of four DJs who all had very different ideas about how the night should sound. But what unified them was one simple idea–make them dance.
Slaughter was friends with a fellow house-head named Chad Nardine. Both he and Slaughter were new to downtown. Slaughter himself was a kid from the suburbs and barely 21, and they were given a slot at the Press Club to DJ. They cut their teeth there for a while but frustrations with the manager and too many randoms walking in requesting Madonna had them looking elsewhere. They were then approached separately and asked to DJ at Old Ironsides on one fateful Tuesday. Realizing they had both been solicited for the same gig, they of course decided to do the night together.
“Our first Tuesday ever was just Chad and I, and it was all electronica and it bombed,” says Slaughter. “No one was there!”
The two needed to revamp, so they went back to the drawing board to figure out how they were going to put together a better club night that would hit. The two of them were growing tired of DJing dance music and Slaughter had a taste for older alternative rock like the Rentals, Weezer and Sonic Youth. Nardine picked up on this and told Slaughter about Carpio.
“Chad said, ‘I have this friend named Roger who’s really into Britpop,” recalls Slaughter. “And I had no idea what that even meant.”
Carpio added his own ideas to the sound of the night and each peppered in their unique styles. To round out their indie rock dance night, Roger brought one more DJ into the mix.
“Then Roger said, ‘I know this guy Sean Meyers who DJs really good ‘60s rock.’ We heard him play this set one night, and it was just amazing. We added him on and then it was the four of us,” says Slaughter.
During that first year of Lipstick at the Press Club, the four played to lackluster response and were perfectly OK with that. The few that showed up showed support the best way a DJ could hope for.
“It was good, and we were happy with 30 or 40 people,” says Slaughter. “We couldn’t believe that people would dance to it.”
Nardine eventually ended up moving away and Meyers excused himself to pursue other endeavors. That left the two DJs, Slaughter and Carpio, who couldn’t have been more different from each other. But what at first may have seemed like a duo doomed to butt heads, disagree over music choice or altogether fail as partners ended up being the exact right pairing that would keep Lipstick running after all these years.
“We were both really particular about how the night went,” explains Slaughter. That’s why…it’s been around so long. Both of us were really stuck on the fact that it had to be a certain way.”
And that certain way was “some indie, Britpop and some old stuff” as well as no guest DJs. Whatever they were playing, they were doing something right and that mindset of sticking to a format was the foundation that drew in crowds night after night. Over time, though, the box they DJed inside of eventually proved to be too small and it was time for more legroom.
“I think that if we would have stuck with that, it would have just died out, because ultimately people don’t want to listen to the same stuff,” says Slaughter.
So again, what the two shared in common was what kept Lipstick new and interesting over the years. Their shared passion for discovering new music coupled with Lipstick happening every week made for the right motivation to keep introducing the dance floor to new bands.
“Roger and I are super avid. All we do is dig for music and listen to new stuff,” says Slaughter.
At times it can be “a double-edged sword” Slaughter says, hand on his chin and thoughts on his mind. Keeping the night always new and always changing is fun when you’re a DJ because you’re never playing anything out. You’re able to keep a song like “1901” for your own enjoyment. Yet, certain songs are guaranteed to pack the dance floor and in the end, isn’t that your job as a DJ?
“You’re doing people a disservice if you don’t play some of that stuff,” says Slaughter. “You do it every Tuesday and you’re thinking, ‘Fuck! I’ve heard this song so many times.’ But then I think about the people who haven’t been coming every week and how excited they are to dance to a song they’ve never heard before.”
It’s rare for anything in the music and art scenes to last 10 years, let alone a club night. People change, bars close, relationships go south. It’s just the way it is. For Lipstick to have endured 10 years on an ever-changing music scene and all the while under what seems like constant scrutiny from naysayers calling Lipstick a club night for “hipsters,” is pretty amazing. This common misconception is immediately squashed when you walk through the doors on any given Tuesday. It’s a shot in the dark as to whom you’re actually going to find inside at the bar. Most likely you’ll find those same naysayers who are socializing with the “hipsters” while buying shots for your introverted co-worker from the office.
“We’ve gone through so many waves,” explains Slaughter. “Roger is like, ‘Dude. How many times have we gone through this?’”
Maybe that’s why Slaughter and Carpio have stuck it out all these years. Keeping the crowd showing up is one thing, but keeping themselves interested is another. But when each year brings a new crowd, with new friends and more good times to add to the memories, it makes it easier to stick around. Plus, Slaughter and Carpio switch it up around town and have been behind the wheel of many other successful, and most importantly, just really fun club nights around Sacramento. One of their most popular nights, FUCK Fridays at the Townhouse Lounge, is their sort of alter egos where they can completely let loose. Here they promote a “let’s lose our shit and go completely crazy” attitude while Slaughter is dressed up as say, an M&M or a rat costume [pictured].
What people don’t always realize is that many DJs and promoters in Sacramento, including Slaughter and Carpio, have their finger on the pulse of what’s good in the music and club scenes around the country. Slaughter frequently travels to other cities to DJ, and when he returns he brings back with him the best ideas he’s encountered to apply to his own club nights. In the words of Slaughter, “We stole everything from somebody.” Although, I prefer borrowed, for what are ideas without inspiration?
“Everyone always thinks there is something better,” says Slaughter. “Compared to a lot of other cities, we’re actually doing pretty well. The nights we’re throwing are really current.”
Recently, Slaughter has been focusing his energy on the production side with a new project called D.A.M.B. that just got picked up by DJs Are Not Rock Stars Records. “Daylight,” his first track released, plays with samples of Harry Belafonte’s “Day-O” backed by a tropical house beat. His second track, “Waiting,” has already been remixed by the LOL Boys, Mom & Dad and Wolfie and has found its way around a number of high-traffic blogs. Not too bad for his first two tracks. We’ll see where it goes in the coming months, seeing as how Slaughter has his hands pretty full booking up-and-comers for FUCK, scouring the Internet for Lipstick and doing the graphic design for all his flyers. It’s a lot of work, but he’s managing to make a living doing what he loves.
“I’m definitely super, super happy. I could be playing Top 40 every night,” says Slaughter. “I get the privilege of DJing with Roger too, and I get to hang out and get paid to do something amazing. I think it’s insane that after 10 years people are still there.”
Here’s to another 10.
Check out Lipstick Tuesday nights at Old Ironsides. For more info, go to www.blasefaire.com.