In a Facebook post, man about town Rory AquaBear Sunderland wrote, “In this day and age how do you put Steampunks, Dieselpunks, Cyberpunks, Goths, Hipsters, Preps, Stuggles (Steampunk + Muggles…yes I just made it up), Bro’s, Gypsyunks, and Carnies in the same room with nothing but fun, acceptance, and frivolity as a result??? That is the miracle of Steampunk and Rouge!”
Rouge is the electro swing night held every third Wednesday night at Fizz Bar & Grill at 3220 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago. DJs Vourteque and Mr. Automatic, and burlesque performer Lady Lenux answered a few questions about the ongoing event.
1. You bill Rouge as “Chicago’s Premiere Night of Electro Swing.” How would you describe electro swing?
Mr. Automatic: While Electro Swing can be a combination of Electro and Swing, more often than not it’s a blanket term used to describe a variety of bands and producers who embody a modern electronic sound based around 20’s and 30’s jazz, blues, 40’s big band, and on occasion early Rockabilly and Soul. The early prototypes were based in down tempo and the Chicago Swing House sound, but since then many different styles have evolved. The music is generally created by a live band or a DJ/Producer sampling records and recording session musicians. I think the core of Electro Swing is in live music, however, and is a big part of what sets it apart from most modern club music. In an age of button pushers and light shows, seeing a live band playing dance music is a welcome relief.
Lady Lenux: I would describe electro swing as the most best music for dancing. It’s fun, poppy, high energy. It’s swing music mixed with electronic club music; it can’t get any better than that!
Vourteque: It’s a wide-open genre of dance music that fuses electro, techno, breaks and house with big band, jazz and swing music. I also like to implement a “gothic Americana” element by adding preacher samples and blues guitar with my electro swing.
2. How would you describe a night at Rouge to someone who does not go clubbing?
Lady Lenux: I usually tell people it’s the most fun they will have all month. For people who don’t like clubbing, they will like Rouge, for people who do like clubbing, they will like Rouge. I tell them it’s good music, great energy, it’s not too loud where you can’t also have a conversation with someone. You have amazing live burlesque shows, and not to mention the place has great food too! The whole place flows with positive energy. I could be feeling like complete crap and go to Rouge and it makes my night!
Vourteque: It starts out relatively low-key as people come on in for the first hour to hour and a half. People have some cocktails, socialize and generally enjoy a relaxed, swinging atmosphere. But then by 10:30 or 11 the floor is jumping, people are pouring in and the live burlesque shows and guest acts go on. So there’s something for everyone.
Mr. Automatic: I’m not a fan of the modern EDM [electronic dance music] scene. I grew up in Detroit, and the things I love about electronic music and electronic music culture are rooted in those early experiences. The focus in that scene was on experiencing new underground music as a collective. There were no requests, but it didn’t matter because everyone was there to listen to the DJ do his thing. If a DJ wasn’t doing his job, then the crowd would let him know. From promoting over the years, I started to realize that the nights that felt like that in Chicago had a lot to do with location and with building a dedicated crowd. Fizz has been the ideal spot to create the atmosphere we want for Rouge. When you walk into Fizz, you walk into a futuristic time capsule. The room is lit primarily by monitors playing frenetically cut images from old cartoons, 8mm burlesque footage, and silent films that I create each month. Many people dress in vests, suits, and flapper style dresses while others are welcome to come as they are. We don’t discriminate against anyone, and really want people to express themselves in a way that feels natural to them. Joe [Vourteque] and I make a big point of welcoming people we have never seen at our night and making them feel at home. The goal here is to build a crowd for this music and create a community around these sounds. The only way to accomplish that is by making people genuinely feel like they are part of the scene and not on the outside looking in at all of us. These last few months have really come to a head and we’ve seen anyone from professional swing dancers to glow-in-the-dark hula-hoop dancers show up. It’s a diverse group of people, and I love that.
3. When did Rouge begin?
Lady Lenux: Rouge began a year ago as a huge one-time event that Joe [Vourteque] threw, renting out a warehouse. It was pretty fantastic. The freak show he had was the best part! Now we’ve been doing this monthly show for like, 6 months I think? Maybe more! It’s gotten better and better every time too! It’s amazing how much time flies!
Vourteque: Our first event was a large show we did at the 311 Space back in, I think, March of last year . We featured two sideshows: Pain Solution for Norway and The Squidling Brothers from Philadelphia as well as Environmental Encroachment and The Ford Theatre Reunion. We also had our resident performer, Lady Lenux as well as the lovely Adela Arson do burlesque and go-go dancing. We brought in over 200 people. It was pretty big. But time didn’t allow us to follow it up so we had to wait until August before we did a significantly smaller version. Rouge has since been a more DJ/burlesque oriented night, which has been great because it allows us to concentrate on the music itself.
Mr. Automatic: Rouge began as a one off on my birthday in March last year . Originally it was more of a variety show/club night at a much bigger venue that did not feel quite right for our aesthetic. It featured a mix of sideshow performers, punk rock bands, marching bands, and DJs. It was a blast, and a lot of people showed up, but I don’t think it had the same vibe as the current incarnation of Rouge.
4. Vourteque and Mr. Automatic, You two are the resident DJs. Do you have plans for guest DJs or other performers?
Vourteque: Eventually we’d like to bring in guest DJs. We’ve already had Lord Justice from the EU out and we’ll be having Good Co. come out in March. Having guests is really contingent on who is passing through Chicago and how much money we have at any given time. We have been consistently getting guest burlesque performers through Lady Lenux who is a fantastic curator. I feel the guest burlesque performers have gone a long way to bring in people who might not have otherwise attended the show.
Mr. Automatic: Next month (March) we are bringing out the band Good Co. and we’ll see where it goes from there. I know Smokey Joe and the Kid were recently planning an East Coast tour so hopefully we can get them and other acts to start making it over to the Midwest. We booked Lord Justice from Berlin a few months back and he played an amazing set.
5. How would you like to see the event grow?
Vourteque: First and foremost, we’re almost at 100 people a month, which is fantastic. I’d love to, of course, see even more people come. As of right now I’m not sure if I’d want to bring in more performers or the like. I think between Automatic, myself and Lenux plus our support team (James Gaynes, Tony Lopez, Pepe Wright and Nina Salem) we have a solid show. So all in all what we really want is to just to get the word out there and have more people enjoy our electro swinging ways!
Mister Automatic: I would eventually like to see it get to the point where Joe [Vourteque], Lenux (our resident burlesque performer), and I can take this thing on the road. Joe has a lot of experience booking tours and shows, and we are both getting ready to drop records soon on my label, Dead 2 Me Records. In Chicago, I’d like to see this get to the point where we hit capacity and you can feel the dance floor bounce.
Lady Lenux: I think what I want to see most is more talent, I wish we could stay open later too haha, I want to have more burlesque, maybe another freak show sometime, guest DJs etc. And I want more people to come and discover this amazing event!
Bonus question: What drink would you pair with Rouge?
Vourteque: Man… I don’t know. I feel like something French with a red hue would be good. But I’m partial to whiskey, so maybe a Boulevardier?
Lady Lenux: I do feel that absinthe should be served at this place haha. I say that because this place is so artistic and has the flair of a 1940’s speakeasy. But I’m not a big drinker, so it’s hard to say!
Mr. Automatic: A Manhattan is always a classy choice.