Interview by
Danny Calvi
Photography by
Joh Olsen
Mixtape by
Aaron Clark

Head Honcho

29-year-old deejay and promoter Aaron Clark has been helping put on his own club night, Honcho, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania since 2012. For this edition of BUTT's beloved mixtape series, he condensed a typical seven-hour night at Honcho into a stealth one-hour mix. Aaron's sets lean toward the weirder, headier side of American dance music. The sound is a little deep, a little funky, a little acidic before it kind of takes off into outer space and then gets a prettier toward the end of the night. Listen, stream and download below.

Aaron grew up in Ohio, but by the time he was legal, he headed straight to the nearest big city, which in his case was Pittsburgh. He sees his adopted city as a kind of ‘Appalachian Detroit’, or as he says: ‘Far enough away from my parents that they couldn’t bug me, but close enough get home’. Back then, he was a regular at Pegasus, a dirty Thursday night basement club that was packed with sweaty dudes every week. These days, the lack of quality music in gay bars has driven music-loving homos to take over more unconventional venues.

Danny: For how long have you been doing your monthly night?
Aaron: We tried to throw one in June of 2012 for pride. That was the very first one, so it’s been coming up on a year and a half now. We went really big and rented this warehouse downtown. But all these old shitty gay bars called the cops on us, and had it raided and shut down. They were pissed that we were treading on their turf, I guess.
So like the old gay guard of Pittsburgh tried to stop your party from happening?
Yeah, and they did, kind of… They shut the warehouse down. We had like five hundred RSVPs on Facebook and two hundred advance tickets sold. It was gonna be huge. The cops were there by eleven. There’s a whole backstory with these bar owners. They’ve been running shitty bars for years and don’t know how to evolve their businesses or adapt, so they just get mad.
That’s so meanspirited! Such a desperate move.
It’s really mean, but we ended up having our party anyway. Our sound guy drove into town at like 11 P.M., and he hauled the sound system across town to the bathhouse, which I had reserved as a backup just in case something went wrong. So within two hours, a smaller party was up and running. People just like hustled. Like drag queens were starting to bartend randomly, people just jumped behind tables and started to make it happen. It was the most frustrating, and also the most magical night.
Sounds amazing.
Yeah, and actually, the bathhouse space that we used that night eventually turned into the club that we use today.
You do your party in a place that used to be a bathhouse?
Well, it was still is a bathhouse upstairs.
Really? Yeah, it adds a really fun element to our party.
What’s the bathhouse called?
It’s called Club Pittsburgh, and the afterhours club we’ve opened there is called Hot Mass. That’s every Sunday morning at 2 A.M.
So you can have a night out dancing, and then go upstairs, strip down and get into a towel?
Totally. For Honcho, you can actually come down in a towel or just be totally nude. And everyone who comes into the bathhouse is allowed to come down to Honcho. It adds a really fun vibe to the whole thing.
So do you get guys in towels on the dance floor?
They usually just kind of blow through — it gets really messy down there. A lot of the guys will get a locker upstairs, put their clothes on, come down to the party for a little bit, then get back upstairs and take their clothes back off. Or they’ll be in underwear… It’s tiny, but it’s really, really fun. It has a vibe I haven’t felt in many other places in the States.
Isn’t that combination of alcohol and sex usually prohibited?
We’ve managed to find every loophole possible in the law with this place. Pennsylvania has some really backwards old laws, but they’re all like swiss cheese.
Like what kind of loopholes?
Well, it’s a private club, so it’s a private party technically, and you sign a waiver when you come in. There are two guests of the party — it’s a BYOB party — but they BYOB an entire bar and just give the booze away. People tip them enough to cover the booze and they walk away with some money, so it works out.
Sounds like a kind of utopia. And does the name Honcho come from the old porn magazine?
That was part of it. Edgar, the other resident and co-founder — there’s a team of six of us — it was his suggestion. It’s definitely a throwback to those old days when things were looser.
And the old guard… Are they still trying to shut you down?
Things have gotten more peaceful now that they realize they can’t really do anything about us. And you know, honestly, this small story of old guard versus new is really a larger story of Pittsburgh, in general. The city’s getting a lot younger, and a lot of those established owners are having a harsh awakening. We got really lucky because the manager of Club Pittsburgh is a Paradise Garage head. He was sick of not having that option. He was open to us and actually encouraged us, so I give him a ton of credit.

Check out Honcho’s dedicated website. Of course, New Yorkers will be treated to one of Aaron’s heady sets when he plays back-to-back with Ryan Smith this Saturday, 23 November 2013 when BUTT & Secret Project Robot present another installment of CLUB BUTT from 10 P.M. to 4 A.M. at 389 Melrose Street in Brooklyn, New York 11237. See and be seen on the event page over here. Entry is $10.

Published on 21 November 2013