Robert Drake, local out DJ, WXPN radio personality and sonic purveyor of everything that was cool in the 1980s, is set to celebrate his 50th birthday in grand fashion with a blowout at The Trocadero June 15. If you’ve ever been to Sex Dwarf, his monthly ’80s DJ night, you kind of know what to expect. But Drake is going the extra mile to make this party memorable.
“I have the ’80s dance party,” he said. “I have the live performance from the band Bush Tetras, which hasn’t been in Philly for a number of years. I have the ‘Rocky Horror’ screening at midnight with a live performance cast. I have some people who are going to be stopping by to do quick performances. They will be local icons. It will definitely have a Philadelphia flair.”
Drake has been a fixture in the Philadelphia nightclub scene since the beginning of the early 1980s and, needless to say, he’s seen many clubs and trends come and go in his time. We also imagine that he’s had quite a few memorable moments to reflect on.
“The highlights go back to the early years,” he said. “Spinning in the clubs in the 1980s was my best time. Philadelphia in the 1980s … the scene was so strong and it was very DIY. That was where my love for that generation was born, when it was new, and that is why I never let it go. My best memories were spinning in various clubs in Philadelphia back in the 1980s. Specifically one club that comes to mind was a place called the Kennel Club, which was located on Walnut Street. Before it was called the Kennel Club it was called Rainbows and it was a gay disco. Then when it changed hands it became a new-wave avant-garde art club. My foundations were born there.”
These days, the sounds of the ’80s are inescapable with pop, rock and R&B artists embracing classic synth-pop sounds and droves of artists from that era still performing their hits on the summer-tour circuit.
But Drake said he carried the flag for that era even when it wasn’t particularly hip.
“There was a period of time where I really started to embrace that decade,” he said, “It was 2003, around my 40th birthday. I had a big party in the city and decided to play a lot of old stuff from back in the day as party of my 40th birthday. The response from people hearing that music was overwhelming enough for me to say, ‘This has legs. Let’s look into it.’ So I gave birth to a party called Sex Dwarf, a mostly new-wave dance party. I also gave birth to a radio show celebrating the ’80s new-wave scene. At that point, nobody was celebrating the ’80s. The only part of the ’80s that people knew was the pop ’80s, the cheesy parts. I thought it was really important to showcase the quality artists that kind of got forgotten about. Now pop culture has kind of caught up with me. Everywhere I turn I see someone or hear someone embracing the genre in one fashion or another. It makes sense because Madison Avenue always targets the 40-50-year-old crowd. What better way to reach them than to target their youth?”
Not your typical ’80s dance party, Sex Dwarf offers up deep cuts from influential and obscure artists of the era.
But Drake said there are some stars from the era whose music he finds indispensable to his playlists.
“Soft Cell is definitely one of them,” he said. “New Order is definitely one. Another artist that is the foundation of Sex Dwarf is the B-52s. I like to branch out a bit with artists like Grace Jones and more obscure artists like Yello and artists that don’t get recognized enough today. We try to avoid the wedding-party songs, the songs that are really tired that everybody has heard everywhere. Especially now that we have moved it to Ruby Lounge, because of the environment and because it’s a bar and you have places to sit, I’m branching out a bit and play some that is less danceable.”
Sex Dwarf runs every second Saturday at Ruby Lounge in Voyeur, 204 S. Camac St. Robert Drake’s 50th Birthday Blowout takes place 8 p.m. June 15 at the Trocadero Theatre, 1003 Arch St. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/djrobertdrake or call 215-922-6888.