MIDNITE MONSTER HOP!
The Midnite Monster Hop is the long-running monthly event, helmed by Mike Decay, and operated from our favorite New York City tiki bar, Otto’s Shrunken Head. This party been a mainstay of psychobilly music on the east coast of America for thirteen years. We caught up with Mike after a practice with Phantom Creep Theatre, a New York City based spook show troupe that he has been working with for several years. Photographs courtesy of Mike Decay and the Midnite Monster Hop, with photographic contributions by Elisa Gierasch, David Blumenfeld, Gregory Pacheco, Norman Blake and Kogar.
PONYBOY: Let’s start with your name. Why Mike Decay?
MIKE DECAY: The namesake from my short-lived first horror punk zine, Today’s Decay. It was only one issue from twenty years ago. I guess I have a personality to just run with things.
PONYBOY: You have a monthly event in New York City, the Midnite Monster Hop. How long have you been doing this?
MIKE DECAY: The Midnite Monster Hop started in 2003. Mad Sin was booked to play at CBGB’s, and Mike Mortician and I thought since there were going to be a lot of people traveling to New York City to see the band, let’s book an overflow show. Although really, the Midnite Monster Hop was an extension of what I had already been doing in Philadelphia. I booked Phantom Creep Fridays at La Tazza, in Old City, the first Friday of every month from 1998 through 2002. And I’ve been booking Psychobilly bands for over seventeen years now!
PONYBOY: How did you get into booking these events?
MIKE DECAY: My intro into booking shows was with Stephanie Chapman from Spindrift Records, as well as Kenny Kendra. We booked the Klingonz in 1997, as they were doing a mini US tour with the Nocturnal Teds from Sweden.
PONYBOY: Tell us about the psychobilly scene in the US.
MIKE DECAY: The psychobilly scene was a very different place in America back then. Hardly anybody knew what it was! And those that were into it were spread out all over the country. Definitely small pockets of people in Seattle, Los Angeles, and Texas, and we were all linked by a Yahoo email list. As far as the East Coast went, I knew about a half dozen people into it, from Boston down to Baltimore. I randomly met a handful of people at various shows or on St. Mark’s street, and we’d exchange contact info and send mixtapes to each other. There was basically nowhere to buy or even hear records! I actually made a psychobilly mixtape and placed an ad in the back of Maximum R’n’R, saying that I’d send people a copy of it if they sent me a dollar for postage. And it worked! I made some friends and penpals out of it! That said, it’s not as if anyone was strictly into psychobilly, as everyone was going to rockabilly and punk shows as well. It’s just psychobilly was like a secret club or something.
When I was living in Philly during my college years, it wasn’t easy to get into punk shows. And at bars, there were rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll shows at places like Upstairs at Nicks. But it wasn’t easy to get into 21+ places with huge hair and a baby face! So I decided to put on my own shows. I started at the Killtime, a punk rock squat in West Philly. Since it worked so well at the Klingonz show, I mixed local psychobilly, lo-fi horror r’n’r, and punk rock bands on the bill. And I was able to get a friend, Tim Swisher (Elvistein from the Pits) to pick up kegs for me. I wrote on the flyers at the time something like, “There will be kegs, and it’ll cost a $6 entry fee, and that’ll mean you can drink all night for free and we won’t card you!” Anything to get punks to a psychobilly show!
I remember a bunch of young punk kids joking about the Brimstones’ matching uniforms, or the Pits’ monster makeup. But by the end of each show, those punk kids would be drunk and dancing around to the bands, and they’d show up at the next shows too! I was booking bands like TR6, Hillbilly Werewolf, the Pits, the Brimstones, Photon Torpedoes, just to name just a few!
I then moved to an actual bar and live venue, La Tazza. The owners, Frank and Tammy, were so great to me. I guess that was the official start of Phantom Creep Fridays, since before that at the Killtime, I hadn’t named my shows yet. I brought all the bands I was booking at the Killtime shows to Phantom Creep Fridays, and was able to get a lot more band, now that we were in a more convenient space. The same goes for the crowd. We were now getting packed rooms full of Philadelphia punks, skinheads, rockabillies, etc. because word of mouth was traveling I guess. And we’ve always mixed the bill because when it’s good, it’s all just genre-less rock’n’roll. This was about the time I saw the Boston Blackouts, just before they changed their name to the Kings of Nuthin. Gregg and Joanne Van Vranken booked them at one of their legendary Rodeo Bar nights, and the band blew my mind! I was lucky enough to book them many times as well. It never got old seeing them pull up in their vintage bread truck, and struggling to bring their upright piano down two flights of stairs!
PONYBOY: Tell us about your involvement with the 2000 New York Psychobilly Big Rumble?
MIKE DECAY: It was a Spindrift Records event. I was the band coordinator and stage manager. Nearly thirty bands over three days and nights at the Birch Hill in New Jersey, with shuttle coach buses to a local large hotel where everyone was staying. We also booked overflow shows at CB’s on the days before and after. What a crazy weekend that was! People flew out from all over the country, all over the world really. There had never been anything attempted on this level in the USA, so everyone came!
It helped that we had a killer lineup. Batmobile’s “last show ever,” Nekromantix, Quakes, Caravans, Calavera, Tim Polecat, Hangmen… tons more! I’m proud to say this was the first introduction of the Kings of Nuthin’ to the world beyond the East Coast shows they’d played up until that point. Although really I’d say everyone was there to see Demented Are Go, which turned out to be a problem since Spark was in jail! The Scum Rats (who were only booked to play our Thursday pre-show at CBGB’s) were a last-minute fill-in! And what a fill-in they were!
If that wasn’t enough, our Monday night overflow show was in the CBGB’s gallery, which was in the basement next door to the historic CB’s. I don’t remember the complete lineup, but definitely, the Gettin’ Headstones from Atlanta Georgia and Tim Polecat & Jet Black Machine were on the bill. When Tim got on stage, maybe two songs into his set, he jumped up and grabbed onto a pipe that was right above the stage. He took one good swing on it, and all of a sudden, the pipe broke! Tons of water started gushing all over the stage, all over the floor, and within minutes it had covered the floor and was rising! The water was already past our ankles by the time the Fire Department arrived and they were able to shut it off. Everyone scattered like rats and we were left shaking our heads over what had just happened. What a weekend! And to make matters worse, I was only 20 years old and not allowed to drink!
PONYBOY: Tell us more about the Midnite Monster Hop…
MIKE DECAY: By the end of 2002 I had moved back to New York City. And I had also filmed a documentary, Psychobilly: A Cancer on R’n’R, in England and Europe at about this time. We started the Midnite Monster Hop up in the relatively newly opened Otto’s Shrunken Head. In part I guess from filming the documentary and my work with the NY Rumble, I had connections throughout the world with touring bands. I was lucky enough to get Girard from Deja Voodoo (with Bloodshot Bill on drums), Reverend Beat-Man, Nigel Lewis from the Meteors & Tall Boys, Sasquatch, Memphis Morticians, Zombie Ghost Train, Gutter Demons, Lonesome Kings, Tombstone Brawlers, Butchers, Nikki Hill…I can go on and on! Some of my personal favorite times were early on when we brought a full-size Egyptian mummy to the bar, and welcomed the audience to rifle through the mummy’s bandages in search of treasures, and we waived all legal responsibility as to where, when, or how, the mummy would awaken to retrieve its stolen property! We also hosted Troma Studio’s 30th Anniversary party, where the original “Welcome to Tromaville” sign was displayed across the length of the bar on the banquettes. It was huge and we schlepped that all the way from Hell’s Kitchen on the subway! We had a bunch of people dressed as Sgt. Kabukiman, NYPD, the Toxic Avenger, and even the Toxic Crusader. Lloyd Kaufman even showed up! Both bands that night, Sasquatch & the Sickabillies, and the Party Wreckers from Philadelphia, loved all the insanity. I know we had a mop battle next door in Kennedy Fried Chicken between foam rubber versions of real-life-Toxie & cartoon-Toxie! Then there was that time we set up a tattoo parlor on one side of the room and had the Butchers play in the other corner, surrounded by a heaving crowd! The tattoo artist was doing “1960’s images for 1960’s prices!” Famous Monster-type imagery for like $15 apiece! People were lined up till 4 AM!
PONYBOY: Have you ever considered moving to a larger venue?
MIKE DECAY: On occasion, we have booked larger venues when touring bands are coming through. But in general, I don’t like doing that. I have an affinity for Otto’s Shrunken Head. Plus, I really appreciate the intimacy the venue offers.
PONYBOY: What can you tell me about Phantom Creep Radio?
MIKE DECAY: This is a really exciting development! About two or three years ago, Mike Mortician moved on to other things and I had an offer to have a spook show group, Phantom Creep NYC. They mainly put on larger sold-out events at Coney Island USA, Bowery Electric, Nitehawk Cinema, and Morbid Anatomy Library. They wanted to put on a radio show at the Midnite monster hop. I was not too sure how it was going to work, because I’m used to taking the lead on a lot of our events. But there’s the Mighty Moloch, Greg-Gory, Isadora Spivey, Ek the Ghoul, and a bunch more characters. I don’t even know which ones are showing up or not but I’m honored to host them! Their back library of podcasts is on iTunes and getting a lot of really incredible press! I don’t know if a group of monsters, basically like classic 1950’s/1960’s TV horror hosts have ever hosted a radio show before. The only one that I can think of would have been Pete “Mad Daddy” Myers. If we’re continuing his legacy, then I can die a happy guy!
PONYBOY: How has the content of the Midnite Monster Hop evolved?
MIKE DECAY: We book the same style of bands that we always have. I think the Phantom Creep guys compliment the atmosphere provided by the bands. The bands are definitely an important part of the success of the Midnite Monster Hop. There are other DJ nights, but combining the Phantom Creep craziness with the specific live bands, that’s what I think is the main audience draw. We just booked a great new horror-surf band, the Primitive Finks, and it turns out they’re ex-members of Full Blown Cherry, a rockabilly band from Philly I used to book all the time, over fifteen years ago! I had no idea! We’ve had some colossal bands play in recent years, and often times we’ve been contacted by bands looking to travel great lengths to meet the Phantom Creep guys and take part in Phantom Creep Radio. The Delusionaires traveled up from Florida the other month, and the Surfin Wombatz (and the Loveless) are flying in from England specifically to play our Halloween show! That’s insane to me, but I couldn’t be more honored!
From a musical perspective, we’ve always spun anything from rhythm & blues, rockabilly, garage, teddy boy, punk, psychobilly, to trash – as I’ve said before, I think genres disappear when the music is good enough! In recent years we’ve been inspired by a lot of original novelty/rock’n’roll 45’s recorded by regional horror hosts, as well as the viewpoint of rock’n’roll held by a lot of Teddy Boys. I don’t think a good DJ needs to spin strictly as obscure tracks as possible. There’s something special in the classics. That’s the stuff that gets the whole room singing along! I think you could compare the relationship between rock’n’roll & rockabilly to the differing takes on DC and Marvel comics. Jerry Lee Lewis has had documentaries made on him, he was all over television, the newspapers has had lots of books written about him – he’s like Superman! All the DC heroes are like a pantheon of gods! Compare that to someone like.. Jack Starr! Who? Exactly! He’s like your friendly neighborhood Spider-man! The original 1960’s Marvel take on superheroes was to make them troubled, flawed kids. That’s rockabilly! Does that make any sense? Aaaah work-in-progress theory!
PONYBOY: How do you see the future of the Midnite Monster Hop?
MIKE DECAY: I’m pretty inspired by the likes of Billy and Miriam from Norton Records, Gaz Mayall , and Dan Coffey. Crazy men and women that have just been plugging away doing what they love for years and years. My grandpa imparted this insight to me: It’s tricky how quickly time passes. One day you blink and realize you’ve spent your entire life doing what you love, so you better get to it!