New Orleans Music

Bouffant Bouffant Interview [Exclusive]

Bouffant Bouffant (Brett LaBauve) seems to be everywhere in 2017.

From all-night DJ sets at New Orleans dive bars, to dance parties in Paris, to internationally broadcast showcases, this South Louisiana native never looks out of his element.

This talent for navigating any setting with ease translates seamlessly to his DJ style. Bouffant Bouffant mixes tracks, both old and new, into a unified message that compels people to dance.

Although he boasts an impressive catalog of old-school house, disco, 80s pop, and new dance music releases, Bouffant Bouffant started out as an ordinary reveler, spending late nights dancing at a popular New Orleans dive bar where his friends would play DJ sets.

His own venture into DJing and organizing parties began about 5 years ago – a span of time that can feel like a blink of an eye as well as an era in a city that has a complicated history with dance music.

Bouffant Bouffant prepares for the September 2016 edition of Slay City. Image courtesy of Slay City and Daniel Ford Photography.

Over the years, his projects have solidified to include Gimme a Reason, Slay City, and Trax Only, as well as other guest appearances and collaborations. A recent milestone even includes playing the closing set for the first-ever edition of Boiler Room in New Orleans.

This momentous occasion brought out veteran DJs and newcomers to the dance music community alike, and all agreed that Bouffant Bouffant more than earned his billing. With track after track, he kept the entire room dancing and sweating with reckless abandon.

In past broadcasts, Boiler Room often showcased crowds that were reluctant to move. That was not the case for New Orleans. On that night, the crowd came out in full force and danced in defiance of this notion.

To get a feel for Bouffant Bouffant‘s DJing, listen to his “Art of the Party” mix below.

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Fresh off his incredible Boiler Room show, Bouffant Bouffant sat down with River Beats to share his thoughts on the experience, talk about his DJing origins, and much more.

For future shows, stay on the lookout for Slay City, Trax Only, and Gimme a Reason parties.

This Friday, you can catch Bouffant Bouffant as a featured guest of the newly-launched GoodLife Fridays series at Techno Club on 810 South Peters Street. Follow the Facebook event page for more information.

You recently closed out for the first-ever Boiler Room in New Orleans. How did you feel about the whole experience?

It was really fun! I didn’t know what to expect since I had never met the curators before, and only knew a few of the DJs on the lineup. I’ve always been a fan of Boiler Room – I feel like I learned a lot from watching it since I’m from the South and not near any major club scene.

When the producers told me I would be closing out Night 3 it also became very nerve-wracking. I didn’t want to be that lone person playing at the end of the night on Boiler Room. But on the night of the show, all my friends showed up and from the moment I started playing the energy was going off in the entire room.

Amidst the stacked lineup, Bouffant Bouffant was chosen to close out the night.

The artist selection process for Boiler Room was a mystery to the fans. Was it the same sort of black box for you?

Yeah, it was really mysterious. I didn’t know the curator [Jnerio Jarel] that well and I’m not sure how long he’s been in New Orleans. In the weeks leading up, the booking managers [for Three Keys] were peppering me with hints about Boiler Room coming to New Orleans. I found out more after I got my official nomination from Three Keys and my confirmation from Boiler Room.

It was really flattering to be involved in Boiler Room. I’ve been throwing parties in New Orleans for 3-4 years to try and to cultivate some sort of scene. There’s definitely a few other groups in town that have the same goal, so it was exciting to be recognized as part of the “future sound of New Orleans”.

You run a monthly dance party held at Three Keys called Slay City. Can you tell us about Slay City and how it got started?

The Ace Hotel first reached out to me because they’d been throwing warehouse parties in the Downtown/Bywater area for 3-4 years. They wanted me to curate an event at the hotel centered on disco, boogie, and old-school house music. All with a focus on good times and feel-good music. Nothing too intellectual or dark or hardcore.

Ace Hotel has a really cool venue called Three Keys and [the managers] gave me all the creative leeway I needed to run the party. For each party I book local DJs, including at least one guest DJ. For the larger parties like Mardi Gras and Southern Decadence, I’ve been able to bring in bigger-name DJs from out of town like my friend Nark who was with us for Mardi Gras.

An iconic still from Slay City Mardi Gras Edition. Image courtesy of Slay City and Daniel Ford Photography.

Slay City is kind of a funny gathering because it’s not at all a warehouse party. Since Three Keys is in a hotel lobby it has a more posh feel to it, but it’s still very welcoming. The party stops at 2 am, so people can pop in earlier in the night, get their dancing on, then go elsewhere for the rest of the night – because we’re in New Orleans and we can go all night.

I love the cross-section of people that the party brings. There could be a tech convention going on at the hotel and people from the convention could show up alongside my friends who might be in tutus and jockstraps.

I’m hoping to start a podcast soon called Slay City Radio, featuring mixes from past and future guest DJs.

You mentioned the Slay City Radio podcast; do you have any other projects lined up for the near future?

I started getting involved with a crew that’s somewhat new called Trax Only. We’ve been collaborating for about 3 years now, DJing together and throwing really big parties like Mardi Gras and Southern Decadence (bigger than my Gimme A Reason parties). I think we’ll continue DJing together and start touring pretty soon too.

A glimpse of the eclectic crowd at Trax Only’s New Year’s Party. Image courtesy of Trax Only and Daniel Ford Photography.

I didn’t know how to feel about it at first because it feels funny to DJ with other people. But recently we’ve been really gelling together really naturally.

I’m also dabbling in producing my own tracks recently so that’s a big goal for sure. When I was in high school I played the guitar and synthesizers for punk bands so making music is something I’ve always loved. I just never seriously sat down and started putting stuff out, but now that I’m working on producing I’m really excited. It sounds good so I’m liking it so far!

What got you into dance music, and how did that lead into DJing?

When I first moved to New Orleans, I was living in the Lower Garden District. For anyone going out there, all roads lead to the Saint Bar and Lounge at the end of the night.

My friend Joey Buttons would DJ there regularly, so I always ended my night dancing at the Saint alone or with a couple of friends. Either way, I was always really into dancing. Joey Buttons played a lot of funk, boogie, and Italo-disco, so he got me into that kind of music. So in the beginning I was really just into dancing and had no thoughts about DJing.

As cliche as it may sound, I went to Europe for a 6 week-long vacation about 4-5 years ago. I was supposed to stay in Berlin for 3 days but wound up staying for 3 weeks and made some of the best friends I have today. They took me to some of the more “proper” clubs and also introduced me to techno and house music. When I came back home I continued to be really into techno and house but still had no thoughts about becoming a DJ.

Around that time, my friend Ruth (who had a radio show called “Poof the Pop”) was always on my case about DJing and even taught me how to use his controller. One night, he was DJing at the Saint and he talked me into coming up to play. When I got on, he just ran to the bathroom and never came back. [Laughs] 

I ended up DJing the entire night by myself! It was a super fun and bad at the same time – it was definitely not a good DJ set. But ever since then I’ve been obsessed with DJing and haven’t stopped.

Since then, I’ve continued traveling (to New York, Chicago, etc.), going to “proper” clubs, and coming back to New Orleans wanting to create something similar in this city. My DJing and party organizing is part of an effort to create a club environment that doesn’t really exist here outside of Dragon’s Den and events that people like Erik Browne put together.

It must be intimidating, right? You look around and you see so many people who are barely even 18 and they’re already on the turntables or producing music. When you’re getting started in your mid-20s you can’t help but think, “I have a lot of catching up to do”…

Absolutely! I mean, I wouldn’t say I’m the most tech savvy person at all times, but I’ve also been around tech and sound equipment for a while.

Meeting these 17-year-old kids who have already put out an album or two and they’re touring and DJing – it’s definitely intimidating.

But I know that I love DJing and I’m super passionate about it. This is what I want to do.

We looked up the word “bouffant”, and according to Google Translate, it’s a French word that refers to a rounded, puffed out hairstyle. What made you choose that as your DJ name?

I was in art school and I had this really conservative printmaking/figure-drawing teacher. He liked the way I would make these classical figure drawings.

Long story short, I made this linoleum cut print of this lady with a giant head of hair. But I found it so boring because it was just a lady with a bunch of hair. At the very last minute I made her into a bearded lady and added the word “bouffant” repeating everywhere in the background.

When I started DJing off my laptop at house parties, my friends would keep calling me “DJ Bouffant Bouffant”. So when it came time for me to actually DJ for events and somebody asked what my name would be, I already knew the answer – Bouffant Bouffant.

Of course, upon appearance I’m definitely a masculine-looking person but at the same time naming myself after a big Southern haircut is something I find ironic and funny.

I also used to make t-shirts and do art projects under the name Bouffant Bouffant. The tagline was “Southern belle disco princess”. Just another way I would be really Southern and a little bit effeminate in my art.

As you’ve progressed throughout your career, do you feel like you’ve been shoehorned as a queer DJ? Or to flip the script, do you see and prioritize yourself as an artist in the queer community?

This is another thing to be said about New Orleans. I’ve never really made any of my parties to be queer parties or gay parties because I feel like anywhere you go in New Orleans, you could go to a bar or a party and there’s a faction of queerness going on.

Also, everyone is super open and super chill about [queerness] in New Orleans. It hasn’t really been a need so I’ve never made a specifically gay party happen.

Obviously we have to make space for ourselves, but at the same time, in New Orleans, I don’t feel like it’s the kind of community where we need to make a night to fill a niche. Any night you go out feels like it could be a “gay night” or a “mixed night”.

At the same time, being gay and queer, and having most of my friends be gay or queer, our nights out end up being queer nights anyways.

If the “me” that was 20 years old, living in Southwest Louisiana was looking at the “me” now, I would want them to know that I was a queer DJ. But I don’t feel like it’s important for me to come out every single time I DJ and announce, “this is a gonna be queer DJ set!”

I think if you see me with two drinks in me and playing my favorite songs then you can tell I’m gay and dancing. [Laughs] I’m definitely never hiding or denying that, obviously. And I would definitely want any any person asking me to know that I’m a queer DJ. But I don’t think I necessarily play only gay music or throw only gay parties.

The best parties are the most mixed ones where there’s any possible faction there. For our big warehouse parties, you have an Uptown lawyer dancing alongside some Bywater punk kid, you know what I mean? Who knows what gender either one of them are? [Laughs]

I think that there’s an element of “gay disco hedonism” that I think is special and unique to most of my parties that lends itself to having a certain type of freedom that is also more commonplace in New Orleans than other places.

That sounds just like the after-party for your most recent Slay City. It brought such an interesting, diverse crowd from other parties and went on well into the morning too.

It was super cool because the [Mardi Gras Ball] crowd wasn’t necessarily mine, but then I also brought my crowd over from Slay City.

So it was cool that everyone got to mix together. I think something really good that doesn’t always happen in New Orleans is just having enough bodies on the dance floor so that there’s enough anonymity. You just need to have enough bodies there to not feel like everyone’s watching you dance. Then you can feel lost on the dance floor.

That [after-party] was one of the more fun parties I played this year for sure. Everyone was already on 10, they showed up, it was a bunch of people that probably never heard us play before, and like I said, enough people got on the dance floor.

When they’re all dancing, you can throw anything you want at them, and it’s all gonna be good, whereas otherwise, you’re gonna keep throwing them a string or a hook to try to get them to stay on the dance floor.

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