The furry scene: San Francisco’s Frolic party – interview with Neonbunny part 3
by Patch O'Furr
Interview series: Artists, animation directors, DJ’s and event organizers, superfans, and more…
Neonbunny is founding DJ and promoter of Frolic. The 90 minute interview has 4 parts, with one a week posting this month.
- Intro: The most furry place in the universe?
- Part 1) Counterculture to Furry – Neon’s background in the SF Bay Area.
- Part 2) Starting Frolic – Throwing parties and finding other furries.
- Part 3) The furry scene – Frolic’s venue: The Stud – Promoting and operating Frolic.
- Part 4) Controversy and success – Music, DIY culture, Furry events, sex, drama, and more.
3) The furry scene – Frolic’s venue: The Stud – Promoting and operating Frolic.
For many furries in the world, the San Francisco Bay Area is the place to be. For many in the Bay, Frolic is THE most furry place. It isn’t the only center, but it’s an influential one. It’s not just the best Furry party… I’d call it the best party San Francisco has, period. Check out Frolic’s website, and read about it in The Bold Italic magazine.
Neonbunny, founding DJ and promoter of Frolic, met me for a long interview over dinner. His partner Jody who handles tech, lighting and animation was with us. It was a year ago, just after they got back from 2013’s Burning Man event in Nevada. Neon’s early trips to Burning Man led to discovering Furries in the early 2000’s, and making friends to help throw parties. It turned into a scene connected to local counterculture.
(Patch) – The Stud adds a lot of history to Frolic. One of the bar tenders, Bernadette, wanted to talk more about this.
(Neon) – Michael is the owner. He was the manager in the early 1990’s when The Stud was going into financial trouble. It came close to shutting down. He and a few bartenders got together. They would have been fired. The owner needed to sell – it was near going bankrupt. They took out a loan to buy- Michael did most work to be the major shareholder. Maybe not initially, but others sold their shares or died.
It’s important for culture to have places you know you can go where people care.
San Francisco’s Folsom Street area used to have dozens of gay bars. Now it’s down to a couple. It used to be a whole mile stretch from SOMA to the Castro, full of gay bars and clubs back in the 1970’s. AIDS killed a lot of people.
A friend who I know (through dancing in a furry music video together) took me to Powerhouse. He’s connected with the Radical Faeries. It’s one of the only places that still has the old school 1970’s vibe. You go in the back alley – it’s closed off but not technically under the roof, so people do whatever they want back there.
The Stud has history before Michael and the owners bought it. It’s the oldest gay club still still operating. It was established in the late 1960’s, where the Holy Cow is now. It moved to the new place in the 1980’s. It has a history of encouraging counterculture in show and costumes.
Trannyshack, the drag show, ran there for 15 years. It’s the largest (or most established) drag show in the US. It’s so well known, celebs would show up.
Lady Gaga did a show there, before she came out with her album and got famous, she was on their stage. I was there when the band No Doubt came. Bjork came during the Matthew Barney art show at SF MOMA. They wanted an impromptu party, so they showed up on Wednesday night at The Stud. They DJ’ed, word of mouth spread, and people showed up.
The Stud has a history of supporting new countercultures, with a different freak show vibe.
Trannyshack is different from others in the country. It’s SF style drag. Drag elsewhere is about imitating women as perfectly as possible. SF drag is more about gender bending mindfuck. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence started the tradition where it’s OK to have a beard. Just paint it with glitter. On the east coast, you look as much like a woman as you can, or it’s not OK.
Tell me more about getting Frolic started at The Stud. It seems to have done really well in 3 ½ years.
It took a while, and didn’t start out that well. I don’t like to have a party unless it’s a place I know is good to work with, fun to work with, the vibe is right. I always liked The Stud.
Back then, I was doing the Wednesday night party – Trannyshack and Sugar were going strong. So Friday and Saturday weren’t an option because those were well established. But over time the Stud didn’t seek out promoters like other clubs. The other owner was dying of AIDS– he didn’t have much money to put into the bar. The sound system and bathrooms were falling apart. Trannyshack and Sugar stopped doing their nights.
Trannyshack moved to DNA Lounge? I still see it around.
It moved from once a week to occasional events at different places- a boat party, busses to Reno, other venues, one-off big parties.
This reminds me of watching Party Monster, and the Club Kids… the part about the importance of promoting and bringing people in, and connections between drag and fursuiting. Maybe not directly, but in spirit.
It’s about transforming your self into something else. When we did the one-off Frolic event during Fur Con, at Brix in San Jose, I had to explain what furry was – why we needed a booth to change in.
It’s like asking a drag performer to change their wig in public. Not gonna happen. It was a good analogy- people understand drag. It’s transforming your self to be a different gender. Fursuiting is transforming to a different species.
It’s kinda hilarious if you think about it- it’s something absurd that happens in cartoons.
Options are more limited in drag. Fursuiting can change your species, or make multiple cross species.
The last article I wrote was about being a plant. So – it took you guys time to get established. But you’ve had a lot of influence. Maybe like Foxtrot in Denver, or Furriday near San Jose. What else?
There was one in Chicago – “Tails and Glowsticks.” And one-offs – a guy who does dances for Anthrocon does a New Year’s party.
It makes me curious about how this stuff spreads. Inside fandom, that’s easy. But you guys get some decent press too.
SF has a long tradition of celebrating weirdness, unusual art happenings and parties. You see all these parties that have the ART in party capitalized.
Furry is our main crowd, but we don’t want to be selective and say who can and can’t be furry. We’d rather say, this is open to anyone that wants to celebrate furry culture and art. Some people come once, don’t get it, leave and never come back. Some people say “OMG I’m so at home,” come back every month, and next thing you know they have a fursuit and they’re flying to cons around the country.
Haha, right here. My friend who took me to tour Powerhouse brought a buddy who lives above there. He’s one of Sisters. He never had any idea about furries, and now he’ll be there every month.
The Furry scene in general seems to have grown. Look at con attendance getting bigger and bigger. There’s a lot of younger people. People turn 21 and come right to Frolic.
Or they’ll do “Alley Con” instead of going in.
The Stud works because it’s so small. SF laws work that way. If it’s over a certain size, they need one security guard for 50 people. The Stud falls under that size, and it’s grandfathered in, since it’s so old. If it was any other venue, they’d have to hire an extra six employees rather than the usual four. Expenses go up, and we’d have to charge double. If we went to a bigger venue, we’d have to charge double, and try to get twice as many people in.
So we let it grow naturally – we never wanted to just fill it with just any people. It’s why we’re always careful about where we advertise.
Some friends offered to advertise on 99.7 FM. We said no, don’t do that. Maybe hint about furries, but let people find it on their own. Let people dig for it.
It seems like Frolic’s turnout of 200-300 maximizes what the venue can hold. Where do you go from there?
We like it. Any other venue would have kicked us out a long time ago. They put up with us. Drinks are cheap and strong. They like what we do, we like them. Sure we’ve grown, but if we can encourage others to do things themselves, then people have an alternative as well. We’re also doing occasional larger one-offs… during Fur Con at San Jose. Furries in the Wild. Next month we’re teaming up with Bootie – the mashup party at DNA Lounge. Frolic will host the upstairs room.
We like occasional one-off parties. It gives people other options. People don’t need to go out all the time. We’d hope to see Furriday take off, but it’s got some issues with the organizing… (It’s since closed.)
There’s two different ways of doing events, how venues operate.
- Hiring their own entertainment
- Having outside promoters bring it in.
The second one is more common in places with strong nightlife culture. SF has most of that.
San Jose, and smaller suburban places, don’t really have that culture. If they just waited for promoters to bring it to them, it would never happen. So they’re more likely to hire their own DJ’s and entertainment. Doing something in San Jose is way more complex. SF is used to dealing with outsiders.
San Jose, south bay and down the peninsula, still have their own population who want to do stuff.
Yes, people who don’t travel that far, use public transportation, have bikes… They don’t want to come as far as SF to go out. At the same time, one thing I’ve learned from doing parties in the Bay Area – SF is kind of the hub. People will come here. But it’s hard to get people in SF to come out for a party. It is more expensive here though.
That’s why I love the Mission… speaking of crazy people with “gold nuggets”…
I lived there for a while. I once came out to my truck, and a guy had pried it open to sleep in the back. Cops were there pulling him out… he peed back there and left some chicken bones. I’ve had a lot less people trying to live in my doorway since I moved to the East Bay.
It’s interesting to hear differences between SF and San Jose. I was going to bring up music business and DJing in an expensive place like the Bay Area, SF especially – but it has a lot of history, a very active place to be, with stuff going on all the time.
I got into doing music through doing parties. We had a specific aesthetic we were going for. But all the DJ’s we had just played the same stuff they played everywhere else. Instead of a unique collage, WTF style. So I was like, fine, I can play music – these DJ’s want $200 a night and they’re not even playing music I would play – so why don’t I? I bought cheap equipment, taught myself, kept with it, it became a creative outlet.
I thought one would come before the other, but it’s the other way around – promoting came before DJing.
Part 4) Controversy and success – Music, DIY culture, Furry events, sex, drama, and more.
The 90 minute interview has 4 parts, with one a week posting this month.
Check for more next week!