Haus of Phag met with CDS to talk about the rise and rise of the Pop Curious? brand and where it will go from here:
CDS: It started in about 2007 and it was originally a pop and indie night - a bit like a more commercial Bollox - and that night was called Spending Daddy's Money. It ran for about a year and a half at Retro Bar, but the problem was that it had a midweek slot and it's very difficult to get people out on a schoolnight. Eventually I rebranded it without the guitars as Pop Curious? and that ran for about five months but as it was still on a weeknight, we were only getting about thirty people through the door. Instead of trying to flog a dead horse, I decided to call it a day. But then I became friends with the people who run Off The Hook and Drunk At Vogue and decided to help them out at Kraak, working on the door. I saw how popular these evenings were and thought that while they were covering the Disco and R&B side of things, maybe it was time to rethink Pop Curious? and so I eventually brought that back in 2012, this time at Kraak.
Haus: I get the impression that Pop Curious? has become one of the most popular of all these nights.
CDS: Pop Curious? has been very lucky because there's been call for it to be running sometimes three times a month, while other nights might only run once a month or once every quarter. There's definitely a market for a quality pop night in Manchester. However, we have now moved venue, so even though we started running twice a month at Kraak, we are about to move over to The Ruby Lounge, which is much bigger and thus a bit of a gamble, so we'll be going back to once a month again, but with an additional Pop Curious? night, maybe every quarter, too. This includes Girl Power!, which will now be run under the Pop Curious? brand, as well as Sorted!, which will be our new 90s commercial dance night.
CDS: To play pop music without the shit.
Haus: What do you class as 'shit'?
CDS: Well, it's very subjective. There are many places on Canal Street that will cater for the cheesier end of the market. A lot of places will still quite happily play Steps, the Vengaboys... bands you could possibly call 'Kiddy Pop'... and there's nothing wrong with that. There are loads of places that do that and do it very well, so it was pointless trying to replicate it elsewhere. So I decided to play the music that I and my friends like: Róisín Murphy and Annie for example, or album tracks from big bands like Girls Aloud and the Sugababes that could be thrown into the mix as well. Those are the kind of things you wouldn't hear at the other pop nights in Manchester.
Haus: Would you say that your nights basically play the music that Pop Justice would want to play?
CDS: Well Pop Justice has had a massive influence on my musical tastes since I first started reading it in 2001. I actually used to write for them at one point and I probably agree with about 80% of their recommendations. Pop is a very subjective thing and I just play what I think is good - which is why I tend to DJ for the majority of the night at Pop Curious?. I always like to have one guest DJ per night, but as I found out when I first started running the nights: if you have too many DJs, they play what they think Pop Curious? is about and it doesn't always match with my vision.
Haus: And you're the man with the plan.
CDS: Well... people do seem to agree with what I like to play.
CDS: When I first set up the Facebook events, I asked people for mask and song requests and I do my best to accommodate as many of the requests I get through as possible. So if someone wants me to do a Mel & Kim mask, I will try and hunt down a quality image and bang it on a bit of cardboard for them. But it all depends on whether I can find a picture with a good enough resolution, as you don't want it to end up all pixelated. The Girl Power! night has problems because, as it's very 90s, there aren't many high quality images of the girlbands, unless you're talking about the All Saints or the Spice Girls. For example Cleopatra, the Honeyz or Hepburn; sometimes you find the image, but you can't stretch it because it's not of good enough quality.
Haus: Your nights are about to move their venue, from the Northern Quarter's Kraak to the more central Ruby Lounge. What has prompted this move?
CDS: Well it's going to be a huge gamble because Pop Curious? has been doing really at Kraak and I know they really didn't want to let us go, but in moving to The Ruby Louge, it will hopefully let us move onto the next stage for the nights, which is hopefully to turn it into Manchester's equivalent of G-A-Y in London, although with a Pop Curious? spin on it. I'd like to get some pop acts every so often - not every week, but ones that I think the crowd would appreciate coming over and doing a DJ set or a live performance. To do that, you need a larger space to accommodate that sort of set-up and Kraak doesn't have much in the way of backstage facilities, but The Ruby Lounge does have that; dressing rooms and the like. As I said, it's a massive gamble as you could kill it by moving it to a new venue. People love Kraak, as I do, but sometimes you just have to take a risk to get anywhere.
Haus: Would you say that your nights are primarily gay nights?
CDS: I think the majority of the people who go are of the homosexual persuasion, but we do get quite a lot of straight girls and the occasional confused boy... I've never really thought about it. Maybe 'straight friendly' I suppose.
CDS: I just think of it as a night for people who like good pop music. I don't have to brand it as gay... There's a whole conversation we could have about gay men and pop music, which I'm sure Haus of Phag has already touched on at some point
Haus: Indeed we have. (Click here to read the 'Gays & Music' article)
CDS: If you like decent quality pop music, the night is for you.
Haus: Have you had any negative reaction from The Village Association for tempting a considerable chunk of their weekly revellers away from the village?
CDS: I don't think the Pop Curious? crowd is necessarily the Village crowd. I run Pop Curious? Xtra on Canal Street at the moment at Void and that's been an eye opener. I'd always fancied playing on Canal Street as a DJ and now that I've had that opportunity, I can see that the crowd we get to Pop Curious? Xtra are completely different. They're more of a fan of the cheesier side of things and they're also much more into the current chart trends; for example if I tried to play an Annie track or something from Róisín Murphy's second album it would probably kill the dancefloor. I've experimented, but they don't respond well to stuff they don't know. Because the Canal Street crowd is very different, when I decided to move venue, I realised it was important to find another venue in the Northern Quarter that would hopefully keep the same crowd, rather than going to somewhere on Canal Street.
CDS: Ryan, who runs Kiki and Void, contacted me via Facebook about putting on a weekly regular night and he originally wanted to put on Pop Curious? there. But knowing the Canal Street crowd, I thought I'd much rather create a Pop Curious? branded spinoff so that people would know it's different from the weekend nights. I'm very glad we went about it that way because the music we play at Void is more commercial than we'd play on a weekend. It's what people are buying and want to hear, so I'll play happily it at Void - though I still don't understand how you can dance to Drunk In Love. People just seem to stop dancing and move on the spot like those dancing flowers from the 90s.
Haus: What do you think is the biggest problem with the gay scene in Manchester at the moment?
CDS: I'm approaching my mid 30s now and Canal Street is no longer somewhere that I would necessarily think of going to for a night out, even though I'm a homosexualist. In some ways, it seems to have become a race to the bottom for many venues on Canal Street. Many are competing to provide the cheapest night out and obviously when you start lowering your prices, the crowd will come in that you market to. If you're constantly providing drinks offers, or free shots, then you're going to get a crowd that are there for the alcohol and not the night itself. If you want people to choose to come and get drunk on your premises then that's great, but it's not necessarily where I would choose to go for a night out. But there are places that have stuck to their guns - The Molly House for example - and if you provide something that no-one else is providing and market it well, people will at least decide to give it a go out of curiosity.
CDS: Well yes, which is why they're designed as spin-off nights. Pop Curious? is pop music from the 80s, 90s, 00s and now. VS. is definitely a niche night because it's one act versus another act, so if you don't like one or the other of those acts you're probably not going to have the night of your life, but it's well advertised so you know exactly what it is you're getting. We relaunched Britpop Curious? at Kraak last month and that was the busiest one we've had in forever, but that's for the 30-somethings who remember guitar-pop and it's not saying that it's Suede vs. Pulp - it's the whole gamut, in the same way that Pop Curious? covers the whole gamut of pop. I wouldn't say Britpop Curious? is too niche, it's just a genre night, like having an R&B night. But yes, because VS. is so likely to polarise opinion, that's why it's not every month and only once every now and then.
Haus: So you've had Britney vs. Gaga, Girls Aloud vs. Sugababes and Kylie vs. Madonna. Did they do as well as you'd hoped?
CDS: They did as well as I expected really, but the screams you get when you play some of the lesser known songs by those artists are priceless really.
CDS: Initially I hadn't even contemplated it, but Tilly was very persistent in her efforts to become the hostess... I became familiar with her through Cha Cha Boudoir and I eventually realised that she is a pop drag queen - she likes her Britney and her Ke$ha - so I said she could present the night. And now she's become a part of the furniture and I don't think I could Pop Curious? without her. She's very good at what she does and she's a filthy dancer!
Haus: So tell me about The Imogen Styles. Is the group on hiatus for now?
CDS: The last gig we did was in last July when we headlined the Roadhouse, but because I've been building the clubnights, other hobbies have had to take a backseat. However, I have now got some new songs and I'm going to be meeting up with Syma, who's the other half of the band, in the next couple of weeks and we're going to be finally doing something that's of a quality that you can buy. That's hopefully going to be this summertime.
Haus: In May, Pop Curious? is welcoming Michelle Visage, of RuPaul's Drag Race fame, to Manchester. How and why did this come about? And what do you have planned for the night?
CDS: One of the Pop Curious? attendees messaged her on Twitter when she was saying that she was coming to the UK and said that Pop Curious? would love to have her. We were linked in on the tweet and it got me thinking, "well, we would love to have her" and I contacted her management and Michelle is now coming on Saturday 24th May to The Ruby Lounge. She'll be coming on stage to say hello; staying in the venue for most of the night at a little desk we'll have for her; there will be a 'Lip-Sync For Your Life' competition with Manchester and possibly other North West drag queens competing for that... It will be Pop Curious? with a Drag Race spin; RuPaul songs, songs from other finalists and Michelle will be there all night.
CDS: She will be giving her critique of them, but the winners will be chosen by the crowd.
Haus: So what's next for Pop Curious? and your nights? Would you make them more frequent? Take your empire to other cities?
CDS: Well Michelle is our first big name, but I'm already in negotiations to get someone in for the Pop Curious? special at Pride.
Haus: Any hints on who that might be?
CDS: Not at the moment, no. I don't want to let anyone down if they don't end up coming, but at the moment I have several people in mind for the night on the Saturday of the Bank Holiday weekend in August. I'll maybe get someone for Christmas as well, plus I'm hoping to get some DJ sets from new pop acts as well, if they're willing to come up to Manchester and play a set for us. It may not be the type of music you'd hear on the radio, but may well be the sorts that Pop Justice might play, which is why it's so great for Pop Curious? to be a part of the Queer Alt collective in Manchester - just to show that there's something else to do than go to your usual haunts.
Haus: So there's no plans to take Pop Curious? to Liverpool or Leeds?
CDS: Liverpool is a question mark - I'm going to be looking at that maybe at the end of the year. But first things first, we need to make sure that Pop Curious? works at the new venue, as The Ruby Lounge is about twice as big as Kraak. Once that's fully established, then I might start thinking about taking Pop Curious? elsewhere too.