By Amanda Farrell-Low
If you’ve ever stepped into the subterranean nightclub that occupies 1325 Government Street over the past 25 years, you’ve probably seen David Tillson doing any number of things. Maybe it was bussing tables at what was then Pal’s Cabaret in the mid-’80s; or perhaps, in more recent days, you’ve seen him flitting about the room, fulfilling his duties as manager of what is now Hush Nightclub. But one place you would never see him was behind the turntables — that is, until recently.
Nowadays, you can wander down Hush’s staircase most Sundays to hear Tillson’s Rewind and Relive DJ night, where he spends three hours playing some of his favourite ’80s tunes, ranging from well-known Top 40 anthems to more obscure Italidisco tracks. Once a month, Tillson forgoes his DJ gig to perform as his drag alter-ego, Shelita Buffet, alongside longtime drag show co-conspirator Princess Psycho Bruce — marking Sunday night drag’s return to Hush after a several year absence.
Being the manager of Hush, Tillson has seen a lot of DJs behind the decks and a lot of musical styles come and go. He wanted to create a night where he could, essentially, rewind and relive his clubbing days in the ’80s, where he was exposed to both drag and underground electronic music.
“I think the quote is ‘Some dance to remember.’ It was a lot of fun. The music was bubbly and happy,” he says. “I am being super self indulgent, because you can be when you’re the manager.”
While Tillson admits he’s far from the best DJ in town, he says his nights are more about exploring a concept or genre than matching beats.
“I might have a great idea, and then get every sound around that idea, or else I’ll do a section of Italidisco, or do a section of really bad synth pop,” he says. “I’m playing a lot of Top 40, a lot of stuff that people can sing along to.”
The idea to bring drag back to Hush after a several-year hiatus came when Tillson ran into Bruce after he did a show with Cheesecake Burlesque.
“He was like, ‘I had so much fun. You put on makeup and you can be 20,’” says Tillson. “I saw how much fun he had and it became a, ‘Hey, we should do this.’”
Other than a handful of performances at Pride, Tillson hadn’t strapped on his heels and donned a wig since Hush’s long-running weekly Drag-o-Rama show dissolved a few years back.
“There’s only so many ideas you can come up with,” he says of the group’s decision to call it quits. “Don’t get me wrong, we came up with a lot of brilliant ideas … Some of it was lowbrow, some of it was highbrow, some of it was just silly, some of it was just fun.”
Returning to drag was nerve-wracking for Tillson, and not because he was worried about walking in heels; last year, Tillson decided to give up drinking (“I found that alcohol stole my productivity in so many subtle ways, and so many major ways as well. It was the subtle ways that really hurt the most,” he says) and the inaugural Rewind and Relive drag performance in March was the first one he could recall doing sober.
“Did I get stage nerves? Oh yeah. I was shaking; I botched half the choreography,” he says. Despite that, he’s having a blast. “We have ideas and we’re rewriting some stuff. It’s still fun to me.”
Giving up alcohol was also a big motivating factor in his decision to start collecting records and take up DJing. Tillson figures that, between raiding the treasure trove of vinyl in Hush’s DJ booth, scouring second hand stores in Victoria, Nanaimo and Vancouver and ordering online, he’s amassed 1,000 records in less than a year. So much for saving money when you give up drinking.
“Let’s be honest, I am flat broke,” he says. “I have spent all my savings on records.”
Sounds like he wouldn’t trade it for anything, though. M
Rewind and Relive runs every Sunday from 9pm-12am at Hush Nightclub, 1325 Government Street.
Drag shows run once a month, with the next one happening Sunday, April 22, featuring Shelita Buffet, Princess Psycho Bruce, Vancouver’s Vera Way and a guest DJ performance by Koosh. Visit hushnightclub.ca for details.