Blood, glitter, and jizz | Music Feature | Chicago Reader

Blood, glitter, and jizz 

Outrageous gay synth-pop band Daan have reinvented themselves as Baathhaus—but they haven't forgotten where they came from

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Jesse Hozeny, Dan Foley, and Jesse Young carrying Patrick Andrews

Jesse Hozeny, Dan Foley, and Jesse Young carrying Patrick Andrews

John Sturdy

Last Halloween at Beauty Bar's Monday-night variety show, Salonathon, I happened to see a synth-pop group called Daan—a trio of svelte gay men who on this particular evening were decked out S&M style, in black hot pants, leather chest harnesses, chains, and studded codpieces. The moment they hit the stage they launched into a tightly choreographed dance that would've made a boy band blush—between the lascivious petting and pelvic thrusting, two members took turns literally picking up the third by the crotch. The front man made a beeline for the crowd, mike in hand, slinking smoothly through the crowd and between the rows of benches, and as he went he grabbed glasses of beer from strangers' hands and downed them—sometimes between his lines, sometimes when he was obviously supposed to be singing.

But Daan had a lot more going for them than sexy dancing and an unusual way of breaking the fourth wall. The music melded gritty quasi-industrial beats and paleofuturistic 80s synths into outgoing, hooky melodies, and because everything but the vocals was prerecorded (all three members sang), the band could concentrate on its stage show—in this case, a loosely sketched story about a leather-­daddy vampire biker gang abducting an audience member (actually a friend playing along) and turning her into a dominatrix. Even taking into account the fact that dance clubs are generally pretty gay friendly, Daan's outrageousness pushed some boundaries. It wasn't just titillating—it was punk as fuck.

As it turns out, that Halloween extravaganza was just the tip of the iceberg. I soon learned that Daan had been putting on shows like this since early 2010, sometimes as many as two or three a month, every one with different costumes, dances, and songs.

During a show devoted to robot fetishes, one member attached "female" pieces of PVC pipe to his body with medical tape, and the other two screwed the "male" pieces into the sockets; later in the production someone tried to connect a dryer-vent hose he was wearing on his arm to one of his bandmates' dicks. For a 2010 Valentine's Day gig at Boystown bar Cocktail, one member played a butcher who rips out his bandmates' hearts—made of sponge and hidden under the men's shirts in ziplock bags, the hearts were soaked in stage blood, waiting to be wrung out. The band earned a reputation fast, and landed gigs opening for glammy Toronto synth-pop act Diamond Rings and Brazilian electronic rockers CSS.

Another thing I didn't know last Halloween was that Daan would only put on two more big productions before going on hiatus in early 2012. But now they're back, reinvented as Baathhaus—the first show for their new incarnation, which adds a live drummer, is this Friday at the Empty Bottle.

The three original members of the band—Dan Foley, Jesse Young, and Patrick Andrews—are all current or former theater people, but with the arrival of Jesse Hozeny from Pink Frost on drums, they're scaling back the onstage business in their performances. Previously nobody played any live instruments, but now all three will handle synths—not just triggering preprogrammed sequences but also playing melodies in real time. They'll also augment Hozeny's beats with a single drum they'll pass around. Many up-and-coming bands couldn't hang on to an audience through that kind of shift, especially after falling silent for nearly a year, but Baathhaus has always thrived on change.

Baathhaus has its roots in fall 2007, when Dan Foley, now 27, moved to Chicago from Ohio. He'd always wanted to try making music, and with a little help from Home Recording for Musicians for Dummies, he began creating tunes in Ableton. In November 2009 Foley made his live debut during a Wednesday-night variety show at Mary's Attic, the lounge above Andersonville bar and restaurant Hamburger Mary's. Backed by an iPod, Foley performed as Daan; he got the idea to add a second "a" to Dan from a New York Times article about Indian numerologists who advise people and companies to make slight changes to their names to increase their odds of success. "There's some celebrities over there that are in the Bollywood industry who had it done, and they fucking swear by it," he says. "They're rich off their tits now."

Jesse Young and Patrick Andrews were in the audience that night. Young had been friends with Foley for a couple years, and Foley had already talked to him about helping create a stage show (though they'd yet to get started). Young, 30, had moved to Chicago in 2008 to help former SNL cast member Nora Dunn with an adaptation of Augusta at the American Theater Company, but he was also interested in doing theater outside the format of the traditional stage play. Young in turn had recruited his friend Andrews to help with choreography. Andrews, 27, had moved to Chicago in 2005 after performing in town on a national Broadway tour of Fosse: The Musical. Foley's project seemed to promise to fulfill a desire of his own: "I always wanted to be a fly-boy go-go dancer," Andrews says.

Daan's butcher-themed Valentine's Day show at Cocktail called for so much fake blood that all three of them ended up drenched in it, and the stage was so slick they slipped around trying to dance.

Foley also has a theater background—he studied performance in college—but he hadn't stuck with it, and he felt awkward at Mary's Attic. He even told the audience. "I'd never met him," Andrews says. "And he was up there onstage by himself and he was so adorable."

Foley, Young, and Andrews began working together, though they weren't sure at first who was doing what. "I thought Patrick was going to choreograph other people, and we would sort of curate a show with other people," Young says. The day of Daan's first show as a group, in January 2010, they were still sorting out that confusion.

"Three hours before the show we choreographed four songs," Foley says.

"I had no idea—I didn't think that I was going to be performing," Young says.

"Right, and I thought you were," Andrews says.

"And you thought I was," Young says. "So I was like, 'OK, let's just do it for the show,' and then people lost their tits, as they say in the industry."

Soon they arrived at a more stable working arrangement and started firing on all cylinders, translating the sex, longing, and angst in Foley's aggressive synth-based music into a show that was part pop concert and part performance art. Their butcher-themed Valentine's Day show at Cocktail called for so much fake blood that all three of them ended up drenched in it, and the stage was so slick they slipped around trying to dance—but it was a hit. "People were salivating," Andrews says.

"It's this really accessible, weird performance art," says Big Dipper, a local queer rapper and frequent collaborator. "They're funny, they're dramatic, you can tell they're having a really good time doing what they want." He's done a lot of jobs for the band—stage manager, artistic consultant, live videographer—and Foley has produced some of the MC's music and backed him onstage.

From the beginning Daan had it in mind that no two shows would be the same—each one would debut a new narrative. "We were generating new songs for most of those shows, new choreography, new costuming," Young says. "Everything was new for every show, which sort of kept us excited for a little bit." The group would create intricate backstories for their characters after hitting upon an idea; the Salonathon Halloween show came out of a conversation about campy 80s vampire movie The Lost Boys.

At nearly every Daan show, someone would approach the band about another date. The band gigged during Pride weekend, did a couple fund-raisers for About Face Theatre, and played at quasi-underground fringe spaces (Reversible Eye Gallery), traditional venues (Elbo Room, Town Hall Pub), and nightclubs (Berlin). One of Daan's first dates at Berlin was a 2010 Lollapalooza preparty headlined by Lady Gaga's tour DJ, Lady Starlight. In May 2010, About Face marketing director Jane Beachy booked Daan for an art party at Gold Coast salon Studio 110; she later became the group's manager and snagged them an opening slot with Diamond Rings at the Bottle in March 2011. That show went over so well, Beachy says, that it helped her secure a Monday-night spot at Beauty Bar for Salonathon, which she launched in summer 2011.

At first Foley focused on music, Andrews on choreography, and Young on direction, but as Daan evolved those roles blurred. The majority of the band's recordings (which they posted on Soundcloud) used multiple tracks of Foley's vocals, rather than singing from all three like the live show, and he handled most of the instruments too. By the middle of 2011, though, that began to change. Andrews says the turning point came when he contributed lyrics to "Cave Song," a sprawling trance number. "That song was one of our first that really started to come from all three of us," he says.

Soon Daan decided they wanted to be a bit more like a band—less theatrical, more about playing music live. "We feel pretty solid in the performance aspect and that people are engaged, but we also have this desire to have people dance," Foley says. Last fall they reached out to Hozeny, whom they'd met through Beachy, but then their lives got so hectic that they had to step away from Daan before they could start working with him.

Andrews was in the Goodman Theatre's staging of Red, which took him to the east coast at the beginning of 2012. Daan didn't have time for their usual full-bore productions, and after an acoustic set for a friend's birthday at Town Hall Pub in March, they decided to take a break. Andrews returned to Chicago in April, but at that point he had a role in the Goodman's The Iceman Cometh, a nearly five-hour play; the hiatus stretched into the summer. The three of them never doubted that they'd revive the band, but Foley, who describes himself as anxious, didn't mind not having to deal with the pressure to perform. "Thinking that we'll never do a show again, I actually didn't feel that bad," he says.

After Iceman wrapped Daan had a couple intense sessions to figure out a new direction for the group. That's when they settled on the change to Baathhaus—it wasn't tied to just one member's name, and the double "a" was a tip of the hat to "Daan."

In early September they recruited Hozeny as a full-time member, and since then they've been practicing three times a week, learning how to perform material that they previously used only as canned tracks. "That is something we've never done before," Andrews says. "It feels very vulnerable and very kind of exactly what we're trying to do—like, push ourselves in a sort of uncomfortable spot to see what comes out of that." According to Hozeny, it's going well. "I've been really surprised by how much the deconstruction process has then led to a more organic thing," he says.

Baathhaus regrouped without a show lined up to prepare for, but then Diamond Rings announced another date at the Bottle and they jumped on it. They aren't too worried about sorting out what they'll do after that gig, even though big changes are afoot. Young plans to move to New York in April, but nobody seems to think it'll break up the band; Young is optimistic that it'll help Baathhaus get booked on the east coast.

For now they're keeping they're heads down, focusing on the Diamond Rings show—it'll be their first time playing their music live, and it's sure to be a challenge for them to maintain their signature theatrics too. They wouldn't say exactly what the show's going to be like—they don't want to ruin the big reveal—but they drop hints.

"There'll definitely be fake blood," Young says.

"Some fake blood, some glitter probably," Andrews says.

"Possibly glitter," agrees Young.

"Maybe some semen," adds Andrews.

"Maybe a little jizz," Young says. "Who knows."

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