Tork Shaw is the very embodiment of the word frenetic. Even when he’s sitting curled up on his couch for our interview, the manic energy he gives off is palpable. The fast paced speech and wild gestures are eminently positive and friendly, though, and certainly make conversations with him enjoyable, and a little exciting.
Tork, or DJ Krot, as he’s known when he’s behind the decks, is a relative newcomer to Seattle, and even more so to the Seattle nightlife scene. But he’s no stranger to nightlife. The 33 year old Scotland native has been tearing it up in clubs in Glasgow, Edinburgh, London, and San Francisco since the ripe old age of 18.
“My first party was in Glasgow,” he explains, “when I was a student there.”
When Tork teamed up with his friend Skally, they soon saw the potential to add their own contribution to the Scottish nightlife scene.
“We grew up on a club called The Arches, and Sub Club, and Optimo, which at the time were really edgy electro clubs. Optimo are still doing events on and off, but they are, to me, that’s just the pinnacle of clubbing.”
One thing he found lacking, though, was the absence of dance parties meant for the queer crowd.
“There were no queer electro nights in Glasgow at the time for some reason. There are a few now, but at the time there weren’t. So we ran one called Dog God in the basement of Corinthian, which was this fancy building.”
Tork’s soon departed for America, leaving Skally behind to run Dog God, which ended when she moved back to Manchester. After a time living in San Francisco, Tork then settled in London, where he really took to the local scene with a bang.
“I used to spend a lot of time at a club called The Ghetto in Soho,” he says. “I met a DJ there called Gang, who was a DJ on a punk and metal night called Red Eye. It was right at the end of that nu metal explosion, and it was really popular with the young gays, what you’d call the hipster gays.”
Tork and Gang started a club called Uncle John, themed around an “unexpectedly missing children’s entertainer”, including such novel touches as party flyers that looked like missing person posters. Very high-concept.
“I don’t know where we were going with that,” he laughs. “It was bananas, and amazing, and great fun. We ran it in the basement of this club called the Polar Bear, which is now the Q Bar, and is this super twink club.”
After that, Tork’s DJ and production career took him to places like Trash Palace and the London Eagle, working with such illustrious names as Horse Meat Disco, and Rob Holley from Push the Button.
There was no such things as gays. Obviously, there was quite a lot of sex going on amongst the boys in my school, but there were no gays. We didn’t know any gays.”
Not too bad for a wee lad, born as Torquil Shaw, from a tiny island off of the west coast of Scotland with only one bridge connecting it to the mainland. Tork’s upbringing, which included a stint at an all-boys boarding school in Edinburgh before heading off to college, seems almost stereotypically British. I had to wonder, of course, what it was like being gay in an all-boys school.
“There was no such things as gays,” he claims. “Obviously, there was quite a lot of sex going on amongst the boys in my school, but there were no gays. We didn’t know any gays.”
Despite his early sexual awakening, Tork didn’t come out until he went to college at 18.
“I didn’t know I was gay,” he admits. “I knew I had no interest in women, and I knew that I liked boys, but the concept of being gay was so alien. I’d never met a gay person. The only gay people that I’d ever seen were on Queer as Folk. So that was my first awakening about gay people.”
Once he’d admitted to himself what his attraction to other guys really meant, he didn’t waste any time learning what it was all about.
“When I went to university, I needed job, and I got a job in a gay bar,” he explains. “Why wouldn’t I? I was 18, and who makes more money in a gay bar than 18 year olds? And then I met some other gay people, and that was that, really. And that’s when I came out, when I started working in that bar, because it was pointless not to.”
At that point he was still twirling around the Glasgow dance floors to the sounds of Britney Spears and Shania Twain, resplendent in his glitter and belly shirts.
“It’s was the early 2000’s,” he complains, “and that’s what the music was that the 18 year olds danced to!”
But he soon discovered electro and house music, which turned into a musical love affair for him. It also lead him to the queer electro nights at Taste and Joy in Edinburgh, and then into DJing, and his first venture into party production at Dog God.
“It was all early 2000’s electro, and it was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. It was a great time. That’s the music that I really love.”
Even at one of his later gigs, as the resident at a club called Infidel in London, which he describes as a “super hard core techno club,” he enjoyed playing the really super modern techno sounds of the time, but retained his love for the earlier dance music he originally fell for.
“I loved playing that music,” he says, “but it’s really harsh, really hard, compared to what you had in the early 2000’s. It was all 125, 128 BPM, loads of disco sound pulls, just really nice to dance to. Really dark, sexy. Very few breaks. Wonderful, really wonderful music to dance to, and you could dance all night to it. I love that period of music.”
This is what happens, this is the thing. I get super frantic about something and then I just do it. And who knows how long I’ll be a game designer for?”
Tork has moved on from London, of course, and has taking up a career in game design, which allowed him to spend a year working in Greece. He ended up in Seattle nearly a year ago, due to his current position at Goblinworks. Game design wasn’t his original career choice, but rather is a profession he chose some years after getting his degree in film theory. Much like everything else he’s done, once he’d decided it was for him, he simply went for it.
“I’ve only been a game designer for four and half years,” he admits. “I decided that I wanted to be a game designer, and I went a did a Masters in Game Design…”
Wait. Just like that?
“This is what happens,” he laughs, “this is the thing. I get super frantic about something and then I just do it. And who knows how long I’ll be a game designer for?”
And so it is with Krot, his DJ alter ego. It’s marked his entry into the Seattle nightlife scene, most recently with Insert Coin, his retro-gaming themed dance party at the Seattle Eagle, and the upcoming Pink Party Prime, where he’ll be DJing at Queer Geek’s recently expanded annual party for queer gamers during PAX Prime, one of the world’s largest gaming conventions.
With Insert Coin, his own production, he saw a need, and then he filled it.
“I’m surprised it doesn’t exist here,” he confesses, “because it’s such a nerdy city and, as far as I can make out, people like music.”
By most accounts, the first Insert Coin, held just a few weeks ago, was a great success. Especially considering it was a brand new event, held at a bar only now becoming known for it’s diverse event schedule, organized by someone brand new on the scene. Tork is undaunted, though, even as he admits that it the party still needs to find it’s legs.
“It’s gonna take a while to work out exactly what it’s going to be,” he says, “because I want people to come play games, but I also want people to come dance, and those two things are not immediately compatible. Those two crowds I want to become compatible.”
One reason for his dauntlessness, of course, is the fact that he’s used to throwing parties, and has done so in cities around the world. Another reason is that he still has his day job to fall back on.
“People throw so many parties in Seattle, and lots of them are poorly attended, but the cost of doing it seems to be so low, for whatever reason,” he states. “Because the cost of investment is so low that they can continue to run parties that aren’t hugely successful because that’s not their primary goal. Lots of people are performers, or they have another job, so it’s not like they need to make ends meet with the party that they’re running. In a way that takes the pressure off, and it gives people the freedom to do something really random and bananas because the bars are up for it, the venues are up for it, and people can just see what happens.”
So where does such an optimistic view of Seattle’s nightlife come from, given what he’s used to in the places he’s previously lived and worked?
“In a way I’m spoiled, I suppose, for choice,” he confesses, “because I come from London. I forget that not every city is as big as London is. It’s not that London is a better city, it’s just much bigger, so whatever it is that you want, it’s definitely there.”
It may not seem fair, then, to compare a relatively small city like Seattle to such an international powerhouse as London. But Tork also has some experience with parties and nightlife in San Francisco which, while still a world class city, is at least more comparable in size to Seattle.
“I have a romantic view of Seattle, I think,” he says, “that hasn’t been destroyed. Having lived in San Francisco, I thought Seattle was gonna be a lot like San Francisco, and in a lot of ways it is.”
For Tork, though, running a party is about many things. Partly, it’s about getting to know a city. And, partly, it’s about giving something back.
“It’s not like giving something back in a charity way,” he explains, “it’s about being involved, it’s about helping people have a good time.”
It’s an important contribution, really. There’s a lot of shit in the world, in this day and age. Offering people a few hours of comfort, a few hours of joy, is actually a pretty serious gift, I suggest.
“It’s overwhelming,” he confirms. “I think that it’s a really difficult balance, because there’s also a question of distraction, isn’t there? Providing distraction is a super valuable tool, but isn’t the solution, and I don’t have the solution. To me, that’s the way I struggle with that as a concept, because it’s really valuable to give someone four hours of joy, but it’s not a solution.”
But what if giving them that distraction can help fuel the solution?
“Yeah it does,” he responds, “you’re right. I think it’s hope that’s the solution, that’s what we’re giving people. I’m not either suggesting that entertainment is in any way high minded, or that it’s frivolous, that it’s either of those things. It’s just there’s a balance where some entertainment is frivolous and some entertainment is high minded. There’s no real question about it. It’s a balance, and you just need to be comfortable with what you’re doing. And for some people, the line is in a different place. But it’s nice to be doing something.”
Because we all have our part to play, right? We can’t all be paramedics or firefighters. But Tork is right when he talks about how important it is to be doing something, at least, even if it’s a bit selfish for him, to some degree
“I struggle with the world,” he confesses, “and it’s nice to go to a party. Even if it’s a party that I’m involved in. It’s nice to go out and meet people, and play music for them, and run a party, because I enjoy doing it.”