The Roots of King Cabernet

If you find yourself in Winnipeg one night and there’s one show you don’t want to miss, it’s a King Cabernet show. Boasting the best music, striking visuals, frequent performances, and King Cabernet’s own outsized personality, they stand apart from any other events out there. For anyone beyond the point where typical clubbing is the go-to form of entertainment, but a quiet night in just isn’t a valid option, these events offer the perfect elixir. With shows like this, with such tangible motivation and drive, it’s impossible for a curious party-goer not to wonder how it all got started.

King Cabernet started DJing on Saturday late night radio for CKUW ten years ago, at the time also attending Mod Club at the Pyramid every Thursday. Wanting the opportunity to DJ in public, the moment came 6 years later when he chanced to speak with DJ Aaron “The Invisible Man” Young, a Mod Club DJ who was bar manager at the late great pub J. Fox’s. Aaron was then DJing “It’s a Mod Mod Mod World” nights, during which 8-10 people would play 10 favourite songs. King Cabernet, who’s real name is Kevin, expressed an interest in doing a mini set at one of these events, but Aaron did him one better and offered to let him do events monthly. After working out the concept of playing old 60s movies while playing retro music, CINEMA GO GO was born, featuring Kevin billed as DJ Cabernet

“Aaron chose that name because, he said, ‘Kevin, you’re always the best dressed man in the room, you have the best taste in movies and the best taste in music. You are, in short, a cabernet,’ ” says Kevin. “Personally, I think he just wanted to watch some movies on a slow night.”

Over time it became evident that Sunday nights weren’t ideal for the emerging events, but a friend, Evan Quiring – writer and artist for the comic book Los Luchadores Mysterioso – had reunited his lucha mask-wearing surf guitar band The Rockdoras and were slated to play J. Fox’s one Saturday.

“I decided if we couldn’t bring people to Cinema Go Go maybe we could bring Cinema Go Go to the people, and DJed between their sets while projecting the whole time old drive-in trailers onto the screen behind the stage. At this point Aaron said it clicked for him: A crowd that enjoyed the kitschy visuals and enjoyed my taste in music made him want to push and promote me more, and I ended up doing a gig there with short lived 50s rockers The Blackbirds one night in early October.”

During this time the then DJ Cabernet was teaching himself the rudiments of film editing and taking intriguing high impact scenes from old filmes noires and 30s exploitation films like Reefer Madness, to play these essential parts of the films while the music played. Somehow, it all synced up. “I realized once and for all the whole ‘Pink Floyd recorded Dark Side of the Moon as an alternate soundtrack to Wizard of OZ’ was complete bullshit. The brain naturally syncs up visuals and sound no matter what. One could swear what’s projected on screen is a music video for the song and it isn’t. I realized then I now had a gimmick to distinguish me from other DJs: I had an encyclopedic knowledge of bizarre & obscure films and a means to take clips from said movies and show it as well as just play music.”

That night turned out to be key in a number of ways. Amongst the crowd were The Blackbirds, comprised of Andrew Maxwell, an early supporter of DJ Cabernet, and two people he’d end up teaming up with at various points in the future: local rockabilly sensation Greg Arcade, and Rafael Reyes, guitarist for the Mexican folk/spaghetti western/prog rock band Mariachi Ghost. Also in attendance was Greg Ash, bar manager for the Yellow Dog tavern who was there enjoying his night off. Ash enjoyed DJ Cabernet’s set so much that he asked if he would play at the Yellow Dog. Cabernet leapt at the chance. The first SHINDIG! event was held there in November 2010, just a few months before the closure of J. Fox’s.

King Cabernet (right) and Mod Marty at Bond and Burlesque

At first, DJ Cabernet considered SHINDIG! little more than a hobby. But little did he know about the impact that the shows would start to generate. It soon became clear that SHINDIG! was the most stable ongoing event around, and before long DJ Mod Marty, another dapper guy who looks like he stepped right out of an episode of Mad Men, asked if he could do a guest spot. Since DJ Cabernet was starting to get a little too burned out and doubting whether or not he should continue, this was perfect timing.

Working with Mod Marty turned out to be just what DJ Cabernet needed. When Marty was playing he had the freedom to socialize with the crowd. That night, the two became partners. In a remarkably fortuitous turn of events, it became obvious immediately that Marty understood perfectly the vibe he was trying to achieve with the music: scuzzy garage rock, gritty soul, and sleazy sax jazz. Along with the movie clips DJ Cabernet began to incorporate featuring GoGo dancers, LSD dream sequences, and car chases, all the elements combined to help make a night at the Yellow Dog (which is actually a very nice place) seem to be a night at some trashy dive bar circa 1967.

From that point on the success of SHINDIG! continued to rise, but Kevin remained aware that the shows were still falling under the radar. Something had to be done. So he decided to team up with the Rockdoras at Pop Soda’s Coffeehouse & Venue. Since the place had such a bohemian air about it, and since Keyboard player Vanda liked promoting shows with themes, he suggested making it an Andy Warhol themed event. The group loved it, and a date was immediately set.

Image from the MOTOWN GETDOWN!

At which point the Rockdoras broke up, and DJ Cabernet was left with a date but no band to play with.

“I could have just given up the date to someone else, but I kept mulling over the idea of doing a Warhol event and in what was either a moment of inspiration or possibly desperation, I called up Rafael and asked if he’d be interested in putting together a Velvet Underground tribute band. In what I now see was an EXTREME stroke of luck, I was apparently talking one of the city’s biggest Velvet Underground fans who leapt at the chance to form such a band.”

From there the project became more and more elaborate; Warhol ran three movies at a time at his parties so there needed to be three projectors running his movies at the party. He had dancers so DJ Cabernet and Mod Marty had dancers. Warhol decorated his loft in silver so they used silver tinfoil to cover the stage. They even recruited some local pop artists to display their wares as well.

King Cabernet considers this theme for a first-time event the kind of thing which is both the best and the worst to do. The enormous challenge in channeling an artist with such broad forms of expression necessitated reaching out to many types of creative people to help pull it off.  But once you’ve gotten over such a big hurdle, all other challenges seem small my comparison. It was a baptism by fire, and subsequent events have proven to be significantly easier.

“Looking back, I know why I poured so much blood, sweat & tears into organizing and promoting the event. I was extremely frustrated with my day job, and being turned down a promotion at work after years of working in an in-between capacity made me seriously wonder if I was any good at management. Actively organizing such a large-scale event that ended up filling up Pop Soda’s to capacity and that had rave reviews from everyone who attended was a vindication for me,” he says. And he’s right. There are some things that the 9-5 working world just can’t teach you that your passions can. Indulging in these passions isn’t just a luxury, but a necessity. Some say they do it to stay sane, but I believe it’s about even more than that. These are the things that complete you, that help you to become more of who you really are.

Of course, by this point DJ Cabernet was more than just a DJ, as his best friend Craig pointed out. He offered up an idea for a new name, something that would roll off the tongue. Kevin liked the idea, as it played with his own initials and he felt it sounded like that of an obscure Batman villain.

King Cabernet was born.

To be continued…

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