Right now, No. 8 is the most exclusive club in New York, unless you count the Zodiac, which consists of 12 male blue-blood WASPs, one of whom has to die before a new member can join. While more diverse and democratic, No. 8 does have a strict door policy. To get in, it helps if you’re famous, or know owner Bobby Rossi of LDV Hospitality or “brand partner” Amy Sacco, or preferably all three.
In his New York Times profile of Ms. Sacco (“The Empress Is In”), writer Bob Morris captured the scene at No. 8 on opening night last May, noting that patrons in the upstairs “rec room” were selecting old records and handing them to “a bearded deejay.”
I knew that had to be DJ Uncle Mike, who stopped shaving in 1990 and used to spin at Bungalow 8 and said things like “psyched,” “groovy,” “cool,” “groovy cool,” “joyous,” “happy,” “beautiful,” “lovely,” “blessed,” “lucky,” “good time,” “all good” and “life’s good.”
When Bungalow closed in 2009, along with Siberia and the Beatrice Inn, nightlife began to suck for me, especially after I found myself being picked up by two bouncers at Kenmare and bounced headfirst onto the sidewalk. Shamed, I fled to Park Slope. Soon, I felt so estranged from humanity I could only connect with my geriatric cat. Why don’t we all join the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement and return the Earth to the critters? I thought.
I considered seeking help, but could no longer afford a shrink or life coach. Fortunately Uncle Mike agreed to meet with me early one early evening in August. It was weird seeing a fellow creature of the night at that hour. He looked the same, like a cross between Rick Rubin, Billy Gibbons, Rob Zombie, Santa Claus and The Dude, and he exuded a familiar vibe.
“Dude, I just always feel like I’m really lucky,” he said from behind the wheel of a rusty, ratty, dented, funky old car. “I love music, and I actually get to go to places and play music. I love happy people, and if I’m lucky, I can make people happy. It’s great.”
He was on his way to No. 8, where, as house deejay, he spins five nights a week upstairs. It was he who selected every one of the 8,010 records that line the shelves of the rec room. His other regular gig is at Brooklyn Bowl every Saturday afternoon. He has also done private parties for Elton John, Bono, Sienna Miller, Lenny Kravitz and Saturday Night Live; spun with Lindsay Lohan; opened for Toots and the Maytals; and performed solo in Montauk, Miami, Las Vegas, Brazil, Ireland, London, New Jersey and Vietnam.
He’s been underpaid, overpaid and paid right on the nose, but never paid as much as Skrillex, not the top end. When people ask him to deejay, he makes sure they know what they’re getting. Because if all they’re going to ask for is Rihanna—and that’s okay, that’s a whole vibe—that’s not what he plays, that’s not what he’s about.
According to his website, “DJ Uncle Mike plays an eclectic mix of ‘Vintage Music,’ including Rock & Roll, New Wave, Motown, Classic Rock, Punk, Funk, Surf, Disco, Reggae, Metal, Bubblegum, Ska, Soul, Rat Pack and more …”
EXTRA: Click here for a Spotify playlist from DJ Uncle Mike.
“Music is magic and musicians are magicians,” he said cruising west on 14th Street. “There’s nothing like the face of somebody who hears a song and just gets turned on and lights up, and whether they get up into their crazy dancing, or maybe standing at the bar and paying their bill, tapping their credit card to the beat.”
He joked that his car radio only plays music from 1967. Actually it’s broken.
“Sometimes it’s nice to have no music,” he confessed before turning on Eighth Avenue. “And just have … thoughts. Thoughts are nice. At some point, music is great and it’s great to have it around all the time—I want music now, bam! I have Spotify, I have everything, bam! When I was younger, it wasn’t like that. You’d go buy records, tapes, you had your music and you had your gaps. But we live in New York, so we have to pay attention to what’s going on, and if I’m blasting music all the time, I’m not going to pay attention to, like, not running this guy over.”
Uncle Mike parked down the block from No. 8. He didn’t have to start spinning for a few hours. I asked him about the current state of nightlife.
“Things in New York change,” he said. “People get resentful, saying it’s not what used to be. It’s never gonna to be what it used to be. It is what it is right now! And I think we should just be making the best of out of what is right now. Some nights you deejay, and as soon as the club opens, people go, ‘There’s no one here!’ Yes, you’re the first one in. What did you expect, like the club to have a thousand people there dancing? I gotta tell you, if you are the first person there, you are privileged to start. The. Party.
“Party-starters are definitely appreciated,” Uncle Mike continued. “They come in, they don’t care who’s in the room, whether the room is full or empty, what the status of the room is. I think more and more, people just think you walk into a place and the party is already there. You’ve got to make it, you’ve got to put some effort into it, you’ve got to bring that positive energy of, ‘Yeahhh, let’s make this happen! I’m psyched! I’m psyched to go out tonight! I’m psyched to go out and see my friends! I’m psyched to meet new people! I’m just psyched!’”
I asked permission to call him Mike. He didn’t say yes or no.
“It’s all good, my friend,” he said, exiting his vehicle.
Outside No. 8 stood Disco, the legendary 6-foot-7, 290-pound doorman. Inside, Mike chatted with the manager Lily Cho, another Bung alum. The bartender (artist Ryan Metke) looked familiar too. Upstairs in the rec room, Mike ordered two tuna tartares, two grilled cheeses, two beet salads and one scotch. He told me that in 2008, he went out 125 nights in a row, and in 2009, his big toe started hurting. What the fuck is that? he thought.
“You got the gout!” a doctor told him. Mike had heard of this “disease of kings.” It happened when you lived well. The doc said he could either change his diet or take pills.
He quit booze no problem, but it was tough giving up things he loves—red meat, pizza, pastrami, chopped liver—and switching to chicken, fish, fruits and veggies. “It’s a sign,” he said of his condition. “Your body’s telling you, ‘Yo, change your shit up, and by the way, if you think that pain’s bad, boy I got some pain for you if you don’t fucking change.’ Listen to your body.”
When I returned from the men’s room, Mike shared his prevailing memory of me from Bungalow: “You walked up to me and, out of nowhere, said, ‘Metamucil, it’s really good for you!’ And I thought, ‘This is a nice guy.’”
So did he …?
“No. I haven’t needed it, but the point is you were kind enough to impart me with some wisdom. So for that I gotta say thank you, brother.”
Besides us, the place was empty. Then Russell Simmons and a lady appeared, and someone cranked up the music. Mike and I moved to a private back room, a k a “the broom closet.” The view of the rec room through the one-way mirror made me think of 007’s bachelor pad or Otter’s place in Animal House if he had a million extra bucks. “If you’re not here, then you’re never going to know what it’s like,” Mike said. “But if you’re here, you’re never gonna forget it.”
He wouldn’t talk about the celebrities who have been to No. 8, among them Bono, Daniel Craig, Anne Hathaway, Demi Moore, Clive Owen, Waris Ahluwalia, Peter Beard, Jim Carrey and Ed Westwick. “I know nothing, nothing!” he said. “I show up and I deejay. People I work with are very nice to me. Give me wonderful food to eat. Let me play music to make people feel happy.”
He couldn’t say what happened last night. “I have a decent selective memory,” he said. “My memory remembers things when my memory remembers to remember them.” Or even what he might play that night. “I never know what I’m going to do, and I still won’t know until after I’ve done it, and even then, I might not remember it. I’m going to play some of the records in this room.
“Music’s the gift that never stops giving,” he continued. “I turn somebody on to a song they’ve never heard before, and now that’s there for them. They know that that pushes the happy button for them. It’s like, okay, hi, life sucks. What makes me happy in this life that sucks? These little things, songs—it’s called music.”
Dinner was served and quickly devoured. Mike told Lily Cho that the grilled cheese was “so there.” She called him the greatest. I asked what it was like being around beautiful women every night. “It’s fucking horrible,” he said. “It’s miserable. Pity me.”
At 10:45, he began pulling records from the shelves. He didn’t know how many he might pick out: “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be ambiguous about answers, but I don’t know. There’s a great Ozzy song, ‘Don’t Ask Me, I Don’t Know.’ Because I don’t know!”
At 11:02, he entered the deejay booth. It was time to get ready, make sure his shit was together, find his flashlight, check the power supply, mixing board, wires. He has about 15 crates of records back there, tried and true stuff, safe bets—the less organized the better.
His first selection was the “Batman Theme” by The Ventures. He cleaned the next LP off. Put headphones on. Put the needle on the groove. Took the headphones off. The Stones’ “Undercover of the Night” was a perfect segue. “I do a very relaxed style of deejay, not as mix-intensive as a lot of the other folks out there,” he confided. “I try to do the best version of me possible, rather than a lousy version of other people. DJ Uncle Mike does the best version of DJ Uncle Mike that DJ Uncle Mike could possibly do.”
Better than anyone?
“No, somebody could probably do me a little better than me. But it’s not an exact science.”
Russell Simmons and his date left. It was just the two of us again. Soon, though, we had company. Mike watched as pockets of people began to coalesce. Two party-starters were starting to feel it after he played the Police, followed by the Brothers Johnson, Blancmange, more Stones, Billy Idol, Stevie Wonder, ABC, Earth, Wind & Fire, Spandau Ballet, B.T. Express and David Bowie.
By 1 a.m., things were getting crazy. People dancing on tables, grinding on one another, falling over. Mike calls this stage “drunk o’clock.” It can happen anytime. With help from Rod Stewart, Steve Winwood, Blondie, more Stones, Aerosmith, Grandmaster Flash, Steve Miller, Talking Heads, Cheap Trick, the Monkees, the Bangles and more Stones, DJ Uncle Mike made sure it stayed drunk o’clock until 4 a.m.
UNCLE MIKE’S SCHEDULE is “fluid,” so there is no “usually.” But around 6 a.m., he often returns to his doorman building on the Upper East Side, where he has lived alone more than half his life. One late afternoon, he gave me a tour of his one-bedroom “cave,” which is like a museum of Mike then and now. There are childhood toys (Star Wars figures, a race car set, a Gumby doll), an 8-track player (a bar mitzvah present), a CB radio, a full can of Billy beer, a giant empty bottle of Beefeater, four pairs of Puma suedes and a life-size poster of Bill Cosby. Lots of rock ’n’ roll stuff, too.
On the bookshelves: The Cat in the Hat, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning Yiddish, Writing Television Sitcoms, No One Gets Out of Here Alive, Crazy From the Heat, Hammer of the Gods, and two copies each of Wiseguy and Please Kill Me. On the walls: show posters, gold records of bands he has worked with, and framed photos of Mike with Ozzy Osbourne, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Alice Cooper and Joey Ramone.
On his computer: 25,000 songs, a list of the 266 bands he has seen in concert (“that I can remember”), and more photos of him: with Ozzy and Joe Frazier, Dickey Betts, Charlie Daniels, Joe Strummer, members of AC/DC and Cheap Trick, the drummer from the Sex Pistols, Evel Knievel, Liza Minnelli, Pia Zadora, Morton Downey Jr., posing next to a bummed-out Tommy Chong at a High Times event, by a dead body on a stretcher outside CBGB’s, being choked for real by the lead singer of Venom (“dude, it hurt”), with guys from Slayer, Pantera, Suicidal Tendencies, Rage Against the Machine, Pia Zadora again, Ronald McDonald, and backstage at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go in 1995 with Lemmy at the Motorhead singer’s 50th birthday.
Michael Schnapp was born late one night in Queens. He grew up in the Five Towns area, close to the airport, the city, the beach. “Nice area, nice family, nice house, nice friends,” he said. “Nothing too bizarre. No drama, didn’t get arrested, didn’t kill anybody. What can I say? We definitely had a good time. Definitely burned our hands on the flame of life a lot.” His father was in the perfume and garbage business, and before having kids, his mother had been a secretary at Look magazine. Mike was always a big, tall, kid, never skinny, popular but a loner.
Music was his first and only real passion. He remembers the first time he heard “Light My Fire” at age 7, the same year he went to his first concert: Roberta Flack. Before sending him to camp, his mother bought him a portable record player and a bunch of singles. He liked the ones by Elton John and Edgar Winter, and “Hocus Pocus” by the band Focus. “I also learned that records melt in the sun that summer,” he recalled. “The next thing you know, they’re like the Alps, up and down, up and down. Wow, can’t play that fucking thing no more! See ya!”
The first album he bought was Brain Salad Surgery by Emerson, Lake & Palmer. The first concert he saw at the Garden was Peter Frampton. The guy sitting in front of him turned around, said ‘How you guys doing!” before pulling out an envelope stuffed with joints. R2-D2 came out onstage to do a duet with Frampton but was broken or had laryingitis.
Next he saw Jethro Tull. The opening act was James Taylor’s brother Livingston. The crowd began to boo right away. “It was getting to be a loud roar of hate,” Mike recalled. “By the end of the third song it was the ‘fuck you’ chant. ‘Fuck you! Fuck you!’ The whole Garden’s going ‘Fuck you!’ to one man on an acoustic guitar. That’s pretty impressive. Someone comes out and taps him on the shoulder, like, dude, you gotta go. So he turns around, walks off, and he gets about two-thirds off the stage, so everyone starts applauding. He turns around, comes back out, goes to the mike in says, ‘Oh, so I guess you really want me!’ and just starts playing again. It got violent. There was some hate in the air that night.”
In junior high, they made Mike take some tests and said he’d be a good architect.
He said, “What the fuck is that?” They said, “You build buildings.” He said, “I don’t want to build buildings. I mean, it doesn’t sound like fun.”
In college he took bowling as a class. His grandpa always used to say “learn a trade!” so he majored in communications, deejayed at the radio station and did security at concerts. After Dizzy Gillespie played an afternoon show, Mike volunteered to drive him and the band home. On the way, Mike was told to stop at a bank. The teller wouldn’t cash Dizzy Gillespie’s paycheck without ID, so the great man puffed out his cheeks. She didn’t recognize him. He just happened to have a picture of his large erect penis in action, said “that’s me!” and she screamed. Back in the van, everyone laughed and fired up joints.
Eventually, Mike landed a job at Combat Records, and was soon promoting metal bands like Venom, Slayer, Exodus, and Megadeth. And partying. “I did cocaine in the ’80s once for seven years,” he admitted. “It’s a funny statement, but at some point, yeah, I was on a fucking tear. Yeah! Smoking, drinking, snorting, popping, uhhh running around going nuts.”
So he got it out of his system?
“Yeah! The last time I ever ingested cocaine was February 1987, and it was one of those things where, ‘This is horrible, I feel miserable.’” He started doing it again for a few months and stopped again. He did it one more time and said never again.
Next he went on tour with Megadeth. One of Mike’s jobs was to keep the band from beating the crap out of each other. At the end of a show in Philadelphia, the band’s leader, Dave Mustaine, spat on drummer Gar Samuelson, who returned fire with a drumstick. After Mustaine hurled his guitar into the drum set, everyone went backstage and began screaming. “Come on pussy, what are you gonna do?” Samuelson asked Mustaine, who was waving a broken tequila bottle around, with Mike in between them.
Then they went out and played the encore. “They killed it,” Mike recalled. “The nice thing about this band was they played angry music, so it just added to the intensity of their performance.”
Mike had other pleasant memories of the six-week tour: “At some points it was so peaceful and beautiful, seeing rainbows over mountains, and I remember watching Alf a lot. Every Monday I ended up sitting in a hotel room with Dave smoking weed and watching Alf.”
In 1989, Mike went to work for Epic Records. He managed the Cycle Sluts From Hell, sent tapes of brand-new bands like Pearl Jam to influential people, and mentioned the Ozzy tickets he’d scored for them. After an appearance at Tower Records, the Prince of Darkness took a whiz on the manager’s office door while Mike kept a lookout.
In 1994, EMI Records lured Mike away with a ton of money and a fancy title. Right away he didn’t like the vibe (“horrible”), and after the first label meeting, he thought to himself, “What have I gotten myself into? I’m not happy. I fucked up.” One of his big projects was doing A&R for a band he signed, the Fun Lovin’ Criminals. When someone else at the company put a song of theirs on a sampler tape and sent 20,000 copies to record stores, Mike was psyched … until he listened to the cassette. The song didn’t start at the beginning and sounded like shit, so he blew up at the guy: “I said, ‘You wanna know what I think of this tape?’ and I threw it against the wall. I just fucking lost it. I started screaming and yelling ‘You’re a fucking idiot!’”
Although the first Fun Lovin’ Criminals album sold a million copies worldwide, Mike’s two-year contract wasn’t renewed. He fell into a funk, and people stopped returning his calls. “I was bitter and angry and pissed off and not afraid to share it, and it didn’t do me well,” he said.
Mike went from “vice president of rock” to roadie. Former colleagues laughed when they found out he was now driving punk bands to concerts. “People were like, ‘Really, you’re a roadie?’” he recalled. “I go, ‘Yeah, but actually I was happy today.’ I never laughed as much as when I was on the road with the guys in Murphy’s Law.”
Mike took an office job at a music company but got sick of it fast. He preferred deejaying, which he’d been doing part-time, and hanging out at Amy Sacco’s first club, Lot 61. “She was wonderful and always nice, and we stayed friends ever since,” he said.
“It was kismet when we first met,” she emailed. “He is just ALL THAT and more?! I never asked him even one question, he was just ‘Uncle,’ gentle, ethereal, all knowing and a musical magician; with an essence of paco-rabane and an air of mystery …”
Mike became a full-time deejay not long after Ms. Sacco opened up her second club in 2001.
“It was a collision of great people and great circumstances that made for one-of-a-kind nights of fun,” he said of Bungalow 8. “It was a wonderful experience to be able to be there and play music for people and see people be happy.”
The other night at No. 8, a very attractive young stylist approached DJ Uncle Mike. “So what’s your story?” she asked.
He started laughing, and then replied, “Talk to George in about a month. He’ll be able to tell you. It’s a long story, man.”