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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014

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In Music

Frank Straka at the tables.

Straka twists battle of bands concept


Shortly after Michael Jackson died in 2009, Frank Straka posted a question on Facebook that asked his friends who they liked better: Jackson or Prince. He received many responses to the question and so he started to post similar surveys.

"I conducted these surveys for months – to the point where it became more of a joke than anything else," says Straka.

Eventually, one of Straka's friends, John Kuester, suggested that they actually throw a Prince vs. Michael Jackson dance party.

"We talked about it a bunch and then the idea started to fizzle," says Straka. "However, after many months, we finally did it."

Four years ago, Straka and Kuester hosted their first event – Prince vs. Michael Jackson – at MOCT (now Prodigal Gastropub). The concept was simple: play songs exclusively by the two artists and create a super fun dance party.

The event was well received, and Straka hosted a couple more similar events at MOCT. He later moved the series to Mad Planet, 533 E. Center St., and kicked it off with a The Cure vs. The Smiths party.

"Mad Planet is the perfect venue. I didn't expect to fill the place to capacity, but we did," says Straka. "That was also the night that I realized that I was doing something that people were really enthusiastic about and I could keep the ball rolling with new 'versus' events."

Straka hosts the events six times a year – one every other month. The series doesn't have a name, but is sometimes referred to by fans as "vs. parties."

During the event, only music from the featured bands is played. "I am always amazed when somebody requests a song by a band that is not featured," says Straka.

The events are not really competitive events although Straka says in the future he would like to have people text their vote to determine a "winner."

On July 19, Straka – along with co-host DJ Minya – are throwing a Depeche Mode vs. The Cure party at the Mad Planet at 9 p.m. with a $5 cover.

Most of the music at the events is from the '80s – with a smattering of bands from the '60s and '70s.

"I wouldn't say '80s music is my favorite decade of music but most of the bands that I really like came from that period. Probably because I grew up in the '80s," says Straka.

Picking bands for the events is tricky, Straka says, because he has to choose musicians that appeal to a large number of people, are somewhat dance-able and have enough songs to fill a five-hour night.

"It can be kind of stressful because we want to get people on the dance floor and most people don't want to dance to songs they don't know, but we can't start playing the hits too early because we don't want to go through them all before the night is out," says Straka.

Some of the events have worked better than others.

"I try to choose bands that have a lot of cross-over appeal. I think people have more fun when they like both bands," says Straka. "However, Minya and I did do a Duran Duran vs. Depeche Mode party and it certainly seemed as though people either liked or didn't like each band. There wasn't as much crossover appeal as there normally is."

The events have gotten so popular that fans often wait in line to get into the venue – regardless of the weather. Such was the case with David Bowie vs. Joy Division and New Order that took place on a freezing January night.

"It was negative two or three degrees that night and I remember thinking that the event was going to tank because it was so cold, yet Mad Planet was packed," says Straka.

Kuester and Straka continue to host Prince vs. Michael Jackson events occasionally. Straka hosted a Madonna vs. Janet Jackson vs. Blondie event by himself. All of the other events he hosts with Minya who is from Milwaukee but now lives in New York and travels back for the events.

Straka, who grew up in Racine and currently lives in Riverwest, does a lot of DJing outside of the "vs." events – usually spinning rare disco and boogie.


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