On Valentine’s Day 2020, Ross Schlesinger is a sight to behold, jumping on the stage of The Empty Bottle along to the low beats of his music. He’s wearing a ski mask that looks homemade, and a leather biker cap sits atop his head. His leather vest has no shirt underneath, and a thick chain sits around his neck. His forearms are covered by leather cuffs decorated with at least one hundred silver studs each as he holds the microphone in gloved hands. He’s wearing a leather jockstrap that’s similarly studded and black chaps that leave him exposed when he turns his back to the crowd, something he does frequently without hesitation. He performs as Plack Blague, and though that Valentine’s Day show was his last performance before the pandemic, he hasn’t stopped making music.
Lincoln electronic leather solo act Plack Blague is releasing his newest single, “Joie de Blague,'' on March 19. The track will be part of the album “Compilation for Practically Everyone,” produced by FPE Records and featuring several other artists from across the country.
Schlesinger, who is known by his stage alias Raws, describes the sound of Plack Blague as industrial and full of bass, but he said he never wants to pigeonhole himself into a certain sound.
“Black Plague is like a full-on assault of leather and sexual, electronic dance beats,” he said. “It’s dark and fun. It’s got a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor involved with it. The whole aesthetic is to just be myself and very open, very hardcore leather while still having a good time.”
Schlesinger’s music is entirely electronic, using phone apps, synthesizers and drum machines to create the sound.
“I’m kind of like a collage artist in that I like to collage all sorts of ideas together to kind of make it work,” he said. “I’ve been playing drums for the last 25 years now, and as a drummer, I like rhythm and I understand rhythm in a lot of ways. I kind of like to mess with rhythm and patterns like that, just kind of messing around with sounds and seeing what I can do and what I like. Sometimes it’s really raw and gritty and dirty, and sometimes it’s nice and poppy and clear.”
Matthew Pakulski, owner of FPE Records, has known Schlesinger for 20 years, ever since his punk band was scheduled to play with Schlesinger’s 2000s band Wasteoid.
“When I found out that the guy from Wasteoid was doing this super gay electro thing, I was super psyched. I was really into it, because who does that?” Pakulski said.
Pakulski asked Schlesinger to create a track about joy to go in a compilation album for the Chicago-based record company.
“2020 was such a depressing year,” Pakulski said. “One of the artists on my label was like, ‘We’ve got to bring some joy into the year.’ So I was like, ‘That’ll be the theme. We’re going to celebrate, even if there’s nothing to celebrate but the fact that we can at least make music.’ A lot of the artists I reached out to make very dark, apocalyptic noise, but I reached out to them with the word joy.”
Schlesinger said “Joie de Blague” is his effort to keep old-school gay culture alive by highlighting the joys of the culture.
“A lot of it’s about cruising for sex and cruising for guys,” he said. “It’s just about having a night out on the town and just seeing what kind of trouble you can get yourself into. It’s the idea of freedom and freedom of sexuality, and I like to keep that as the reality in the gay world.”
A lot of Plack Blague’s performance stems from gay subcultures of the mid-20th century. According to an article from the City University of New York, cruising in the gay community is using certain gestures, behaviors and codes to communicate one’s sexual orientation and find partners for casual sex. Even Schlesinger’s signature look of studded leather outfits and biker caps comes from a gay subculture that originated from 1940s and 50s motorcycle gangs, according to The Guardian.
Schlesinger said he uses his performance as a tool to spread gay culture. Though he said the queer community is a large part of his audience, he insists his music is for everyone.
“While it is very queer and very homosexual in nature, it’s just fun and dancey,” he said. “As much as the queer community is a huge support for me, I feel like everybody is, and that’s totally fine with me. I just like the acceptance of everybody, because it is for everybody when you think about it.”
Schlesinger said he revels in the excitement of being a leather artist in Nebraska.
“I like to push the boundaries of the culture around Nebraska,” he said. “I like the idea that people don’t suspect that something like this would come out of Nebraska, especially Lincoln. I really like that, and I like being unsuspecting. A big part of this project is still shocking people. I feel like people in Nebraska are still easily shocked.”