Media Watch: Bow Chica Wow-Wow
The life and times of a porn-music impresario
John Dial, software designer and porn-music impresario, is trying to explain his infatuation with the music of films like California Creamin' and Vampyros Lesbos. It's that funky bassline, he says, the growling, down-low groove that invokes images of satin sheets, cheap boob jobs, and furry-hatted pimps -- that bow chica wow-wow. "My dad used to play the Isley Brothers and Earth, Wind & Fire; it's just part of me," said Dial, who projects an unmistakably funkless Caucasian exterior, dressed in a baseball cap and T-shirt.
It's not a stretch to say that Dial, 39, is one of the foremost experts on porn music in the country. The Austinite can extol the talents of composers of rare French adult films and discuss, in depth, the relative pros and cons of the soundtrack for SuperVixens III. The married father of two is known to troll old record stores looking for that rare track, the work of European composer Piero Umiliani, or the much coveted original master soundtrack to Deep Throat.
While his obsession may be considered, well, quaint, Dial has turned it into a business, displaying the type of can-do American entrepreneurial spirit that should make chamber-of-commerce types weep in their pancake breakfasts. His empire of porn music includes fluffertraX, an Internet radio site devoted to the music of sweet love. There's also his fluffertraX DJ show, which pops up in clubs around the country, as well as his line of "Bow Chica Wow-Wow" merchandise, including T-shirts, caps, coffee mugs, and license-plate frames. And he's launched BowChica Mobile, a ring-tone company, offering consumers the chance to answer their phones to the musical sounds of a 1970s triple-X feature.
It was BowChica that recently put Dial's capitalist dreams on a collision course with one of the world's biggest telecommunications companies, sending nervous ripples through the tight-knit mobile-phone industry and raising issues of corporate censorship. After months of licensing music and making contacts in the mobile-phone business, Dial signed a deal last year to sell the ring tones through Wapfly, a big international distribution site. BowChica went live on Wapfly in December, offering a variety of funky, PG-rated, pimp-friendly instrumental ring tones.
Three days later, T-Mobile, one of the largest carriers in the world, abruptly cut its ties to Wapfly, saying it wouldn't deal with a distributor of "adult" material. "The thing that disappointed me: It wasn't porn content we were offering," said Nick Stewart, business development manager for the UK-based Wapfly. Many rap songs are far more graphic than Dial's funky tracks, he notes. But the ring tones were labeled as "porn" tunes, which was apparently enough to scare away T-Mobile.
Just like that, BowChica was off the site. And Dial soon learned that he was radioactive; none of the ring-tone companies would have anything to do with him. (And T-Mobile still hasn't renewed its relationship with WapFly.) "I was horrified," Dial said. "It was totally unfair, beyond comprehension."
With true Texas perseverance, Dial decided to bypass the traditional mobile-phone distribution system and offer BowChica directly to consumers, who can now buy his eclectic fare through his site, BowChicaMobile.com. Billed as "Mobile for Grown-ups," BowChica offers a variety of PG-rated tracks for a $2.49 download fee, including clips from Brickhouse Betty, a brand built around an animated character; Clown Porn, a group that brings clowns into the adult genre; and Jackie "the Joke Man" Martling, best known as Howard Stern's former sidekick. But the T-Mobile incident still strikes a chord with him. "I think censorship is pretty heinous," he says. "It stifles art; it stifles thought. If companies can't handle ring tones, what other types of censorship are going on?"
It is, after all, all about the music, Dial says, the musicians and artists who gave their sweat and blood for cinematic achievements that happen to coincide with images of often acrobatic sex, with names like "Cramming for College" and "Sexadelic Dance Party." The music isn't porn, just the subject matter. "It [is] more about being playful, slightly naughty," he said. "If you want hard stuff, there are plenty of places to get it. We're not that."
Not surprisingly, this jibes closely with the position of his wife of 18 years, who is not necessarily thrilled with her husband's choice of obsessions. "I'm not onboard as a family matter, but the music is awesome," says Dee Dee Dial. "Keeping it to the music is what I'm about." She supports her husband's "creative outlet," as long as he avoids links to the sleazier aspects of the industry. And she's impressed that he turned his "hobby" into a business. "I think there is a market there, just like there is a market for porn," she said.
Like many grand business ideas, Dial's infatuation with porn music gestated on the hallowed grounds of UT-Austin. He first developed the idea for fluffertraX in 1992, when he was working at KTSB, the student radio station that's now KVRX. He said he had a "gut instinct" about the public's interest in the music, although his gut may not have been the organ driving the idea. As the years progressed, he tried to market the idea but, shockingly, found little interest in the world of corporate media. "Radio stations weren't too receptive to the idea," he says.
But he revived the idea in the Internet age, and fluffertraX was born in 1999. (For those unfamiliar with the vocabulary of adult cinema, a "fluffer" is the young lady who, er, prepares the male star before a scene.) There is no actual porn on the site -- not even ads for films -- it simply spotlights "porn music" -- and the definition of "porn music" is fairly loose. For the most part, it has to be in a film, but Dial isn't above letting a George Clinton or Ice-T track slip in there, as long as it sounds like it should be in a porn film. "If it has a good vibe, I'll play it," he says.
While fluffertraX features all eras of porn music, its bread and butter, if you will, is the twangy funk of the Seventies, the bass-pumping tracks with titles like "Introducing Johnny Wadd" and "Dick Dagger's Theme." And Dial is selective. He pores over soundtracks and used-CD stores seeking the particularly tasty track. "If [I] buy a soundtrack, I get lucky if I play two songs from it," he said. "Some are just bad, but the good ones are really good." The music is surprisingly listenable, a mélange of soul, jazz, trippy space-age synthesizer jaunts, and bouncy hip-hop. "At first I thought it was kind of hilarious that he was picking up music from pornos," said Will Muntz, owner of the Lucky Lounge, which hosts an annual fluffertraX event during South by Southwest. "But then I started listening to the music, and it was really good."
Although fluffertraX is hardly taking the world by storm -- it generates a modest 1,000 listening hours a month -- the site claims a devoted following in places like Japan and the Middle East. In 2004, it won a Mikey Award from listeners of Live365, the company that hosts fluffertraX and a thousand other Internet stations, in the category of "Most Unlikely to Hear on AM/FM Radio."
As his devotion to the music has grown, Dial has become a regular at porn industry events, including the annual Las Vegas conventions -- seeking information about music and doing interviews with the stars, which he posts on fluffertraX. (Dee Dee is good-natured about all this but chooses not to accompany him on these "business trips." "It's like, whatever," she said. "I trust my husband. And I understand it's part of promoting the business.")
At this point, Dial knows many of the directors and producers, who often help in his quest for music. "Within the adult industry, he's become very well known," said Daniel Metcalf of Daniel Metcalf Public Relations, which represents Wicked Pictures, one of the biggest producers. Dial often links with the film companies for giveaways and promotional events, and he's become proficient at connecting with companies like PimpHats.com, "the pimp party clothing store since 1997," to promote his business. "He's very creative at co-branding what he's doing," said Metcalf, adding that industry players respect Dial's knowledge of the music. "He's got a great library, and he's definitely got an ear -- one foot in the past and one in the future."
Over the years, the industry's interest in the music that accompanies the moans and groans and occasional shrieks of its films has ebbed and flowed. In the Seventies, filmmakers commissioned original music for their films; in the Eighties, many simply used stale library tracks or cheap electronica. In Europe, on the other hand, where they are more refined about their sexual art, top composers often developed tracks for X-rated films, and it wasn't unusual to release soundtrack albums, Dial notes.
In recent years, with the adult business sliding more and more into the mainstream, there's been a resurgence of interest in original music, as more companies look to add a classier veneer to their bang fests. Eddie Van Halen recently won an adult video award. Last year, Vivid, the biggest adult-film company, released separate soundtrack CDs with several of their DVD releases. "It was like a wet dream for me, personally," Dial said, using an oddly appropriate metaphor.
Dial sees the soundtrack CDs as one more sign that porn music is finally gaining a measure of respect. He recently recognized a song from a Swedish porn film in a TV commercial for soda. "In the last six months, I've seen this creeping more and more into the mainstream media," he said. "If it's on TV, it can't be all bad."
Thanks to such signs, Dial is convinced he's hit upon an untapped musical niche. He's now focused on expanding BowChica, offering more tracks and developing an affiliate program, and selling Bow Chica Wow-Wow merchandise. He's also starting a regular fluffertraX gig at new Austin club Liquid (see Club Listings, p.96) the first Thursday of each month, bringing porn music to the masses.
Even if the music doesn't grip Joe and Martha Public, Dial can take comfort knowing that Snoop Dogg is a fluffertraX fan. "Damn, I should've thought of that shit -- not because it's good music, but because it's damn funny," he wrote on his blog, the Snoop Doggy Blog. When Dial went backstage at a Snoop appearance in Austin wearing a Bow Chica Wow-Wow cap, Snoop recognized him. "He said, 'You're that porn-music guy. I want to meet you,'" Dial said. "That was pretty sweet."