ISP, Aug. 16 -- it's Elvis' death day, but you wouldn't know it at ISP. Here, the focus is strictly on a night of new, independent music. Even though the scrappy little 10-month-old venue on busy Flat Shoals Avenue has only a couple of weeks to live, it's a distant concern.
The bill features an impressive slate of tight, 30-minute sets from the Orphins, the Moorish Idols, Knoxville's Royal Bangs and Atlanta/New York hybrid Porcelain Bunny. It's the model ISP event. The crowd is a shape-shifting mix of sophisticated listeners, friends and associates of the bands. A fair amount of foot traffic roams to and from the Earl, the internationally known haven of music, food and drinks located next door.
By 1:30 a.m. the show is over, and musician and co-founder Justin Sias is exhausted. He's been working sound, coordinating bands, manning the door and generally keeping a semblance of order in the laid-back operation. "I need to take a break," he says, sitting down for the first time in hours.
The break means the end of ISP, at least for now. Sias and creative partner Eric Holder, both members of the band Elevado, announced the closing a few weeks ago in modest fashion, with an announcement placed at the bottom of an e-mail promoting their upcoming gigs. The venue's unassuming lack of publicity is ironic, because ISP actually stands for Industrial Strength Promo, named for Holder's public-relations business. The paradox isn't lost on Sias. "Yeah, that's interesting, isn't it?" he says, before pointing out that the small room was initially opened to be an incubator rather than an operable club. "The problem – which isn't really a problem – is this: ISP has gotten more popular than we can handle.
"At the end of the day, this was just supposed to be a practice space," he continues. The practices were often halted by curious passers-by stopping to peek in on the party atmosphere. "See, Elevado just wanted to practice in East Atlanta, to get the whole culture of this area, and then we could go hang out at the Earl. That was all we wanted."
After a few successful rent parties, the space became a launching pad for Sias' and Holder's fertile ideas, including a record label and promo office. These days, former Athenian Holder takes a decidedly behind-the-scenes presence with ISP, working from his own office to increase exposure for the Other Sound Festival and a host of like-minded bands. Meanwhile, the collective he co-founded thrives without much advertising.
"With the intercommunication between the bands that play here, everyone seems to get the memo of what's going on," Sias says, "And they tell their friends." Yet ISP's steady roster of indie shows was never a real threat to business at the neighboring venue, he adds.
"We must have brought them more business than anyone else in town," he explains, nodding toward the front patio of the Earl. "Nearly everyone who comes here who hasn't eaten ends up eating there." Or drinking there, since ISP has no liquor license.
The lack of liquor sales has financially drained the decidedly nonprofit ISP. "If we were to try to make this a cash cow, we could make a lot of money here. If we were charging $6 a drink, we'd be bankin' it. But that's not what we wanted, and that opens so many doors that we just aren't ready for at the moment." For now, he says, Elevado will step up touring and recording plans with an eye toward turning ISP into a full-on club at some point in the future. "Check back in a year and we'll see, but for now the only way to move forward is to stop."
And Sias is content with that, for now. "A chapter is about to close, but it's nowhere near the end of the book."
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