Late-night magic at MJQ: An oral history, Part I 

How a Swedish Chinese tastemaker, and a generation of artists, thugs, club kids, DJs and urban intellectuals turned Ponce de Leon Avenue on its ear

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click to enlarge Dirty Dr. Dax as a young man (circa '97). - PHOTO COURTESY BEN RHOADES

A lot more people were coming in, and there was still a strong bar vibe back then. People would just roll in for a drink. It didn't matter who was DJing. Over time, when they built the café, circa 2000, it was an attempt to preserve some of the feeling of the old club. It's called the café because we kept serving coffee there for a little while, until we decided that we just didn't want to deal with it anymore.

Robinson: There was a bigger dance floor to fill, and a different vibe. Back then drum-n-bass, new jazz and deep house were definitely a thing that people wanted to hear, and that's what we spun on weekend nights. It's crazy to imagine now, but that was what Atlanta wanted.

Jordan Reece, doorwoman, 1997-2001: The new MJQ felt more like a club than a special place that not everyone knew about. The old place was dark and smaller, and felt like a speakeasy — a cool place to meet interesting people who were interested in all sorts of music and art. A lot of people who loved the old club complained about the move and called it a sell-out. But it was still better than anywhere else in town. Various ages, looks and all kinds of different people were hanging out, and there weren't any fights.

As the new club came into its own, Chang's health continued to decline. On March 12, 1999, after slipping into a coma, Chang passed away.

Robinson: He told only a few close friends that he was sick and they kept it quiet. His death came as a surprise to a lot of people. He didn't want to be the center of attention. He just wanted to execute his vision and not draw attention to himself, which is admirable.

Injex: He was a proud guy. He didn't want gratuitous sympathy. Also, he was a thoughtful, independent person who didn't like to burden others, preferring to handle his problems on his own.

As the new millennium approached, the hype surrounding the new space quieted and it became apparent that MJQ needed some new blood and much larger crowds in order to keep the doors open. Local and nationally touring bands, such as Peaches, Deerhoof, Black Lips, Deerhunter, Rizzudo and the Lids began playing regular shows there, and were drawing sizable crowds. Wednesday's Britpop nights were always a sure thing for a packed house. But crowds on other nights began tapering off as the underground zeitgeist continued to change.

Kai Alce, co-founder of Deep Saturdays, MJQ's house night from 1997-2006: Ben [Rhoades] came into Satellite Records where I worked and said, "If I can't make it work in a couple months, I'm going to shut it down." He asked if I would come play. So I said, "Of course." He wanted to get [DJ] Kemit and someone else, so I suggested we go with Cullen Cole.

click to enlarge MJQ VIP card circa '96. - COURTESY JOHN ROBINSON

DJ Cullen Cole: Justin Chapman was the original house jock, who had been doing a night called House of Jack. He was let go for whatever reason and I was handling the night by myself. It was a tedious, five-hour set, and I didn't want to keep doing it on my own. Ben wanted to get the best DJs in town, so I suggested Kai and Kemit. They were into it, and the three of us ran with a house night.

Alce: Wednesdays were still going strong, but our Deep Saturdays took off. Within a year we had developed a large following. The second year Kemit left to play at Vision, so from there Cullen and I held down the fort.

Cole: Once Steve DeNiro came into the picture, and he and Kai branded Deep Saturday, things really took off.

Steve DeNiro: Ben spotted me at Nomenclature one night in 2000, and asked, "How'd you like to come work for me?" Things were slowing down and he needed help on Friday nights. I came in and started working as a creative director, more or less, and I was scared as shit! I didn't doubt that I could make it happen, I just didn't know where to start.

The first time I went in there on a Friday after he hired me, there were only two girls, dancing barefoot. It was an awful sight. So from there I started putting certain DJs in place. Gnosis and Sinceelay were still doing their thing. Then I put Kemit and Justin [Chapman] on. Then I hooked up with Rob Wonder, and that's when things really started to pop. That was the turning point.

Continue Reading "Part II: Growing old gracefully with hip-hop, hipsters and a little nip/tuck"

Additional reporting by Chanté LaGon

More: MJQ through the years in photos

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