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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

How I grew to love that damn Future song, and other stray observations of ATL nightlife

Terminal West

Since January, while covering a 10-mile radius within city limits, I've strolled into trendy lounges, gay dive bars and what felt like a collegiate's first nightclub - and then texted, from around 10:30 p.m. until, oh, last call. My behavior's provoked many questions: "What are you doing?" "Why aren't you dancing?" "Working? You don't look like you're working. Why aren't you drinking? You look like you don't know how to have fun."

To that guy at Havana Club - funny, I didn't catch your name - consider this (incredibly consolidated) notebook dump as proof that, yes, I was working. In fact, when I first dove into Atlanta's nightlife scene, I approached it like a tourist, complete with an itinerary of events, whether seemingly overhyped or overlooked. But as I've found at places like Opera, Mary's, and Terminal West, nightlife isn't solely determined by its venue and its marketing - but by some bizarre, elusive equation that also factors in the people, the social lubricants of choice and other things I've yet to completely figure out:

The S.M.S. (Save My Set) track of early 2012: "Niggas in Paris." The S.M.S. track going into mid-2012: "Same Damn Time." "Niggas in Paris" and "Same Damn Time" have very little common, other than being rap radio smashes with stupidly catchy statements of greediness. Still, DJs at nearly every venue I've visited (the only exceptions being the Sound Table and its dance floor next door, Space2) have all used these songs to reel crowds back from the bar to the floor, because it works. Dubstep fans love these songs. Clark Atlanta University students actually look up from their phones for these songs. And, when Mayhem spun this track in his opening set at Terminal West, I could feel my face light up as the first chorus played out. "Wait, do you actually like this song?" a dude drinking PBR said, wrinkling his nose as I started singing, "Fucking two bad bitches at the same damn time."

People seem eager to revitalize house, whatever that means. After spending a Saturday night at Havana, watching a DJ "battle," I started noticing them everywhere - events by either house revivalists and/or enthusiasts, who all seem eager to argue over what "house" actually is. My calendar is filled with event listings of nights named "Transport" (QUAD), "Structure" (CosmoLava) and "Midtown's Only Real House Night" (Koo Koo Room). Promoters range from the arena-aspiring Reboot Music to the largely quiet (as in, promotion) Wiggle Factor, who either look to modern-day success stories like Daft Punk, Justice and Swedish House Mafia or to the genre's largely underground, Chicago-based past.

The most memorable dancing seem to be in Atlanta's tightest quarters, whether they're serving canned beers or chilled cocktails - at least, according to what I could make of my sloppy texting-turned-outtakes:
>> "Standing in first position, she slid her right foot out, then her left foot into a tendu, before she spun herself into a pirouette. Later, as Nicki Minaj's voice stuttered through the speakers, she leaped onto the stage to plie twice, then hop off the stage, her feet flailing in the process." (MJQ)
>> "A low clapping shuffle and bass inspires one barrelchested guy wearing what looks like his girl friend's, otherwise too small scarf to finally break away from the bar, so that he could puff out his chest and strut from one end of the floor to another." (The Sound Table)
>> Compare to: "At 12:11 the emcee announces DJ Scream - and his four chains - as he walks to the stage. There still isn't a whole lot going on, except that I can hear a buzz and I can see one guy start to swipe at a pole dancer's ass like a kitten playing with yarn." (the not-so-small Museum Bar)

Of everyone who's chatted me up over the past few months, only one person was an Atlanta native. Even though I mostly keep to myself, I've also met plenty of people while going out - mostly people who, like me, have just moved to Atlanta. I've met people from Seattle, Miami, Houston or even the D.C. area, who've relocated because of a job or, if they're DJs or promoters, hopes to make an impact here while also bearing their hometown influence. And as I bounce from venue to venue each week, I sometimes remember these transplants and wonder when and where Atlanta will start to feel like home. (That Atlanta native, by the way, was DJ DiBiase.)

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