Clubbing in the Eighties

Posted: June 21, 2017 in Blog
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When I graduated high school in the late eighties, the gothic-industrial wave was in full swing.  Not only were bands like The Cure and Depeche Mode experiencing huge swells in popularity, but the blooming nightclub scene featured regular hits from Nitzer Ebb, Front 242, Sisters of Mercy, Skinny Puppy, Ministry, and the list goes on.  This was all new back then, and it was amazing.  Each weekend was a promise of another night or two of dark adventure as we hit up various clubs in the city.

Having such close access to a metropolitan area the size of Houston was a boon.  I remember no less than a half dozen nightclubs all competing for attention, and they all played great music.  Still, always room for more, right?  Even if not in the expected area.

A long-time friend of mine and I were approached by a guy we somewhat knew from a nearby neighborhood.  He came from a quite well-off family, and he had some money to try a business venture.  We were all very young – late teens and early twenties.  This guy wanted to open a nightclub and try to get in on this surge of popularity and potential money.  One big wrinkle was his general ignorance of the nightclub scene and what worked in it.  He had heard that my friend and I were members of this subculture, and to top it off, my friend was an aspiring deejay with great skill and an amazing music collection.  Because of this, we were approached to work as “consultants” for this guy and help him to open a proper club.

Except one thing – he wanted to open it in Rosenberg.

Now, for those of you not familiar with the area, Houston is a nice sized city with a large surrounding metropolitan area.  Still, the major action happened more in the center of the city, and if not, then still in the city proper or close to it.  Rosenberg is a country city, and it’s not very big even today.  Obviously, the overhead to operate a nightclub there would be considerably less than in Houston, but who would go?  Not to mention the general populace in Rosenberg was somewhat conservative and rural, so even with their limited numbers, what people would choose to frequent such a place?

We weren’t the “money” of the operation, so even though we strongly suggested putting the club in Houston, that did not happen.  A place was found off one of Rosenberg’s main avenues, a place of generally small size but not too cramped.  We helped to decorate on the inside, showing up to add some avant-garde painting to the black furniture.  We used day-glow spray paint, because such bright tones were also hugely popular at the time.

Oh, and the owner had decided to call it Club Zoo.  I do not recall why he chose that, but I do recall not caring for it.  It was also going to be an all-ages club, because the theme he was going for held appeal to younger patrons.  What this meant, though, was no selling of alcohol.  My friend and I were baffled at how he planned to make any real money.

The place finally opened, and we would come down every weekend (we were attending college in Austin at the time) and work at the club.  My friend spun the records, and I handled the lights.  They did have a decent lighting system, and I had rigged up the various color cels to work on separate switches.  I could fill the dance floor with smoke, then just turn on the red lights, working them to the beat and melodies, creating a surreal, spooky ambiance.  This worked particularly well with the extended version of Skinny Puppy’s “Testure”.

The place did get some good crowds, though I don’t recall anything too huge.  The owner tried all sorts of gimmicks and giveaways to generate interest.  I guess he hoped the place would somehow manage to get popular and bring in people from the city.  That didn’t happen.  Still, we had some of the best music going at the time.  Not just the expected either, but we also Karen Finley, MC 900 Ft. Jesus, Meat Beat Manifesto, even N.W.A.  It was great.

It amuses me to think that for a brief period in the late eighties in Rosenberg, TX, a little known gothic-industrial, new wave nightclub called Club Zoo was playing some of the best music available at the time.  It’s a nice memory, and I’m glad I had some small part in it.


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