Echoes and Reverberations: When 'The Summer of Love' Meant Sex In a Club
"Are you one of the beautiful people? Is my name on the list? I want to be with the beautiful people... I wanna feel like I'm missed..." Eels - "Guest List"
I went to high school with a kid named Greg Holman. His father was a painter named George, who lived in the old Expo Park space that later became the Bar of Soap.
George Holman was the first truly gifted intellectual I had ever crossed paths with; he was the one who showed me the true value of knowledge and information. He was also a guy who loved inspiring young people with his art. My friends and I would often pile into a car and drive down to Holman's place to hang out, gobble some microdot, listen to him talk and watch the creation of his work.
One night, he told us about this French guy by the name of Philippe Starck. George detailed Starck's relevance and introduced us to his sense of design aesthetic by showing us these bizarre catalogs he had brought back from overseas. I was a kinda young and dumb to be thinking about stuff like expensive European furniture, but Holman's description of Starck's creative approach made it seem really interesting.
George also mentioned that he was helping to bring this guy to Dallas to open a nightclub in an old brewery just northwest of downtown. For months afterwards he kept us up to date with details on the renovation of the building.
When the Starck Club finally opened in April of 1984, there was something about the place that just didn't appeal to me. Without ever having stepped inside the building, I had already decided that it was going to be filled with Cocaine Republicans. Not my crowd at all. I was a 22-year-old dreadlocked kid who wore ripped jeans, pajama tops and old black Chuck Taylor's.
I wasn't going to a snooty fuckin' disco where Martian lizards were going to stand there and judge me at the front door.
A year later, I hooked up with Russell Hobbs and Theatre Gallery. We were living in a dirty Deep Ellum loft without AC or heat, and going to the Starck Club was the last thing on our minds. They were spending millions on that place. We were scraping together fifty bucks every night to buy a keg and a sleeve of plastic cups so our people would have something to drink.
I distinctly remember resenting the Starck Club just because I knew they had badass air conditioning. Fuckers.
Then Starck co-owner Blake Woodall, general manager Greg McCone and the beautiful scenestress Christina de Limur all showed up for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Karen Finley shows at Theatre Gallery. We hung out a bit and became friends. Russell and I would venture over to The Brewery every couple of months or so, and Vaal, George Baum and the rest of the Starck door crew always treated us like we were part of the show. They even let us sit on the side of the stage on the night that Washington DC go-go group Trouble Funk dropped The Bomb.
After getting to know all of the people involved, I started to see just exactly what George Holman had been talking about years before. The Starck Club was the exact polar opposite of what we doing at Theatre Gallery; we were a dirty performance space and they were a high-tech dance hall. Still, all of us recognized that we were essentially in the same business: providing a necessary liberal cultural diversion to a very conservative and uptight city.
A few of us even lived to tell about it.
As we mark the 25th anniversary of the opening of the most decadent and infamous nightclub in the history of our city, I have only one question: Can anybody remember anything?
"Hey you, with the walkie-talkie/ I know my clothes are not right/ I wish I had my own walkie-talkie/ that reached to God every night..."
Lisa Taylor (Dallas writer): "I was assigned by The Dallas Times Herald to cover the opening in 1984. I remember ordering a Betsey Johnson dress just for the event. I was gratified that I passed the doorman as he was advertised as being a real hard ass. David Seeley was my date and he was covering it for another publication. I do recall the great bathrooms and the great videos from Dave Hynds and Suzy Riddle. I danced the night away... ah the good ol' days."
Mark Ridlen (DJ Mr. Rid): "Starck Club was a pretty incomparable union of high/low art and commerce--especially in our one-horse town. In early '84, I ran into one of the club's tastemakers Sarah Yates when my girlfriend lived at the Argyle apartments with (designer) Todd Oldham. Sarah fondly remembered the mix tapes I made and asked me to program music for the soon-to-be Mecca. Philippe Starck was also in town, so I ushered him and Sarah to Metamorphosis and VVV Records, which possessed the arty dance music the club would need for its library. When it opened in '84, I spun on various nights until DJ Phillipe Krootchey could come over from Paris for his residency."
Angus Wynne (promoter): "I booked Jack Mack and the Heart Attack for a private party for the Davidson Racing Team on the night before the club opened to the public. Unfortunately, they had to set up just above the hole that the dance floor was in--and the only people who could see them were those standing on the barriers around the hole. To make matters worse, live music was always tragic in the joint because there wasn't a soft surface anywhere to baffle the audio, resulting in absolute cacophony. Concrete and terrazzo made up the bulk of the place, and the cotton drapes did absolutely nothing to abate the profound echo that ricocheted around the room. Philippe Starck told me that his original design was being sabotaged even before the opening, after which he hightailed it out of town. I'm not certain, but I think he never returned to his namesake after that."
Darren Ryan (DJ/musician): "I was there to see Chris and Cozy/SPK perform. It was a terrible venue for live music with giant columns in the middle of the stage. I was underage back then, and they let me in because I worked at Record Gallery and was on the guest list for those shows. (Thanks Steve Stokes!) Don't forget about Starck and the NYC club kids connection, the whole Michael Alig gang. That's kind of interesting too. All that said, it was a fascinating place."
Bart Weiss (On The Air/Video Bar): "I remember the video in the bathroom by Suzy and David Hynds, including one of their baby daughter Cecil with sugar being pored over her to the tune of 'Sugar Sugar'; and I remember waiting for Grace Jones; when they lost their dance permit, and they did a version of The Sun City about not being able to dance."
Joe Howington (VJ, Fallout Lounge): "After hitting up On The Air on Lower Greenville, we headed downtown into an area of mostly abandoned buildings. Under the mixmaster overpass and over unmarked railroad tracks were the draped stairs of the Starck Club. I immediately knew I was somewhere. Once inside, it was a whole other world to me. A Tuesday night around 12:30 a.m. and the place was full of the most incredible people I could have imagined. To this day, I recall a portly man in pseudo-professional attire doing laps around the balcony of the dance floor with what looked like a 12-foot-tall drag queen in full showgirl get-up and roller skates. All I could think of was, 'Where did all of these people come from?' My sense of style was forever altered."
Amy Curnutt (model): "I was introduced to the Starck Club by my hairdresser, Chip Woods of Looker Hair Group. Hairdressers were the kingpins of the club. I was 17 and a model at the time, so this made it easy to get in. It was always a fashion show. There were always great shows. Book of Love was one I remember. The vibe in the club was always electric. Like something was going to happen. And we all know it eventually did."
Greg Synodis (Lithium X-Mas): "Starck Club was this catalyst for cultural vistas temporarily opening in Dallas. It was uniquely perched at the nexus of money (which Dallas has always responded to), sin, sexual politics, style, recreational chemicals, and strange new musical hybrids. The Starck Club influenced people's tastes and acceptance of what was right or wrong, even on the west frontiers of Dallas. We were now at the crossroads of a bigger cultural world than Dallas had ever been exposed to, or guessed even existed."
Mark Ridlen: "I loved the original door girl named Edwidge, who would be doing the Watusi to my random mix one minute, and the next be manhandling an unruly cokehead to the nearest exit. From my connections to the inner sanctum, I found lasting jobs for some of my closest friends throughout Starck's lifespan. Dave Hynds and Suzie Riddle procured and created all of the amazing video that was shown throughout the club, as well as designed art and props for all of the club's theme nights and special events. My band Lithium X-Mas was conceived strictly as a one-off party group for their Psychedelic Night in early '85."
Jeff K (DJ): "George Baum was working the door at Starck Club during the late '80s when we were both DJs at KNON. I had heard all about the debauchery and decided to take George up on his offer to experience it firsthand. About this same time I became interested in the profession of club DJing, as well as radio DJing. On the decks at Starck Club was a diminutive, rather shy DJ by the name of Mike DuPriest. Mike and I became fast friends, taking me under his wing showing me the DJ ropes and teaching me the art of beat mixing. Mike not only taught me how to mix, but also educated an entire generation of Dallas DJs about house music."
Mike Graff (Course of Empire): "I remember going on a date with a girl I met at the old On The Air video bar. I was really into her and thought we were getting on. Then she blew me off for another guy who was better looking and made great money working in the film biz. For a week, I felt like shit and couldn't let it go. The next weekend, I saw him in the bathroom at the Starck Club making out with another guy. Locked in passionate embrace, they kissed, tongues twisting. It should have been clear to anybody that these two men were seriously in love. (Then again, it might have just been some of that legal Ecstacy. Or, they were just posing. In those days, even straight guys were desperate to appear gay at The Starck Club.) Seeing that display in the bathroom was a boon to my self-esteem. I checked my look in the mirror, teased my sprayed-up, Setzer-like hair up further, went back out and danced like a fool."
It might be hard to imagine, but there was a time when the drug Ecstasy was, indeed, still a legal drug. Everybody was doing it, maybe even your Mom and Dad. It was the drug that straight people could take and get their freak on. It was easy and clean, and all of the clubs in town were making it available to their clientele.
The new drug made users drop their inhibitions and wanna fuck anything with a pulse or driver's license. Life had suddenly taken on new meaning; everything was profoundly important and significant. It was generally understood that if we could just get all of the world's leaders together in one room to drop a handful of X, they could hug it out and there would never again be any war, famine or imposition of will. At Starck Club, people were having sex with strangers in the bathrooms, the private boudoirs and on the dance floor every single night.
Everybody loved everybody.
AIDS and the criminalization of Ecstacy changed that dynamic dramatically.
Chris Motley (Club Clearview): "I don't think there was ever a time I was in the club that I wasn't on X. That drug, that club, the time, that music, those people... all unashamedly intertwined. In my mind, there's no way to separate any of the elements, including X, from any of the others. Particular evenings that stand out to me include the insanity of the after-hours Red Hot Chili Peppers show and the night that Frankie Goes to Hollywood played the Bronco Bowl. The Chili Peppers night is a haze of debauched fun, but after the Frankie party, I distinctly remember emerging out of Starck to go home afterwards and being horrified that dawn had already broken over the city. I felt like a fucking vampire."
Craig Depoi (Bartender): "The money was crazy and so were the drugs! Every night I'd make 600 to 800 bucks. People would slide ten or twenty hits of legal X across the bar in matchbooks. One night, Billy Boots and I were working the round bar, and at closing time a guy named Rick Candies gave us a thousand dollar tip on his charge card. Crazy money, man! $50 and Honey Bees thrown in our tip jar all night long."
Darren Ryan: "Let's be honest, both the music and fashion were highly questionable back then, and whether people like it or not, Starck Club is defined by the drug Ecstasy. That whole club era is about AIDS and drugs."
"Everyone needs to be somebody/Everybody needs to find someone who cares/ But I don't if you know what I mean/ 'Cause I'm never on your list... I'm never on your list."
Joe Howington: "As much as I liked hanging out on street corners and warehouses later on in my scenester days, nothing ever compared to the enigma of those early days at Starck. Subsequent clubs have always felt faint in comparison. It was pure fantasy, like being at the MILK BAR from A Clockwork Orange. Believe it or not, I was never really into X or the drug thing there in general. I just liked the vibe."
Katie Barber: "I remember being alone with Robert Plant in the women's restroom one night. I walked in and he was sitting on the counter. We said hi to each other, and I said, 'I have some really cool pictures of you and Eric Clapton that were taken at Phil Collins' recent wedding.' He replied, 'Wow, that was an incredibly small wedding. How in the world did you get them?' I explained that I knew a woman who was a friend of Phil and his then-wife, Jill. She had attended the wedding in a small town in England and had given me the pictures. We had a nice 'small world' conversation before some meathead guy came in and accosted him. We just kind of shrugged at each other like, 'Oh well...' and said goodbye. His fame never came up. Lots of famous people came into Starck back then, but before the club got popular, the crowd there was way too cool to bother them. Don't know where that particular knucklehead came from."
Juan Porrata (DJ): "One aspect of the Starck Club which is often overlooked--due to the much-deserved adulation that DJ Rick Squillante always received--is the fact that those final years with 'Go-Go' Mike were so very influential for the burgeoning local rave/DJ community. I recall hearing the elements of acid house in Mike's set, which, at the time, was brand new in Dallas. This was a new, emerging genre which Mike championed; and he helped to mentor up-and-comers such as Jeff K, who at the time was playing industrial and therefore helped change Dallas radio; as well as other DJ's who are still important today, such as Redeye, Luke Sardello (Com:Plex), Robert Taylor and a host of others."
Christina de Limur aka "Sita" (co-founder of Starck Club): "The early years of new wave were incredible, emotional, meaningful ballads--Rick Squillante was a true mixmaster. The techno phase was a little cold and repetitive--thank God there was the early hip-hop (we had a spot called Lizzard Lounge in the basement) to give it meaning once again. Liza 'Mad Doll' Richardson was always giving it meaning with her intelligent, saucy mixes. It was a lot of fun and a great time in music!"
Jeff K: "England had its 'Summer of Love' in 1988; Dallas had it's great awakening that same year at Starck Club, when young and impressionable club goers like Red Eye, Rob Vaughan, Cle Acklin, JT Donaldson, DJ Merritt, Ronnie Bruno and DJ Daisy were first exposed to the sound of Chicago house tracks by Frankie Knuckles and Fast Eddie, Detroit Techno tracks from Derrick May and Juan Atkins alongside UK Acid House artists like 808 State, S' Express, Baby Ford and The Beatmasters. Having come to Dallas from NYC, Mike DuPriest had the knowledge of these records and understood the movement that was upon us. Looking back on the history of house and techno music breaking in America, you can point to the obvious cities; NY, LA, Chicago and Detroit, but Dallas is also given credit... and much of that was due to DuPriest. 'Go-Go' Mike (as he was known) was also blessed with the skill and technique to phrase, mix and generate emotion unlike any DJ I'd ever seen before. Prior to Starck, electronic dance music had never made me cry. That final night of Starck Club with Mike DuPriest at the helm, I wept like a child."
When Decadent Dub Team was booked to perform an after-hours show one weekend, we used the opportunity to really bring the noise. That was probably the loudest show we ever played. It was quite strange to look out from the stage and see your audience standing down at the bottom of a staircase thirty feet below. And even though we didn't go on until 2:45 in the morning, the crowd at Starck Club was just starting to peak. Sweaty socialites ground their teeth and chain-smoked expensive imported cigarettes; by the time we finished our set it felt like the place was on fire... and this was a club that always kept the thermostat at somewhere around 50 degrees.
It's hard to imagine that it has been 25 years since the Starck Club first provided safe haven for grown adults of both sexes to pee in front of one another and dress like aliens. Along the way there were drug busts and police raids; eventually the club closed down and then re-opened under new management. There were suicides and overdoses, HIV casualties and damaged relationships. Blake Woodall, like Russell Hobbs before him, eventually had a spiritual awakening and embraced a life of family and sobriety.
For each, there was a price to be paid for the commitment to wanton self-indulgence.
"Are you one of the beautiful people?/ Am I on the wrong track?/ Sometimes it feels like I made of eggshell/ It feels like I'm gonna crack."
In retrospect, it's altogether possible that Philippe Starck probably only saw the nightclub as functional showcase for his furniture and design work. As Angus Wynne pointed out, the guy never came back after that first week. Starck probably thought we were some backwoods soap-on-a-rope motherfuckers. Of course, years later, he signed on as a house designer for Target... wouldn't ya know.
The Enlightened Aesthetic Master is off on some trailer park shit now.
Regardless of how you choose to frame it, the Starck Club was an interesting part of our cultural fabric during the '80s and early '90s. For those who wholeheartedly embraced the hypersexual/pharmaceutical lifestyle, the memory exists as something they would never dare tell their kids about now.
What they don't know won't hurt 'em, right?
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