Someone has gotten a little too enthusiastic with the fog machine tonight. Smoke fills the wide room up to the club's low ceiling and back toward the concession stand. There, some teenager is probably handing out fog-flavored nachos, the smoke adding an extra kick to that goopy, gummy cheese of indeterminate origin. But the kids love the fog, and Rock Steady is all about the kids.
All the right elements are in place: a big, dark room, largely lacking parents; ear-blasting music pulsating from all angles; and flashing lights threatening to induce seizures in even the healthiest of clubgoers. In the hottest all-ages club in Plano, they've thought of everything. Now if only they could get some kids to show up.
Just 10 or 12 teenage guys gyrate wildly on the dance floor. Tonight is "Rave Steady," the club's first—and, by the looks of it, last—techno night. Of course, it's a Sunday, and there's school tomorrow, but the place is a flashing, bumping graveyard, even with the few sets of glow sticks twirling in the mist. As I fiddle with my Razr, a short, round man in a flannel shirt rushes up to me.
"Text all your friends!" he squeaks. "Tell them to come here!" Sure, I think. I'll just go peel them off the floor of the Libertine Bar and tell them we're going to listen to the club hits of 1999 in a Plano teen joint. I ask the flannel man if he's in charge. He is. This is Lindy Denham, middle-aged father of two teenagers and the owner of Rock Steady.
"It's not normally like this," he explains as he pulls me back toward the office, joking about changing the "office" label to "orifice" as he shuts the door. He originally envisioned Rock Steady as a Christian contemporary club.
"Have you ever tried to go into competition with a church?" he asks me in a decidedly non-rhetorical tone. Nah, I think, I'm pretty sure Jesus and I have different demographics. He sighs. "Well, don't try." When that didn't work out, he fished around and found a couple of teenage booking agents who would bring weekends full of emo-screamo-hardcore-emocore-metalcore-nachocore bands. After that, things started "trending up," and Rock Steady claimed the 15-to-19 demographic Denham wanted to steal from movie theaters and church lock-ins. Denham rolls on, showing me the club's MySpace page. He introduces me to booking agent Sean. He brings up the club's packed weekend calendars on the computer. But he freezes when a remix of Justin Timberlake's "SexyBack" begins seeping under the office door.
"And, apparently, we have techno," Sean says with a sigh. Beyond the wall, I picture eight kids twirling their little fluorescent wands, secure in the belief that what they are doing is incredibly cool. The rave night is the brainchild of 17-year-old Andrew Reyna of Allen, a spiky-haired, doll-faced kid who, according to his MySpace page, likes vampires and a bizarre kind of French street gymnastics called le parkour.
I find Andrew, aka DJ Reaktor, at the DJ booth, engrossed in mixing an old Daft Punk track with some newfangled business. Either he doesn't know there are only 10 kids at his rave, or he doesn't care.
"WHY TECHNO?" I yell over the music, amazed at his dedication to synthesizers and looped vocals in this era of rock and roll.
"I JUST LIKE IT," he yells back, slipping his headphones on and turning a few more knobs. This must be the kid who goes to parties and sits in the back room playing video games all night. Everyone in the room is completely miffed by the music, from the door girl to Denham to the concession stand guy. But Andrew and his buddies are in a state of mild euphoria. Teenagers have an amazing ability to have a fantastic time jumping up and down in circles to electronic music. I should know; I did an awful lot of it back in the day.
I caught the tail end of the rave scene in the '90s, clinging on with my wide-legged pants, glow-in-the-dark hair color and ridiculous amounts of sparkly plastic jewelry. But Andrew's "Rave Steady" is the 2007 equivalent of what would've happened if I'd strapped on black ankle boots and a fishnet top and tried to get all my friends to stop listening to Limp Bizkit and check out Madonna's True Blue. Kids in my day wanted their rap metal; kids these days want their screamo. I learned this by doing the unthinkable: spending a Friday night north of Interstate 635.
As I swung open the front door of Rock Steady for the second time, I was nearly trampled by a 6-foot guy in ass-hugging girl pants yelling to his friends outside, "It's all the non-scene kids here tonight!" I figured that meant I'd be greeted by a room full of nerds; I figured wrong.
I walked into Rock Steady to find a couple hundred of the best-looking, best-dressed clubgoers in town. Everyone was in skinny jeans, the girls with their sparkly flats and Chanel bags, the guys in Chuck Taylors and slim-fit hoodies. Packed onto the dance floor in their Shops at Willow Bend best, the teenage Rock Steadiers put the trendsters at Candle Room, Rubber Gloves, the Cavern and, well, every other club in Dallas to shame. Yes, they all looked like they got cut out of the same Urban Outfitters catalog, but they looked fantastic.
Looking around the room, it was as if someone had shrunk all the world's jeans in the dryer since the gargantuan pants days of '98, but the music was the same. It was 9 p.m., and headlining band Trophy Scars was onstage, playing the same brand of screamy-metal-thrash-emo I was dragged to hear every weekend by my Christian punk-rock boyfriend in high school.
Most kids there were having an emo blast, except for the various groups of girls who crouched below the comfortable waist-high ledge I was using to hide the view of my incredibly uncool boot-cut jeans. Apparently I'd taken up residence in the corner of text-message sorrow. Below me, girls with side-swept bangs would crouch, whip out their cell phones and let their thumbs fly across the keys, lighting into the boys who'd done 'em wrong.
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"I like how I came to see you and you don't talk to me!" one brunette typed as a bustling throng of teenagers did some "mosh dancing," as Denham called it, mere yards away. Another bemoaned her plight thus: "He has not once tried to make a move on me!"
Suddenly, the lights go out and the hollow echo of a drum kit is the only sound in the room. The band has rocked too hard for the building's fuses. The high school couple sharing a white lawn chair in the back takes the opportunity to delve into a serious mouth-to-mouth discussion on the merits of saliva. In the dark, I can see the brave grandmother of a young local band member sitting behind them, glaring in horror.
But Denham is there to save the day, doing damage control in his Dockers, navigating the floor in his dad-pants like he's in a game of Frogger: Screamo Edition. He disappears into the "orifice" and minutes later, the lights and amplifiers are back on.
"We're just gonna say, 'Fuck that song!'" the lead singer gasps into the microphone, and the kids cheer. The most recent group of sorrowful texters stands up and heads for the door, clutching their cell phones like life preservers. But the power outage has distracted the crowd; the diaspora has come. Some kids filter outside, others head for the concession stand. O, fickle youth. How tormented—and well-dressed—you are.