Saturday, August 18, 2007

I Want My MTV (moment to do over)!


The year was 1990. I was the Music Director at a venue called ClubLand in Detroit, MI. ClubLand was a concept created by Steve Jarvis. The idea was to take an existing theater space and turn it into a nightclub and multipurpose venue. The main physical things were to remove the sloped theater seating on the ground floor, put in stepped levels and add cabaret-style seating. The stage itself, and the area immediately in front of the stage would become dance floor. A large video wall would be installed upstage to create a dynamic multimedia backdrop for the night's activities. Three large projection screens would then be installed above that, which enabled many different visual pieces to happen consecutively. Those large screens were retractable so that they could also act as a curtain for performers on a platform atop the video wall. Add in a killer sound system and light show, and a bunch of bars...
The first ClubLand was in Chicago at the Vic Theater, then Houston's Tower Theater followed, with Detroit (in the State Theater, now the Detroit Fillmore) being the third and largest by far. They tried Worcester, MA (now the Palladium) and Key West, FL as well, to less success. The State Theater in Detroit was a historic theater built in 1925 and was just beautiful.

The entertainment concept was unique among nightclubs: Sure, you had programmed music (a DJ - that was me), but there was a lot more. Since the stage was a natural focal point for the crowd (and not everyone is a dancer, many preferring to people-watch), we actually had an MC, a dance troupe, and guest musicians. This in addition to all sorts of video 'bits' that could be something as simple as text scrolling on the big screens, to pre-taped comedy bits, live camera interaction, and of course, music videos. We had an elaborate DJ booth that housed lighting control, the audio gear/records/videotapes, and the video switching and routing command center. Pretty high tech for its day, I must say.
The dance troupe consisted of usually 6 dancers that constantly worked up routines to either various songs of the day. There was a professional choreographer who worked with them and they actually did a great job, considering 90% of their routines were performed on a 6' deep platform with no front railing to keep them from plunging off the top of the video wall. OSHA who? The guest musicians would also perform up there, usually a guitarist or sax player who would jam over pre-determined songs 3 times during the night. We got pretty creative sometimes, though, and had a trombone player (Bugs Beddow! Still remember that guy - he could wail. On flute, too!) and even a drummer (Dennis White)[2] with an electronic kit -- that was great fun. He and I would "trade eights" like live musicians do, me scratching in and out of records, him playing all sorts of cools stuff (he had a lot of sample triggers & such).
Most of these entertainment elements were 'seamless' to the clubgoers as to not disrupt dance floor activity, you could watch and/or pay attention, or you could just dance your butt off. Occasionally, though, we'd do some sort of skit that stopped the action and turned the place into a theater for a couple of minutes (our "Mandatory Union Break" was pretty funny). All in all, it was very successful, as it was varied enough that most everyone found something to really like about it.
When the nightclub wasn't in operation, we'd use the venue for concerts, corporate events, fashion shows, beauty pageants, whatever. I still remember Ford debuting the Escort there (whee!)-- they even had the lady who sang the jingle "Have you driven a Ford... lately?" come sing it live as a surprise to the Ford execs. The wild stories of the "urban" Hair Shows will have to wait.
Anyway, during this same time, MTV was running a show they called "24-Hour Street Party", where Downtown Julie Brown would visit some club in America, they'd tape some segments, and then edit them into a show for broadcast (she'd intro videos 'live' from the club, chat with various people, etc.). They came to ClubLand on November 1 (no, I don't remember that date, someone very nice at Clubland made me a 'scrapbook' of sorts with xeroxes of nearly every event flier and ad we ever had - thanks, Wendy!) and we had SNAP! in concert that night as well as the usual club madness (no, SNAP! wasn't a real band, but they pulled together enough musicians to pull off a tour, just like Inner City and other house music outfits). So, Julie and her camera crew were shooting intros/outros from various places in the club, and also getting quick interviews with bartenders, patrons, and of course... the DJ. Well, I was thinking about what glib and funny things I might say, and Julie came down to the booth to talk to me before recording. She asked me if I had a "handle" as many DJs do (I never used one), and said "OK, we'll be back in a little while to roll tape". Keep in mind, this is in the middle of a screamingly loud room, SNAP! wasn't on stage at the time so I was busy spinning records. Apparently when Julie said "in a little while" she meant "now". She basically turned around, waved her cameraman in, and came right back to me. Her first question, of course, was about "what crazy, cool DJ handle" I used, to which I had to answer "Clay" -- first dork moment of the evening. Then, she says, "Well, CLAY..have you..." and then she turned away from me towards the camera and I couldn't hear what she said. Next thing I know, she has turned back around with the mic in my face... and I got nuthin'. Not to mention, my record is running out and I've got to get the next one going. So I kind of went "...Heh-heh... well..." and had to grab for the turntable. She said some sort of goodbye and they went on to the next bit. Horrible! I was pretty red-faced over it, and had NO idea what she'd said. Much later, after the episode aired and someone got a tape, I found out she'd said "Well, CLAY, have you seen anything really funky go on around here?" -- which I'm not sure I would have had much of an answer for anyway... what kind of a question is that? I guess I could have told her of all the times we'd caught people in flagrante delicto up in the balcony...
Luckily, not that many people really watch MTV. I did have one old girlfriend from Pittsburgh (5 years earlier) call and tell me she saw it, but that was it.
All in all, my 15 minutes seconds of fame was a bust! I did get to spend a little time with DJB though, and she was very friendly and down-to-earth (a refreshing change from TV-types, including one of her predecessors, Mark Goodman, who was a total jerk when I met him years prior).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Haahaha! I have a VHS copy of that somewhere in my boxes too, babe. (Remember me?) Find me on Facebook and let's catch up! :-) -marla