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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Lost in Cleveland - The Nine of Clubs

I can pinpoint three things in particular that formed my musical identity during my impressionable teen years, circa 1981-89:

1. MTV (like it or not),
2. WOBC 91.5-FM, the tiny radio station hidden in Lorain County, Ohio on the Oberlin College campus, where the playlist included bands like Echo & The Bunnymen, the Smiths and Thomas Dolby when they were still considered “experimental”,
3. And the Nine of Clubs, a dirty, tiny little bar/club in downtown Cleveland with an even tinier dance floor and the best DJs I’ve ever heard spin.

I consider the Nine of Clubs around '87-89-ish to be the Studio 54 of the industrial/synth-pop dance music scene. A number of major and minor players in the genre passed thru those musty doors and down the dark staircase to the mirrored-wall surrounded dance floor, including Ministry’s Alain Jourgensen (so we heard), various Skinny Puppies and Pigfaces…Trent Reznor was a regular – I think I know about six girls who have since claimed to have “dated” him.

But we didn’t go to the Nine to starfuck (well, most of us didn’t). It was all about the music, as DJs like Alyssa (my favorite), Mike Filly, Rob Sherwood, etc. played the gamut of underground/alternative music of the day, which ranged from poppy fare like Book of Love and Depeche Mode, to the harder, gloomier beats of the Wax Trax oeuvre, with a generous sprinkling of goth (or “darkwave” as the kids these days call it). It was basically one stop shopping for “punkers”, Goths and synthkids, though we’d never dream to call ourselves such. My old joke at the time is that the Nine would welcome both 1983 Alain Jourgensen and the later, scarier 1989 Alain.

I could describe the scene and how much it meant to us, but this guy has done such a stellar job that anything I’d add would be superfluous, except to say that I could do a killer imitation of that one spaztastic dude who would take over the entire dancefloor, limbs flailing. I’m amazed at the number of people I’ve met in the years since who used to hang out there, and went on to become graphic or fine artists, computer programmers, writers, all these highly creative and technical fields. It was Cleveland’s intellectual alternative salon, and the alumni prove that. I met people there I’m still in contact with nearly twenty years later, I’ve seen people who met at the Nine get married (and still be together!), and we all still get on the phone or e-mail to bullshit about this great time in our lives.

And the music…the music…sigh. Y’know, kids, back in tha day when we heard a song we liked in the club, we had to lower ourselves to slink up to the DJ booth, heads bowed in proper reverence, and meekly ask, “Excuse me, but who sings that last song that went ‘Tick tock, tick tick tock?’” You’d get your (sometimes snotty) response, then spend the next week or so driving from record store to record store, sometimes miles apart, all in an effort to find that elusive vinyl treasure. Or you’d try to outsmart the system and just automatically buy every Wax Trax release that came in. And then you’d walk 37 miles to school in a snowstorm with no shoes. BUT YOU LOVED IT!

Like all good times, the Nine came to end for me in 1988 when I joined the Army and went off to Basic Training. I kept a little red “2 for 1” admission pass in my training notebook and when things got particularly tough, I would just stare and it and imagine heading back to the dance floor soon. And of course, I did head back every time I had leave, but it was never the same. First, the name changed to “AlterHouse”, and with that came a shift in direction to House Music, and with that came a shift in the crowd, as more and more baseball hat wearing doofi began appearing, mouths agape at all the eyeliner-wearing, trench coat-doffed freaks. The thrill was gone, and soon enough, so was the club.

But we still have the music. Here are a few songs that you would hear every week, guaranteed, along with some other memories:

“Join In The Chant” – Nitzer Ebb
“This Corrosion” – Sisters of Mercy
“Flashback” – Ministry
“American Soviets” - CCCP
“I Sit On Acid (12” Mix)” – Lords of Acid
“No Name, No Slogan” – Acid Horse
“Rigor Mortis” – A Split Second
“Headhunter V 3.0” – Front 242
“Slang Teacher” – Wide Boy Awake
“One World” – Ajax

REMINDER: This is a big post, so help me out by clicking on a Google Ad at the top of the page. Thanks much!

Look for more 80s Cleveland musings later this week.

UPDATE: One of my best friends, Richard Brown, who I took to the Nine for the very first time, thankyouverymuch, has created a Nine of Clubs Memories Page so check it out and sign in!

”This Corrosion” peaked at #38 on the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play Chart in 1987.
“American Soviets” peaked at #26 on the same chart in 1987.
“Headhunter V 3.0” peaked at #13 on the same chart in 1988.
“Slang Teacher” peaked at #12 on the Billboard Club Play Chart in 1983.
None of the other singles charted.
posted by John, 3:01 PM