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Giant Steps 

Anatomy of a dance superclub

Wednesday, Feb 28 2001
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No matter the consequences, it‘s harder than hell to get to a dance club earlier than 11:30 p.m. Besides, everyone knows the real party never gets started before midnight. Arrive before that bewitching hour and you’ll most likely find a loose community of anxious, tight-lipped geeks of both sexes, transfixed on the loud, attention-starved banter of a few giddy cliques of Young Turks new to the club scene. This is occasionally upstaged by the grandiose early-evening appearance of a wine-warmed, bemused art director treating his entourage to a rare post-dinner peek at the latest silly-ass hotspot in town.

Giant is no exception when it comes to the nightclubber‘s universal adherence to the late-arrival rule. On this particular night, which features a special one-year-anniversary triple-header lineup of DJs Lil’ Louie Vega, Tall Paul and Eric Murillo, it‘s right around 11:30 that the majority of the club’s patrons make their entrance. For the next two hours, more than 2,000 people slowly inch their way from the sidewalk on Las Palmas Avenue through the middle of a large parking lot and across an alley. After a curl past neighboring club Arena‘s already crowded terrace, they’re redistributed into either the path to the left of Giant‘s doorway (for those on the guest list) or designated to another lengthy sojourn in the shapeless folds of the club’s regular line to the right.

The movement of both lines eventually rumbles to a halt; no one is permitted to enter the club until the fire marshal is finished with his weekly Saturday-night inspection of Circus, the host venue where Giant is held. Dave Dean appears from behind the large curtain separating the Circus courtyard from the parking lot and walks to a SUV parked not far from the club‘s entrance. After a short conversation on a cell phone in the vehicle, he strides over to an approaching limousine he’d previously ordered to deliver one of the night‘s DJ talents. Moments later, famed house music jock Lil’ Louie Vega cautiously emerges from the limo on crutches. A half-dozen or so of Vega‘s friends have already climbed out of the car onto the pavement, clearly in awe of the masses lined up 50 feet away.

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What follows could be construed as a lesson in DJ hierarchy. Tamiko Theros, manager of several local DJs including Giant resident Marques Wyatt, strolls over to Vega and gives him a hug while the limo driver opens the trunk to unload the spinman’s record cases. As Theros and Vega play catch-up, a couple of young DJs, one of them a Theros client, stand off to the side, waiting perhaps for an introduction to the legendary Master at Work. Instead Theros turns to the boys and says, ”Guys, will you grab those cases?“

If anyone has schooled L.A. and its club community in the power of the big-name DJ, it‘s Dave Dean and his superclub Giant, which, even after a year, continues to be somewhat of a phenomenon. Truth be told, cynics didn’t expect it to be around half as long. Yet according to Dean, the dance haven has consistently drawn 2,000 clubbers at 20 bucks a head after 10 p.m. every Saturday night since last January. What‘s more impressive is that Dean has done what L.A. promoters have been trying to do for years: He’s established his club as the West Coast pit stop for DJ superstars. Since Giant‘s opening, the likes of Paul Oakenfold, Groove Armada, Pete Tong, Kerri Chandler, Paul Van Dyk, Timo Maas, John Digweed, Dave Ralph, Boy George, Deep Dish, Sol, and the Digital Assassins have all presided over Giant’s turntables. That‘s not including Dean’s crew of resident jocks Grant Plant, Wyatt, Christopher Lawrence and Mark Tabberner, and the recent addition of Doc Martin to Giant‘s regular roster.

To his credit, Dean does an admirable job of giving as much love as possible to house music jocks (he had Naked Music’s Miguel Miggs and his own in-house mixmaster Marques Wyatt play the stage opposite Paul Van Dyk at Giant‘s Hollywood Boulevard New Year’s Eve party), but the cold facts are, when it comes to pulling in Giant numbers, that chore rests squarely on the shoulders of young, white, straight America‘s love affair with the tantric beats of trance.

A huge helium-filled clown looms over the courtyard, its bright, grotesque smile fixed on the hundreds of people milling about below its feet. Decked out in after-hours drag ranging from shimmering halter tops with glam-rock feather overcoats to b-boy baggy jeans and football jerseys, the crowd’s ages lie in a median somewhere between the late 20s and mid-30s. While some hang with friends outside for hours on end, others, sweaty and overheated from putting in time on one of Giant‘s three dance areas, stagger outdoors in retreat from the aural Armageddon taking place inside the club’s walls.

”The only bad thing about Giant is those occasional nights when we have too many people who want to get in,“ says Dean. ”The thing is, the crowds come and they stay. The last time Paul Van Dyk played Giant, we did a head count of the whole compound, including the club‘s courtyard, and it was about 3,500 people. That’s the number we used to base our New Year‘s Eve party on. We figured if Paul was that much in demand, then we couldn’t do it at Giant.“

At the New Year‘s bash, red-cheeked daredevils dangled in a Ferris wheel 100 feet above the asphalt of Hollywood Boulevard. Grinning hard, they were too far up to hear wise-ass catcalls of ”splat“ from fellow celebrants passing below. A wide-screen beamed an image of Van Dyk huddled over his turntables onstage while cradling headphones in the crook of his neck. Close to 15,000 bodies writhed, rocked, pushed and humped in disorganized unison to the thunderous sound emitted from various mega-size speakers that dotted the boulevard.

Dean’s commitment to L.A. and his success with Giant is pretty remarkable considering he‘s only been a resident of the city for the last two years. While his New Year’s Eve party raked in over $800,000 before expenses, Dean through his Giant Kids nonprofit organization donated some $300,000 to the favorite charities of civic movers ‘n’ shakers such as state Assembly member Jackie Goldberg -- a smart business move that has already paid dividends in Dean‘s being awarded an extra block on the Hollywood strip for Giant’s 2002 New Year‘s event.

Already in his second year hosting limited runs in Las Vegas and Ibiza, Spain, Dean is busily laying out plans for clubbing events at the ”Giant Hotel“ during dance music’s annual Winter Music Conference in Miami in late March. After that, Giant hits the road again, this time for a tour of Japan to promote the release of Giant‘s compilation CD California Dreamin’. Mixed by Mark Tabberner and featuring tracks and remixes from Sandra Collins and Christopher Lawrence, the disc is slated to be sold exclusively in Japan. Not that Dean‘s leaving home turf out in the cold -- Giant’s domestic CD will be released here in late June, with Collins doing the mixing honors. Around that time Dean plans on hitting 15 cities in a cross-country tour, with three stopovers in Canada.

Giant has brought something more to the city than just being the latest flavor in the nightclub scene. Besides helping L.A. gain attention within the global clubbing community, on the local tip people are coming out in droves, and it‘s making an impact on the growth of the local club economy. Other superclubs, such as downtown’s recently opened Funktion, have stepped into the arena with hopes of getting a slice of Giant‘s pie by offering a similar rotating calendar of DJ superstars.

Dean, however, says he’s more flattered than concerned about the competition. ”I don‘t consider myself a club promoter. A long time ago I was, but now it’s about developing a concept, and that concept is Giant. What‘s really keeping me focused is how far we can go with this thing. When we do clubs in Ibiza and clubs in Las Vegas, people come up to us and say, ’Wow, a club from L.A.? We never knew there was a scene there.‘“

Neither did we.

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