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Friday Night Fever 

Formerly the bastard stepchild of club nights, Friday is giving Saturday some competition

Thursday, Sep 29 2011
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It's a glorious Friday night next to the Buddha statue in the back patio of Vanguard Hollywood. David Moses is churning out groovy, sexy house music via a DJ console in the corner. And while all of the dancing is going on inside this warehouse of a club, it's clear that being in the great outdoors with a cocktail is where the action is on this fine summer evening beneath the hills.

This is a major contrast to Avalon's Avaland event on Saturdays — the stalwart of DJ nights — where A-list jocks spin for 1,350 people packed onto a deep dance floor lined with bridge-and-tunnel types and sweaty weekend warriors.

What's the difference between a Friday night clubber and a Saturday night partier? Friday people tend to go out to see a specific DJ. On Saturday, dance fans will gather, but the masses often simply want a Big Night Out with oontz-oontz music in the background. Ask them who's spinning and you're likely to get a shrug.

click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY KYLE WEBSTER
  • ILLUSTRATION BY KYLE WEBSTER

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Yet in the history of American dance music, Saturday, with its median distance from the workweek, has always been king. It was called Saturday Night Fever for a reason.

"Saturday has always been seen as the 800-pound gorilla," says club promoter Robert Pointer of Compression. "That's why you see the talent and dollars that night."

Having been near the front of the electronic dance music revolution since its dawn in the early '90s, L.A. has always had its "off-night" successes, including Monday Social at Playhouse and the late rave party Magic Wednesdays. But in the last few years, the new youthquake in dance music has brought more than 200,000 people to Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas and fueled the rise of acts such as David Guetta, LMFAO and Skrillex — and in the process expanded the weekend's marquee nights to two.

Friday is no longer a second-class DJ destination.

In the last few years Vanguard switched its big-name house music night from Saturday to Friday, Avalon has added an edgier but just as massive DJ night on Fridays, called Control, and the people behind Electric Daisy Carnival have done occasional Friday shows at the Music Box. The renovated Hollywood concert venue Palladium has hosted its name DJ performers — Kaskade, Deadmau5, Ferry Corsten — on Fridays, techno party Compression is returning to a weekly schedule at Dim Mak Studios in Hollywood starting Oct. 7 with Joey Beltram, and even downtown clubs such as Exchange have hosted dance acts like M.A.N.D.Y. on Fridays.

"The fan base has grown considerably," says Avalon co-owner John Lyons. "There's room for other nights. It's a natural progression."

Gary Richards, the promoter behind the Hard alt-dance festivals and one of the people who initiated Friday bookings at Avalon and the Palladium, says the original idea of getting all TGIF on DJ culture was to avoid going head-to-head with the huge raves and club nights on Saturdays.

"Before this stuff was really exploding," he says, "Saturday night was the night. You went out to hear the big trance DJs. Then Friday became the alternative night where you could do something different. And it caught on."

"Fridays are based on the merits of what's happening," says Pointer of Compression. "I'm not interested in selling out to the lowest common denominator at all."

Fridays at Control often feature edgier acts, such as Simian Mobile Disco and L.A. rising dance artist Skrillex.

"For how big Control is, they are still on the cutting edge of EDM [electronic dance music]," Skrillex says. "They are known to break artists that at one point wouldn't be considered your typical club DJs."

Adds Control promoter Ryan Jaso: "Our goal was to do something different to Saturdays by booking newer, up-and-coming acts from emerging genres that appealed to a younger market. Avaland was known to be huge nights with massive talent from around the world. We wanted to book what was next."

But sometimes the event's talent — the Crystal Method, Green Velvet — bleeds into Saturday night territory. That's also a reflection of new developments in a scene where former Hard performer Deadmau5 is now a Las Vegas headliner. The neon punks who fueled a new wave of irreverence in club culture — Steve Aoki, Afrojack — have become the big-room preachers.

The result is that Friday sometimes doesn't feel all that different from Saturday. A recent night at Control had the big room banging with the sounds of Green Velvet and j.phlip. The big difference between this and Avaland is that things wrap up early, and by 3 a.m. the crowd is being funneled out. On Saturdays Avalon's main room goes until 5 and beyond.

"People just want to stay up a little later on Saturday," Lyons says. "Control was laid out as an alternative to Saturday. With every passing couple of years there's always a new group of people who identify with a certain group of artists as their own. They just couldn't relate to the Saturday night scene because it wasn't theirs."

At the same time, the fresher the acts, the easier to book they are, giving promoters and owners even more impetus to focus on Fridays instead of competing for big-money names on Saturdays.

"You take all the markets vying for these same big-name DJs, and you realize there's not enough to go around," Lyons says.

There's insane money for headliners in nearby Las Vegas; we were told of a quarter-million-dollar payday for one spinner. Richards of Hard says the Vegas clubs, which are connected to casinos, lose money on such talent but ultimately use them as a draw for the blackjack tables. "We can't compete with that," he says.

"They are so aggressive with each other, they bid the artists' fees to a place where it doesn't make competitive sense in other markets in the country," Lyons adds.

The Vegas effect encourages L.A. clubs to spread beyond Saturday and look for cheaper, fresher talent.

There's nothing wrong with new. It's what has always driven electronic dance music.

"Friday is no stepchild," Lyons says.

Compression's Pointer, who DJs under the name Robtronik, says moving out from under the shadow of Saturdays can be liberating.

"Saturday night you have to deal with the megaclubs," he says. "They have economics you can't compete with. In the dynamics of the club world, I like Fridays. People are up for it. And we can get good artists coming through who want to play in L.A. and then do a big-money night in San Francisco or New York on Saturday. There's more of an option for us to pull talent that can only be available to us Friday night.

"We want to get them, educate them and expose them when they're younger to a proper clubbing experience, instead of just going to the rave or megaclub and getting all electro'd out," Pointer says.

Meanwhile, Lyons is looking to expand his own club empire to a new frontier: weeknights. Where before he reserved them for early-evening pop concerts and Hollywood red-carpet events, Lyons now sees opportunity for dance show one-offs at Avalon.

"If you get an artist with enough of a following," Lyons says, "any night can be a special night."

Reach the writer at dennisjromero@gmail.com

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