On a recent Friday night at Club 90s, hundreds of kids are singing at the top of their lungs to Lit's "My Own Worst Enemy." Suddenly DJ Bruce Perdew’s computer crashes and the sound system turns painfully silent … for about a second.
Then the female-heavy crowd, mostly 18-to-20-year-olds, all facing the stage, swiftly take the silence not as a snafu, but a cue. They sing even louder, swaying on the dance floor and chanting the chorus in unison: "Please tell meeee, please tell me whyyyyy ..." It's a Pitch Perfect-style a cappella moment that suddenly seems intentionally timed and planned.
The explosive popularity of '90s-themed nightlife right now is enough to make a lot of us feel pretty darn old. But the '90s are certainly “retro” now, and the young'uns busting out every sappy lyric and dated video move from the decade are doing so in vintage attire — in other words, chokers, crop-tops and overalls. Teeny-bopper pop a la Britney, the blingy side of hip-hop that Jay-Z and Puff Daddy wrought, and even pop-punk of the Blink-182 and Lit variety are all considered old-school jamming on the dance floor now. As if!
Perdew, one of the guys responsible for making the '90s a trend after dark, saw his first heyday in that very decade. He even started his career in clubs a full decade before, in the ancient '80s. Throwing and DJing hot haps in Los Angeles for well over 30 years, Perdew’s ability to anticipate and create what kids want to dance to has given him one of the most enduring runs in all of LA nightlife. And with a brand new venue in Vegas, not to mention lines down the block for his current crop of parties, he shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.
A born and bred L.A. native, the Hollywood High graduate first spun records at the infamous underage club Odyssey (an early haunt of the recently departed Alexis Arquette). He met Michael Stewart, DJ at another popular nightclub, Seven Seas, at a record pull around 1985, and soon the pair joined forces on the legendary Club Scream.
“It started on Wednesdays at the Probe on Highland Ave., but it was slow, so we moved it to Fridays at the Berwin [now Hollywood Athletic Club] on Schrader,” Perdew recalls. “Dayle Gloria started booking bands. More people started to come. In a few weeks the club blew up. Then we moved to the Embassy downtown and it really found its home. It was the alternative rock club in L.A.”
For many seasoned L.A. nightlife lovers, including myself, Scream was life-changing. This also includes bands that went on to be huge like Jane’s Addiction and Faith No More, who played some of their earliest gigs there. Scream was my first club, and thanks to extremely lax door people, it was one I was actually able to go to at 16 with a very bad fake ID. That’s how old I was the night the club moved to a temporary location called the Ebony Theatre and the first time I ever saw Jane’s play live (their first show there).
“Things are different now, but back then I would pay the security to look the other way and let everyone in,” admits Perdew, who always understood the importance of a fresh following. “It was the end of the '80s. New wave had come and gone and everyone was looking for the new thing.”
“Dark alternative rock & roll,” as Perdew describes Scream's theme, was just what L.A. clubgoers were craving. This umbrella included “deathrock” (the local name for what would later be called "goth"), a little punk, and a gloomier take on the glam resurgence of the Sunset Strip, all of which Gloria as booker had an unmatched ear and eye for. With Stewart and Perdew running the club, and revered DJ Joseph Brooks (Cathouse, Fetish Club) manning the main dance floor, it was a winning combination.
Creative differences later led Perdew to part with the Stewart and Gloria and join forces with some other superpowers of the time — Josh Wells and Solomon Mansoor, on the short-lived but much-talked-about NYC-style club kid haven, Egg Salad. By this time, Scream had moved to the Park Plaza and both events were doing well, albeit with different followings.
Stewart and Perdew resumed their partnership in 1989, and went on to establish the goth club scene in L.A. with Helter Skelter at the Stardust Ballroom, where bands like Nine Inch Nails and Alien Sex Fiend famously took the stage. But soon Perdew found live bands more trouble than they were worth.
“We started losing money because the big bands wanted too much,” he says. “We only made 10 percent of the door for Nine Inch Nails. I figured I could bring in just as much money with DJs. So we focused on that and getting everyone dancing.”
And that they did. Dubbing themselves “the Evil Club Empire,” Perdew and Stewart opened up a slew of successful clubs throughout the '90s: Stigmata, a more hit-oriented goth night on Fridays; Velvet, a campy mish-mosh of new wave, rock and “cheesy” hits of yore; Perversion, an industrial-driven night; and Clockwork Orange, a genre-blending '80s night.
The ECE clubs honed a signature formula for success. They almost always had multiple rooms featuring different genres of music, ranging from goth to retro to modern alternative, and later, even mainstream music of the past and present, such as pop and hip-hop. They moved around a lot, but when they found a space that worked, they stayed there for years; their best-known locales include the now-shuttered Probe on Highland and the World — later the Ruby — on Hollywood Boulevard. They’ve also held parties at Peanuts (later Club 7969), the Dragonfly (later era versions of Helter) and their own venue, Blue Nightclub, which is now Sound. Perdew also co-owned the Opium Den on Ivar with a host of other club bigwigs in the '90s.
Perdew's time as a club-owner was plagued with problems, and he sold his share of both within a few years. A few years later, even his Evil Club Empire parties were struggling. The Ruby closed and his regulars seemed to disperse.
“Our crowds got older, for one. You turn 27 or 28, you don’t want to go to dance clubs as much, you prefer bars. My daughter, who’s in her early 20s, said, ‘Dad, you gotta do stuff for the younger crowds.'”
At the time. DJ and promoter Jason Lavitt, who got his start spinning for Perdew and Stewart, was facing similar challenges. He and Perdew had been friendly adversaries for years with competing clubs at the Ruby, but they both felt a club that celebrated the '90s was overdue for the millennial set and decided to make it a reality together.
These days, Club 90s sees 18-plus clubsters practically trampling each other to get in at larger venues such as Los Globos, Belasco and Union, but it took a while for it gel at first. You would think that having thrown successful clubs in the actual decade that he is now celebrating would make the night a no-brainer — but Perdew says learning from the dance floor over time is what made all the difference.
“When we first did Club 90s, we tried to play what we played in our old clubs in the '90s,” he explains. “But then we realized we needed to play the stuff that 18-to-20-year-olds heard in the car on the way to school. The more popular stuff. “
Indeed, nostalgia isn’t about what was cool for most of us. It’s about what was hot, or even not cool. The stuff we grew up hearing everywhere as a kid. But even spinning more accessible material, Perdew's DJ skills and those of his current partners Lavitt and Jeffery Lyman still come into play. They know exactly what songs to play when; when to go a little more alternative and when to play the track that will make everyone wail and jump and go nuts. The added immersion of music videos for each song takes the excitement level even further.
The '90s aren't the only decade Perdew and his partners mine for club-night nostalgia. They also do Juicy, which features "old-school" hip-hop from 1990 through 2007, and Y2K, a night of "oldies" from the early 2000s. Perdew also still throws a still-poppin’, new wave-heavy '80s night for us older folks, Blue Mondays, at Boardner’s.
Recently, Perdew purchased his first club in Vegas, called Red — which, unlike Blue, he hopes will make him lots of green. He plans to incorporate what he’s been doing in L.A. for the Vegas crowds soon — which will be a challenge in Vegas' EDM-dominated club scene, but if anyone can pull off something different there, it’s him.
Perdew is uniquely qualified to comment on the current state of clubbing in L.A. and beyond. “The way you promote is biggest change, obviously,” he says. “We used to flier cars and buy ads in the L.A. Weekly and that was it. It became too expensive, though. Now it’s all social media, which is more reasonable. Facebook has its problems, but it is still pretty powerful. “
As for club vibes these days, Perdew feels there’s a level of enthusiasm like never before, which is perhaps a reaction to computer culture and social media, too. Especially for unjaded youth, getting together in a room full of other humans and absorbing the bliss and release of music is more vital and special than ever.
“It’s why I still love what I do,” declares Perdew. “I love putting together theme nights that excite people. I love to see the reactions of people to music. I love seeing a crowd go completely crazy. And I love taking it to the borderline of out of control. That’s what happening with the kids right now.”
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Club 90s' "Spice Girls Night" takes place tonight, Friday, Sept. 30 at Los Globos, and returns every Friday at different locations. For more info on all of Bruce Perdew's events, visit www.evilclubempire.com.
Los Angeles native Lina Lecaro has been covering L.A. nightlife since she started as a teen intern at L.A. Weekly (fake ID in tow) nearly two decades ago. She went on to write her own column, "Nightranger," for the print edition of the Weekly for six years. Read her "Lina in L.A." interviews for the latest nightlife news, and follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
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