Dancing on the Dark Side
Once upon a time, a fairly major goth/industrial/alternative underground existed in our fair hamlet. If you started hanging out at certain clubs and bars in Grand Rapids in the late eighties through the mid nineties, and you thought every day was Halloween, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
You started in your teens, going to Top of the Rock (later named Club 911, and still later named Club DV8), first on Thursday nights (unless you had parents like mine, who were NOT down with clubbing on school nights), then on Friday nights, then on Saturday nights. You heard The Sisters of Mercy, The Smiths, and Ministry for the first time. You participated in your first slam pit, spinning and crashing to “I Will Refuse” by Pailhead. You slow danced with fellow travelers, swaying to Tori Amos, Alphaville, and Toad The Wet Sprocket. You stayed out until 3 and 4 a.m., often without drinking a drop of alcohol, and you found a place to call home – friends to call family.
As you hit your late teens/early twenties, you went to The Reptile House on Tuesday nights for Reptile A-Go-Go. You fell in love with the small, dirty haven for all of the so-called freaks, named after a Sisters of Mercy EP, with paintings of snakes and lizards and other things that go bump in the night on the walls. You danced to My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, Meat Beat Manifesto, and KMFDM. Once you were of age, you drank Skull beer (it was Natural Light, you know) and Blue Motorcycle cocktails. You saw so many bands; The Reptile House their only Michigan stop outside of Detroit: Die Warzau, Bile, Billy Goat, Christian Death, Electrafixion, Sister Machine Gun, and Pigface.
Around the same time, you started to go to Orbit Room on Wednesday nights, for Alternative A to X – the only night in the country that was playing a true alt mix every week: from Chemical Brothers to The Cure, Underworld to U2, Marilyn Manson to Massive Attack. You drank dollar drafts and too-sweet shots, met up, broke up and made up, watched the masquerade and lost yourself in it.
Am I over-romanticizing the old days in Grand Rapids? Of course. But I’m also giving a true picture. Those days, those places, those people – they all changed my life. They all helped to make me into who I am today. Confession: I was always the girl in the cage at Top, Reptile, and Orbit. If you looked up at those places to see a scantily clad young woman, dressed in black and dancing like she’s been set free, that was me.
But of course, days like those can never last. We all went back to Top one last time before it closed down and became a church, of all things. Now even that building is no more, torn down and replaced by a Hansen’s Towing. The Reptile House closed, too, brought down by overindulgence and a failure to maintain even the most minimal of structural standards. A to X hung on for awhile, but was eventually gone when attendance went down. People grow up. Get jobs, serious relationships, have kids. It becomes hard, if not impossible, to stay out until 2 a.m. on a weeknight. The goal of being the gothest person at the club gives way to the goal of getting a degree, a career, an adult life.
So ended the heyday of the Grand Rapids underground. We had no more dark pockets of night to call our own.
I started hearing rumors of Black Fridays at Sixx nightclub some months ago. I was intrigued, but didn’t really know anyone who had gone. I kept meaning to check it out, and kept failing to do so. Then I heard it ended. Then I heard it came back.
So last weekend, a bunch of us old school Top, Reptile and Orbit veterans decided to go. We pulled our old black clothes out of the backs of our closets (ahem, those that still fit us), powdered our faces, lined our eyes, knocked back a few drinks at my place while we got ready together, and headed to Sixx.
There’s just something right about Black Fridays at Sixx. The club is in a rehabbed warehouse district, so it feels like the dark and dirty corner of town you want it to be (while still being pretty safe – we all want to walk on the wild side as long as we don’t have to endanger ourselves to do it). It’s unmarked (as far as I can tell), which adds to the mystique, of course. The doorway spills red light out to the sidewalk, like a beacon to those looking for something edgier than standard club fare. And when we walked in to the red-lit bar, seeing the soaring ceilings, the multi-levels, the curtained leather booths and hearing dark, pulsing beats, it felt like coming home.
We staked out a base in one of the booths, grabbed drinks, and chatted with old friends and new. There’s always at least a half hour in a new club when you don’t dance, but get the lay of the land: Listen to the music, scope out the crowd, and have a drink. I wandered the club to get a feel for it, introduced myself to the DJ and regulars (with whom I’d been chatting on Facebook), and felt a sense of comfort. This was it. We were home.
The dance floor beckoned. We danced to old music and new, and the years seemed to fall away even as we reminisced about them. The Sisters of Mercy, KMFDM, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, The Birthday Massacre. Old friends with classic moves, and fierce smiles on every face. We spilled some drinks, just like we used to. We laughed so much it hurt. There was no drama or crying in the bathroom this time. It was the old days, without the angst. We felt release, we felt free, we felt joy. What does it take to make goths happy? Just the music, the style, and each other.
— Diana Lamphiere, contributing writer