The Beat Goes On
By Dan MacIntosh
Back in the early ’80s, Fullerton band Berlin rode the alternative radio success train onboard a synth-pop single called “The Metro,” which told of a man taking the Paris subway to go see his girlfriend. However the metro, as in Club Metro in Rubidoux, meant something entirely different to those growing up in the Inland Empire in the ’80s and ’90s. For IE clubbers, Club Metro was the place to be.
“The Club Metro was the Studio 54 of our time,” states DJ Jedi. “We didn’t know it; we didn’t appreciate it at the time. But at the time, it was a mega-club—a multi genre, weekly nightclub.”
Although Berlin’s sleazy, alternative, pop tune had already begun to fade into music history by this time, Club Metro opened its doors in the late ’80s as a multi-room venue. Picture in your mind an aural smorgasbord, offering up the full musical stylistic gamut—from Top 40, to hip hop, to KROQ dance sounds. As dance music evolved, the records—yes, DJs were still literally spinning physical records back then—that were played at Club Metro reflected everything that was also hip in the bigger metropolises, including such below-the-pop-surface genres as Gothic and shoegaze music. In other words, these were the emerging sounds that tickled the ears of those bored to tears with predictable commercial rock and pop radio.
First Time for Everything
While there were many other clubs dedicated to specific musical styles, the special nightspot that was Club Metro incorporated multiple genres simultaneously, which attracted adventurous clubbers from San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles counties to the little club that could.
“There were two sides to Club Metro,” former Club Metro frequenter and DJ Jason Scamara (a.k.a. DJ Liquid Sex Drive) explains. “There was the alternative, KROQ goth/industrial side of Club Metro. That’s the side that I and my friends would go to. The other side was the Top 40, hip-hop R&B . . . that kind of stuff.” Scamara, sadly, never got his chance to DJ at Club Metro. “I didn’t really pick my DJ career until after Club Metro closed. I started going to Club Metro in, like, 1988,” he clarifies.
“That was when I’d just turned 21, and was one of my first nightclub experiences,” adds DJ CRE-8, a former Club Metro DJ from Fontana. “That was my first experience with a nightclub.” But it was another club, Incahoots, where DJ CRE-8 got his professional start. “That was my very first club I started DJ’ing at. I was the resident DJ there for about seven years, starting in 1999.”
The Friends You Can’t Forget
These clubs were more than just places to hear the latest sounds. However, they were also gathering spots for friends to meet, and for strangers to become friends. After all, that’s just the way people connected during those ancient, pre-social media days.
“At Club Metro, you’d meet a lot of lifetime friends,” Scamara recalls. “You met a lot of people, and it was a little like a small family in a way. Everybody kind of knew each other. It was more than just about the music; it was more about just connecting.” The Inland Empire scene at the time was much tighter knit than in, say, Los Angeles. “It seemed like more people knew each other,” he remembers fondly.
“It was one of the only nightclubs out here,” elaborates DJ CRE-8. “It was doing well when the house scene was strong in the mid-’90s. And, of course, it was a cruise spot for the ones that cruised the parking lot. That was just the hot spot at that time.
This ‘hot spot at the time,’ wasn’t much to look at, however. “I thought it looked like a grocery story,” remembers DJ CRE-8. “I remember in the back, near the bathrooms, you could see could see a storage room like you’d see in the back of a grocery store. I want to say they even had a walk-in cooler back there.” “The running joke was it was ‘meat market Metro,’” DJ Jedi quips. Sadly, the building holding the now-closed Metro (county officials eventually shut it down, alleging too many fights/shootings in the parking lot) was demolished after serving as an indoor swap meet for a while.
Harry C’s, formerly located near UC Riverside, although a contemporary of Club Metro, was slightly different in some ways from Club Metro. “That was a little bit smaller of a place,” says Scamara. “They did KROQ nights and stuff there.” In fact, one former popular KROQ DJ spent a lot of time at Harry C’s. “Back then it was mostly The Poorman,” Scamara notes. “Richard Blade would come out, too” Scamara continues. “In fact, Richard Blade still does things here and there out here in Riverside. He still does Romano’s [Concert Lounge].”
Speaking of celebrities, Richard ‘Humpty’ Vission regularly appeared at The Rocks club. “He was one of the pioneers in the house music scene,” recalls DJ CRE-8. Back in the mid-‘90s, he started out doing techno and was on radio station Power-106.
These days, many clubs in the Inland Empire aim for a more high class, Las Vegas-like experience, although there aren’t as many clubs (numerically) as there used to be. However, one of these upper-crest venues is Silk, which is located on the second floor of Pechanga Resort & Casino. It’s self-described as a “Vegas mega club experience.” It’s a long way, vibe-wise, from the youthful, underground tone set by Club Metro and Harry C’s. In addition to playing dance music, this modern venue offers VIP packages for private booths. It also has a dress code, and explicitly states that “no sunglasses, baggy or sports attire, athletic shoes, sneakers, work boots, caps, hats or sandals will be allowed.”
Dance, Dance, Dance
Other current Inland Empire nightspots feature live performances, in addition to dance music. The Marquee 15 in Corona, for instance, bills itself as the M15 Concert Bar & Grill, with what its website describes as a “massive concert stage.” It also brags of a world-class sound system and American fusion cuisine in a setting of chic classic rock décor. Clearly, neither Club Metro nor Harry C’s ever served up ‘American fusion cuisine’ in their heyday. DJ Megan Daniels, who has been called “the sexiest DJ on the planet,” and with good reason, has DJ’d at The Marquee 15. “The Marquee 15 is different than typical Inland Empire clubs,” notes Daniels. “There was more of a dubstep crowd that night,” says Daniels of her experience there. “It was younger. I would say an 18-, 19-, 20-year-old crowd.”
The Social Ladder
Perhaps the Inland Empire’s most popular dance venue right now is Sevilla in downtown Riverside. Located just a couple blocks from the Mission Inn, this club is part of a three-club chain (with additional locations in Long Beach and San Diego). It is multi-room, as Club Metro once was, and sports state-of-the-art audio and video systems, plasma TVs, LED walls, go-go dancers (Yes, go-go dancers!), VIP bottle service amenities, plush lounge areas and an outdoor smoking lounge. Clearly, this sort of club is aimed more at people primarily interested in their social status, rather than merely catching up on cool music. “It has consistency, and has been going strong since it opened in 2001,” remarks DJ CRE-8. “It’s got a good sound system and good lighting. It’s in a good area, too; it’s right there in downtown Riverside.
A New Scene
Of today’s scene, Scamara says, “It’s smaller, more fragmented.” Nevertheless, Scamara continues to work the scene, sometimes alongside his wife. “I did Club Andromeda with my wife Sabrina. We had two different venues. We were at Romano’s Concert Lounge for a while, and we were at The Castle for a while. We did that club for about two years. Before that, I DJ’d at Club Scandal, which is at Pepitos Mexican Restaurant in Riverside. Right now at Pepitos, it’s Club Discord. That’s a gothic/industrial/alternative club that’s still going to this day. The contemporary scene is still kind of a close-knit group. A lot of the people my age [club goers in their 40s] still go, but many people have also moved and started families.”
The struggling economy has also changed the makeup of the Inland Empire club scene over the past five years or so. “With the economy, the nightclubs have kind of taken a hit,” notes DJ CRE-8. “A lot of the clubs that were 21 and over have all converted to being 18 and over. You would never have heard of that 10 years ago, but they had to do it because they weren’t packing the clubs out. I personally wish that they still did a few nights for those 21 and over, but it’s just unheard of now. People now talk negatively about the clubs in the Inland Empire due to its lack of 21 and over venues.”
“The clubs are small,” DJ Jedi continues. The songs played in clubs are also overly transitory, according to DJ Jedi. “The music is, ‘Here today, it’s really cool today; two weeks from today, it ain’t cool no more.’” DJ Jedi doesn’t see the industry promoting artists with career staying power, the way it did back in the ’80s, ’90s and early 2000s. “They put out singles and it’s a cool club hit for a week or two,” he elaborates, “and then it’s gone.”
Does Anyone Know Your Name?
“I have a theory that MP3s have killed the nightclub business,” says DJ Jedi, “because everyone now has a music collection, so why leave your home to go to a nightclub to hear the latest club mix? You can go download it online and just play it at your house.” Facebook has also been a bit of a club killer, according to DJ Jedi. “With social media, people just don’t go out to nightclubs like they used to, to meet people interact because they can just do it from their home now.”
However, not everyone is discouraged about social media’s effect on the club scene. “I have people come out and see me that have already heard my mixes online,” states Daniels, “so they know what to expect. I would say that it [the social media] has made it better for me because I can kind of recruit a following that way.”
People are still willing to leave the comfort of their homes, as long as they’re invited to something truly special. “It’s more of an event thing now,” believes DJ Jedi, “as much as a weekly thing. Maybe the really young teen kids were coming out for a while. But what I can see happening right now, is the only reason why people come out is for an event. You gotta make it big.”
Gone, perhaps forever, are those Inland Empire clubs where—to paraphrase the old Cheers theme—everybody knows your name. The IE’s rich nightlife history will surely continue to evolve.