Wednesday, February 08, 2006

House Music All Night Long

In the early 1980s, house music was it. And, of course, there really was just one place to experience house music and that was Paradise Garage [which I posted about in the beginning of this blog] ... but Philadelphia had its own church and it was quite the place to worship to the deep bass of house music ... all night long.

Catacombs was THE underground spot in Philly. Both figurally and literally. It was located under the streets, below The Second Story disco - which began as a gay disco and went straight when the world discovered disco in the late 70s. The Second Story was located on the 2nd floor of what was originally a 5-story Episcopalian school and church, the club was in the former chapel with 20 foot high ceilings and the best sound system in the city at its time. The building still stands at the corner of 12/Walnut - but serves as home to a law firm today. The place was lined with mirrors and huge ball lights that glowed in different colors to the rhythm of the night. There was one mirrored panel in the back that, when pressed upon, opened up as a hidden passageway. The steps went downstairs to the basement - which was a whole nother club - and a whole 'nother world. While upstairs was bright and disco and gay, downstairs was just the opposite.

That's how I entered Catacombs the very first time. The official entrance was a plain unmarked door on 12th street at the very back of the building, which opened to a staircase. You walked down, paid your cover and steped into a long room - which was the juice bar. At some point, in the middle of the room grew a handmade sculpture of a penis, made out of aluminum foil and standing about 4 feet high. Quite strange, but no one really seemed to pay attention, since everyone was there to dance.

You made a left and stepped into a dark rectangle space - that was lined with a thin carpeted platform to stand and cruise the space. The only thing that you noticed when you stepped onto the dance floor was BASS. LOTS OF BASS. The floor and the club were dark; very sparse dance lighting - this was designed so you could become one with the beat. Music was taken quite seriously here. No pop, no cheese. It was about rhythm. And, as the Garage had Larry Levan, Catacombs had Donald Stone. A brillant house DJ who understood how to control a crowd swept up in the passion of the dance.

Catacombs was a dark, sweaty, and exhilarating experience, especially since you walked in at 2am or so and stumbled out into the weekend morning rush - sweaty and drained, having just completed your own personal work-out - crossing the paths of those just entering the city for another day of working 9 to 5.

What a way to make a living.

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