It’s not often that Ernest Hemingway’s name comes up in discussions about dance clubs, but when Steve Alejandro thinks about the late-’80s San Antonio hangout known as Phazez, he flashes back to a Hemingway quote about his time in Paris with other American literary expatriates in the 1920s.
Describing the City of Light as “a moveable feast,” Hemingway said, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you.”
Alejandro doesn’t want to sound pompous. He knows no one would confuse a little bar on San Pedro and El Mio with the Paris of the Roaring Twenties. He’s just saying that he understands how Hemingway felt.
“We were just a dinky little club,” says Alejandro, a Jefferson High School Graduate who worked as a DJ at Phazez from 1986-89, and is now a co-manager of Hogwild Records. “It was only three or four years and it was just us, but that’s what it was like. You don’t get over it.”
The memory of Phazez has stayed with its loyalists so firmly that one of its old DJs, David Milne, decided to create a MySpace page for the long-defunct club, and the online chats that ensued led to a 2007 Phazez reunion show at Atomix, with Alejandro and Milne as featured DJs. Old patrons flew in from places as distant as Connecticut and California.
“It was way better than my high-school reunion, because these were the real cool people that you liked to hang out with,” says Suzanne Duroy, one of the club’s most loyal patrons.
“It’d be like the Cheers 20-years later reunion show,” Alejandro adds.
The idea worked so well that the old Phazez community has decided to reassemble for its Second annual reunion show, this time at The Industry, on Saturday, July 19.
For those who became hooked on the Phazez experience in the late-’80s, the magic had much to do with that particular era and the limitations of the S.A. music scene at the time.
At that time, San Antonio’s club options were so limited that any club that catered to alternative-music tastes was sure to draw a crowd. A tiny bar with a black-and-white checkerboard dance floor, Phazez celebrated diversity and enabled industrial, techno, goth, new-wave and punk adherents to mingle and dance together, before the scenes split along strict genre lines.
“One of the things about it is that back then you had gay bars and straight bars, and that was it,” Alejandro says. “`At Phazez`, we were stuck in the middle. If a guy in drag showed up, he wasn’t going to get beat up by the straight kids there. Every once in a while, some frat boys would show up and there might be a problem, but generally, you could find frat kids in there, drag queens in there, and new-wave kids with crazy hair who would get laughed at by people at the mall.”
“You could be anybody you wanted to be. You didn’t have to stay within a clique,” Duroy adds.
She remembers that she didn’t have a phone during that period, and if anyone wanted to find her, they always knew she’d be at Phazez on Tuesday nights. When she missed one Tuesday, her club friends instantly worried about her.
Phazez DJs such as Alejandro and Milne tended to be avid record collectors with wildly eclectic tastes and a hunger for new sounds, and on a typical night, dancers at the club could hear Public Enemy next to Public Image, Kraftwerk’s “Telephone Call” next to the Clash’s “This Is Radio Clash,” or the Smiths, Skinny Puppy, Africa Bambaataa, and Meat Beat Manifesto back-to-back.
Alejandro says that the club’s DJs often picked up on songs several months before they broke on a national level, remembering that Neneh Cherry’s “Buffalo Stance” and Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock’s hip-hop anthem “It Takes Two” were part of the Phazez rotation well before making it to MTV.
When it came to booking live shows, Phazez was equally bold and unpredictable. They brought a pre-Mike Patton Faith No More to San Antonio and also hosted underground legend Johathan Richman for a rare South Texas gig. Alejandro remembers Richman — famous for driving himself to gigs — calling on the afternoon of the show to ask for directions. Duroy fondly remembers an overwhelmingly intense Thrill Kill Kult show, which she spent only inches from the stage.
“It was packed for Jonathan Richman, just like it would have been packed for Thrill Kill Kult, two opposite ends of the spectrum,” Alejandro recalls.
On Mondays, tradionally a slow club night, Phazez offered free movies, and the normally raucous bar turned stone-silent as patrons gathered around a TV screen with bags of popcorn to see Betty Blue, The Graduate, The Trip, Myra Breckenridge, Blue Velvet, and others.
The club petered out by the end of 1989, a product of changing times and management problems. Alejandro remembers that on his last night at Phazez, there were only three patrons in the place.
For a fondly remembered few years, however, Phazez gave S.A. youth culture a sense of community it’s rarely tasted since then.
“When it started out, we didn’t have a lot of choices and we all got together,” Duroy says. “It was just a beautiful moment and a beautiful time.” •
Phazez Reunion ’08: DJ Stevie A and DJ Raleigh
8pm Sat, Jul 19