Bouncers — like Rottweilers, business partners, and police — will turn on you in the blink of an unsuspecting eye. Local electronic music promoter Deren Bushala learned this the hard way: He was beaten, bloodied, and bruised by "security" staff at the now-defunct Spy Room. The staff he had hired, along with the facilities and the $1,500 DJ he'd flown in for the evening (part of a weekly event featuring some of the top DJs in the country) — he escaped the evening with his cash register in the trunk of his car. The kids — and the DJs — went home early that night. The bouncers, who had gently (and mistakenly) reminded Bushala and another promoter that they didn't belong in the DJ booth by throwing cubes of ice at them from the bar below, then dragged and pummeled the two men (who paid their evening's wages) down the flight of steel stairs, across the dance floor, and out of the club, were reprimanded by the club's managers and removed from the Wednesday night schedule.
Then there was the business partner who surreptitiously skimmed $15,000 from the tickets purchased at the gate the night of a rave primarily paid for and wholly promoted by Bushala. And in inane infamy lives the night that Bushala — uncharacteristically dressed down in baggy clothes and a baseball cap — clandestinely attended the Crystal Method concert that he co-sponsored with Sunset Station, to avoid the vice squad and undercover agents patrolling the grounds for illegal activity: the sale and use of drugs, the presence of a promoter on the property — the latter of which would, yup, make this thing one bona fide rave. Rather than risk arrest for promoting a rave, Bushala sneaked in to enjoy the show from the sidelines.
This week, Bushala extends a grandly venerable bite of the thumb to the vicious, vindictive nature of the beast called business and the corrupted reputation of the rave culture, trusting the one man who can truly make the music move: himself. By applying business savvy and sharp sensibilities to his love of electronic music, Bushala is once again bringing the big names to town — this time at his own, newly opened venue, Club Fuel.
At age 18, Bushala was supplying "gizmos and gadgets" for new-model cars at auto dealerships, receiving a sizeable salary in return. For the following three years, he worked for a corporate electronics chain, saving $30,000 to go to business school in Las Vegas. He attended school in Vegas briefly, until his father suffered a fatal heart attack, and Bushala returned to San Antonio to his widowed mother. He enrolled part time at UTSA, then decided to invest his college savings in something more imminent — electronic music.
In 1999, at age 23, Bushala made his promotional debut in an Austin field, featuring DJs Kimball Collins, Chris Fortier, and D:Fuse. With 600-700 people in attendance, he had tapped into an important facet of electronic music: the rave. Over the next three years, Bushala tirelessly promoted his self-run Faceplant Productions in Austin and eventually San Antonio. A lucrative new lease on life, Bushala reinvested profit into promoting bigger and better electronic events — even establishing his own weekly evenings at rental venues locally, where he walked away with a percentage of the door. "I was trying to build a scene," he explains. "The scene was always there. There were other people who threw parties way before me. I was nothing. I came and I just wanted to do something, and then I found my niche. But those people never really went to the world-renowned DJs; they just stuck with the locals." Bushala stuck with his locals, but punctuated his productions with headlining acts such as Juan Atkins, Jesse Saunders, and Christopher Lawrence. "Radio ads and movies all have big-name DJs doing the soundtracks and whatnot for them, so why not bring those people?" Bushala asked himself. "People see them on TV, hear them on the radio, so there's the advertising audience — knowledgeable, but they haven't had the chance to see the DJs in person, and they would never think that they'd be able to see them in San Antonio. And that's what I'm trying to do, bring the guy on tour."
Then things went awry: first with questionably competent club owners, then with the Drug Enforcement Agency's unrelenting interest in the club culture conducive to the use of drugs such as Ecstasy (MDMA) and Special K (the animal tranquilizer Ketamine). In September 2001, Bushala lost $40,000 when SAPD cancelled a concert with Bad Boy Bill at Sunset Station, filed (ultimately unsuccessful) suit against the venue and the city, and invested the last of his efforts into a final hurrah, an enormous rave held, again, in an Austin field. Things had finally come full circle for Bushala, back in the field — but this time his prospects paled in comparison to the elaborate events he had once orchestrated.
Daunted, but ready for the dare, Bushala proceeded with plans to open his own venue — something unlike anything San Antonio had ever seen within its stifling city limits.
THE KING OF CLUBS
"All the clubs here are cookie-cutter clubs," complains Bushala. "It's a dance floor and a bar, and they all play the same music, and it's the same crowd that goes to every single club all across San Antonio. So the same Atrium crowd would be at Space and X/S throughout a week; they'll define Wednesday as Atrium night, Thursday is Space night, and Friday and Saturday are X/S nights.
"People want to go someplace different, but you have to give them something new. And there's no club in town that has done straight-up, quality, underground electronic music Wednesday through Saturday. Instead it has always been the same pumping, Top 40 or hip-hop just banging. Electronic music is hot. It's not just dance music, but electronic music that has swept the country. But San Antonio is so far behind, by two or three years." Bushala wants to locally pioneer the electronic music movement, "bringing something that's hot everywhere else to the forefront of the city's music culture."
Catching up with the rest of civilization is no small task in Texas. To do things right, they must be done big, and the $300,000, 13,000 square-foot Club Fuel is a monster manifestation of Bushala's vision. Originally built in 1926 as a frozen food/cold storage warehouse on downtown's East Houston Street, the historic Merchant I.C.E. building has been rebuilt by Bushala as the city's new nightspot, replenished with sound, lights, a laser system, a 1,200-square-foot lounge, a 1,600-square-foot VIP area (with its own private bar), and a 1,600-square-foot dance floor. He has pasted the city with flyers and even hit the airwaves to announce the club's impressive grand opening week, featuring mega music by Romanthony of Daft Punk and Goldie — never-before-seen shows in San Antonio.
Bushala is working toward attracting a "college-oriented, working professional crowd." Although the club is not strictly 21 and up — designated special events allow minors as young as 18 — Bushala has implemented a dress code, however casual. "I'd rather take a risk at being more selective in having a dress code than having 20-somethings running around with butterfly wings and all that," explains Bushala. "It's all cute, but that's not what the police or anybody else thinks about it. They think it's a drug-related event. And there are already so many things holding us back, especially the police defining electronic music as something negative.
"I'm just really trying to bring the music here to see if people will come out," says Bushala. His confidence wavers slightly when he considers whether the city can sustain the sound of DJs who cost more to book than the price of a compact car. "But I think that happens in every form of music — you take that risk. Hopefully your city, your crowd, your core crowd can come out and support that. But it's a risk every time. I believe that people will come out, I'll break out, and San Antonio will gain some notoriety." If all goes well, Bushala's gift to the city will be what he does best: promotion.
GET YOUR LAWS OFF MY DANCE FLOOR
Indeed, electronic music events, commonly defined as "drug-oriented entertainment," are under close scrutiny by the Drug Enforcement Agency and local vice squad officers. Although New Orleans won a monumental victory in February 2002, as a federal judge permanently prohibited federal agents from banning masks, pacifiers, and glow sticks ("paraphernalia") at a dance club, the California Assembly more recently passed a unanimous vote on a bill that requires local permits for "rave" (defined as an electronic music dance event that may be attended by 500 or more persons) promoters, as well as a local permit "granting authority to notify the local law enforcement agency when it is considering a permit for a rave party." The "act to add Section 53087.6 to the Government code" is currently pending action in the California Senate.
In the meantime, other pending legislation includes a clause (Section 305) under HR3782, Clean, Learn, Educate, Abolish, Neutralize, and Undermine Production (CLEAN-UP) of Methamphetamines Act of 2002, sponsored by Congressman Doug Ose of California, that could be used to prosecute electronic-music promoters for "any rave, dance, music, or other entertainment event that takes place under circumstances where the promoter knows or reasonably ought to know that a controlled substance will be used." A promoter could subsequently be fined under title 18, United States Code, and/or sentenced to up to nine years in a federal prison.
OPENING WEEK LINEUP
1305 E. Houston
Building #2, 472-FUEL
9pm, Thursday, June 27
$8 21 and up,
$12 18 and up
ROMANTHONY OF DAFT PUNK
9pm, Friday, June 28
$8 21 and up,
$12 18 and up
9pm, Wednesday, July 3
$8 21 and up,
$12 18 and up