Kingston’s clubs: deejays, dancehall and novelty
Nightclubs usually die a natural death. According to businessman Brian ‘Ribbi’ Chung, the worldwide standard is such that such establishments survive for three to four years. So how did he manage to sustain iconic nightclubs like Cactus, Asylum, and The Quad for the combined decades they operated? It’s a strategic combination of things: a novelty offering, a safe environment, and really great deejays.
Kingston’s nightclub life took off in the early ’90’s, just after local radio stations began adding dancehall music (albeit, to late night rotations). “There were clubs before. But we started dancehall in the nightclub – from Cactus Nightclub days. We encouraged people to come inside and experience dancehall,” Chung told The Sunday Gleaner.
As it is now, late-night dancehall parties were often shut off because of noise pollution. So it was welcome and novel to transfer the dancehall from lawn spaces like House of Leo into low-lit rooms with reverberating walls. “With police closing off things by midnight, people were hungry for entertainment, hence the success of dancehall in a nightclub,” Chung said.
At the start of Cactus, Chung partnered with key players in the entertainment industry such as GT Taylor and Wee Pow’s everlasting Stone Love sound system. “We hosted with top sound systems. People could come into a safe environment. Security was proper. Everyone was checked before they came in, and there were bouncers inside. If anything was to flare, it was fused out in seconds,” Chung recalled.
Understanding the necessity of novelty because of clubs’ short lifespan, Chung has churned further successes. There was Asylum, which Chung labelled the one-time Mecca of New Kingston. “We had to put the people in mind – especially dancehall fans – so they could come into an enclosed space and enjoy the music,” he said. The Quad, New Kingston’s four storey party pillar, also enjoyed great success. Chung surmised: “It was the novel idea of four floors.”
On the ground floor stood Christopher’s, designed for middle and upper-class executives looking to relax after work or to network. There was Taboo, the basement gentleman’s club, and there were the other two ‘high energy’ clubs – Voodoo and Oxygen.
“I had been going to club and bar conventions in Las Vegas from Cactus days. There, you understand the energy. In coming back, I was trying to tell club staff and the deejays how to play, the energy they need to have. Alric and Boyd understood energy,” Chung said.
DJs Alric and Boyd were fixtures in The Quad as resident deejays. In an interview with The Sunday Gleaner, Boyd recalled the years spent at The Quad in New Kingston. But before that extended gig, he was resident DJ at Mirage in Liguanea. By Boyd’s recollection, Mirage was a mega-club, or had the makings of one.
“It didn’t last long because of poor management. Imagine this: on opening night, they had Michael Manley standing in the line. Somebody should have come and get him! That is regular hospitality. When I saw that, I thought, well, this owner will have problems.” Operational technicalities aside, Mirage is remembered with impressive, inviting infrastructure.
“You’re walking on television screens when you walk in to Mirage. There was an arcade, restaurants, seven bars, grottos, and the VIP lounge. That club took up the entire basement of the Sovereign complex. It could hold at least 4,000 people,” Boyd said. He recalled other spaces like Asylum, Illusions, and Godfather’s, a club with a sunken dance floor that could potentially hold 2,000 patrons.
“We need something like that again for this younger generation, but whoever owns a club needs to invest in deejays. The deejays are what make the club. They set the atmosphere and the mood.”