Atlanta isn't a house and techno mecca—at least, not yet. Home to the likes of T.I., Gucci Mane, Lil Yachty, and Young Thug, the city is synonymous with its hip-hop, trap and crunk scenes; even the Grey Lady dubbed it "hip-hop's center of gravity" in 2009.
This hasn't always been the case; electronic music flourished in Atlanta in the 90s, with Detroit-bred, Atlanta-based DJ/producer Kai Alcé playing a key role through his weekly MJQ parties at Eleven50 (which later became Opera nightclub). The community suffered when several local hotspots like Club Kaya, Backstreet, and The Chamber closed down between the mid-90s and early 2000s. However, in recent years, Atlanta's underground has been on the upswing, with buzzy new producers like Stefan Ringer and festivals like ZEMYA developing alongside staples like House in the Park festival and The Gathering party.
Chicago-born, Atlanta-based DJ Pierre—who co-founded the highly influential trio Phuture in 1985 with Spanky and Herb J, and is widely credited as a pioneer of acid house—hopes his new club, WildPitch, will continue to fuel this momentum. Opened in June 2016 in downtown Atlanta with Josh Wink presiding over the launch party, the 250-capacity, one-room venue has both high ceilings and a warehouse feel. In the coming months, the club will host headliners like Kevin Saunderson, Louie Vega, and Frankie Bones, as well as local DJs like StanZeff and Ringer.
According to Pierre, the city is ripe for a club like WildPitch. "Atlanta has this underground scene that is ready to burst," he told THUMP over e-mail. Yet simply opening a new venue is not his ultimate goal. DJ Pierre also wants the space to be an incubator for new local talent, saying he hopes to "discover a superstar who is from Atlanta so they can take the torch and run with it."
Last Sunday—a few days before his fellow Phuture co-founder DJ Spank Spank's death—we spoke with DJ Pierre about the challenges of opening a club in Atlanta, the current state of the city's house and techno scene, and his plans for the next Phuture album.
THUMP: What made you decide to open a house and techno club in Atlanta?
DJ Pierre: Well, as in most things in my life, [opening a club] was not my original intention. I think this is part of a divine plan. When I moved to Atlanta eight years ago, my manager told me that someone made a statement on Facebook that DJ Pierre, Todd Terry, and Felix Da Housecat all live here and do nothing for the scene. I was initially bothered by that comment because I felt it was an unfair expectation. But I also felt that if the house and techno scene was thriving, the statement would not be made. So it made me think about how I can help.
[Fellow DJs/promoters and I] decided to do our own events at The Music Room, one of the venues here, along with Sound Table and Alleycat, who are trying to push through as well. The response was amazing—our first event was well past capacity. The energy was like what you would experience in Europe. I can't put my finger on it, but people really gravitated to what we were doing. So I was excited to explore that further.
Atlanta has this underground scene that is ready to burst. There was a massive house and techno scene here in the 90s and early 2000s. [Back then] I was booked for quite a few events at Eleven 50 which is now Opera. I met Kai Alcé, who to me is the godfather of house music here. For all the work that he's put in the scene, [it] should be farther along.
Speaking from my experience having lived in various cities, infrastructure is a necessary and integral part of any scene. You can push and push, but if you don't have radio stations, media, and record labels, you are running but not getting anywhere. So I wanted to apply what I knew and help create an infrastructure.
I set up a studio here and invited people free of charge to come in and learn how to produce. If we see a track with potential, we nurture it and release it on [my label] Afro Acid. We continue to do events tapping into the local scene, booking local DJs to headline their own nights, including StanZeff, Raskal, Lessnoise, Ralph & Louie, The DJ Bri, Corey von Waters, Alex Lucas, ARI EL, Stefan Ringer, Raul Peña, Johnny K, etc. I want to help give them some recognition outside of Atlanta. We've hosted special events with local staples like Kai Alce and DJ Kemit as well.
What is Atlanta's current dance music scene like?
Other promoters like Liquified, Tambor, Cardio, Wiggle factor, Q/Q and Project B and Unity all seem to be doing their thing. Salah Ananse and his efforts help shape the scene as well. If I forget someone, it's not intentional, but that's it off the top of my head.
House and techno has to find their way so the world can see Atlanta as a place where this music reigns.
The scene is still a bit segregated. White here, blacks here, EDM kids here, new techno here. We all need to work together to really push through. Like it was in Chicago, when we were all not fans of each other, but you better believe we worked together. Atlanta is known for trap, hip-hop, and dubstep. House and techno has to find their way so the world can see Atlanta as a place where this music reigns. I hope that WildPitch can help with that.
Where did the name "WildPitch" come from?
I used to go you these parties in New York put on by Greg Day and Bobby Konders. The vibe was unmatched. You had all sorts of people there and all styles of music. One room had reggae, one had hip-hop, one had house. We all got along. So I made a track called "Generate Power" that encompassed that spirit of togetherness and called the sound "WildPitch," borrowing the the name from the party. It's a slow build, bringing in all sorts of sounds—the layering going on is like four tracks in one—until it reaches that "pitch" moment. WildPitch became it's own sub-genre once Europe got a hold of it. This is what I have in mind for the venue—bringing together all sorts of house and techno to make one beautiful experience.
Are you hoping to foster a similar underground vibe at WildPitch as you find in cities like LA, NYC, Detroit, or your native Chicago?
Absolutely. We are already developing the producers here and providing a place where they can get their work out. So if a track blows up, we can say, "Producer A did that track and guess what? He is from Atlanta." The people we book are the legends of the scene and also the newer talent that we appreciate. That's what I want to do here: Discover a superstar who is from Atlanta so they can take the torch and run with it.
Why did you decide to leave Chicago in the 90s?
Records labels were crooked, I didn't want to give them my work anymore. Radio stations were not supporting as they used to, and the mayor was cracking down on parties. Clubs had to close or they had to shut their doors early. The biggest reason was that I got an offer from JIVE records which came through Wayne Williams at the time. So it was time for a change.
What obstacles do you face in opening a house/techno club in Atlanta, a city best known for its thriving rap/hip-hop scene?
The lack of understanding and patience people have for the process of breaking an audience in—we have to consider that these new ears know nothing about house and techno. Our job is to reach them where they are, and then teach them about the rich history that preceded and that is still impacting them now. So progamming for the venue has to be really thought out. We focus on a lot of the old-school guys and it's tough explaining to a 20-year-old here who they are. I also think our job is that much more difficult because we are the new guy on the scene, and we work without an affiliation to a certain clique or crew.
Where do you see trends in house and techno going and what do you anticipate the impact of a club like WildPitch will bring?
I think people are going back to the roots, so I think this is a perfect time for WildPitch to make a statement. Booking old-school names like techno legend Dave Angel, who is making a comeback, is what we mainly are about. We want to get history in the mix, and still show how relevant these guys are while connecting to the newer guys. So I think we will provide a well-rounded experience when you come here to visit.
WildPitch has Boris, Carlo Lio, and a collaborator of yours, Riva Starr booked for upcoming events. What other sort of artists and sounds can we expect in the future?
[Those artists] are my friends and it's an honor that they are coming to play at WildPitch. We've also booked Kevin Saunderson, Louie Vega, Dave Angel, Doc Martin, Danny Howells, Frankie Bones, MR. V, etc. Upcoming we have Marc Romboy, Dennis Ferrer, Kenny Dope, Terry Hunter, and more amazing talent.
So many cities in the United States lack a strong house and techno scene—why do you think that is?
The US has always been behind the eight ball when it comes to house and techno music. It was created in Chicago, Detroit and New York for the most part, but it was exported and Europe owned it. We didn't own it.
EDM is now the big thing [in Atlanta], and because of the lack of connection to house and techno, folks don't even know EDM is an offshoot; they think it happened overnight on its own, when [the truth is that] mother house spat it out. So we are playing catch-up.
We are developing producers here so if a track blows up, we can say, 'Guess what? He is from Atlanta.'
Beyond WildPitch, what are you up to these days?
Phuture is a live act and consists of myself and Spanky; he did the drum beats and I wrote lyrics and acid lines. Spank had a stroke earlier this year, but man, he fought back. We are in the process of getting material out, working on our album.
Going back to the 80s—what inspired the acid house sound?
Nothing inspired it really, just a desire to twist those knobs on the 303 and think out the box. I guess you can say a desire to be different inspired it. Spank, my partner in Phuture, and I wanted to created something that was so out there, only Ron Hardy would play it. Ron Hardy was a legend to us—he played tracks no one else played.
Today we can hear acid elements in so many different subgenres of electronic music, by producers from every corner of the world. How does this make you feel?
Spank and I feel very proud, like dads seeing their kid graduate from school or score the winning shot in their sport, you know? I think acid house has claimed its place at the table and we are very happy to be a part of that. It's evolved and spawned babies. So many people are influenced by it, and I think it will continue to grow. Next year will be 30 years of acid. And I'm getting more and more requests for acid house sets... it's not going anywhere.
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