The last residency I ever held as a club DJ was at Club Zadar in New Hope, Pennsylvania… Here is my story.
I was a club DJ before I got into private events. Nightclubs were my gig for almost a decade, and although I wouldn’t call it my glory days, it was fun while it lasted, lasting just long enough for the memories to be fond, with little regret. I was the Friday night DJ at Zadar for close to four years, and I fought the good fight (or so I thought), but in the end, they tore down the club and put up a parking lot. No pun intended Joni.
Zadar, for me, was the trophy club. As far as I was concerned, all the clubs of the day were pretty much the same, droll, with all the freestyle and club redundancy that Zadar wasn’t. Zadar was punk, meets gay, meets tourist, meets goth with a sprinkle of preppy and yuppie interspersed in the crowd. It was cavernous and dark, trendy yet industrial and bare in parts. A great window ran the length of the club facing the Delaware River, but nobody cared, they weren’t there for the scenery they were there for the scene.
It was music by groups like Nitzer Ebb, Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails and of course, Talk Talk that drove the throngs of Zadar-goers to the dance floor. It was hip, it was different, and if you asked the DJ to play something on the Top 40 charts they’d likely tell you where to go, and how to get there. Zadar was different, but they weren’t going to let me keep it that way… not for long at least.
The great DJ Chas Paris was a resident DJ at the time I went in for my interview, and he was one of the few Philadelphia area club jocks I was eager to work beside. He was – and is – a great DJ, particularly in the genre that was so Zadar. Punk, industrial, new wave, alternative, post modern… too many classifications. If you ask me, it was just Zadar music. To my surprise and dismay I wasn’t to coexist with him, I was to be his replacement.
In my interview, they (Jack and Kevin, the managers) were explicitly clear. “We want you to play music like The Fizz” (another Bucks County nightclub), but I just yessed them and told them I could do whatever they wanted. At least that’s what I told them in the interview.
My first night at Zadar – the Friday following my Tuesday interview – I spun with my DJ partner Joe Quinn. I must say we rocked the house. We didn’t really give a damn what the managers said, and that probably has a lot to do with why I don’t work in clubs anymore. I’m convinced that club managers know less about music than I do about quantum physics, with the only difference being that I don’t pretend to know about quantum physics. We played New Order, Front 242, Lords of Acid, Erasure and Stereo MCs, and the crowd raved.
But the managers didn’t.
So the next week we dropped a few poppy tracks, and I got told by one of the regulars – a young woman with green hair known to all the employees as “Ms. Zadar” – that I sucked as a DJ. This became a fairly regular occurrence. Manager Kevin would make regular visits to the DJ booth to yell at me, saying I’d been playing too much of that “Zadar sh*t” (he had a colorful vocabulary), and that I’d better start “Fizzing it up” right away or else. I’d typically acquiesce until Joe or I saw him become preoccupied with other “managerial matters” (hitting on girls), and then I’d slip back into something less mainstream, but not before Ms. Zadar would drop by to remind Joe and I of our shortcomings as DJs. It was a cycle we became quite accustomed to.
So yeah, I was sick of the commercial fare of freestyle and club music. I longed for the alternative scene of Zadar, but the writing was on the wall, literally, as the management began hanging neon beer signs around the club trying to “change the image”. Personally, I couldn’t understand why they were taking such a cool thing and making it uber lame. The first two and a half years were a struggle, but for the most part Kevin let me do what I wanted, and Jack (the other manager) really didn’t know anything about music, so he never really got in the way.
They were good times. Big Mike and Gary at the door, Derek at the back bar, Lisa and Mark (who eventually married), Frank, and even Ms. Zadar (along with many others) became my Friday night family (well, maybe not Frank). We would pack the place wall to wall, and I tried my best to stay true to the patrons who came to Zadar to drink and party, and hear the tunes.
Then Chas came back. Not as a DJ, but as a manager! Salvation never seemed so close, but it was fleeting. With the change of management they also brought in a new GM. The Irish guy (real Irish, accent and all), who would only advance the demise and eventual doom of the joint. Unlike Kevin, this guy was a “professional”, or so he thought. I personally thought he was a tool, and I’m sure the feeling was mutual. This guy – in all his managerial wisdom – didn’t give a hoot what the customers wanted to hear, and he certainly didn’t just let Chas run the club as I had so desperately hoped. He knew enough about music to dictate what I played with an iron fist. Eight months of that and Joe and I handed him our letter of resignation. He liked Joe a lot more than he liked me, and was quite happy to tell me so as I packed up my gear that last night and walked out the door.
I think Zadar lasted another two years, under the brilliant leadership of that Irish guy. DJ Moe Green was our replacement, and I’m fairly certain he was happy to “Fizz it up”. Moe’s affable that way. When it finally closed it’s doors, Zadar had an auction to sell off it’s relics, of which I acquired quite a few.
Since then I was the DJ at Mark and Lisa’s wedding, and Derek’s as well (Derek and I actually predate Zadar, first meeting in college), so I guess I wasn’t as bad as Ms. Zadar professed. I caught up with Chas a few nights ago on the phone just to catch up, and he shared some of his Zadar stories with me, which surprisingly weren’t much different than my own. To all the Zadar DJs who came before me, I fought the good fight, and I went out swinging. Thanks for letting me fill your shoes for a bit, it was fun.
There will never be another Club Zadar, which in my mind will forever be to alternative music what Studio 54 was to disco and The Savoy was to swing. All moments in history which have long past.
I understand there’s a Zadar reunion in the works, which I have no intention of attending.
Club Zadar DJ
P.S. Gary, if you read this, look me up sometime bro, let’s have a beer.