For many electronic music artists and listeners in the Detroit area, The Necto nightclub is a former home-away-from-home; as an island existing between Detroit and Chicago, the club functioned as one of the few legal venues outside of these major cities where you could hear techno and house music. Although the venue has never had a consistent electronic music night spanning more than a few years, there’s something about the Ann Arbor club that always invites new promoters to pick up where the last one left off. As a result of these hand-offs, and also because of the club’s 30+ year lifespan, it’s arguable that no club in Michigan has seen quite the diversity of performing artists, ranging from Jeff Mills to deadmau5. We begin our Timeline series with The Necto because it holds a special place in the Dub Monitor heart – in addition to being the club in which many of us had our first “real” gigs, it’s also the home of our current event series I AM NOT TO BE TRUSTED. In this article, we use interviews with former and current Necto staff, local news archives, and the Internet at large to trace the history of electronic music at the club back from before the invention of techno all the way to 2014.
1974 – 1984: Second Chance
The Second Chance (originally named “Chances Are”) opens as a Rock’n’ Roll bar on Liberty Street, Ann Arbor. To this day, a plaque is hung next to the door of what is now known as The Necto that lists some of the esteemed artists that played there during this historical era. The list includes a few you might have heard before – like James Brown, Bob Seger, the Ramones, New Order, and the Police. But although this time period for the club is fascinating in its own right, the focus of this article is on electronic music history – so we’ll skip ahead to the mid 80’s.
1984-1991: The Nectarine Ballroom
In 1984, the management of Second Chance decided to close the bar down for renovations, and re-opened as The Nectarine Ballroom. According to the club’s current general manager, Scot Greig, it was being marketed as a NYC style disco tech. “It had three floors, velvet ropes, valet parking and a dress to impress only dress code,” says Greig, “and this marketing plan did not work in a small college town.” The club quickly rebranded towards being more accessible to its surroundings. But they maintained some key elements from the Second Chance, such as bringing in bands and continuing its still-running (and borderline notorious) gay night. The owners decided to call the renovated venue the “Nectarine Ballroom” because a nectarine was the sweetest of the fruits. Of course, this instantly became the subject of many inside jokes amongst its gay night regulars and staff. These nights were also the clubs first experiments with electronic music, says Scot: “Belleville is pretty close to Ann Arbor, so the Belleville Three [Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, and Derrick May] and Eddie Fowlkes were close. And Ann Arbor is between Detroit and Chicago. So we were really getting influences from both – the gay nights were basically house and techno.”
But gay night wasn’t the only themed night. During this era they ran everything from “Art School night” (which, of course, turned into Goth night) to “Eurobeat night.” One of the DJs from this era that I spoke to, Roger LeLievre, said that once the Eurobeat night caught on, it was his personal favorite because of the musical freedom it offered. Of course, the musical freedom offered by The Nectarine Ballroom became the backdrop for the legendary Jeff Mills (under his alias The Wizard) to hold a weekly residency at the club from 1986 to 1989. “He would play records so incredibly fast,” said LeLievre, “He’d mix into a new record, and throw the other one behind him, and his brother spent the night sorting them out.” Eventually, the nights where The Wizard played got so out of control, with hundreds of people waiting in line to get into the club, that the event was deemed a public nuisance due to crowds blocking the street. As a result, the city government asked Necto to either scale back or cancel the night.
1991-2001: The Nectarine
After seven years of operating as The Nectarine Ballroom, the club shut down to remodel once more, and emerged from its cocoon as “The Nectarine.” During this time, the club changed ownership and continued to shift its focus away from live bands into a modern dance club atmosphere. To this day, many involved in the live music aspects of Second Chance and The Nectarine Ballroom resent this move towards “recorded music.” After a decade of normal operation (and relative stagnation in terms of electronic music), the club went through its third and final renovation and became The Necto.
2001-2012: The Necto
The Nectarine was sold to its current owners on September 1st, 2001. The new owners then shortened “The Nectarine” to “The Necto” in order to let the current customer base know that the club was still a dance club, but under new management. The plan originally was to close the doors after a year of operating as The Necto and remodel once again in the summer of 2002 to re-open under the name “Pulse,” intended to be more of a high-end nightclub with a focus on electronic music.However, after the catastrophic events that took place on September 11th (just ten days after the change in ownership), these plans were delayed and eventually abandoned – mostly due to the fact that the club became successful as The Necto.
A couple of weeks after September 11th, Kevin Saunderson organized a fundraiser at The Necto for relief of 9/11 victims and their families. The night was so successful that club management decided to test the waters a bit more with electronic music while maintaining the Necto brand. They brought in John Acquaviva for New Years Eve and once again managed to fill the venue with fans of electronic music. “We decided to keep going until things got better in the world, but they just kept on going,” said Scot. “We managed to hire the talent buyer from Motor, a guy named Johnny O who was friends with Richie Hawtin and other Detroit DJs, and we launched a night called Touch.” During this time, artists like Hawtin, Juan Atkins, and Derrick May began playing at The Necto during the Touch nights. Meanwhile, Paxahau and John Aquaviva would throw themed parties in the Red Room, Necto’s smaller underground dancefloor.
While helping us research this article, Christine Kitora (Necto’s Event Coordinator) managed to unearth a list of the DJ’s that have performed at the club, most of them during this era. It’s simply stunning, and includes artists like Carl Craig, Felix Da Housecat, Magda, Mark Farina, DJ Sneak, James Zabiela, Mike Huckaby, Frankie Bones, Derek Plasaiko, and Josh Wink.
The Nectarine also featured a Ghostly International residency, with Matthew Dear performing as a DJ (according to Necto staff, this was before Matthew even owned his own turntables). Dear played in the glass-walled area (that has now become the VIP room) that sits above the main dance floor. The residency continued successfully until one night an intoxicated party-goer shattered one of these glass walls, spraying glass down below. Realizing that this space could give an incredible vantage point to a DJ, Necto decided to move the main floor DJ booth into this space rather than bother replacing the glass pane.
Unfortunately, Touch ended when the price of DJs got so extraordinarily high that Necto couldn’t afford to book these artists anymore. The nights were barely breaking even, and Necto lacked the capital to buy acts in “bulk” (meaning booking multiple events at once from an agency in order to get a discount; agencies do this not only to make more money, but also to accelerate the rise of their up-and-coming artists). Necto quickly realized that the club was more profitable just opening the doors and selling drinks than they did by investing in acts whose price tag had grown significantly over the last few years.
From 2003 to 2004, the club struggled against the tides of Top40, which had become the canonical club music at the time. Scot Greig and his colleague John Robinson still managed to bring in Juan Atkins and Terrence Parker, but it was a labor of love rather than a business decision. After a while, there was no choice but to let it go – for the time being.
In 2007 a University of Michigan student named Jon Sax began working for The Necto, while simultaneously running a student group called MEDMA (the Michigan Electronic Dance Music Association). Jon eventually convinced the General Manager, Scot Greig, to book a relatively underground act (at the time) called deadmau5. “I was a little gun-shy after our previous attempts in the early 2000’s with the EDM format” says Scot, “but Jon Sax helped push me back into it. It helped that I saw deadmau5 with him the previous summer at Hart Plaza during the Movement festival. It was great to see young adults like Jon get into the music. He convinced me to spend money on deadmau5, and it turned out to be a great show. Even Joel [deadmau5] said he liked it.” Jon followed his passion for progressive house and tech house, booking everyone from Mark Knight to Above & Beyond. By the time Sax graduated and moved to Washington D.C. to work for The Bullitt Agency, Necto had realized the potential that electronic music could once again hold for their club. They asked one of their ex-employees from the Touch era, Christine Kitora, to come back to work for the club as an Event Coordinator, focusing on cultivating a series of EDM events known as Voltage. Simultaneously, MEDMA worked to bring more underground DJ’s like Kris Wadsworth to the club’s secondary dance floor, known as the Red Room.
Although in the past year Necto has hosted successful nights featuring Richie Hawtin, Seth Troxler, Loco Dice, and Jeff Mills, the focus has largely been on EDM. This strategy makes sense – the club is one block away from the University of Michigan, where many of the 40,000 UM undergrads are studying to the tunes of Pretty Lights and Bassnectar. “As a business, you have to stay relevant. So you have to book the Avicii’s,” says Christine. “You book trap and dubstep to stay relevant. And it’s not that I don’t appreciate that music, but it’s not something I would listen to all the time. I love Jeff Mills. I love what we did with the Richie Hawtin educational event. It’s important to show we can do a multitude of things and that we still have a heart where Detroit is.”
Commercial EDM (despite its many flaws) can serve as an entry point for listeners that may eventually change their tastes towards something more unique or refined. “We used to call trance the ‘gateway drug'”, says Christine. “People came in with it and moved to Chicago house or minimal techno. People getting into poppy electronic music either mature, or they stop listening. You either become totally obsessed or you wean out of it.”
Besides the EDM-focused Voltage series on Necto’s main floor, there are three other regular events still offering electronic music at Necto. J Clark (Justin Anderson) has maintained a weekly known as Recreation that features almost every genre of dance music that can be imagined, but has recently begun booking larger house music acts on a regular basis. My personal favorite of these was the Terrence Parker set in the Fall of 2013, which featured everything from classic Detroit Techno tunes to recent Ostgut Ton releases. There’s also the MEDMA monthly night, Impulse, which features local students playing electronic music – everything from juke to trance.
Finally, there are the events organized by this site, the I AM NOT TO BE TRUSTED series. So far we’ve featured North American techno acts like Rrose, Luis Flores, Jeff Derringer, Project 313, Annie Hall, Kero, Chuck Flask, and Keith Kemp. Coming up in the next two months are Detroit’s Luke Hess, Erika, and BMG.
Hopefully this timeline has encouraged you not only to take a second look at The Necto, but also has inspired your curiosity about the other venues around you. If you’re living in southeast Michigan (or really any other metropolitan area), chances are that techno-infused histories are buried in the walls of the streets you walk down every day while eagerly tuning into the latest CLR podcast. Only a few days ago I discovered that Berghain resident Ryan Elliot used to DJ at the small cocktail bar I go to for happy-hours after work. I’ve been there a hundred times and had no idea.
Beyond the entertainment value of this knowledge, being aware of these things can inspire you. The places you spend your weekend nights were the breeding grounds of multiple generations of incredible electronic musicians, labels, and promoters. There’s no reason you can’t be part of the next round of history-making.