A Closer Look: Mike Gallicchio on Dance Definitions and the influence of Capitalism

Mike Gallicchio needs little introduction to people in the scene that have been around for a minute. For those who are new to the game, Gallicchio, a former dj, was one of the key businessmen pushing dance club concepts like Red Zone (opened in 98), Fabric (opened in 00), Long Street (opened in 02), Spice (opened in 03), & Sugar Bar (opened in 06) with business partner Corso. Believing that Columbus needed a dance club culture the likes of which are found in New York or Chicago, Gallicchio pushed for Columbus residents to go downtown and dance in one or two centralized clubs where they knew dance music would be played. Though many these clubs have been recycled into new bar concepts (save Long Street), I do not need to underestimate how important this period in our scenes history was for countless people in Columbus. It was the time of 2000 people dance parties, a steady stream of major edm talent, and the high point of a Columbus club culture. For this reason, I felt it was essential to talk to Gallicchio to get his viewpoints on how capitalist forces influence dance music in Columbus and why definitions of our scene are important. Before I get to his interview, I wanted to offer a few words to begin a conversation on the influence of economics in our community that were prompted by my interview with him.

Commercialization v. Authenticity: Obscuring Intricacy

Thinking about the economics of dance music is not new. Doubtless, it has also been a central concern of both music journalism and academic approaches to music scenes. The unfortunate problem within many of these discussions is that the impact of capitalism on a music scene gets boiled down to a dichotomy between two perspectives: Commercialization or Authenticity. Think about it. A great majority of conversations of music scene use one of these perspectives. I fall into this trap a lot when I am writing about our scene and where we are going. Just look back to my posts and the whole concept for this blog. I open tout the quest for “authenticity” in the face of commercial pressure. Yet, any real attention to the role of capitalism in shaping dance music scenes displays that neither of these perspectives alone will help us understand the opportunities and constraints of money.

We are all wrapped up in a complex web of financial and creative pressures. Boiling down this complexity down to selling out or staying authentic obscures the larger issues at hand. For example, one can create “authentic music” for the underground yet still have their modes of creation, sharing, and performance constrained by the larger capitalist system. Conversely, the large music corporations could not make money if they did not find and mass produce  “authentic” music for a wide audience. In short, authenticity and commercialization are just two different sides of the same coin wrapped up in a tightly wound relationship. Neither perspective alone completely meets the reality of how dance music scenes or the creative process making shows or music operates.

Instead, these statements offer a quick fairy tale type story to easily explain how certain music scenes work. There are two problems that result due to how these stories are used in society:

1.) No music scene has ever been completely authentic or commercialized. These fairy tales are created ideas for what a music scene should look like based on past stories or other music scenes. Thus, they obscure understanding of the intricate influences that act on dance music communities by stopping people from looking deeper. In short, people use these perspectives to label scenes in order to make sense of them in all their complexity, but often ignore the intricacies in how they operate.

2.) These fairy tales rank-order scenes in a general hierarchy. Everyone has values for how they think dance music scenes should operate and people will rank order scenes based on their living up to being either big, commercial markets or underground, authentic enclaves. Saying X scene is better than Y scene then becomes natural for people who get bogged down in these two perspectives. Yet, again these hierarchies obscure the true operations of how things operate in favor of making statements about X being better than Y.

The real questions becomes: What do we even get out of these two perspectives? Do they help us understand the Columbus Dance Music Scene in intricate way? No, these two perspectives just obscure the intricate operation of larger economic, legal, & political forces on our scene. One look to my hype promotional work displays this point quite readily. I have openly promoted many releases and shows over the last couple months and have built wonderful ties with many people in our community. I think its important to uplift the people doing creative work here, but I have neglected the deeper analysis of our scene as a result.

I think it is important for me to begin using the historical lessons I am learning to start discussions about how the political, legal, and economic field we are immersed in here in Columbus offers interesting opportunities and limitations to pushing this thing to the next level. I want to attempt to move beyond the Hype role to start explore bigger questions about our scene. For me, It is only at this point when we start exploring the city, regional, and national forces at work that we can understand how to leverage our resources to build our scene in the direct we want it to. Without delving into these details, we will just be blindly striving for some ideal based in the two perspectives about dance music without really even understanding where we are going. Thus, I want us to start to chart a course of development that makes sense for our community. No doubt, this is already happening in the many discussions that happen among DJ crews around town, but I just wanted to open up this discussion to a larger audience to get everyone thinking about these key issues in more detail.

Gallicchio & Questions Moving Forward

My discussion with Gallicchio and others in the scene over the past few months really jump started the beginnings of this approach to looking at our scene. Yet, I am not an oracle, a lawyer, or an economist. I have little interest in telling you what the truth is. I am a person who believes in exploring questions. Thus,  I would rather raise two key questions that came out of my discussions with Gallicchio that help us understand our scene in more detail than just provide you answers for where we should go:

1.) What is the role of capitalism in shaping our Columbus dance music scene and its future? (i.e. what role does club ownership, demography, the economics of major edm talent, shifts in columbus night life play in the scene we are building?) What special opportunities or limitations are their in Columbus that will help us or prevent us from push this thing to the next level? 

My discussions with Galliccho really prompted me to think deeply about the economic opportunities and constraints that Columbus places on trying to build a dance community. This question is a vital one for me as a sociologist because it shows the larger social forces at work in our community. The allure of individualism is that we can push this scene to the next level through our efforts, but a hundred and fifty years of sociology says that our ability to do this will be dependent on the economic forces and the population specific influence of the people that surround us.

2.) What is our definition of the ideal future for Columbus Dance Music?

Gallicchio has a very set definition for what a dance music scene should look like. I am sure many of you out there do as well, but there is little discussion about this that goes on in public. In order to make it to the “Next Level”, we have to have a common understanding of where we are going. If not, we just run the risk of losing a broad coalition as soon as changes begin to happen.

Interview with Mike Gallicchio

With these questions in mind, Now lets move to the Interview so that you can begin to see one opinion of how these larger economic forces and definitions are at work within our community:

LA: You have been involved in nightlife for much of your adult life. What keeps you working on developing Columbus Nightlife?

MG: I love the business; it’s always changing, challenging and very competitive.

LA: What led you to start opening clubs in the late 90s/ early 00s? What did you hope to achieve?

MG: I was a DJ for many years and to move up & forward I would either have to move to a larger city and make it or take the next logical step at least in my opinion and open my own clubs.

LA: How is owning a building(s) important to shaping the nightlife scene in a city?

MG: We can control our own spaces, design how we want and open venues that in our opinion the City needs. I’m proud of the clubs we opened and I think they contributed to Columbus’ nightlife and helped forge the scene we have today.

LA: What are some of the ways demographics shape Columbus Nightlife?

MG: The demographics in Columbus have changed over the years. In the past our bars/clubs were very dependent on the transient College students and we could really feel their impact. Now we don’t depend on the student population as much and more people are staying in Columbus after they graduate, this has really helped Columbus forge the “young professional” persona it now has. Plus Columbus is much larger with a much more diverse suburban population, now we just need to get them all downtown 🙂

LA: How are clubs and club culture different than bars? Did we ever have a club culture in Columbus?

MG: Yes we had a decent “club culture 1999 – 2002. After 2002 Columbus shifted primarily to smaller venues and “beer” based bars. A Club is way different than a Bar in every aspect I think this is obvious to anyone.

LA: Do we have a club culture in Columbus now? If not, why is that a significant shortcoming of our dance music scene?

MG: There is no club culture in Columbus anymore, Columbus doesn’t have a ‘real” dance club where people can dress up and go out on the town. Without a real club its tough to have a real dance scene in my opinion. Props to Kareem and the Quality guys for making something happen (no disrespect to anyone I left out, I just don’t have the time to put in all the names) Many of the DJ’s to their credit have tried to keep the scene alive and I give them all the respect in playing the music they love and filling the niche they do.

LA: How would having even one centralized club benefit the Columbus dance scene as a whole?

MG: Well it would give everyone a chance to listen to good dance music in a big venue, bring the DJ factions together and have a place where all people who love EDM could come and party together. It would help in bringing in major DJ talent so we could get more than one show every three months and see them in a quality environment.

LA: Do you think we could ever recapture the state of the scene at its height in the late 90s early/ 00s?

MG: Maybe? The majority of kids now listen primarily to EDM and that’s a very positive thing and believe me it wasn’t always that way. When kevy Kev and I started way back when, we had to force dance music down people’s throats and play a lot of music we didn’t want to play just to play a couple tunes we actually liked! I say keep on trying and do what you love to do and good things will happen.

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