Dancing next to Vicki Powell is as intimate as any conversation. Her love of music and our community is palpable in her very presence, so that when we’re all together, it’s deep. When I heard she was starting a new monthly party, I knew it was a big deal. And when I heard she was bringing the Honcho crew down from Pittsburgh for the first night, well shit, it’s officially. fucking. on. Everybody pay attention.
So first things first: Deep South kicks off this Saturday night at the Atlanta Eagle, serving as a rousing alarm call for all you kids who love to dance, celebrate, and maybe get sleazy to come show off and make this city proud. Vicki’s bringing the fresh cuts, the Honcho boys are bringing the now world-renowned magic of their Pittsburgh party, and it’s up to us to do the rest!
The other night she came over and we drank two-buck chuck, made jello shots, and discussed her decades-long career in Atlanta nightlife, the evolution of gay club culture, and what she has in store for the future
So you’re from Atlanta, and you were here pretty consistently through the late 90s before moving to New York, and then moved back around 2005. Were you DJing even in the early years?
I started to DJ at a rollerskating rink when I was growing up, so probably at thirteen. I’ve had turntables my whole life. The first record I ever bought was Freddie Mercury. Queen, Bowie, they ruled my childhood, and then I got into KISS, because of the costumes. That was fascinating. But yeah, Freddie Mercury all the way, that whole look, the handlebar mustache, the mirrored glasses.
Tell me about Atlanta back then. What was it like?
If you missed Backstreet, it’s hard to describe it. And I know people get tired of hearing about it, but it was a legendary club that was known all over the world. It was like the Roxy or Limelight or Studio 54, on the same caliber. Thousands of people, enormous dance floor, totally vibing out together, lights, disco ball, laser beams, fog machine, shirts are off. It was cool cause everybody was just vibing together, getting down. It was a force. Grace Jones performed there. It was a disco through the 70s, and in the 80s saw those times, and in the 90s it had Company B and the freestyle scene, and I think drug culture ultimately hurt that.
Drug and music culture are always going to go hand in hand.
I feel like when it was coming out of disco and people were keeping it cute, it was cute all the way through the 80s. Then ecstasy came in, and ecstasy was legal. Meth came in the mid- to late 90s, and also ketamine and GHB. Once crystal meth got into the scene it was dark, the music got dark, it shifted and that was sad, cause it was a happy place. I can tell from the booth what drugs people are doing. I know what kind of crowd it is. I can tell if there’s a methy vibe. I can tell. I can just feel it. I’m not anti-drugs, but I am anti-abuse. I have friends in recovery, so this isn’t a judgment call on them, just on what happens and has happened during that time when meth takes control. Fortunately, we don't see a lot of that anymore now. I think meth is thankfully moving on its way out. And those were all dancefloor vibe killers, because people would literally swirl out and fall to the ground. CPR on the dancefloor is not what I want to do. I didn’t come out for that. I also wondered if that was in direct response to the sadness that was going on, people overindulging and just trying to survive. People were fucking depressed. People were blowing off too much steam.
It was really sad but also beautiful when you mentioned in our facebook chat that when you see people dancing, it invokes the spirit of friends that you’ve lost.
I keep that going because it was such a happy time, and that’s what they’d be doing if they were still alive, and we’d be doing it together. The 80s were raunchy and awesome because there was a certain freedom happening. Then we all went through AIDS as a community and it devastated us. I was bartending in the 80s. I would get off work from my bar gig around 4 AM, and I would do my grocery shopping in the middle of the night, because I hate grocery shopping, and I would shop at the Ansley Mall Kroger. It was during that time, and all the guys would shop at night because they were embarrassed to go out during the day, like all the guys that were sick. So it was just a dark time. At night it would just be me and the industry people, and all the guys, all ages. So just thinking about seeing stuff like that, most people have never seen it. I guess it leaves an everlasting hole in your life where you don’t ever really get over it, so you also become guarded because when you lose your entire friend sphere, you don’t really want to do that again. You don’t want to feel that pain again. So that may. . . I know that I can be a little bit hard to read, and I think that’s why. It’s not easy. And just the thought of that again is like, oh, I can’t do that again. I guess I imagine going on and carrying on and. . . I don’t know, it feels like I should just keep carrying on. Cause I like to carry on. So it’s really beautiful to be on the other side of that and see that free-spiritedness coming back, that sort of allowing yourself to be vulnerable again. . . vulnerable but smart.
Fuck yeah. Let’s capture that free-spiritedness at Deep South! I think we definitely can get the energy, but I feel like even if we had a venue that would house that kind of crowd, it would still never equal what it once was.
I feel like unfortunately we don’t have spaces that would hold that many people, but I think a smaller version of that energy could be coming back. But I think, specifically for DJ culture now, if you’re a young DJ and you missed that build up of a room and a twelve-hour set, it’s a different experience. They played the beginning, they finessed the room, they opened the room, they got the room ready, they went into prime time where they bitch slapped the room for five hours, and they wound it down. It was just cool to see these guys carry 300 lbs of vinyl to a club and just turn it out for twelve hours. It was badass. They had to do a whole spiritual journey, a vision quest. They had to take you to this place. The DJs never left the booth. They peed in Gatorade bottles because they couldn’t leave the DJ booth because it was so crowded.
And, of course, there is the culture shift of social media, cruising online. You used to go to a bar to cruise, and now you just cruise online, literally with your thumb. So it’s just a culture shift. There has to be a point where people want the human experience. Maybe also now that it’s not so. . . we’re not in the closet anymore. Those gay bars back in the day, you went there because that was the only place you could be gay in public in safe, gay spaces. There weren’t cameras in every person’s hands, so you could be debaucherous and get away with it. I DJ for sexually charged environments. You can quote me on that. I really want to bring it on Saturday. You can tell when people are lost in the music and in the moment, they’re not on their phones, their having human contact, they’re engaging with one another and not the device.
Oh jeezus, I want you to bitch slap me for five hours! So with Deep South happening this weekend, what are you hoping to accomplish? You’ve been hosting Church Service at Sister Louisa’s for almost five years, which feels like a different thing from this, and it’s been ten years since your last ongoing party, Flux, ended. So why now?
You’re exactly right. Church Service has been so meaningful to me and such a success. The love is so tangible. It’s a friendly vibe, it’s not pretentious. Everyone knows everyone from one degree of separation. Both events are rooted in community, but I'm trying to accomplish something very different with Deep South. First, Church Service is on an open outdoor patio facing the city and it ends at midnight. Deep South is definitely capturing more of an underground and after hours atmosphere, the parties are going to run past closing hours at three AM. That, I hope will capture a uniquely southern vibe.
I’ve been traveling and meeting all these awesome queer DJs in this underground movement, and every city has their own little vibe that’s going on and they are specific to those cities. I’m traveling to Fag Bash, I’m DJing in New Orleans and New York, LA, and I’m thinking, holy shit, why don’t we bring each other each other’s cities? But in the underground, not the circuit, not pop music, but us underground DJs. It’s a smaller scene. It’s DIY. We do it ourselves.
So my hope with Deep South is to connect these underground dots and bring those people to Atlanta. I think Atlantans are hungry for more adventurous music. It’s about nightlife abroad and at large across the country, we’re curious about that. Not everybody can go to these spaces all over the world, so why can’t I bring that here once a month and sort of connect people that aren’t able. Cause that’s a luxury. We deserve to have the same music exposure.
And what we’re going to bring is obviously an amazing community that we have here, the strength and creativity and southern charm that we have. We have a very special thing here and everyone feels it as soon as they land. They know it, they feel it, and we have a lot to give. You know it’s cute when major talents from other cities are messaging and asking how to get in on this. I guess my hope is that I want it to be pretty straight forward—it doesn’t need a gimmick, it’s just about music and good people getting together and enjoying killer music. We need that space that is comfortable and reliable and we know it brings it every time.
Atlanta definitely feels like it’s having a major moment right now. The creativity and culture and community are really thriving in a way that feels new and fresh in the ten years I’ve been here.
Atlanta is a safe haven for so many people in the deep south, which goes back to the name. It’s a reclamation of that, because obviously people have an idea of what the south is, and yes, things have happened in the past, bad things, they still do all over the world. But as a southerner who fortunately came out when it was super diverse, was surrounded by people who were accepting, I want to create that space. Deep South is a double entendre about deep house music and the geographic location of where we are and the deeper vibration and the deeper connection to people, and also reclamation of the south and the stigma that people perceive who have never even been here. I hope people come to the party and they can be proud of it and own it. It's deep. It’s a movement. I’m proud of my community and my city.
Vicki has a whirlwind weekend in store. Check out all the info below, and don’t miss Deep South on Saturday Night @ the Atlanta Eagle. No Cover.
Fri Mar 25-AKRUM'S BDAY@ MARY'S w/BABYGIRL and Guests
Sat Mar 26-DEEP SOUTH presents HONCHO @ The Eagle
Sun Mar 27-Easter Sunday Church Mark Louque-Rich King-Bendito
Mon AM -After-Hours w/Robert Ansley /Father Figure/Aaron Clark
HRO is a professional nerd, retired rapper, and radical superhero. You can usually find him at The Ranch drinking scotch in slutty underwear.