Big Name Rockers Sound Off

The CBGB & OMFUG Home of Underground Rock Festival will showcase emerging artists in 30 clubs and venues in New York this July. This event raises the question of the viability of Rock n Roll in clubs today. Rock is a sound that still sells out stadiums and a viable music genre for today’s clubs. However, has hip hop and electronic dance music pushed the rock genre underground? Nightclub Confidential (NCC) hit up some of the rockiest rockers out there to the answer this very question and shed some light on the overall rock scene.

Johnny Lennon has rock chops. He toured with Joan Jett and the NY Dolls, DJ'ed rock n roll for 25 years and has hosted a Sunday night rock night at Goldbar in NYC, a place he’s run for five years. He also co-owns 4AM, a DJ management company. He says "I see there is a high demand for rock n roll but owners and operators push top 40 and other commercial music to sell bottles. I believe the lack of rock and roll in venues is directly correlated to bottle sales. People are constantly asking for rock n roll."

Marky Ramone, currently touring the world with his Ramones based band Blitzkrieg, gave some insight on if he sees rock clubs thriving. "I've noticed that now for a club to be viable they divide the nights... some nights electronica, some nights rock... so there is something for everyone" he says.

Pictured: Steve Lewis, Markey Ramone and Daniel Boulud at DBGB Restaurant

NCC: Can rock n roll can be profitable in nightlife venues?

Erik Foss is co-owner of the seminal NYC rock dive club LIT, which also features the Fuse Gallery and has been very successful.

Now if you’re asking me the question aimed at NYC nightlife in particular well that’s a tricky question. I assume most folks would put LIT in a ‘rock n roll’ category. I would call LIT an ‘art project’ personally.  That's what it started out as, in David Schwartzs (co-owner) and my minds over a decade ago. I think you would have to be more specific in that rock n roll has so many subgenres. Yes LIT ‘rocks’, but more in a vibe than type of music or crowd sort of way. When a group of artists open a bar in NYC it can change and evolve into what the climate projects. We are in this business to help young creative people. Not make us rich. By owning one bar it is impossible to become rich, especially when it feeds more than one mouth. LIT feeds a whole community.

NCC:  Has hip hop and electronic dance music pushed the rock genre underground?

Nur Khan operates the Electric Room at the Dream Downtown Hotel and The Writers Room in Hollywood, CA. He was co-owner of the wonderful Kenmare Restaurant & Lounge and Don Hill’s Nightclub/Live Music Venue. Rock is the genre of choice for Nur.

He offered “when you say club music format, that could have multiple meanings.  For a ‘dance’ club, I’m not so sure rock n roll is a viable music format if it’s strictly rock n roll.  If it’s very commercial rock n roll people will dance to it, but that's probably the #1 single of an artist's catalogue that’s played.  Khan opts to dig a litter deeper into an artist’s catalogue. By doing this you won’t get the same dance reaction. He believes “the real rock n roll lovers would rather not hear the overplayed #1 hit if they really like the artist.  That’s harder to do these days when people can just buy the single on iTunes without having to buy the whole record and digesting all of it.”

With that in mind, if it were a truly authentic rock ‘club’ that doesn't necessarily mean it’s a ‘dance’ club that plays rock n roll.   Foss noted that “if it’s a purist rock club, I’d be playing the deeper tracks…the ones that the enthusiasts of the artists don't get the opportunity to hear in a club, whereas they would be listening to them at home instead.  Most clubs opt for either electronic dance music or hip hop heavy mixed format with a sanitized rock n roll presence."

NCC: Has the emergence of bottle service as a way of club life pushed rock underground.

Khan: I would say that’s an accurate...  If it’s real rock, what does that have to do with bottle service?   The common bottle service venue only works with top forty or pop music. They are all driven by promoters whose mission is to lure the bottle buyers; therefore they kind of need to sell out on rock n roll authenticity. It’s very tricky to accomplish both.  Then again, if you create an innovative and authentic environment, that’s a smaller club, and play the real deal rock, to musically literate, open minded clientele, then rock n roll lovers with money will buy bottles anyway.

This is where the difference lies in bottle service for a rock n roll venue.  Foss explains that if “the vibe is right and your clientele loves every song played, like it was their own playlist, then they will by bottles but only because they want to not because they are forced to gain entry.”

NCC: What is the future of rock n roll in this industry?

Khan: Like Neil Young said… rock n roll will never die!!!  There’s always a future for rock n roll.  But if it’s a rock n roll club, it better be programmed by someone who has an understanding of it. And I think those places need to be smaller to maintain the integrity of the music and the clientele who appreciates it.”

Lüc Carl is an author and the voice of rock n roll on Satellite radio and has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA today. He also created and managed the legendary NYC rock n roll club, St. Jerome.

"Of the very few places that do exist, (and believe me I’ve been to everyone in America), you’ll be hard pressed to find any single girls worth taking home to mom. Nightclubs are much like television shows; they need to be popular. They need to be right now and in the press in order to be packed full of cash wielding thirsty patrons. Rock n roll will never die. It’s just hibernating. The guys will do whatever it takes to get the girls, so until girls decide that rock n roll is cool again, we’re stuck with hip hop and bottle service” says Carl.  

NCC: What is the current state of rock n roll and owners perceptions?  

Sam Valentine is a rock n roll promoter who also books bands and promotes shows. He has four to five weekly rock n roll events.

For the most part they are a bit more skeptical in clubs to do rock n roll nights because truth is most of the young rock n roll crowd is broke. Rock was driven underground by rock itself. The rock from the past years had been the emo scene which was keeping the good few bands underground in order to evolve. They came with a new sound that has already taken over most of Europe called Sleaze Rock, a style of rock influenced from ‘80s hair metal with a modernize badass attitude. Now that there’s new good rock, the possibility of it becoming a money making machine is higher than ever. I’d say that at this present time it’s still hard but is becoming much easier to get a club to do a rock night. Rock is back to the party state of mind. I guarantee in the next year or two there will be a great boom of rock n roll again. New and fresh and with more attitude than ever.

Cheetah Chrome is best known for playing guitar with the legendary punk band The Dead Boys. NCC caught up with him as he was preparing for a gig at the CBGB's Festival.

NCC: Is rock and roll a viable focus in today’s clubs or can it only thrive in the underground street that CBGB's once epitomized?

Cheetah: I don’t know how viable rock n roll is anywhere these days, at least not the kind I’m used to; it seems to have either moved into the arenas or disappeared. Rock has always had dry spells in between periods of great creativity; this seems to be a dry spell. A club like CB’s sure wouldn’t hurt, but I don’t know that even that would solve the problem. An audience that isn’t happy listening to watered down music on iPods and gets out to see live music might help more.

NCC: If with increased rents and operating costs is rock a viable format in NCY?

Jesse Malin has been in the bands Heart Attack, D Generation, Jesse Malin & The St. Mark Social he has owned and operated Bowery Electric, Coney Island High until 2000 and Niagara Bar on E 7th St.

“At Bowery Electric, a club I own with promoter Johnny T, we play 95% rock and roll, from past to present. Young kids come from all over and dance all night to our DJs Gina Bon Jersey and Tommy USA. We  do a little old school hip hop on Monday Nights with a very New York style party called Mobile Mondays with DJ EMZ, but even that party mixes in some soul and rock n roll” Malin states. “New York City is the ultimate melting pot...maybe we're lucky or just passionate, but we're still burning the Bowery” he continued.

NCC: Why is rock a genre that can sell out stadiums but hard pressed to sell out small clubs?

Malin: Over the last ten years with rock school and the punk rock moms every little kid wants to be a rock star, so the competition is higher than ever and the medium has become very artistically diluted. Rock n roll has become the norm, a safe commodity with an accessible guidebook, but good rock music, great songs and radical ideas will still sell tickets. But, yes, on the other hand there are 30 days in a month to book in a Manhattan club and Bowery Electric likes to give an opportunity to young bands to build their following and cut their musical teeth. CBGB's is a club that’s over 20 years old and is now reborn as a festival.

NCC: Is Bowery Electric the torch bearer for CBGB's?

Malin: Bowery Electric is one block away from the original CBGB's location on Joey Ramone place. We've booked a lot of young, new bands but also like the keep the classics alive, such as The Fleshtones, Cheetah Chrome, Tommy Ramone, and Richard Hell. My band, D Generation, will play the CBGB festival Saturday night, July 7th with old New York hardcore DJ Tim Sommer spinning. The festival has some great bands (I hope I get to see some of them) and some killer indie rock n roll movies.