The acceptability of dance as a valid genre of music has been an ebbing and flowing tide since the form’s creation. As founder of Buzz — the party considered by many to be America’s best show going — Scott Henry has witnessed the recent surge in popularity from behind both the decks and the manager’s desk. In this dual role, he’s ridden the crest of the swell, seen the waves ahead, and occasionally been caught in the riptide.
“Those of us who were around in the early days have been waiting for this to happen,” says Henry. “We always looked across the pond to Europe, where the kids were growing up with dance music. Here, in the Eighties and early Nineties, dance music still had a bad name to it.”
In 1983, as MTV was confirming itself as the “what’s hot, what’s not” dictator of the music industry, Henry was taking his first gig as a DJ of an increasingly unpopular genre.
“It was the Disco Sucks era, and a friend’s brother who was opening a restaurant-slash-bar asked me if I’d be interested in DJ’ing. So I went out and bought some equipment really quick. Back then you had to bring your own equipment to the club.”
Ten years after hauling his own turntables to gigs, Henry found himself creating a party of his own, along with partner Lieven DeGeyndt. After being uprooted several times, their weekly rave Buzz finally settled at the Capital Ballroom (now Nation), and has been there ever since.
“It was almost like a warehouse rave,” says Henry of the cavernous Southeast nightclub, “but business was good, and the owner was willing to put money back into it. Nation eventually turned into a world class club.”
In its beginnings, Buzz’s patrons were almost exclusively of the rave community, a scene that had not yet achieved the commercial success it cultivates today. Any media publicity that raves garnered was almost always negative, with ravers themselves usually portrayed as glowstick-wielding drug addicts. With time, however, the Buzz crowd morphed from being all wide-legs and glitter to a more diverse set. Many people who don’t consider themselves “club types” attend the party every week.
“I think what attracts people to parties like Buzz is that it’s not about how beautiful you are or what you’re wearing,” says Henry. “[This unpretentiousness] is a thought process borrowed from the early days of the rave scene. It’s a crowd where everyone gets along.”
The party’s success, however, wasn’t enough to keep it from being shut down in May of 1999. Broadcasting murky hidden camera footage, Fox 5 News reporters who infiltrated Nation claimed to have witnessed mass drug use and strange rituals inside. The report was highly sensationalized and Henry and DeGeyndt filed suit against the station, which opted to settle out of court rather than publicly admit being guilty of inaccuracy.
“It was a tough time for us,” Henry recalls. “I’ve got about ten people who work for me, [plus] deposits out on DJs and rent for office space. Being out of business for two months was a big financial drain.”
Today Buzz’s popularity is reaching critical mass. All three levels of the club overflow with dancing bodies every week, and the biggest DJs in the world flock to D.C. just to spin there. Last December, Urb magazine voted Buzz the best party in America for the fourth year in a row.
“DJs from all around the world, the first time they come to Nation they’re really wowed,” says Henry. “Not to take anything away from Twilo [the now-defunct New York superclub], but if Nation was in the city of New York, the whole world would have been talking about Nation, not Twilo.”
New York’s name brand recognition is something many DJs yearn to be aligned with, while D.C. is more often associated with brown wingtips and C-SPAN. Henry’s status as a DJ would make him a big fish in any pond, but his stubborn decision to stay put in Washington is testament to the quality of the city’s rave scene.
“I haven’t found it necessary to make that move, nor do I desire to make that move,” he says. “With the last two CDs I put out, I wanted to encompass something about the nation’s capital. I wanted to emphasize that there is a thriving scene here.”
Thriving, yes, but D.C.’s gay scene, one of the most established in the country, is a place that Henry has never really ventured to bring his musical talent.
“It’s just in the last couple years that the styles of music played at gay clubs and clubs like Buzz are starting to merge. The style of music I was known for when I first started becoming big was predominantly played at raves. That’s just how I got pigeonholed,” he says.
“I think a lot of gay clubs in America aren’t taking enough chances when it comes to giving their crowd credit. They’re playing it way too safe with their programming. But at the same time, there are people like Danny Tenaglia who are definitely pushing the envelope.”
Henry insists he’d love to spin at Velvet, the Saturday night gay party held at the same venue as Buzz. For now, however, his home remains one night earlier in the week, and his party, as he says, “one step ahead of the mainstream.”