Farewell to Fluid, the Philly Nightclub Where Questlove, Dieselboy and Countless DJs Held Court

After 16 years, South Street's favorite dance joint is closing in April. PW chats with the players who fueled its greatness—even as a sea change in DJ culture made the end inevitable.

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 25 | Posted Mar. 5, 2013

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DJ Jazzy Jeff spins dance-floor magic at Fluid.

It was inevitable, really, 
but Questlove’s Feb. 18 tweet 
announcing that the legendary 
nightclub Fluid will be closing next month made it official: The dream days of the ‘90s Philadelphia DJ are dead.


That Fluid is shuttering after 16 years in business is not a surprise. That’s damn near a century in nightclub years. Who remembers when the first summer night meant the roof-deck party at Eden Roc? Or when the front glass door of Filo’s—now the Mexican restaurant Xochitl—would fog up from the Tastytreats party raging downstairs? Five Spot, Evolution, Walnut Room, Loie, 1616, Eighth Street Lounge, St. Jacks, Soma: All have come and gone like so many hangovers. 
Other clubs routinely close down and reopen like pop-up shops, with a new name and slight redesign done in the quest to stay fresh. 


Not Fluid. Through years of legendary 
parties—DJ Cosmo Baker and Big Rich 
Medina’s The Remedy; Psydde Delicious’ Fast, Cheap and Out of Control; Dieselboy and Kevin Gimble’s Platinum; Medina’s and Dennis Perez’ Afrorikan Vybe; Questlove, Stacey “Flygirrl” Wilson and Yameen Allworld’s Tastytreats; Robert Drake’s Sex Dwarf; Illvibe Collective’s Soul Clap, to name a few—and the countless one-offs and monthlies and Valentine’s Day Aphrodisiacs, Fluid’s been, well, fluid. Stable, but ready to adapt.


No, the real surprise isn’t that Fluid is closing; it’s that it was able to stay successful and vibrant for as long as it did while everything else—the neighborhood, technology, the whole DJ scene—changed so drastically. 


South Street’s decline from artsy to corporate to what sometimes feels like a ghost town of empty storefronts may have played a part in Fluid’s demise, but let’s be real: People will go where they want to go. Parking can be a bitch, but South Philly party-seekers pass right by Fluid on their way to parties in Northern Liberties and Fishtown. Fluid’s closing has less to do with location than vocation: The advancements in technology that obliterated the old music industry and DJ culture also changed the whole role of clubs. 


“There’s just a different level of access now to music than in Fluid’s heyday,” says DJ Sonny 
James, co-founder of Illvibe Collective. “I remember when [Big] Rich [Medina] did Afrorikan Vybe, I would go there every week and just for specific records because I knew I’d only hear it there. Nowadays, the patrons have the music first because blogs leak it first. There’s just a totally different relationship to music that the patrons have. 


“The day of needing to go to specific places to hear special tunes is just over.”

 

In the ‘90s, when DJs still served as premier tastemakers, they’d drop the needle on a new track or dig up an obscure treasure, and then the next day, kids would head down the street to 611 Records or Cue Records or Spaceboy Music to buy the record. 


There was a synchronicity. DJ Jugo, aka Jugo Stevcic, both helped Fluid owner Tony Schiro bring artists in to the club and managed Cue Records, specializing in buying drum and bass and trip-hop records. 


Schiro saw the transformation in the record store first. “It was startling how quickly things changed once MP3s were created,” he says. “Once Rane made the Serato system”—that’s vinyl-emulation software that enables mixing and scratching right on the computer—”everybody started going digital instead of purchasing music any more. All of a sudden, the distributors—huge companies that would sell new music to stock the store—were going out of business.” 


Cue sold used records for a while. Now, all those shops are closed.

 

‘We used to fuck around and call it ‘Fluid University,’ because one of our aims was to totally school the dance floor,” says DJ Cosmo Baker of The Remedy, the legendary Monday night Fluid party he co-hosted with Medina from 1997 to 2003. They didn’t mean it, he says, “in a pretentious manner—just in a way where it created a symbiotic relationship with the dance floor and the DJ.”


Patrons certainly thought of the scene that way. “My friends would be like, ‘You going to school tonight?’ and we would literally go and get schooled as far as music was concerned,” recalls Oronde Gibson. Gibson hit Fluid so much as a patron that he was asked if he wanted a job as head of security, and eventually managed the whole club. 


Fluid’s dance floor is intimate by design. The layout, designed by local artist Owen Kamihira and inspired by buildings in Barcelona designed by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi, is cozy and womb-like, with curving walls and towering pillars covered in a sea of deep-blue glass tiles. There are no right angles.


“The sound system and lineups always made it easy to detach from the world around you and focus on the music,” says Billy Werner, a DJ who heard about Fluid before moving here from Brooklyn and subsequently co-founding Robotique, his party at Kung Fu Necktie. “Can’t ask for more than that.”


Though DJ culture is still strong in Philly (our mayor was a DJ who still raps at events) Werner points out that these days, everyone with an iPod is—or thinks he or she is—a DJ. 


“DJs have become increasingly devalued as the art form has become more and more accessible,” he says. “That doesn’t necessarily mean the practitioner is a ‘DJ,’ but venues don’t care. They see someone who has music and a large group of friends and will work for free beer and maybe $50.”


Josh Wink, one of the most famous DJs to come out of Philly, laughs when he thinks about the changes in technology since he started out almost 30 years ago. “I was one of the first lucky people to use the digital system,” he says. “The first one that had vinyl that encoded and controlled through the computer was a system called Final Scratch. It was a computer from Holland, and two friends of mine were friends with the developers.” 


Wink and King Britt, who both spun at the same address when it was Xero, spun together the first Wednesday after Fluid opened in May, 1997. Inspired by the design and vibe of the dance floor, they called the party Womb.


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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 25 of 25
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1. sarasherr said... on Mar 6, 2013 at 01:48AM

“Awesome piece! Brought a tear to my eye. Hate to be That Guy, but Jimmy Carter from The Dumpsta Players is named Jimmi Shrode, or as he was known at the time, The Divine Ms. Jimmi. Perhaps we need a new queen named Jimmy Carter giving us 70s peanut realness.”

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2. Jimmi Shrode said... on Mar 6, 2013 at 03:08AM

“I have never played Jimmy Carter. I always thought I was too beautiful for that! Unless, Jimmy Carter is doing drag somewhere. *sigh*

The Divine Ms. Jimmi”

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3. @PhillyWeekly said... on Mar 6, 2013 at 09:40AM

“Apologies, Jimmi — corrected.”

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4. FLYGIRRL said... on Mar 6, 2013 at 01:23PM

“Join us for the last few Tastytreats/Saturdays at Fluid before it's gone for good!!

SAVE THE DATES :
TASTYTREATS AT FLUID
[FLUID'S FINAL WEEKS] :

3/9 DJ'S MIKE NYCE MR SONNY JAMES AFRODJIAK
[MIKE'S BDAY JAM BIGGIE TRIBUTE]

3/16 DJ'S MIKE NYCE THE LEGENDARY DJ CASH MONEY

3/23 DJ'S MIKE NYCE MR SONNY JAMES SPECIAL GUEST DJ TBA

3/30 DJ'S MIKE NYCE MR SONNY JAMES SPECIAL GUEST DJ TBA

4/6 [ FLUID'S VERY LAST NIGHT!!!!!!]
DJ'S MIKE NYCE MR SONNY JAMES
QUESTLOVE THE MAGNIFICENT DJ JAZZY JEFF!!!!!!!

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5. DJ Robert Drake said... on Mar 6, 2013 at 01:56PM

“Great piece - but let's not forget the female DJs that have helped keep the party alive at Fluid for so long - most specifically, my partner in crime, DJ MARILYN THOMAS - who has been with Sex Dwarf from the start ... Sure, the dudes ran the place - but don't be fooled ... the ladies drove the dance floor just as well :)”

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6. Napoleon Luther Meanas said... on Mar 6, 2013 at 02:53PM

“NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! First of all, this was definitely a good piece of writing, paying homage to both one of the very best nightclubs to alight upon the Philadelphia scene in years, as well as one of the brightest club owners around. I am more upset than normal to hear about its closing because I am unable to get there to feel that floor move under my feet to say goodbye properly. I can only hope that Tony Schiro opens a club in Las Vegas (hint hint hint)!!”

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7. ImriJonas said... on Mar 6, 2013 at 03:43PM

“Thank you, Tony and crew, for keeping the magic going for so many years.”

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8. Damian 'Dieselboy" Higgins said... on Mar 6, 2013 at 05:55PM

“MARCH 27th we have the return of the legendary PLATINUM. drum and bass madness with our kick ass team of residents dropping basshammers all night long. can't wait for this one.”

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9. Billy Slavin said... on Mar 7, 2013 at 12:38AM

“Beautifully done Tara. I made the move from serving coffee (The Bean cafe) to beer (Fluid/Latest Dish) in 1999, my first bar job. I'll never forget when Fast Cheap made the move to Fluid, I haven't served that much Jeager since. So many great memories.”

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10. Feebo said... on Mar 7, 2013 at 10:12AM

“I will forever have the fondest and funnest memories of Sex Dwarf .. I'll be on my death bed smiling of those awesome dancing drunk happy nights.. Drake n Thomas, THANK YOU!! ..for an outrageous, passionate, unique, strange and memorable run... (now about a monthly gig at the Troc or some such joint)
XOXOX”

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11. cheryl said... on Mar 7, 2013 at 12:11PM

“so many memories, so much love. thank you for all of it.”

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12. Lee Mayjahs? said... on Mar 7, 2013 at 01:56PM

“Great article, very sad to see Fluid go. I have so many memories there from different chapters of my own life. I remember working at Filo's down the street in the late 90's and I would sneak out to go hang in the alley outside fluid. Much props to Tony, JC, Oronde, Rasheed, Stacey, Mike Nyce, Cosmo, King, Josh, ?uest, Wink, Pete Moss, Rob Paine, Yameen & everyone who made fluid what it was. Maximum Love & respect.”

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13. Stefanie said... on Mar 7, 2013 at 02:55PM

“Billy, you probably served our Zipperhead/ CRASH BANG BOOM gang most of the Jeager at Fast Cheap! Thanks to ALL of the wonderful DJ's and staff at Fluid! Orande..thanks for all your patience;)”

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14. DJ Avid said... on Mar 7, 2013 at 05:40PM

“"Josh Wink, one of the most famous DJs to come out of Philly, laughs when he thinks about the changes in technology since he started out almost 30 years ago."

Don't laugh, Josh.”

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15. Candy Mayhem (Candace Ryan) said... on Mar 8, 2013 at 10:55AM

“"So many amazing Sunday nights with Mr.Delicious and the ladies dancing on the box. Fluid made my 20's, fun, filthy and glittery."”

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16. Q said... on Mar 8, 2013 at 02:00PM

“First it was The Bank, Knave of Hearts, Palmers (back when you had to be an actual member to buy a drink) Filo's, SOMA & St Jacks... the party is officially over now that out beloved Fluid is closing it's doors. Fell in love with Tastytreats & D&B at this place, loved the night Goldie popped in while opening for JA @ the TLA.”

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17. Rob Windfelder said... on Mar 8, 2013 at 05:36PM

“Sunday nights with Psydde!!! Almost never missed it.”

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18. DYLAN said... on Mar 8, 2013 at 07:45PM

“Fluid one was of the first venues i ever played in America after being born and raised in London England, I later moved to Philly and stayed and i think Fluid had alot to do with that! Gonna miss everything about it!!

TONIGHT Friday March 8th we have our final party!! darkside Drum & Bass "Therapy Sessions" Come out tonight and have a blast with us! <3”

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19. Elena Brennan said... on Mar 9, 2013 at 08:47AM

“So sad, it's the end of an era! I have so many fond memories & danced many a nights away on the floor at FLUID! Thanks Tony & to all the fabulous DJs I met at Fluid - Josh Wink, Carl Cox, Doc Martin, Maggy Thump (DJ Lorne), Pete Moss etc. The list is sooo long!!”

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20. AbnerDoon said... on Mar 9, 2013 at 08:20PM

“It's so sad..SO SAD to see the passing of this.. Fluid's closing does indeed mark the end of a particular era..but ahh....truth be told its another generations time to be handed the reigns of tearing up the streets and blasting their beats.

Best of all, that gem of all gems that was utter perfection as I saw it was Filos..an absolute diamond in the rough, small tho it was got recognition and respect from international visitors...I mean true club gurus from Europa (UK in particular)...I almost tore my guts out at the door when I after an admitted brief absence returned to see a restaurant (xoxo?) plying its trade at the site...Knocked me on my ass...lol..that itself was a number of years ago, ancient memory for some but vivid memory to me. I loved that place....LOOOVED IT, kept me sane, single-handedly made me love Philly.. Unpretentious, no fakers, no pretenders just a true mix of folk that loved close quarters and perfect beats. Harmony, bliss and weed smoke paradise..”

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21. Justin Paul said... on Mar 12, 2013 at 12:59AM

“So many amazing memories of Fluid. Started going to Ovum nights back in 1996. Listened to countless world class, and local DJs perform there over the years. Too many to type. Also had the pleasure of DJing and hosting Playloop parties there several years later. One of the best clubs in America for dance music. Sorry to see it end.”

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22. Anonymous said... on Mar 13, 2013 at 04:01PM

“So many good nights with Udoh and Deep, The infamous Lee Jones. Wink, Tasty Treats, Reflective Parties, Goldie, Platinum, Doc sooooo many QUALITY nights. I am glad i should be home to see it off proper.”

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23. allsortsofnostalgicjimmy said... on Mar 14, 2013 at 12:22PM

“I def partied at space aka motion 90 percent of the time when I was in philly. God its been so long. Shout out to imri...good to see u on here man! But anyway...one of the first times I was ever there I heard a set by dieselboy(first track had a busta rhymes beat in it, gimme some mo I think) and was hooked. Didn't know how spoiled I was. So I asked around and heard about fluid....platinum nights were some of my most memorable from any club anywhere, real talk. I'm f'n 30 now and have been hoping/praying for a night like this so thanks to all involved and mad respect.”

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24. teemoo215 said... on Mar 29, 2013 at 07:31PM

“Still have my John Digweed ticket from 2002 I believe it was. Show was cancelled last minute, and he never re-booked. Would have been nice to catch him at Fluid but I still got the ticket and never got a refund always hoping for redemption but it never came.”

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25. Sean Leonard said... on Mar 2, 2014 at 01:21PM

“Im going to miss this place. I meet my wife here. Sad to see it go.”

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