Music Issue 2012: Nocturne, the Nation's Longest-Running Club Night, Says Adieu

By Stephen H. Segal
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 17 | Posted Aug. 15, 2012

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Lost boy found: Patrick Rodgers may not be dancing every week, but he’s got lots more music to share.

As the thumping industrial grind segues into a Depeche Mode remix, the dense crowd of gas-masked twentysomethings and fishnetted ragdoll-girls in black who pack the all-ages dance floor shift in their steps a bit, just enough to reveal, behind them, a sight that pretty much cuts to the heart of the evening’s je ne sais quoi: a dude in a Darth Vader helmet, the lines of its face carefully outlined in glow-strips, getting his swerve on like he’s only just now tasted the power of the dark side.

It is Aug. 1, 2012, and it is the final Nocturne Wednesday—the last installment of a weekly gothic/industrial dance-club night that’s been running continuously for more than 16 years under the direction of Patrick Rodgers and his Dancing Ferret entertainment group. Its relocation this spring from Shampoo Nightclub on North 8th Street to Rumor on Sansom Street notwithstanding, Nocturne has long since shattered Philadelphia’s endurance record for any ongoing club night, regardless of theme. And after tonight, it will be over.

A few rooms away from the main dance floor—in the designated 21-and-over half of the event, where the bar is significantly more tightly packed than is a small, adjacent dance space—the scene is mellower. Not any less visually stimulating, mind you, just mellower. There is a tall young man in a striped corset and a poofy bow, and he is beautiful. There is a voluptuous Mother-Earth type whose breasts are draped in a floating gossamer spider-web fabric, and she is beautiful. Then, in rapid succession, there’s the sci-fi guy in the long, vinyl, Aeon Flux robe-coat and the slightest wift of ginger hair; the medieval guy in dance-club armor with chains connecting his epaulets and a dragon insignia on his back; and the elegant lady decked out in high art nouveau fashion, the tall bird’s feather that rises above her face balancing out the elaborate chandelier necklace that hangs below. They are all, in a word, beautiful.

They laugh, they hug, they admire one another’s outfits—all the while moving subtly to the music, even when not quite dancing. It is the last Nocturne Wednesday, and they are determined to be resplendent in their fun.

Standing at the bar, a statuesque, black-clad pixie named Ruxandra gives voice to the bittersweet sentiment of the celebration. “A couple of guys were walking past while we were standing in line outside,” she says, “and they stopped to look and said, ‘Wow, you all look awesome.’ They were amazed to know that something like this has been happening every week. We told them it was the last one—they couldn’t believe they’d missed it.”

Exactly one week later, rather than preparing to run a dance night for the eight-hundred-somethingth time in a row, Patrick Rodgers instead sits quietly in the living room of his home near Fairmount Park. He is dressed, as always—as befits a man who is thoroughly dedicated to his aesthetic—in a long black coat.

“Eventually, everything has to evolve,” he muses. He’s nothing but proud of Nocturne’s 16-year run—”I’d be hard pressed to ask for a better quality of crowd than we had”—and he suspects, though it’s hard to prove, that it was the longest-running club night not just in Philly but in the United States. (The event that lays claim to that title, L.A.’s Monday Social, started several months later in 1996 than Nocturne did.) Still, that achievement cut both ways: “It’s great to provide consistency to people. The down side is, creatively, it becomes a straightjacket. People develop deeply ingrained ideas about what that event should provide, and they view deviations from that with skepticism.”

Rodgers obviously isn’t someone who’s comfortable feeling constrained by other people’s expectations. Growing up in the Bahamas, he recognized young that he wouldn’t be making his life there: “The Bahamas only have two businesses, banking and tourism, and I didn’t really have any interest in either.” After moving to Philly in the mid-’90s and launching, one at a time, the various pieces of his music mini-empire—Dancing Ferret Concerts, the live-show operation; Dancing Ferret Discs, which released original recordings from popular gothic and industrial acts from 1998 till 2009; and Digital Ferret Compact Discs, the retail music store on South Fourth Street’s Fabric Row—Rodgers became known around town not just for his prolific cultural output, but for his signature personal style, which famously includes full-time, permanent vampire fangs. Most recently, he made national headlines last year—including an appearance on The Colbert Report —when he resolved a mortgage dispute with Wells Fargo by suing the bank and getting a sheriff’s levy placed against its local office.

The home he was defending is a stately, centenarian, three-story Tudor Revival house that hews to a minimal, DIY sort of decor, its sparse furniture accented by a handful of items suggesting Rodgers’ interests. Books are carefully positioned around the living room: a photographic history of Pennsylvania’s abandoned mining town, Centralia, where underground fires have been raging for decades; an old Koran preserved in a museum-quality wooden display case by the window; a copy of Neil Gaiman’s collected Sandman volumes sitting to the right hand of Rodgers’ black leather armchair. Just inside the front door, a black feathered masquerade costume hangs inside a tall glass cabinet; Rodgers IDs it as the outfit that bestselling author Anne Rice wore when she hosted New Orleans’ vampire-themed Memnoch Ball back in 1995.

Two decades after Anne Rice’s heyday, of course, a romantic spin on vampires has once again seized American mass culture. And while anti- Twilight backlash from longtime goths hasn’t been particularly demure—they liked vampires when it wasn’t cool, after all—Rodgers doesn’t see Stephenie Meyer’s besparkling of the befanged as any sort of cultural threat. “Vampires are such a compelling story, people are going to riff on it endlessly,” he says. “While Twilight ’s not my personal thing, it’s interesting in how it took pop culture’s picture of what vampires are and turned that on its head. Then you get an almost 180-degree spin on it in True Blood , which is hypersexual rather than chaste—and there’s room in people’s hearts and Netflix queues for both. And if 90 percent of Twilight fans only enjoy it as a passing fad, then the 10 percent who stick with vampires is still an enormous number, and I’m not going to turn my nose up at them.”

That said, he cites the ‘80s movie The Lost Boys as his own largest inspiration: “That concept of vampirism being something subversive and cool, as opposed to a curse afflicting a creepy old bald guy—you’ve got Kiefer Sutherland on his motorcycle and girls hurling themselves at him.” He grins, fangs in evidence. “I like that idea of a rock & roll vampire—‘Party till the sun comes up!’”

Now that the weekly Nocturnes are over, Rodgers’ midnight party schedule is simpler, but by no means quiet. He’s still producing the quarterly Dracula’s Ball at Shampoo—the next one will be on Halloween—and then there’s a final, previously scheduled, postscript-edition Nocturne back at Shampoo the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. And while the stalwart gothic/industrial dance crowd hasn’t been abandoned in the meanwhile—another promoter has promptly launched a new weekly series dubbed Vortex, at the Starlight Ballroom on North 9th Street, to fill Nocturne’s place—Rodgers isn’t sure he won’t come up with something new to bring to the scene as well. “It’s entirely possible that, after a few months of being too relaxed, I may return to another club night,” he says. “It’s not as though I’m trying to creep toward semi-retirement.”

In the immediate future, he plans to focus more of his attention on the Digital Ferret music shop. “It’s a very difficult sector,” he acknowledges. “Music retail is shrinking, not growing. We’re trying to diversify the product lines we have at the retail location. We’ve entered into a partnership with a shoe dealer—we’re offering club shoes. If people are buying more of their music in digital format, we’ve got to get them into the store to buy something we sell.”

Even more immediately, Rodgers is consumed for the next two weeks with what he calls “the pinnacle of my career thus far”: promoting an Aug. 26 Dead Can Dance concert at the Kimmel Center. “I’ve been a fan of the band since before I’ve been in the business,” he says of the legendary Australian group, which blends Celtic folk and Middle Eastern chants with dark. ambient instrumentation. “They make music that I can only describe as spiritual ... When [vocalist] Lisa [Gerrard] uses her voice as an instrument, singing made-up words—glossolalia, I think it’s called—whatever your concept of spiritual is, you can decide it fits, because it doesn’t carry the baggage of any particular words with it. The way Dead Can Dance can go from this ethereal, otherworldly sound when Lisa’s singing, to [vocalist] Brendan [Perry] with an acoustic guitar singing about how he’s in love ... it seems very true, very genuine.”

He pauses. “They’re not just doing some one thing that’s their schtick.”

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 17 of 17
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1. eddiethreat said... on Aug 15, 2012 at 02:38PM

“Good story, but what im excited about, did i just read that there is still one last one on thanksgiving eve? Hell yeah!”

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2. Concerned Baby Bolt said... on Aug 15, 2012 at 02:48PM

“Mr. Segal needs to check facts a bit more thoroughly. The event being held weekly at the Starlight Ballroom is called Ritual Noise. Vortex, the event mentioned in the article, was an Emerald City event that closed prior to 2008.

All in all, though, it's nice to see an article about Philly's goth events that don't throw the work "freak" around.”

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3. Vampyrian said... on Aug 16, 2012 at 02:44AM

“That is Amazing 16 years running especially for a Goth Club! Its sad to see it end but nothing last forever esp since the Goth Scene seems to be dying but it will never end for me as Goth is what I am not what I wear or a style I decide to be in a certain phase of my life. So I hope the scene does not go away every where as our Local long running club is no more and we only have a couple nights in the month at a couple locations in my area now for our Goth night...”

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4. Stephen Segal said... on Aug 16, 2012 at 02:19PM

“Concerned Baby Bolt: In fact, during the course of PW's regular, rigorous fact-checking process, the organizer of the event first dubbed Ritual Noise informed me on Tuesday that he is in renaming it Vortex. Thanks, though!”

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5. JackTorrence said... on Aug 16, 2012 at 03:25PM

“@BabyBolt... Ritual Noise just changed it's name to 'Vortex' a few days ago because there was already an event with that same name in a neighboring city.”

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6. DJ Darkwave said... on Aug 16, 2012 at 03:29PM

“Interesting article, sorry to see it go. Being from upstate NY I was never able to make one of these nights (although I did go to a Dracula's Ball many years ago).

This also made me do a little research on the subject of long running clubs.

I DJ at a club called Vertex in Rochester NY. Counting a year when we were "on the road" due to a fire at our original location, we've been open since 1995 and still going. I myself have been DJing Saturday nights at our current location since we opened there in 2001 (11 years!! Yikes!)

We kind of fly under the radar but we've been a dedicated alternative "dressed in black" club since the beginning.

So if you ever make it up our way, be sure to visit!

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7. Anonymous said... on Aug 16, 2012 at 04:24PM

“Not to undermine Nocturnes achievements, but they were not the longest running goth club in the nation. That honor goes to The Castle in Ybor City, FL (Tampa), for they have been open a full 4 years longer (1992) than Nocturne (1996).”

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8. Gabriel DraX (Asylum 13) said... on Aug 16, 2012 at 05:58PM

“@Concerned Baby Bolt, Mr. Segal is correct. Ritual Noise was the name that Mike Saga's event held for the first two weeks, as he had little time to come up with a name.

If you check the current event listing, https://www.facebook.com/events/486894914671857/ , you'll see that the event was renamed Vortex before the publication of this article, so as to not cause any confusion with another event of the same name in Pittsburgh.”

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9. Concerned Baby Bolt said... on Aug 16, 2012 at 07:32PM

“I only just heard about the announcement. My apologies! The Emerald City event had a crappy reputation, so I doubted he would have used the name anyway. I hope no one confuses the two.”

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10. Anonymous said... on Aug 16, 2012 at 11:24PM

“"There is a tall young man in a striped corset and a poofy bow, and he is beautiful." Did you bother to ask their preference of pronoun or are you just using cis privilege to assign them a gender?

Past that little possible annoyance, excellent article and Nocturne will be missed greatly by many of us regulars.”

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11. MyParasites said... on Aug 18, 2012 at 09:53PM

“MyParasites was proud to perform at the last Nocturne at club Shampoo.

We also went to Mike Saga's new weekly event called Vortex, it was awesome! Keep the scene alive Philly!!

http://www.myparasites.com/blog/vortex/”

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12. TheORIGNALcomaQueen said... on Oct 6, 2012 at 08:13PM

“I must confess that although at times nocturne made me sick for so many years but it was the one night i could dance my ass off and meet other people that i had commen intrest with...now that its gone , now i KNOW this city is dead and overrated..unlike many of the nocturne groupies , this was NOT A PHASE”

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13. TheORIGNALcomaQUEEN said... on Oct 6, 2012 at 08:16PM

“And now being in my 20's and seeing less and less of "my kind" so to speak, its pretty depressing, nocturne may have had flaws , as anything in life but it was a place for the truely dark and demented..R.I.P nocturne, were now approaching a new emptiness..”

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14. Anonymous said... on Jan 14, 2013 at 02:36PM

“I would place Death Guild in San Francisco as the longest running club night in the US. They hit either 19 or 20 continuous years this year.

That being said it's sad to see some of these nights closing.. but it does not mean the music is dying. It's just moving to new places.”

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15. Randall Ellison said... on Feb 22, 2013 at 03:14AM

“I think the distinction of longest running clubs depends on whether you are referring to club nights or night clubs. In the case of goth and industrial nightclubs that probably goes to

- NEO (Chicago, Illinois) [1979]
- Exit (Chicago, Illinois) [1981]

If we're talking about goth/industrial club nights, that probably goes to

- Nekromancy (Champaign, Illinois) [1987]
- Nocturna (Chicago, Illinois) [1988]

Illinois seems to be rather distinguished for its capacity for industrial music culture. Nonetheless, I really hope to see a widespread revival of the music scene again!”

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16. Joe said... on Jul 9, 2013 at 12:27PM

“Wow, I can't believe both Shampoo and Nocturne are over. Those're some good memories. People still like to dance, and there're still freaky people in the world, so I'm sure something interesting'll pop up somewhere.”

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17. Assslayer said... on Jun 3, 2014 at 07:03PM

“Numbers Nightclub in Houston opened in 1978. They play Gothic/Industrial/80s music as well as host concerts.

http://www.numbersnightclub.com/”

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