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In with the Old

There was a time when jet-black locks and an otherworldly gaze were not greeted with a prescription for Zoloft. Ten years ago, Fort Lauderdale culture meant something a little more profound than the Princess Diana exhibit at the Museum of Art.

On Saturday, January 29, local DJs Danny Bled and Frank Mendez gave a nod to those alt-leaning days. The pair took over Hollywood’s Club XIT and threw the Nemesis Ball, a ten-year reunion for the fêted Nemesis nightclub, which one attendee, who called himself R.I.P., said “never got a chance to grow old and die. One day it was open, the next day it wasn’t there.”

The more than 500 attendees turned out in everything from standard black garb to long dresses, colorful and patched attire, plastic capes, and leather collars.

According to Mendez, Nemesis opened in 1994 and shut its doors by December 1995, “due to the owner, unfortunately, having other tastes. He got married and didn’t want to associate himself with nightclubs anymore.”

The enormous brick funeral home that was a smoky playground for the morose and grotesque, now sits empty and boarded on Federal Highway north of Broward Boulevard. But, ah, when it kicked a leather-fettered heel! “What could be a more perfect place to hold a gothic-industrial themed club?” Mendez asked.

According to Bled, there are still people who want to connect to the brief incarnation of the “Freaks First”-mottoed stronghold of underground culture. “For the short time that the club was open, people always reminisce about how good a time they had at Nemesis,” Bled said. In the sense that it was still fresh and new, it was very underground, nobody really knew what it was, but it was a dark alternative to everything else that was around.”

What was around then is a question that only a select minority of natives with more shadowy tastes can answer today. Broward’s club history is archived in the sediment of the mind because its earth is too often churned, gutted, and buried beneath the pastel-colored real estate fantasies of out-of-town developers.

Last Saturday night at 2 a.m., a guy who gave his name as Ron sat in an upstairs lounge at XIT. The 31-year-old Nemesis veteran said that the night’s Ball was “like an orgasm that could never be reached.”

Then he spelled out the “everything else” of the ’90s Lauderdale club life that Bled had referred to: “Edge was like having half of the 12th grade there. Squeeze [now sitting empty on the south bank of the New River] was like having the cool half of 12th grade there. Nemesis was like the drama club and the outsiders that knew great music. Nemesis people knew better. Squeeze people looked better. At Nemesis, chicks took off their shirts and danced in bras. Now, the same chicks are worried about their mortgages and their ex-husbands.”

Bled was impressed by the Nemesis Ball crowd, “Most of these people don’t even go out at all,” he said. “They might be disillusioned with how the scene has become. They’re closet freaks leading a normal life.”

Then he turned to reminiscing. “The music was definitely more underground. I remember playing Portishead for the first time. We were one of the first ones to get it out there. People were like, ‘Who is this? And where can we get it?’”

As for the remnants of ’90s partying, Mendez sees “a new breed of goth-industrial kids. They have fusion with other forms of music. Industrial now sounds like trance for the ’90s, with dark undertones and the distorted vocals of angry males.”

Joseph Bonilla of Abusement Park Entertainment, who puts on alternative and fetish parties at various clubs throughout the county, pinpointed the vibe of today. “Back then, what was considered stylish was the alternative lifestyle,” he said. “You’d always see punk-type people walking around. Every club and their mother tried to do an alternative night. Now it’s more of the mainstream type of people.

“Miami still has Kitchen Club. Broward, really, is my stuff. It’s a nice cross section of the goth and fetish scene. People think fetish, they think more about swinger stuff. Goths like a lot of the same stuff, but don’t want to see people getting finger-fucked at the bar. If it’s illegal, I don’t let it happen.”

The fetish crutch seems essential to goth’s survival in the club scene, but an encounter in the bathroom at Club XIT made me believe that doom and gloom might be exhumed by the next generation. I asked a blond woman in a long black dress sitting on the bathroom counter if she had partied at Nemesis back in the day.

“Honey,” the barely-legal 21-year-old said, “I may have been partying on this scene for seven years, but I’m not that old.” With that, the Nemesis first-timer flipped her black veil over her face, and blended back into the Freaks-First reunion.

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Courtney Hambright

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