A Clean Break
It's amazing for a club night to last six months, let alone six years," says Eric Kozak, better known as DJ D.ecco, as he faces the upcoming final night of Breakdown, a club phenomenon that he and partner Steve Blakley, aka DJ Fury, have helmed since the late '90s. "You have to eventually kill it off, even if it is still good."
"The night has run its course," agrees Blakley. "We want to end it while it's still a good night rather than watch it fade away, like most other nights do."
Promoting a successful club night is a magical feat. New nights pop up virtually every week, and very few survive a year. With so many venues in town, competition for the club-hopping population of Denver has always been fierce, and club-goers are known to be a fickle breed, at best. The cool spot one month can easily lose its support and become a ghost town as tastes and styles change.
The Snake Pit scored a home run with Breakdown, its drum-and-bass-themed Thursday night. And after six successful years, the night is about to drop its last beat. But rather than let the night just fizzle out of its own accord, Kozak and Blakley have opted to pull the plug themselves.
"We want to end it on a high note," Blakley explains. "That's why we're bringing in Ed Rush and Optical, so that the last night people go to Breakdown, it's going to be a good night."
Kozak and Blakley were recruited to take over Thursday nights at the Pit in the summer of 1998 after putting on a string of highly successful all-drum-and-bass raves like Rewind and Reload. Breakdown became the first 21-and-over all-drum-and-bass night in Denver. What began as just another weekly theme night soon morphed into a mecca for drum-and-bass culture in the States, pulling in crowds that were the envy of promoters nationwide. Soon it became known as the premier drum-and-bass night in the nation, with upwards of 300 people in attendance week after week. Not too shabby for a style of music that receives zero commercial support outside the scene itself.
"If you go back and look at the peak, probably 2000 to 2002, we were consistently pulling more people than anyone else in the country," enthuses Blakley. "It was cool, because everyone wanted to play Breakdown so bad that we'd get DJs who'd normally get like a million dollars to come and play for us for a lot less, just to play the club. It definitely had a reputation for a while."
"I find it impressive that music that is as underground as drum-and-bass in America was able to bring in that many people," Kozak adds. "If you compare record sales of the artists coming, we'd be pulling more people than bands that were selling more records."
It was Kozak and Blakley's ability to bring in huge names like Andy C, Ed Rush and Dieselboy that really made the difference. Moreover, the generous budget the Pit offered allowed the pair to attract that caliber of talent in the first place.
"Once we started bringing in guests, that's what pushed it over the top," says Blakley. "And then we got to the point where week in, week out, we had world-renowned top DJs that really should never play clubs that small. We were giving people artists they'd normally be paying $25 to $35 on the weekend at a rave, and we were letting them come see the same people for $5 or $6. Plus, there were a lot of older people who didn't necessarily like going to raves anymore, so it was nice for them to be able to see these artists in a smaller club."
Breakdown's core audience was made up of just that: people who had outgrown the rave scene but still maintained an avid interest and sought a venue where they could hear the music among their peers. "We were taking a lot of the grown-up ravers," Kozak notes.
Sean Sabo, aka DJ Sabotage, was among the older set that came to the club strictly for the music. Upon moving to Denver from New Jersey, Sabo and his friend Marc Digan made their way to the club on the word of fellow DJs like New York City's Dara. Sabo and Digan were both fledgling drum-and-bass producers at the time and became fast friends with Kozak.
"Usually Steve and I aren't very nice to kids at the club," Kozak jokes. "There was every reason to hate them. But for some reason, we put them on the guest list for everything."
Kozak and Sabo's friendship swiftly turned into a partnership, and the production team of D.ecco and Sabotage was born. The crowds at Breakdown would serve as guinea pigs for the pair's production ideas and early tracks when Sabo guested with Kozak and Blakley. But it was the imported talent whose ears Kozak and Sabo were most eager to impress. While Denver had a great rep as a place for drum-and-bass events, it wasn't known for its local production talent, by any means. Breakdown gave the DJs a chance to rub elbows with drum-and-bass's upper echelon and hold them as a captive audience. Countless CDs were passed out until the two finally caught the ear of Ram Records' Scott Bourne (DJ Red One) during one of his visits to Breakdown. D.ecco and Sabotage ended up inking a deal with Bourne and joining the most esteemed label in drum-and-bass. They released their EP, A Better Tomorrow, on Ram affiliate Frequency earlier this year and have found themselves headlining drum-and-bass events all over the country. They even played the Ram party at this year's Winter Music Conference in Miami, probably the most important electronic-music happening in the country.
"Without Breakdown," Kozak says, "we would have been high and dry, shit out of luck. It's so hard to get people to listen. We owe so much to the night for putting us in contact with people who could help us."
Playing host to world-class DJs each week, however, soon went from being an asset to being a bit of a burden as crowds began to flock to only the biggest names in the scene. While at one point Breakdown seemed immune to the ups and downs that define most club nights, 2003 showed the first signs that the night might not be able to sustain the unconditional support it had at its peak.
"We definitely crossed the line and brought in too many DJs," Blakley admits. "People got way, way too picky."
"People were definitely spoiled," agrees Kozak. "It was like, 'Well, Andy C will be there in two weeks, so why should I go see so-and-so tonight?'"
Kozak and Blakley opted to simply cease bringing out DJs every single week and chose to focus on the artists, such as Dieselboy, who maintained substantial crowd draws.
But ending Breakdown doesn't mean that D.ecco, Sabotage and Fury are finished with drum-and-bass in Denver, by any means. Starting on Thursday, August 5, the threesome will move from the main room at the Snake Pit to the basement of the Church, where they'll be part of the Church's already successful Thursday-night offerings. The U.K.'s Mampi Swift will help kick things off. Kozak and Blakley are excited about the move because it will expose a new crowd to their sound.
"With the venue being 18-plus and 21-plus," Kozak enthuses, "it'll be the first opportunity to expose a younger audience to the music since the heyday of the rave scene, seeing how raves have basically fallen by the wayside."
Before that transition takes place, though, Kozak and Blakley are throwing one hell of a party to close out an era. U.K. luminaries Ed Rush and Optical will be joined by few of the local DJs who've performed at Breakdown over the years to roll the bass one last time.
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