"It's definitely a burner," said the Salt Lake City firefighter. He was referring to Club DV8 during a 1995 inspection of the X96 studios located in the adjacent Arrow Press Square. I don't know why I asked him about DV8; I must have feared its inevitable demise. "Old buildings like that, three floors open all the way to the roof. They'll go up in a hurry," he said with the slightest hint of glee that lurks in the pyromaniac hidden in all firefighters.
Turns out that this firefighter knew what he was talking about. On the evening of Wednesday, Jan. 23, the vacant building that once housed Club DV8 went up in flames that ripped right through the roof, shooting hundreds of feet into the downtown skyline. I was at home at the time, half asleep on the couch watching American Idol on TiVo, killing brain cells ever so slowly. A text message from my friend and coworker Heather Johnson vibrated me from my Fox-induced stupor. "Arrow Press Square is on fire," is all the text read. I immediately grabbed the remote control and flipped to live television to catch reports of the dramatic structure fire. Immediately after the first text came an update that it was Club DV8 and that the fire was huge, sending black smoke all over downtown.
When I saw that the aging building would essentially burn to the ground, I felt part of my Generation X heart breaking, just a little bit. If Utah's alternative music scene in the 90s had a collective rite of passage, it was the doorway of Club DV8.
I turned 21 in 1991 and one of the big thrills for me was being old enough to DJ the KJQ nights at Club DV8. At the time I was working for piss-money on the 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift at KJQ, and DV8 paid $100 cash to spin in the DJ booth on Saturday nights. But trust me, that hundred bucks was well earned. First of all, I lived in the Ogden area at the time and had to cart my personal collection of records and CDs to downtown Salt Lake City. Vinyl is heavy and compact discs aren't as compact as the name suggests; this was long before the days of the iPod where you can have 2,000 songs in your pocket. A tiny alley between DV8 and a one-story building just to the north led to a puny parking area behind the club, and I hated the process of squeezing my Mitsubishi Mirage into the heap of other cars from DV8 employees back there. Other DJs had scarred their cars trying to maneuver the tight quarters in the alleyway, but I somehow managed to avoid leaving any of my paint on the brick corners.
The DJ booth at DV8 was nothing more than a squalid hellhole. The balcony that housed the two turntables and a microphone felt more like a gallows because of the trapdoor that was the terrace's only entrance. To actually get into the DJ booth, I had to climb a ladder directly beneath, open the trapdoor, haul my heavy crates of records and CDs through the opening and then make damn sure I closed the door. To reach the controls, one had to stand pretty much on top of the trapdoor. Sometimes drunken patrons would climb the ladder and open the trapdoor to make a request, and more often than not leave it open, just waiting for the gaping hole to swallow the poor DJ with one misstep. I had many close calls, but never fell to my death from the booth.
My fellow DJs and I would often joke about what we viewed as an extreme fire danger in the equipment racks that contained the amplifiers for the sound system. The power cords got so hot at the end of the night that we had to insulate our hands with an old towel when we unplugged them.
My fondest memories of spinning the vinyl in the DV8 DJ booth are the songs that erupted the club into a frenzy. The club opened at 9p.m., but that first hour and a half was usually slow as the regular crowd arrived and began to consume alcohol. For the first part of the evening, I played popular alternative songs that weren't necessarily dance tracks. It provided great ambience as the club goers socialized, drank and smoked. Once the crowd had a little bit of liquor in them, I had a few songs up my sleeve that I would slip on just to see when they were ready to get sweaty and start to grind on the tiny black-and-white checkered dance floor. I remember them to this day: "Blue Monday" by New Order, "Give It Away" by Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Unbelievable" by EMF, and anything by Nine Inch Nails.
This was before smoking indoors was shunned, and while I'm not a smoker and not a fan of the way I smelled when I went home from Club DV8, there was something to be said about the image of the alternative crowd all dressed in black dancing with a menthol cigarette in their hands or hanging from their pouting lips. Many of the DV8 regulars were graduates of The Ritz Club from their teen years and now they were old enough to drink and smoke legally. This was the alternative place to be seen, and we lived it up in our carefree youth.
Club DV8 was also the baptismal font for legendary alternative bands to establish themselves in Salt Lake City. The list of punk, grunge, and industrial acts that crammed onto DV8's petite stage is impressive: Pearl Jam, Green Day, Tool, KMFDM, Ned's Atomic Dustbin, The Offspring, Machines of Loving Grace, Gravity Kills, Eve 6, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, Xymox, 311 ... and many more. If you were there, you were likely so close to the stage that you ended up with Eddie Vedder's or Maynard James Keenan's sweat on you. Club DV8's main floor had no choice but to be a churning, throbbing mosh pit.
For many years, the X96 studio was directly next-door in Arrow Press Square. The walls would literally vibrate during concerts, and we could feel the energy in our floorboards from the party going on next door. This dingy block on West Temple just down the street from the world headquarters of the LDS Church was the heart and soul of the alternative music scene in Utah. Even though DV8 had been closed down and vacant for years, and even though X96 had moved from that part of town in 2000, the fire made the death of that era permanent.
After dedicating a day of programming to Club DV8 on X96 the day after the fire where the air staff and listeners shared their fond memories, I had to see it one last time. I parked my car a couple blocks away on State Street and walked back to my old stomping grounds. Standing on the opposite side of West Temple, I watched the backhoe and wrecking ball topple the brittle, charred structure. Artie Fufkin had given an update on the air as I drove away, saying, "The son of a bitch is still burning." Every so often, the backhoe would topple part of the rubble and fresh flames would boil out. The firefighter was indeed correct: Club DV8 was a burner.
The next day some listeners brought me a brick from the wreckage. Through the odor of the structure fire, I can still smell the stale beer and cigarette smoke of the corpse of Club DV8.