Hear that pulsing sound? That means it’s EDM week here at DFW.com. Check out our other stories we’ve been rolling out this week: Falling into step with dance music (a look at the overall EDM movement); Lights All Night (peeling back the curtain on Dallas’ biggest annual EDM party); an EDM glossary; and a look at the EDM documentary Under the Electric Sky.
There may be areas of the country with more electronic-dance music nightspots and bigger festivals than North Texas, but few can boast a space like Dallas’ Lizard Lounge. Not only is it a contender for the title as the longest-running EDM club in the country — it opened in 1991 — but it has hosted some of the biggest names in the genre, from Moby to Deadmau5.
Though the club went through some lean years in the early 2000s, the surge in popularity for EDM and an uptick in activity in the surrounding near-Deep Ellum neighborhood has benefited the 1,000-capacity Lizard Lounge. Owner Don Nedler is even launching a second club, the more intimate 29 Eleven in Deep Ellum, which should be fully open by fall.
But what has sustained him, says Nedler, 56, is the region’s taste for electronic dance music. After moving here from Houston in the early ’90s, where he started the original and now defunct Lizard Lounge in a city that he says leaned more toward hip-hop and industrial, he discovered that Dallas preferred techno and house music. He thanks the presence of The Starck Club, the legendary ’80s-era dance mecca that’s the subject of a new documentary, for that. (Nedler actually co-owned the Starck Club in the mid-’90s with NBA star Dennis Rodman.)
“That really dictated the course of the music in Dallas,” he recalls. “Greg Watton was over at 2826 playing house music and the whole rave culture was just beginning to emerge.”
Nedler brought lots of attention to the Lizard Lounge by getting KDGE/1021. FM DJ Jeff K to do an after-hours broadcast from there and booking such of-the-moment acts as Moby and the Prodigy. “The one thing I try to hone in on is the culture surrounding the music,” he says. “I knew that rave culture was significant.”
Nedler also knew he needed to continue booking top-flight national and international DJs and, these days, that means aligning with a major promoter. Lizard Lounge now has an arrangement with SFX, the concert promoter that runs big festivals like Belgium’s Tomorrowland, Australia’s Stereosonic and New Orleans’ Voodoo Experience.
“If we didn’t have this partnership with SFX, I don’t know where we would be,” he says. “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”
Of course, EDM’s success means that the Lizard Lounge has much more local competition. It ranges from larger rooms like Zouk (in the old Starck space), It’ll Do (a ’40s-era space brought into the modern age thanks in part to Brooke Humphries of Barcadia and Beauty Bar fame), and Station 4 to smaller, bottle-service lounges, and even afternoon Sunday Funday parties at Sisu Uptown Resort.
“You used to have to go to a dance club to see a DJ,” says Leo de Hierra, Nedler’s business partner. “Now, there’s a DJ on every street corner.”
And getting those DJs is increasingly expensive. “Our average DJ used to cost us $2,500 and we would book a headliner for under five grand,” says Nedler. “Now, the established DJs want $10,000, $15,000 and $20,000.”
But none of this is stopping him from going ahead with the 29 Eleven, which will have a different feel from Lizard Lounge with less frenetic, more chill-out house music aimed at a slightly older crowd.
“It will be more of a boutique dance club,” Nedler explains. “We have customers who’ve graduated from the Lizard Lounge but we want to give them an option for another place go. You do get to a point where you think, ‘Lizard Lounge, the crowd is a bit young for me.’ ”