Hardcore meets dance floor
Scotty Niemet sits in Short North coffee shop-slash-scooter dealership Kickstart, waiting patiently to be interviewed.
The setting is fitting. Lattes and Lambrettas don't seem to belong in the same space, but neither do Niemet's two most beloved pastimes, hardcore shows and dance parties. That hasn't stopped him from becoming a major player in both arenas and, in the process, facilitating a spillover between the denizens of the city's dingiest basements and its most avid hip-swingers.
Niemet, 35, has been putting on house shows for almost two decades. During that time he's become a respected fixture of the Columbus hardcore scene, both as a promoter of events such as More Than Music Fest and as a member of bands like Inept and The Lack.
He's been dancing for just as long, but mostly just throwing down at parties, not throwing them. That's changed in recent years as Niemet has become just as active in party promotion as he is in hosting hardcore events.
He facilitates some of the city's most popular get-down get-togethers, most recently the twice-monthly culture clash called Sweatin'. It's at the forefront of a series of genre-hopping club nights in Columbus, a list that also includes Get Right at Karma, Work at Bristol Bar and the Moral Tales party at The Summit.
These events draw a wide stratum of people, none more so than Sweatin', which finds gay club-hoppers, hip-hop fiends, indie-rock barflies and hardcore devotees raising the same roof.
The crossover isn't weird to Niemet. He's been straddling the cultural divide between slam dance and glam dance his whole life.
Straightedge and underage with nothing to do and nowhere to be, Niemet and his pals roam the city looking for a vice-free buzz. On nights when the hardcore scene lies dormant, the youths find their fix at the longstanding South Campus club Mean Mr. Mustard's, where they sneak in and groove to pure, unfiltered dance music for the first time.
Having discovered heavy music through dance-influenced industrial bands like Ministry and Nine Inch Nails, Niemet finds himself swept into a similar frenzy by tracks like Cajmere's "Coffee Pot (It's Time for the Percolator)."
The club music helps him strike a balance. At hardcore shows, he revels in angry distortion. At dance clubs, he revels in joyful contortion. Both are routes to release for a gay kid from Westerville seeking to find himself.
Niemet and six friends move into an old dental fraternity on Neil Avenue between Eighth and King and throw a house party with a few friends' bands. Neilhouse quickly becomes a legendary nightspot for punk, hardcore and indie rock.
As the venue's reputation builds, it plays host to acts as diverse as Party of Helicopters, The Promise Ring and Elliott Smith. A straightedge, all-ages alternative to Bernie's and Stache's, the house sets the tone for a long line of Columbus punk houses that lives on today at locales like The Legion of Doom and Monster House.
Niemet and his fellow organizers host the 10th-annual More Than Music Fest. After a decade of trumpeting radical politics and wondering why more minorities weren't joining in, the More Than Music crew casts a wider net in an attempt to forge links with people whose ideals match up more than their record collections.
Even as bands like The Locust and The Faint diversify punk from within, the More Than Music promoters forgo their hardcore fixation in favor of a diverse lineup, bringing together hip-hop, metal and jazz scenesters who share many of the same ethics and do-it-yourself attitudes.
A myriad of lefty music fans show up. Niemet learns a little bit about how to build consensus.
The cross-cultural scene that began to sprout early in the decade spins out into a series of raging house parties. People's homes routinely host gaggles of grinding, heterogeneous party animals. Some feature DJs, some just stereos, but all leave the residents tripping over passed-out strangers at 5 a.m. It's time to clean house.
So Niemet starts helping out with Fabric's popular Club Versace party, and the hip happenings shift from the homefront to the nightclub. When Club Versace burns out, Radio Panic pops up at Grapevine. When that club shutters, Niemet and some friends introduce Sweatin', which bounces from Jack's to East Village to Axis before landing at Circus, the bar formerly known as High Five.
The parties are a huge hit, even among Niemet's friends from the hardcore scene. Some of them turn out to support him. Others have grown up and are looking for a new way to blow off steam. Many probably just want to pick up women - the fairer sex doesn't exactly flock to hardcore shows.
Despite the occasional tension between demographics, Sweatin' works, and never more so than on Halloween, as punk cover bands take the stage before the needle drops.
The crossover between the hardcore scene and the neo-ravers has never been so pronounced - local punks tear through Negative Approach and Minor Threat covers, then join in the heaving throng of humanity that transforms High Five from rock club to dance club. Screaming feedback bleeds into pulsating disco, funk and electro.
Niemet says the bands are a way to get a typically late-arriving crowd into the bar and on the dance floor before midnight. But they're also a very visceral consummation of his two worlds coming together.
The marriage makes sense. Punk rock and dance culture are often pigeonholed, but the subcultures have crossed paths in many times and places. Both movements are powered by progressive politics, a DIY ethic and the hunger for community.
Plus, now that the dance nights have scaled down from massive nightclubs to apartment-sized bars, hardcore fans recognize a bond between the close confines of the dance floor and the hot, sweaty nights at the Legion of Doom, not unlike Niemet finding common ground in Mustard's and Neilhouse.
Niemet has big plans for the future of Sweatin'. He's in close contact with the people who run the other parties and hopes to work out combined blowouts, and he's considering doing more punk/dance crossover events. On the hardcore side, his new label, Leave 'Em Records, will release records by Triceratops and a Maryland group called Surroundings this year.
On the other hand, the balance is delicate. Niemet has seen many cultural movements build steam only to peter out when a fickle populace moves out of Columbus or moves on to something new.
He fears Sweatin' is already being pigeonholed - too many blacks, too many queers, whatever - and that people will find a reason not to keep coming. Meanwhile, Niemet sees a lot of houses doing shows but not nearly enough cross-pollination between genres.
It bothers him to see people in his universe separate into arbitrary camps when they could be united. So until he throws up his hands and calls it a day, he will keep herding them back together.