For “Ten Years After”, co-owner and former manager Anthony Dandrea revisits key moments from Ground Kontrol’s 10-year history under its current ownership.
It’s summer 2003, and not much has changed at Ground Kontrol in the barely two months since we took the reins. Most of the arcade floor is still devoted to selling records, VHS and cassette tapes, and bootleg CDs. There has been some progress, though: We’ve torn down Kneel’s old stage and are making plans to build a more customer-friendly one for hosting music events of our own.
For now, though, playing music in the arcade usually means throwing some CDs into a 5-disc changer. Sometimes I play records on a turntable I’ve set up behind the counter, drawing from my DJ collection to give the arcade a retro-electronic ‘soundtrack.’
One night I play a new, somewhat obscure release: “Lifestyles of the Laptop Café” by The Other People Place, an alias for one member of Detroit electro producers Drexciya. It catches the attention of a short, stocky dude who had wandered in earlier. “Yo, man, what track is that?” he says, more or less, and I show him the record sleeve. This dude is Joe Ward, aka DJ Jammotron, and so begins a long and productive musical partnership, and even longer friendship.
We get to talking about our shared love of vintage games and electronic music, especially classic electro and techno. Joe suggests that we host a live and DJed electro-funk music party with the games set to free play, all for a nominal door charge. This would be Ground Kontrol’s first “free-play party.”
With more than half of Ground Kontrol’s income still made up of quarters dropped into machines, I’m a little leery at first but, with foot traffic and public awareness still stubbornly sparse (and seeking motivation for finishing the stage), it’s worth the risk to try something new. We set the date and prepare a lineup, Joe makes posters, and I write up an announcement:
Starlite Entertainment & Smackyoudown Productions in association with Ground Kontrol present
E L E C T R O * C A D E
LIVE ELECTRO + FREE ARCADE PLAY ALL NIGHT!
Saturday, July 12, 2003, 9pm to 2am +plus+
Ground Kontrol, 610 SW 12th Ave., Portland
$6 for all ages = all the games you can play plus five hours of music!
Solenoid (live PA) <– haiohaiohaio, outward music
Ainu (live PA) <– xox magazine
Jammotron (DJ set) <– starlite entertainment, clanofthecavemack
Afrobot (DJ set) <– ground kontrol, ele_mental
Experience the perfect marriage of electronic sight and sound when you enter the ELECTROCADE: over fifty video and pinball games to engage your eyes and mind, and classic / neo electro to engage your ears and body.
Our first clue that something big is about happen comes when people form a long line at the door nearly a half-hour before the event is to start. Having never hosted a free-play party, we scramble from game to game, locating the sometimes elusive settings to make each free to play. Fortunately, the fans outside are patient until we finally open the doors.
The room fills with enthusiastic players, gamers packing in elbow-to-elbow to occupy every machine. The DJs and bands crank up the music to compete with the electronic cacaphony of the arcade. Dance circles break out in front of the newly-built stage.
Our goal at the outset had been to recreate the arcade craze of our youth. Now, with the help of a new generation, it had finally materialized.
We would go on to create more electronic music events: A second “Electrocade” free-play party, the recurring “Thump” DJ monthly, eventually culminating in TRONix, our current electronic-themed Wednesday nights. But this first party proved that mixed arcade / music events were not only possible, but a way forward for the 21st century.