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Categories: Ten Years After

Electrocade – Ground Kontrol’s First Free-Play Party

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.

electrocade logo

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.”

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Ground Kontrol: Ten Years After

In “Ten Years After”, co-owner and former manager Anthony Dandrea revisits key moments in Ground Kontrol’s 10-year history under its current ownership. The series starts with a trip back to its beginnings as “Ground Kontrol Retrocade…”

Ground Kontrol may have opened its doors in 1999, but it took a change in ownership– and direction– to transform what was once a “retrocade” into the classic arcade & bar we know now. That change happened ten years ago today, on March 22nd, 2003, when the current owners of Ground Kontrol got the keys and first opened the doors to their own arcade….

In 2003, Ground Kontrol “Retrocade” was a very different place. Located at 610 SW 12th Avenue, it was more store than arcade. A long counter, tall display racks, and one wall were devoted to selling vintage home computers and video game systems, “import” CDs (actually CD-R bootlegs of live performances) and used VHS copies of cheesy ’80s movies. The previous owners envisioned it as a shrine to a very specific era– the early ’80s, when Reagan was president, the cold war raged, and the Atari 2600 was king– and its displays and signage announced this loud and clear.

It was clear early on that the GK 1.0 business model left a lot of room for improvement. A second location on Hawthorne Avenue had come and gone, a victim of high rents and low income. Processing the used movies, music and home videogames consumed a lot of time and energy, while people wanted “newer” systems like the NES and Super Nintendo. And, there were far too few people in the arcade most of the time, especially at night. We began to tinker with the formula.

Next Up: Electrocade – Ground Kontrol’s First Free-Play Party