Liquid assets

Local promoters strive for one nation under a Groove

Though Liquid Groove, the promoters now known as Liquified, did not start the Atlanta underground nightlife scene of the '90s — that honor partly goes to "old school" players like Hippie B, Mr. Scarey, Dewayne and Darien X — they can be said to have jumpstarted the scene. So seeing as Liquified is celebrating 10 years Sat., Oct. 30, here's a small celebration of the group's decade in existence. It is a story of how afterhours soon turned into business hours.

In 1992, after several years immersed in the Manchester club scene, aspiring promoter Damian Murphy and DJ/producer Kevin "Kazell" Bazell (now both L.A.-based) decided to come to the States. The Manchester scene was drying up, and the pair, who met through mutual friends, wanted to immigrate to a more populated but less saturated scene. So they headed to Miami to throw their own parties. But things didn't go smoothly. "Although raves were going on it wasn't very underground, the music," says Murphy. "It was clubby, gay-oriented house, and not like the English style we were bringing."

After a few months, the duo moved from Miami to Orlando, then to North Carolina, but no place felt quite right. Finally, a friend recommended Atlanta, where the two found themselves in 1993.

They started out throwing afterhours parties at clubs such as the Chamber and the Warehouse. Around this time, Murphy and Bazell, living in an apartment in Sandy Springs, met Devin Walkley. Fresh off of following the Dead around, Walkley was in town to visiting his parents. He soon became an essential part of the team.

"I went to a 'Liquid X' event at the Chamber then to Orlando with them to see Sasha and immediately offered up my services," says Walkley, now Liquified's full-time Atlanta arm. "I remember the day Damian walked out of his room and said he had Sasha. We put him on a Monday night at the Chamber for his first appearance in Atlanta and now we're celebrating 10 years from that date."

It's wholly appropriate that Sasha, now a worldwide progressive house figurehead, would be the DJ whose set marked the official start of Liquid Groove. Sasha's early years at a club called Shelley's were inspiration for Murphy and Bazell, as well as much of the U.K. post-acid house scene. Bringing Sasha over was a defining moment for Liquid Groove, and soon their parties became must-attend events.

"Before I even got into parties [in 1995] I knew you had to go [to a Liquid Groove] party," says Jennifer Walker, who went on to run Pleazure Productions and worked jointly with Liquified on several events. "It wasn't because I knew who the DJs were, it was because everyone went. Liquid Groove were the first to come in with a larger vision and hone the process of production and promotion to a craft. Liquid Groove was the headliner, not the DJ."

It was more than music. It was community. "Back when Liquid Groove did afterhours, they'd end at 10 in the morning," Walkley remembers, "so sometimes we'd just go straight to Piedmont Park and sit in the sun with the DJs, some of the people who'd made it the whole night, and act as friends, have genuine experiences. And we built off that feeling and brought the vibe into buildings like Kaya, Loretta's, the Nike Pavilion."

As Liquid Groove grew in popularity, the tastes of the audience also developed. Bazell, who has been Liquified's resident DJ through the years, has watched this happen and adapted his set accordingly.

"I started out less musical, more raw, and as I got more in to music and how it works I started playing deeper, having a bigger range of stuff," he says. "At first the scene was so underground. I mean, we were dragging our own productions in and out of dirty warehouses, a lot of times being harassed by police. So the commercial fingers hadn't found their way in and you were expected to play way out, not to the crowd. It was a completely open state of mind. These days you have to consider different crowds, age groups, different sized rooms, so it's less raw. But the whole scene has grown as the DJs have grown."

One event that helped the scene expand was 2000's "Liquified Universe" party, which drew 8,000 to the North Atlanta Trade Center. It marked a highpoint in the history of the scene, but for a host of reasons — pivotally Sept. 11 — that type of large-scale event would not be copied. Since then, Liquified has kept its events from larger venues and in intimate mid-level clubs, such as Eleven50, while still bringing top signature DJs including Sasha, Digweed, Paul Van Dyk, Doc Martin, Dieselboy, Tiesto, and Hybrid.

But the Liquified guys maintain their belief that the scene they helped further has not crested, but will continue to involve and evolve. "I think it's going to pick up again in terms of size," Murphy says. "There's no reason we can't do larger quality electronic events as well as the club events. But we'll continue to work with what venues, DJs and prices make everyone on both sides of the events happy, because we never want an event with less than full energy."