When one thinks of the electronic dance music scene in Southern California, a few festivals immediately come to mind: Hard Summer, Nocturnal Wonderland, Escape, Beyond Wonderland. Annual events like these have become the frontrunners of electronic dance music in Southern California since the Electric Daisy Carnival packed its bags and left Los Angeles for Las Vegas in 2011. However, these cash cow festivals were not the only events gathering sizable crowds around the genre.
A San Bernardino nightclub by the name of Gotham City was a hit for young ravers all over Southern California, especially in the Inland Empire. The all-age club saw its lime light in the late 2000’s and it was held every Friday night at the Hudson Theater in San Bernardino.
“Gotham City Fridays” as they were called, featured well-known local DJs and drew in teenage crowds from all over Southern California. Raul Alianza, better known as DJ Rowdy A, was Gotham’s poster boy and creator. Alianza was, in a sense, a local celebrity and his sizeable following on social media and YouTube vlogging channel helped garner thousands of club attendees every week. He even recorded a music video for his original song “When the Sun Goes Down” during a Gotham City show; the video now has nearly a million views on YouTube.
If you were a teenager in high school, Gotham City offered a social experience that no large-scale festival could offer.
“It was fun in high school, where instead of just going to a party in your friend’s backyard with only maybe two or three schools, now you could go to Gotham City with frickin’ people from schools all around Southern California,” said Joshua Villa, a former goer and later DJ at the club, “I met people from other schools. I had different friends from all over different cities. And now you have to buy a $300 ticket to Electric Daisy Carnival, be 18 and you have to drive to Vegas.”
The club offered a show large enough to connect with people who were so far geographically removed that you would not meet them otherwise, but were still close enough to be considered local. The sort of local and intimate environment that Gotham City Fridays fostered cannot be replicated at a large-scale event like Hard Summer or any Insomniac event.
Villa, better known as DJ Pops, compared walking into Gotham City to the scene where rapper Biggie Smalls walks into the club in the 2009 film “Notorious.”
“You walked in and it was just crackin’,” remembered Villa in a nostalgic voice.
DJ Pops recalled going to over 200 hundred clubs throughout his career, but he noted that they all felt repetitive and almost monotonous. Gotham City was able to often take the same line up and same people and make it a “different fun” every time you went.
The event was largely promoted through Facebook and Myspace, back when those were the go-to social media sites for teenagers. Flyers promoting Gotham City reached all the way down to elementary schools.
The Hudson Theater was eventually shut down in 2011 when it reached lawsuit settlement with the city of San Bernardino. The city sued the venue for mismanagement as it did little to prevent the use of drugs and alcohol on its premises. Officers were so often dispatched to calls at Gotham City that the city could no longer keep up.
Legal troubles aside, Gotham City’s largest blow was dealt when DJ Rowdy A was killed in a tragic car accident on his return trip from playing a show in Northern California. Hundreds of fans turned out to hold a vigil in front of the Hudson Theater on the night of his death. Gotham City, in a sense, died with DJ Rowdy A as he was the only person who had the social following and resources to spearhead a revival of the club elsewhere.
Although Gotham City left a definite void in the Inland Empire in the sense that there is no longer a club that offers the same experience. It helped cultivate the current popularity of electronic dance music in the Inland Empire. There was a notion that only “scene” kids listened to electronic dance music, but Gotham City helped make electronic dance music popular and turn the Inland Empire into a hub for the genre.