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Club Mix

The Boss updates its hip-hop image.

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Until now. The once notorious hip-hop club was recently renamed 534. It’s a more subdued venue that offers rock music and dance nights catering to spiky-haired white people. Is it a coincidence that this would happen soon after the 40s were removed from the grocery store shelves?

“Hip-hop is always going to be there,” says owner Nathan Dance from a phone at the club on a cold day in early January. “But we didn’t want promoters to come in here and see one direction.” Dance, 38, recently renamed the club after its address at 534 N. Harrison St. in an attempt to revamp its image. He also wanted to bring back the diversity of entertainment that he says was the club’s mission when it opened.

When Dance bought the place in 1993, it was a Chinese restaurant. He made the necessary modifications to turn it into a two-story venue, and Club Boss premiered as a home to rock bands and ravers as well as hip-hop heads. The place was packed almost every night of the week, he says.

Over time it became known mostly for its hip-hop nights, particularly Sundays, that brought mobs of partiers and long lines of traffic that snaked around Broad and Grace. Dance says he thought it was time for a change.

The transformation has been without fanfare. Dance says he no longer looks to the traditional avenues of promotion he used in the ’90s. Radio is out and the iPod is in. “Makes it hard for a promoter to know where to get the most density at,” he says.

Yet even after a few concerts and non-hip-hop dance nights, the word is out. Dance says he’s been overwhelmed with the response of promoters and entertainers who want to get in the club. The club’s voice mail is full, and Dance is trying to figure out how to sort through the interest.

Richmonders have always lamented the city’s lack of venues. Recent closings, including the treasured Hole in the Wall/Holy Chow on Laurel Street near VCU, have made the dearth more acute. But such intimate spaces are always coming and going. The Upper East Side jazz club in the North Side, Belly of the Whale in Oregon Hill and Main Street Beer Co.’s new backroom are just a few of the new spaces catering to local musicians.

Club 534 is a coveted midsized venue. Its capacity is 500, similar to that of Alley Katz and the Canal Club in Shockoe Bottom. Such spaces attract the level of entertainment that often bypasses our city in favor of Norfolk and Washington, and places like 534 offer the hope that those acts will come here.

Dance says that’s exactly what he wants. Following a few small-scale shows in the fall and early winter, 534 brought in live music and DJs from New York for New Year’s Eve, billing them alongside popular local entertainers. Attendance at the New Year’s Eve show was moderate, and Dance says he’s working slowly to rebuild the club’s image.

“I want to get bands and get known for bands like Alley Katz,” Dance says, “and then be able to get the larger named bands.” He makes it clear, however, that 534 still will offer hip-hop, as well as other genres of entertainment that seem worthy to pursue: “Diversity kept the club afloat more than anything.” S

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