By Melissa Fossum
By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
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"Chupa" means "suck" in Spanish, and the motto on the fliers for Phoenix's defunct but legendary underground dance spot of the same name used to read: "A club never sucked so good." From the fall of 1994 to the spring of '96, Chupa sucked long and hard, every weekend, all night long. It was housed in a warehouse space on the corner of Eighth Avenue and Madison, a no man's land of disputed gang territory near downtown Phoenix. At night, the surrounding urban landscape was desolate and threatening, nothing but shackled warehouses and littered, vacant lots. Homeless people circled around barrel fires and crack heads lurched along the sidewalks like zombies in search of raw brains.
Chupa was a blooming flower amid the ruins. From a block away, the club's throbbing, purple strobe light and deep house beat were a comforting beacon for what could be a nerve-racking walk from the car. And inside, it was all good. Drag queens and club kids, boys and girls, dancing on the floor. Chupa was a sweatbox, but it had a secure, outdoor courtyard for chilling, and a positive, open-minded vibe, with a tangible erotic charge. It was a small club with a good heart in a sketchy part of town. Unfortunately, Chupa's location proved to be its undoing. "The knuckleheads did it," says Pete "Supermix" Salaz, who co-founded the club with his longtime partner Eddie Amador and several other formative, local underground DJs and promoters, including Blaz and Anton. "The bad elements started coming in. Cholo types, hanging around outside, drinking beer, hassling the queens."
A few weeks before the club shut down, Salaz says, he got in the first fight of his life protecting Amador, who in turn was protecting a drag queen. "This bunch of gangbangers started acting like they were going to jump this queen outside the club, and Eddie went up to them," says Salaz. "But Eddie can't talk the talk, you know, like, 'Hey, ese, just chill out, man.' So he went up and said something wrong, and they jumped him. And I was like, 'Well, they're beating up Eddie,' so I just waded in and unloaded."
The fight ended when Salaz's brother, who was working security and had a gun, came outside and fired into the air. The cholos backed off, spewing threats. "A few weeks later, there were shots fired at the place before we even opened," Salaz says. "And I said, 'You know what? It's over.'"
Which were Amador's sentiments exactly--about Chupa, about Phoenix, about the whole damn thing. He was frustrated. He and Salaz were pretty much running Chupa on their own by then, anyway. The other four founders had peeled off a few months back, after the group lost thousands of dollars spent renovating a warehouse space on Fifth Avenue. The idea was to move Chupa to the new, larger location and open a full-scale club, but the city shut 'em down on opening night, because of multiple--and selectively enforced--permit violations. "We played to pay for and obtain all the permits as we went along, once the club started bringing in money," says Salaz. "We gambled, and we lost."
Chupa lingered in its old location for a few months, then folded for good, and Amador split for L.A. to launch a career producing his own music. As of last month, he now has one club hit to his credit. After it broke in L.A., the track--titled, literally enough, "House Music"--was quickly picked up by the Washington, D.C., house collective Deep Dish, which will issue it next month on its record label Yoshitoshi. Two weeks ago, the track was also licensed for overseas distribution to Deconstruction label, another heavy hitter in the dance-music business.
"I don't want to jinx it, but it feels like things are moving for me out here," Amador said recently from Los Angeles. "Getting away from Phoenix was definitely the right thing for me. I remember when [Phoenix DJ turned L.A.-based touring artist] Chris Flores used to come back from L.A., he'd say, 'What are you guys doing here? Why are you still in Phoenix?' And we'd be like, 'Oh, well, you know, this is cool, this is where we're from, we like it here, we want to make our scene happen.' And he'd just shrug and look confused. And now I understand where he was coming from, because now I'm in a global city, where it's actually possible to take things to a global level."
When Amador left, though, his best friend and musical partner of 10 years stayed behind. Amador and Salaz had produced tracks together and deejayed as a duo under the name Direct Force since 1987. They're both freaks for house music, but their tastes are subtly different. Amador strictly prefers traditional, deep house music. Salaz can hang with that, but he's more into catchier, faster, more (dirty-word alert) commercial stuff. But when they played together either back-to-back on two decks or tag-team on four, they seemed instinctively to play off one another, and their combined tastes had more flavor and flow than either of them alone. The same held true for their original material, and one of Direct Force's tracks, "Babaulu," was picked up by Bomb Records.