How the Vista Dance Club Social Built Up a Reliable Stream of Marquee EDM

By Jordan Lawrence
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Weekend crowd at Social | photo by Christian Barker

Walking down Gervais Street in the Vista, Social Bar and Lounge is easy to miss. The small club is tucked inconspicuously behind two buildings, having grabbed the secluded spot that once belonged to the whiskey-enthused Rust. It looks cool enough from the outside, accented by low-key blue lights that highlight the roof’s unusual curve, but the space inside is tight. Only a few feet separate the edge of the stage from the corner of the main bar, providing an up-close encounter with the EDM DJs who provide the entertainment.

But despite its possible impediments, the 350-capacity club is thriving, reeling in marquee electronic names like Bassjackers, Borgeous and — on May 7 — the colorfully kinetic Chainsmokers, currently riding the wave from their punchy and sardonic single “#SELFIE,” which has racked up more than 86 million YouTube views since dropping in January. Opened in 2012, Social has quickly established itself as a surprising new hotspot, bringing Columbia national and international talent in a genre that has often passed it by.

What: The Chainsmokers
Where: Social Bar and Lounge, 918 Gervais St.
When: Wednesday, May 7, 10 p.m.
With: J Scarlett, M00DY
Price: $10 ($15 under 21)
More Info:

“In this area, there’s a lot of different bars,” offers Matthew Sakatos, Social’s technical director. Last year, while still living in Charlotte, the audio-visual design specialist started working with the club on some of its bigger events, including a December appearance by the Nevada DJ Starkillers that helped solidify Social’s current success. Swept up by the energy surrounding the venue, he came on board in an official capacity two months ago.

“It’s a really big college scene,” he continues. “But there really wasn’t something that was really magnificent when it came to EDM.”

Social sought to fill this void, starting its push by packing the club with local talent. Bright and acerbic trap duo LUCiD and the more smoothly bass-knocking M00DY were among several local EDM outfits that hit the room regularly, often a few times each month. The opportunities granted these up-and-comers a new level of local popularity, while allowing Social time to shore up its resources before chasing down bigger names. For Nick Lovaas, one half of LUCiD, it’s been a win-win proposition.

“We were just excited to play there as much as we could,” he explains. “Around here, man, an EDM spot is rare. There’s Red Hot [Tomatoes], and we used to have the [Five Points] Pub back in the day before it closed down. For a good sound system and a nice little space, Social is heaven-sent.”

With cash to spend, Social focused on courting powerful talent agencies such as Circle and AM Only, booking the lesser-known acts the companies were anxious to get gigs. Those relationships established, the venue was able to grab more popular artists from their rosters — AM provided pulse-pounding Turkish DJ Deniz Koyu; Circle sent Kennedy Jones and Mightyfools — an advantage Sakatos will continue to leverage.

The finances behind these bookings are daunting. The flashier names regularly cost Social well more than $2,000, a hefty payout for a room that holds less than 400. The venue has battled this issue by selling tickets to its biggest shows, but it prefers to forgo a cover charge, leaning on the profits from drink sales and VIP upgrades.

But while the formula is delicate, Sakatos continues to push. The new Turnt Up Thursdays, started last week, aim to tempt college kids to the Vista by offering surprising acquisitions — Kennedy Jones, for instance — with no cover. He also wants to use his new connections to organize one-off parties in larger rooms, attracting artists that Social can’t fit.

“The past couple months have been a privilege, to bring in these big names and see exactly why they got so big,” Sakatos says. “I think our clientele sees that and respects that.”

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