When he steps inside the campus rock bar The Summit, Scott Niemet can’t believe how much the place has changed since his dance party Sweatin’ premiered there seven years ago, back when the room was a gay bar alternately known as Jack’s and Summit Station.
The bar’s interior isn’t the only thing that’s undergone a major makeover. When Sweatin’ began, not many bars were hosting dance nights; now they’re everywhere, to the point that Niemet sometimes couldn’t book a hardcore show (his other passion) because DJs had saturated his preferred venues. In 2006, electronic music was going through one of its strictly underground phases; now so-called “EDM” is all the rage.
Even Niemet’s personal life has been overhauled: Last summer, he married fellow concert promoter Joshua DeJac. Now they’re moving to Philadelphia and getting out of the game, marking the end of a promotional career that left a huge imprint on Columbus.
Niemet’s legacy ranges from 1990s DIY punk shows and dance events at venues like Neilhouse and Fire Exit to the hardcore-centric More Than Music Fest to Sweatin’, a dance party that, at its best, bridged genres and demographics. He worked hard to make Columbus exciting and inventive, but with his 40th birthday looming next month, he’s ready for a break, a chance to turn off the promotional side of his brain.
“The reason I’m moving is because I wanted to retire from promotions and booking,” Niemet said. “Basically it comes down to, I could just wave the white flag and say, ‘I’m retiring! I’m not doing this anymore. It’s up to you guys!’ But I know if I just did that and stayed, I would get swooshed back into it somehow.”
Sweatin’, Niemet’s most recent cultural contribution, has been winding down in recent years anyhow, but he wanted to go out with a bang. So he’s throwing a farewell bash called Sweatin’ Is Dead this Thursday at Axis with a stacked lineup of Ohio DJs.
“I just didn’t want it to die, just, like, fizzle away,” Niemet said. “It is an end of an era, and I wanted to make sure I was able to celebrate that with people that came up with it, that played and had my back for so many years with it. That’s why there’s three rooms. So many people wanted to play. Some people are only playing for, like, a half an hour, but I just wanted so many of them involved in it because they’ve been there.”
Sweatin’ itself has morphed almost as much as the music scene. The party frequently hopped locations — from Jack’s to East Village to Axis to High Five/Circus to Axis to Skully’s to Carabar and back to Axis — and its mixture of scenes and sounds fluctuated nearly as often.
It began as a convergence of many nightlife spheres, an anything-goes party where DJs spun all kinds of dance music for crowds that defied racial or sexual categorization. Hardcore kids, hip-hop heads and house fans comingled, and chaos ensued — sometimes the good kind, sometimes the bad. Prejudice or vendetta sometimes overflowed into fights, but other times the party exemplified a vision of unified nightlife. The bar setting facilitated a drinking-oriented party rather than a drug-fueled rave scene.
“It was fresh,” Niemet said. “You didn’t know if things were going to explode.”
As the party got more popular and moved to bigger rooms, Niemet noticed DJs refining their skills. Audiences got more educated about dance music and therefore pickier about their preferences. Sweatin’ was supposed to be an organic, anything-goes event, but the audience became homogenized and a formula was established.
Niemet started booking national dance acts to show off the Columbus scene, but when he saw expensive superstar DJs getting outshined by Columbus talent, he shrunk Sweatin’ back to an all-local event. Meanwhile, an aggressive, drug-fueled dubstep scene became ascendant, followed by trap-rave, and Niemet worked to distinguish his event from the molly-popping masses and their digitized bass drops. The populace started turning over. The social ritual of dance parties got a little tired; so did Niemet.
“After a while, it was hard to know who I was trying to attract anymore,” he said.
He attempted some decidedly gay-oriented events called Mighty Real at Wall Street, but most of his Sweatin’ coalition didn’t show up. The Sweatin’ events at Axis became a shadow of former glories. Typically at this point Niemet would retreat, adapt and come back with something fresh, but the time feels right to step aside: “I think some kids should step up and help run the youth culture,” he said.
First, though, one more blowout to celebrate a nightlife institution and the people who poured so much sweat into making it happen.