What happened to the class of '89?

What's the difference between an "Aahz" reunion and your high-school reunion? Answer: When StaceBass calls to invite you to one of the former, you don't regret picking up the phone.

The bodies that crammed the floor of Icon for Sunday night's revival of old-time Orlando beats hadn't just arrived on a whim. They were there at the behest of Bass, who had spent weeks contacting veterans of the "Aahz" nights she had promoted at the Beacham Theater 10 years ago. Relying on the 1,200 active addresses on her mailing list, she had let everyone know that the conclave of music and memories -- the fifth in the past 12 months -- was a go for Labor Day weekend. Old-school indeed.

To the uninitiated, the gathering might have looked no different than any other holiday throwdown. Dancers in second-skin hot pants and halter tops got down to business under the racing lights, gulping down bottled water to stave off dehydration. But the table Bass set up near the front door wasn't merely a convenient platform from which to sell T-shirts and tapes. It was a welcome station, a check-in counter where the former mainstays of late-night culture reported in to its one-woman alumni association.

As they spotted their host's blond tresses and characteristically severe leopard-print skirt, Bass' old patrons erupted in sentimental, nostalgic squeals. Rushing over to proffer warm embraces, they excitedly recapped the paths their lives had taken since the glory days of "Aahz." Engagement rings were thrust forward for inspection, and the fiancee of DJ Andy Hughes happily detailed the couple's upcoming trip to Europe. I kidded Bass that she should be handing out name tags to make the reunion motif complete.

Decor will not hold

DJ Baby Anne kept the room moving with some down-groove rhythms that were overlaid with female vocals and "Shaft" -style wah-wah guitar. Occasional blasts of smoke enveloped the room, but there was no sign of the legendary "Wizard of Oz" regalia that had given the Beacham proceedings their visual touchstone. Wasn't the decorations committee supposed to take care of these things?

That would have been Bass' job, but the absence of Icon owner David Siminou (he was out of town) had quashed her hopes of tarting the room up in vintage trappings. Not all of the old pieces were readily accessible, either: Some had gone missing from a warehouse in the days leading up to the event. Somewhere, someone has a large, pâpiér-maché Wizard head in his living room.

As the familiar sounds issued from the gossamer-draped spinning booth, they were greeted like manna from heaven by the returning acolytes, many of whom Bass described as now being "over the club scene." But what of their younger, still-active counterparts, who had come out to sample an experience their older brothers and sisters had, well, raved about? What did they make of it?

"They're not hearing this in the other clubs," Bass preached. "It's very positive. You can hear the lyrics." Except for the amped-up thumping around us, we might have been two Sinatra fans -- circa 1956 -- bemoaning the ascendancy of Elvis.

A spin on history

As DJ Dave Cannalte made his way up to the DJ booth, more bodies poured in the door, late arrivals from the furthest reaches of Bass' international contact list. "You probably don't remember me," one muttered, playing the part of the quiet, unpopular kid in every graduating class. Of course she remembered him; that's her job.

Cannalte and headlining DJ Kimball Collins brought the night to a boil by trading off beats, taking turns in a marathon of mixes that included Collins' Miami-inflected "Security." A chant went up from the crowd. The music segued into a few bars I was certain were sampled from A Split Second -- a Belgian techno outfit I had worshipped back in '89. Had it really been that long ago?

As my informal poll of the crowd revealed, most had done just fine by themselves in that ensuing 10 years. Some had become club impresarios in their own right, while others had gone into fashion or the performing arts. One said he considered himself lucky to have weathered the notoriously drug-drenched late-night culture and emerged with a renewed awareness that the music was all that really mattered. Now he was spinning records, too.

"I was miserable," another admitted of his pre-Beacham existence. "I never knew what happiness was. It changed my life."

From what I could see, its graduates appeared to have come through "Aahz" with their brain cells intact and their self-esteem buttressed. Hands up if you can say the same about your old school.

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