Coming of age in Dallas in the 1980s was synonymous with two words: Starck Club. The notorious nightclub brought scandal to the bible belt with an injection of European excess at the hands of a then-unknown French designer named Philippe Starck. In an abandoned concrete warehouse in the old part of town, past some forgotten railroad tracks, the cutting edge, raw-concrete venue instantly became an unlikely epicentre for 1980s counterculture. Co-owner Stevie Nicks (yes, that Stevie Nicks) and none other than Grace Jones performed on opening night. It was a celebrity magnet, a haven for the LGBTQ community, the birthplace of America’s electronic dance music culture, but also ground zero for ecstasy, which back then was legal in the state of Texas and sold over the bar.
Getting into the Starck Club wasn’t easy. The door was watched by Parisian punk queen and society figure, Edwige Belmore, who was discovered by Jean Paul Gaultier at the door of Le Palace in Paris and later ran around with Andy Warhol in New York. Dallas was suddenly becoming a cosmopolitan capital to be reckoned with. On any given night at the Starck club, you could run into the likes of Prince, George W. Bush, Madonna, the Prince of Monaco, Tom Cruise or Cindy Lauper. Everyone from Ru Paul to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers performed there, earning it a reputation as the hippest nightclub of the decade. That’s right, in Dallas, Texas.
But the Starck Club was also earning itself another reputation that caught the unwanted attention of the Reagan administration. Authorities blamed the night spot for starting a drug epidemic. When a major federal bust occurred, there was allegedly ecstasy all over the dance floor as people quickly unloaded their night’s stash. It’s often said that the Starck Club was instrumental in ecstasy becoming illegal in the US.
Despite its infamy, for some reason, this Texan nightspot has never quite made it to the same ranks as Studio 54 in counter culture history. A group of film-makers in the early 2000s set out to change that, and tracked down the movie stars, Dallas debutantes and DJs to recount their experiences from the heyday of the club until its demise in the late 1980s. “From its explosive inception, tragic crash and unexpected rebirth, STARCK symbolizes the phenomenon of the 80s, “says Michael Cain, director of The Starck Project, a feature-length documentary film which premiered at the Dallas Film Festival in 2014. “It was a decade lived as if there were no consequences”.
As a 21st century epidemic, Covid-19, has us all wondering whether this might be the end of club culture as we know it, perhaps this might be a moment worth considering just how much those hazy memories of night time escapism really mean to us and our society. If it’s been a while since you’ve danced under flashing lights against sweaty bodies, you’re not alone, but let’s join some of the former regulars of the Starck Club down disco’s memory lane…
Images courtesy of the Starck Project.