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Whatever happened to Confetti, Salt Lake City's goth haven?

Published December 24, 2016 4:15 pm

Goth club became a refuge for Utah's counterculture.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Editor's note • In this regular series, The Tribune explores the once-favorite places of Utahns, from restaurants to recreation to retail.

Linda Staker has this recurring dream. Except to her, it's more of a nightmare.



She's outside Confetti, the long-demolished Sugar House dance club she used to own.

"The club is closed, but the building is still there. ... We sneak in and open it up like business as usual," Staker says. "But last night in the dream, I'm telling my managers I want to open, and they tell me they don't want to. And I'm thinking, 'What's the matter with you?' "

When you're involved with anything for a good chunk of your young life, it tends to haunt you for the rest of it. Such is the effect Confetti's ghosts have on its former patrons, many of whom were part of Utah's goth subculture.

Staker opened Confetti in November 1991 when she was 23, taking over a 10,000-square-foot building at 900 E. 2100 South that had housed other clubs with other names. She knew little about running a business, and Confetti became a trial by fire.

"People started showing up in droves," says Staker. "It went from 0 to 60 in nothing flat. There was a big LGBT community that hung out there, along with skinheads and straight-edgers, and for some reason it worked."

Creative misfits • The music in Confetti was split between two rooms. In the front, DJs spun poppy post-punk bands like Depeche Mode, the Cure, Pet Shop Boys and Erasure, while the playlist in the back veered toward goth and industrial genres: Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, Fields of the Nephilim and Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Confetti alum Angie Jensen describes the nightly Confetti fashion show, when the goth kids would model everything from vinyl corsets to lacy shirts to huge frizzy Robert Smith hair that needed an entire can of Aqua Net to defy gravity.

"The drag queens were amazing and beautiful, and half the straight guys were in heels and skirts," Jensen recalls.

For Utah's outcasts, the club became a refuge where everyone could be themselves.

"I remember this one kid, really skinny and gay and nervous ... at first, he dressed in normal clothes, but the more he came, he started wearing dresses and skirts," Staker says.

The Confetti scene was loaded with colorful characters: the twins known as the Hearse Brothers, who regularly parked several of those vehicles outside the club. The guy who wore a piece of toast on a rope around his neck and invited girls to take bites. Kevin, the house DJ, who had his teeth altered to look like vampire fangs.

"He would come around and bite me on the head," says Jen Ogle. "That was his way of saying hello."

Then 16, Ogle "went religiously" to Confetti, she says — "Wednesday through Saturday, four nights a week."

She didn't have a lot of money, she says, so to pay the cover charge she'd sell cigarettes, or sit outside the Smith's grocery store across the street and ask people for change.

"But as I went more, the doorman got to know me and I didn't have to pay," she says.

Confetti regulars would often gather for an afterparty at the nearby Dee's restaurant, which they dubbed "Freaky Dee's," Jensen recalls.

"You could go from table to table and it would be nothing but goth kids. The people who worked there got to know us pretty well," she says.

"A lot of us came from broken homes and we found camaraderie in that," Jensen adds. "We were all black sheep together, square pegs that didn't fit into round holes."

Nicole Lowe started going to Confetti when she was 14, two years younger than the club's minimum age of 16. But she dressed the part — black clothes, black lipstick, black eyeliner, white face makeup — so she was usually allowed in.

She was the product of busy parents who she says didn't interact with her much.

"I was looking for acceptance, and I found it in goth culture," Lowe says.

She ran away from home, spiraled into drug abuse, and once stole a car, she says. But at 17, she had a baby and decided to turn her life around, she says. "When I held him for the first time, I could not take him back out on the streets."

Lowe went to college, then law school, and now works as an assistant attorney general for the state. She represents the Division of Child and Family Services in juvenile court — helping out the kinds of troubled kids she once was.

Jensen, who now works at Salt Lake Community College, says, "without Confetti, I don't know if I'd be the same person I am today.

"I wouldn't have met my daughter's father, so she wouldn't have been born," she says. "I met a lot of friends who were like older brothers to me. They practically raised me, and taught me to be a good person and always look out for other people."

Louder than bombs • For others, Confetti was a scene of unrestrained debauchery. Local freelance music writer R.G.B. Robb devoted a chapter of his self-published memoir "Confessions of a Drug Addict" to his experiences at Confetti, which he dubbed "Sodom and Gomorrah with better music."

"It was a breeding ground for bad behavior, and I absolutely loved it," Robb says. "The first week I was there, I went to use the men's room and in the other stall were two people engaged in [a sex act]. Then I heard someone walk in and take a big sniff of cocaine. I was 19 and I thought, 'This is my place!' "

Staker said she didn't find out about that — and other goings-on — until after the fact.

"There was this kid who took up a collection, and anyone who gave him money could watch him get a piercing in ... a certain body area," Staker recalls.

She and her staff did their best to keep things under control, she says, kicking out and banning people who got too obnoxious.

There was a bomb threat one night that Staker says likely came from someone angry about getting ejected.

The club was full, packed with probably 2,000 people, Staker recalls, when a crew in hazmat suits showed up.

"This guy looks at me and says, 'We got a bomb threat, you've got 30 seconds to figure out how to get these people out of here or I'm going to do it for you,' " she says. "We flicked the breakers, had the DJ tell everyone we were having lighting issues, and told them to wait outside until we got the power figured out."

People bought that until they saw the bomb-sniffing dogs — which made them want to stick around, she recalls.

"Everyone wanted to see the place blow up, I guess."

The sky's gone out • Then one day in April 2002, it was over. Staker's lease was up for renewal, and Walgreens wanted to move in.

"So I got booted," Staker says. "Shortly after that, I sat there and watched it get torn down and bawled my eyes out."

Before the bulldozers moved in, there was an epic closing bash. Staker let everyone take a piece of Confetti.

"They ripped that club apart," she says. "They took pieces of Sheetrock, they took signs, they took lights."

Staker says she felt her own life was leveled along with the building.

"It was awful," she says. "My fiance dumped me around that same time. Eventually I went to work doing special finance at a car dealership, which was ... different. Quite a big culture shock."

Confetti still lives on in the form of occasional reunions at other Salt Lake City clubs. Confetti bumper stickers can still be spotted on cars around Utah. There's a Confetti Facebook group with nearly 1,400 members, which Staker enjoys sifting through.

"We were all just one big ugly Facebook group waiting to happen," Staker says. "I'm really impressed with what everyone has done with their lives. I did Confetti instead of having kids and getting married. It's kind of like I had 1,400 kids, but no diapers and no paying for college. ... I was really blessed."

But Staker tries not to drive past the site of her old club. And she's vowed to never step inside that Walgreens.

If you have a spot you'd like us to explore, email whateverhappenedto@sltrib.com with your ideas.

rkane@sltrib.com

 

 

 

 

 

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