I bought a round of shots for everyone as soon as we walked in the door. Manley, about to be a father, rolled his eyes, but accepted my offer. In these dirty halls, we instantly assumed our old roles and our old habits. An hour from then, I'd be crawling across a second-story gap, clawing to shoot a cryo gun into an alley of dancers. An hour from then, Gianmarco would be blacked out and shirtless. It was just like old times, dangerously so. And this was only the ninth Liger-versary.
This Saturday, Neon Liger, Gainesville's legendary weekly party, celebrates a decade of partying as a science with a reunion in Gainesville. Everyone thinks they threw down in college, but we were the definition. The University of Florida was the number one party school in the nation. Tim Tebow was a living god. "EDM" was barely a term when Dirty Disco brought Skrillex to town. Ten years later, Liger alum have gone on to do big things in the music world, from founding III Points to running Skrillex's record label. If you've partied at Bardot or grooved to Hundred Waters, you have Neon Liger, in part, to thank.
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“I truly wish I stopped and enjoyed it more, but it was how we paid bills,” says Jimbo Rountree, co-owner of Neon Liger and its former home Spannk, the now-closed 200-person-capacity room famous in some debauched circles for its DJ booth made from the front end of a classic Chrysler Plymouth. “I can count on one hand how many Saturdays [founder Vijay Seixas and I] took off in those years, and I loved every second of it. The floor would be covered in sweat, drinks, God knows what else. We used to have people use a four-foot squeegee before mopping just to get the fluid out of the club. It was just so many people going crazy in one space.”
Liger, in its most notorious form, was a weekly Saturday party at Spannk. In the roughly six years I spent religiously attending, I met some of the best friends of my life. A lot of us have gone on to be decorated professionals, but back then, we were just chugging pre-ban Four Lokos and $5 champagne bottles while we performed lewd sex acts as dance moves on the front bar.
“I don’t think there was a single fight in all those years,” Rountree recalls. “People came in costume, dressed up, or with barely anything on. Nobody cared. It was about the music, drinks, and friends.”
It didn’t begin at Spannk. Rountree and Seixas tried to start indie dance parties a couple of times at different spots but never had any luck until Seixas formed a partnership with some skateboard kids from Miami who had come to Gainesville for college.
“They weren’t even promoters; they were just popular kids,” Seixas says. “I met them at one of their house parties. They would have like 500 kids out there, but they would always get shut down. I was like, 'Listen, let’s do this where you can actually make money.'”
Sexias set up shop in the dark, tiny room above a pool hall called Silver Cue. The first party didn’t have a name, but it was packed. The owner asked if they could come back and do it every week. When he offered Seixas and Rountree the party's earnings from the door, they said, "'How about you just keep it,’ as a gesture of goodwill,” Seixas laughs. “I didn’t realize 'till later there was no reason to do that. We were doing him a favor.”
The name "Neon Liger" was a lark. One of the skateboard kids adopted a cat and named it Liger because it looked more like a tiny version of a big cat than a house kitty. It was always the butt of jokes, so without thinking, they chose the name of the cat and neon, which was everything in 2008. Justice’s “D.A.N.C.E” video was the coolest thing on Earth. All the hipsters were wearing solid bright basics from American Apparel. They settled on the name, drew a flyer by hand, and scanned it to make copies.
For nine months, Liger raged in this strange, apartment-like series of rooms.
“None of them had lighting,” Seixas remembers. “There was one room with the sound system, one room with the bar, and two other rooms. It felt like a fucking house party, but it was lit by candles. At the end of the night, there were empty liquor bottles that hadn’t been sold, just smuggled in. There were no rules.”
After nine months, people were sick of the spot. The speakers were blown, the owner wasn’t investing in anything new, and the two strobe lights they used for decoration were getting old. Seixas had the chance to move the party to Spannk, which had just opened on a nearby corner across from a convenience store, a strip club, and a giant line-dancing country-music club with a mechanical bull. Back then, Seixas would end every night with the theme song from Cheers.
This is around the time I started showing up. I was new to Gainesville, having just transferred from Florida State University to enroll in UF’s College of Journalism. I didn’t know anyone, but I showed up by myself on a recommendation from a friend. I was instantly hooked. It had that house-party feel I craved, and they played all of my favorite songs. These days, people call it “bloghouse,” but back then, it didn’t have a name. Boys Noize, Soulwax, A-Trak — these were gods discovered on strange websites and downloaded in zip files and MP3s.
“Parties like that were really emblematic of the rise of electronic music,” says Blaise James, who, until recently, co-owned Skrillex’s label OWSLA and began going to Neon Liger around 2009. “It's an exciting time in a genre where it's new and not many people know about it, only your coolest friends. It kind of felt like it was this secret club, not in an exclusive or elitist way, but it was just kind of like this new sound, a new vibe.”
In the years that followed, this new breed of dance music mixed with punk aesthetics and became more popular. So did Neon Liger. First, the gay kids found it. The frat kids eventually discovered it, too. Then it was just a free-for-all.
“One night I walked to the back patio, and the club was so full that people were dancing on the A/C units,” Rountree says. “I remember thinking, Damn, this is bigger than I thought.”
As more kids started coming, a tight crew of degenerates began to form. Being allowed behind that Chrysler booth felt like a badge of honor, but it was the shit show in front of the DJs that provided the real entertainment. We were always devising new, twisted ways to amp up the energy. Seixas, who had already invested in tons of quality sound, put down money for a giant cryo gun, fog machines, and more state-of-the-art lasers. We started bringing bottles of André champagne from the store across the street to spray at people. We’d pour bottles of vodka directly into partiers' mouths. They found some way to infuse whip-cream canisters with vodka, and we’d pour those into people’s mouths too. During the summer of 2010, Four Loko was in the news every week as a demon drink that sent kids running through glass doors. At Liger, you could buy it for $5 a can.
“A lot of that stuff wasn't my idea,” Seixas laughs. “I didn't even really understand the craziness that was actually going on. [The booth] was a boat in this sea of madness, and I was in the boat." Even when he wasn't DJ'ing, Seixas says, he stayed busy manning the cryo or doing other tasks to keep the party running. "I couldn't imagine being out in the crowd — it was just ten times worse. The stuff the staff had to deal with, I can't believe.”
Seixas bought neon latex cat-shaped sex suits from Japan, and different girls would take turns wearing them, humping strangers on the dance floor, and stirring drinks with their tails. There was never a night we didn’t climb all over the bars. Every surface became a stage, and every dancer a star. Every early morning, when the lights came up at 2 a.m., we’d shout, “If you’re not working here or fucking someone who works here, get the fuck out.”
Once, photographer Kyle Lokuta tried to stage-dive onto a raft but fell and hit his head. Another time, the crowd lovingly teased resident DJ Durante for his new haircut by printing giant cutouts of his head and carrying them all over the club.
“Liger was amazing not just because of how forward-thinking it was musically, but also how accepting the culture and community was,” says Durante, now a professional DJ and producer in Los Angeles. “I didn’t really relate to a whole lot of people in college, but at Liger, I really felt like I was at home. I had a family there.”
Liger spawned new weekly parties, such as Wednesday’s Blue Leopard and Friday’s Deep End. Things hit a fever pitch around 2012 with the Dirty Disco series. Seixas teamed up with David Sinopoli, a local promoter who would hire Seixas for open-format nights a few times a week. Sinopoli found inspiration in Liger’s “sea of madness.”
"I was impressed by how hard these kids were partying to electro," Sinopoli says. "Vijay is my dude. I respected his hustle, and his fashion was so on point. Also, we both loved the fuck out of Justice, so that's a good foundational piece for a friendship."
They joined forces to put on 2,000-person parties, booking acts including Steve Aoki, Skrillex, Wolfgang Gartner, and Madeon. You could actually profit from such bookings back then, before DJs were overpriced and the market oversaturated. It brought back some of Gainesville’s late-'90s reputation as an international dance music destination.
After about a year, Sinopoli moved to Miami, where he took a job booking acts for Bardot. He eventually founded III Points Festival and is now co-owner of Club Space. He came through to play the Liger-versary last year, a night I remember fondly if hazily.
“The coolest thing about it is that I actually don't think [Seixas] wanted to do the ten-year reunion,” James laughs. “I think he was kind of indifferent, but all the people wanted the ten-year reunion so bad. That’s what's so special about it: the clubgoers, the raver kids, the DJs, the bartenders, and everybody who was in that world. He created a place for them where they felt they belonged, where they had an identity. Even so many years after it's been gone, people are still demanding a reunion because they want it to live on. They want to go back to that place, and that's everything you strive for when you're doing a party.”
Liger officially disbanded about a month after its seventh anniversary. Seixas moved to Miami, where he continued to DJ, and Spannk was sold to new owners. Today the building houses a French bistro. I shudder to think of someone eating a sandwich where we once danced covered in fake blood.
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The night of Liger's eighth anniversary, Seixas and Rountree threw a party that drew a packed house to Gainesville’s Arcade Bar. Last year, they rented two clubs and the alleyway between them for the ninth anniversary. It was a sold-out shit show from beginning to end; tons of us flew in from around the country to relive our glory days. Out in the world, we’re bank VPs, lawyers, financial advisers, label managers, club owners, hairstylists, grad students, art directors, tech developers, photographers, web developers, PR reps, and even parents. But at Liger, once a year, we’re loud, colorful, haphazard, and probably insane. Most important, we’re a family, whether or not we make it to Gainesville.
“People made this happen because they wanted it to happen,” Seixas says. “I just helped facilitate it, and a lot of people helped me a ton... As long as we can cover the expenses, it’s really just a party for us. That's really all it is.”
Neon Liger Ten-Year Reunion. 8 p.m. Saturday, February 10, at the Wooly Event Hall, 20 N. Main St., Gainesville, thewoolyeventhall.com. Tickets cost $10. When 2 a.m. calls, if you're not working there or fucking somebody who's working there, get the fuck out.