20+ Years of Retronome
PUBLISHED ON CHURCH STREET DJS, BY JOSH KERMAN ON APRIL 7, 2019
To put it bluntly, Burlington Vermont is the home to many fascinating musical adventures. Many of which prove to be sustainable and have continued for years and even decades. You’re about to read the backstory of one adventure in particular that has seen over two decades of history, and countless memorable events which later lead to the publishing of a book. It is a Saturday night fever that can’t be slowed down. It has the disco beat that just can’t be beat. Mostly because it has been raised and nurtured by two very prominent Burlington Disc Jockeys, cRAIG mITCHELL and Kyle Thompson (aka DJ Fattie B.). Since October 1996 the night has been known to us all as: Retronome.
It all started in 1992, the year that Anne Rothwell began renting the space that is now known as Club Metronome. mITCHELL, twenty years young at the time, was a student at St. Michaels College and started working at Club Metronome on the side. Between 1992 to ’95, Rothwell explored viable concepts and musical themes to fit Club Metronome’s image that would resonate well with the locals. Rothwell and mITCHELL experimented with all sorts of musical variations and themed nights. Switching it up all the time to see what clicked. The formality of the night started off with a live band, followed by a DJ with no cover charge at the door. Due to Sunday Blue Laws, nightlife was only allowed to operate until 1am. “The night was a brief, but bonkers, two-hour window of commerce for the bar, door and floor,” said Rothwell. Between the years of 1995 to ’96, they experimented mostly with ‘disco’ themed nights such as “Disco Dance Explosion”, “Retro Dance Explosion” and an “80’s Night”. All of which became the cornerstone of “Retronome”.
Disco was a popular genre at Club Metronome and did very well. However, it was time to spice it up with a splash of 80’s pop and rock… as enough folks were already aboard the disco train… it couldn’t be the same old same old. “The goal was to step off the beaten path, musically” said mITCHELL. It became a party for the folks who were seeking for that musical diversity of Erasure, Guns N’ Roses, Flock of Seagulls, Ready For The World, Prince, The Cure and so much more!
Beginning in 1996, mITCEHLL’s good friend, Fattie B would begin to occasionally substitute when he was unavailable. DJing the night wasn’t the easiest gig, Rothwell remembers. After taking the reins for a few nights herself, Rothwell learned that the crowd could be quite rabid. Her admiration runs deep for “mITCHELL and Fattie B, as they have a gift for reading the crowd and knowing what their audience is anticipating next.” Rothwell describes her recollection of how Retronome was formed, simply as “trying to make lemonade out of what had become a lemon of a night.” And the name Retronome was simply a combining ‘Metronome’ with the ‘retro’ vibe of the night that Rothwell described as “just another bad pun on my part”.
Retronome was a hit before the public really knew about it. Before it's initial debut, “Rothwell heavily teased the upcoming Saturday night attraction with t-shirts reading ‘Retronome: DJ cRAIG mITCHELL’ and hung nondescript posters around town without ever really letting folks know what it was about,” said mITCHELL. During this time mITCHELL and DJ Little Martin had a very successful Tuesday night residency at Club Metronome, called ‘Martin & Mitchell’ that was focused around house, dance and techno. The success during Tuesday nights provided a strong platform to promote the forthcoming Retronome to a large and loyal following. As a result, the first night was crazy! The vibe was thick and lines went down the block. They were truly floored by the response that it got.
In 1999, mITCHELL decided to relocate to New York City and further develop his music career. He confidently handed over the reigns to DJ Fattie B. “I knew that Kyle was going to be based in Burlington and that he would continue to promote it and keep the night vibrant… and that he has!” said mITCHELL.
Since then, DJ Fattie B has kept the wheels turning for an astonishing twenty golden years!
When doing a weekly themed night for so long, a DJ has certain limitations as well as definitive expectations from the loyal patrons. When the night began, it was 70's and 80's music ONLY. So playing a weekly gig for 5 hours and playing 25 to 28 songs an hour means that you were locked into a playlist of 125 to140 songs a week. Given that many people wanted to hear their favorite and most-popular 75 to 85 classics in a single set, you were left with 50 to 75 off-the-beaten-path songs that could give the overall mix an extra flavor. This formula could drive a DJ mad, but it actually forced Fattie B. to dig deep for the 12" versions, remixes and alternative takes to keep the sets fresh. "This all lead me to be the DJ I am today, always hunting for mashups, re-edits and obscure versions of songs for my sets" Fattie shared. And as the years passed and the crowds became younger, the sets went from 70's and 80's to 80's and 90's and now even 2000's. In 2015, Fattie wrote and published a book on his adventures behind the decks for this iconic Burlington party. Titled 'I WAS A 400-POUND '80s DJ', the memoir shares short stories connected to certain songs that highlight the shenanigans that two decades of late night debauchery can produce.
Fattie shared his thoughts on reaching such a historic milestone. "20 years is so crazy to me. I have been blessed beyond belief to be in the driver’s seat of this never-ending party. I truly love being a DJ and am so thankful for all my years at Club Metronome. The joy that I have been lucky enough to bring to thousands of dancing locals (and tourists) that have passed through Metronome's door will always stay with me. My endless gratitude goes out to those who have allowed me to do my thing for two decades, especially: cRAIG mITCHELL, Nectar Rorris, Anne Rothwell, Mark Gauthier, Damon Brink, Chris Walsh, Noel Donnelly, Jason Gelrud, Ryan Clausen, Alex Budney and the best soundman ever: Sergei."