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Music Atomix energy fuels change of seasons 

After Sunset – A crawl through the San Antonio club scene

Everything feels cooler, crisper in the dark. After the orange-hot breath of summer had melted my core to a steaming pulp, overpowering autumn’s barely-noticeable arrival, I feared I was growing numb from lack of seasons.

Sluggish and uninspired, I could do little more than lay unconscious until I was drunk with boredom and sick with sleep. But then the hand of time pushed back an hour, as if pulling the string of a naked light bulb, and I found I could breathe again in the reprieve from the sun. Inside Atomix, under the dark, dim glow of lava lamps and purple walls, I found my spirit thawing, springing back to life.

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Miss DD takes to the dance floor during goth/industrial night at Atomix. (Photos by Mark Greenberg)

The days surrounding Halloween and Día de los Muertos always bring out the ritualist in me. The celebration of the dead walking the earth alongside the living excites me, as does its ceremony and symbology: dried sage leaves and pine needles up in flames carry the sweet scent of the earth; candlelight, incense, and skulls awaken the autumn inside me.

Atomix, formerly known as Sin 13, is the perfect modern venue for this ancient theme. The cherry-chestnut bar stretches along the black wall, bare and open like a coffin, and we kneel before it swallowing spirits and breathing smoke. Four neon paintings of the bride of Frankenstein look down on us like the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg as we toast away evil apparitions and sing along with the live recordings of Social Distortion.

1902 McCullough

The bartenders appear youthful and innocent, but looks can be deceiving; perhaps they are demons hiding in sheep’s clothing, manipulating the crowd with stiff cocktails whose potency is concealed in the cloak of plastic Solo cups. Looking back at the entrance of Atomix (seemingly the only exit as well), where the black-clad door girl with the vague twinkle in her eye sits munching Cheetos while collecting the $3 cover, I wondered if I might be in a bar at the edge of the world, like the one in Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s From Dusk ’Til Dawn, surrounded by vampires with thick lips and tight skin. But there are no strippers draped with snakes and no bikers or misfits, really. For the most part, the place is sprinkled with academic punks in black t-shirts and glasses, sporting cell phones and masters degrees.

Bodies gather under the purple twinkle of the disco ball, cozy under black hoodies snatched from dark closets at the first touch of cool weather. Somewhere in the distance I overhear someone say that the first band cancelled due to their tour van having caught fire. Anxious for loud music to throb through their veins, those gathered in front of the stage stand twitchy and fidgeting as The Spark take their time setting up. I am content to participate in the ritual of live music patronage from the comfort of my bar stool.

Without warning, The Spark break into a fever of blurred fingers and pounding fists, cracking my brain until it reaches a state of vertigo. The crowd quickly falls under the spell of amped-up pentatonic scales ripping through the room like lightning, like metal sawing through metal.

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Patrons gather around the bar at Atomix as the classic horror film Poltergeist plays on the big screen in the back of the club.

I’m similarly entranced, and can’t distinguish between the drumbeat and my pulse. Fast chaotic changes begin to sound out of control and then the two flailing instruments merge into one sound, one tempo. The music is fast and multi-dimensional, seeming to rise and take form above the drums and bass guitar, born through the medium of mere mortal instrumentalists. Like a whip, it rattles my psyche until my thoughts bleed out of me in random streams. I begin to think about Faulkner and hatred, machine guns and Vietnam, red beans, bananas, and algebra. And then it’s all over, once again without warning, and I snap back to reality.

The two guys in The Spark quietly take down their drum kit and amps, almost unaffected, as the rest of us become aware of our newfound energy. Inspired by the organic musical experience given by The Spark, Animals of the Bible hop on stage, plug cords into sockets, and begin an equally intense (though slightly more formulaic) bout of instrumental assault.

As I watch the crowd grow in size and in giddiness, consuming the music and sharing its fury, I feel the dead rising back to life, brushing away the ashes of summer.

By Brooke Palmer

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September 9, 2020

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