Distant Thunder: Mighty's 10 Years in the Wilderness

It might not seem all that long, but a decade is a lifetime in club years. The nightlife industry is one of constant change, and, in all likelihood, those clubs that are popular today won't be tomorrow. And those venues that do manage to stick around can easily get trapped in a downward spiral of noise complaints, changing tastes, and diminishing returns. With that said, it's a testament to the vitality of Mighty that the warehouse-like Potrero Hill nightclub has managed to stay relevant for so long. December marks the passage of the venue's 10th year in San Francisco.

2013 has been a big year for Mighty. Earlier this year it installed a new EAW Club.two soundsystem and executed the first stage of a transformation that's revitalized the venue, making an already good space easily one of the best in the city. Clubs, however, don't come with built-in navigational systems, and in the case of Mighty, its recent direction is due to the efforts of a team headed by Sean Manchester and his wife, Isabel, who got their start with Wish Bar and Lounge, and recently purchased Project One.

When asked about the longevity of Mighty, Manchester responds modestly, saying that the key is in keeping a low profile and avoiding trendiness. "Because, as soon as you become trendy, it's the kiss of death." He should know, as he moved to San Francisco during the initial dot-com bubble, leaving an impressive nightlife tenure on the East Coast behind him. He got his start in Boston, rising slowly from coat checker to general manager, before making the jump into the labyrinthine network of clubs that made up '80s New York nightlife. "I used to be in awe of places like Palladium and Tunnel just for the absolute scale. But we'd also go to darker, dirtier places like Save the Robots." Later, Manchester found himself working for Studio 54 founder Ian Schrager, managing his international network of bars and clubs while picking up business tips on the side. "I certainly learned a lot," he says of Schrager, "though sometimes he'd slam his fists and say, 'Who are you to tell me about the nightlife business? I'm the one who invented it!'"

That East Coast mentality is felt in the club's aesthetic, which has always been tied to New York dance culture through its large, open layout, house-centric music focus, and overpowered soundsystem (the first of which was built by Richard Long Associates, the company behind almost every major New York dance club installation between the '70s and '90s). It was those qualities that led him to buy the club in 2006 from its original owners, Peter Glikshtern and Jefferson Whitmore (who both then went on to create Public Works). "We were in love with the ethos and vibe that it had," Manchester says. "It was underground, but still legitimate. And it still has that underground feel. It's more about the music than it is about the light show or the velvet rope or bottle service."

Another part of Mighty's success has been its remote location, which allows it to get away with cranking the volume without angering any neighbors. "Yeah, it's attractive because: no neighbors. The police department loves us because they never get calls or noise complaints because there's nobody complaining," Manchester says. By most standards, the club is in the middle of nowhere, sitting on an empty stretch of warehouses with only a UPS sorting facility for company. Its odd placement comes from Glikshtern, who had success in the late-'90s and early-'00s with a string of clubs in unlikely places: Liquid (now Slate), his first club, was infamous for being on the wrong side of Mission at a time when that meant something; similarly, Club Six, his second club, was the first major dance venue to attempt to tame the chaos of Sixth Street.

According to Manchester, the next few years will see Mighty undergo a mild face-lift. He says he wants to better incorporate the venue's second room, get additional acoustic treatment, and strip out the club's ventilation system. On that last point, he's emphatic. "When the room isn't full and the sound isn't all the way up, it rattles and sounds like a blown speaker. It drives me crazy." But these are all small changes, ones that won't alter the fundamental, unpretentious aesthetic that make it such an appealing place to spend a night out dancing.

This Saturday kicks off Mighty's monthlong 10th anniversary festivities, with an inaugural party headlined by 2manydjs, the disco-laced DJ side-project of Belgian dance rock duo Soulwax. Alongside periodic collaborator James Murphy, Soulwax recently made headlines for a series of "Despacio" nights in the U.K., which featured a reportedly life-changing custom-built 50,000 watt soundsystem. This, as it happens, is the same output as Mighty's newly installed speaker array.

 
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