Bittersweet celebration


POSTED: Friday, October 09, 2009

When thirtyninehotel celebrates its five-year anniversary tomorrow night, the festivities promise to be bittersweet.

The venue that helped spark an arts and entertainment movement — which continues to grow and thrive today — will lose one of its most vital components when Mark Chittom departs for New York City later this month. It's safe to say that without him, Chinatown wouldn't be the nightlife destination it is today.

“;In so many ways, he's always supported me,”; said Gelareh Khoie, who teamed up with Richard E.Y. Ralya and Harvey “;DJ Harvey”; Basset to open the nightspot in June 2004. “;I'm devastated. He's been my number one ally in this sort of 'disco jihad,' if you will.”;

Chittom was one of the first people to embrace the downtown Honolulu neighborhood as a late-night destination in the mid-'90s, starting off as an nightlife columnist for the Honolulu Weekly before promoting his own parties.

He arrived in Honolulu as a Navy medic in 1991, but was discharged for medical reasons within a year. Following stints at Kapiolani Community College and the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Chittom started writing concert reviews.

“;It was around the time the Beastie Boys came and played at Turtle Bay,”; he said on Monday. “;My first column was a week later.”;

That was June 1995, when cruising down Waikiki's Kalakaua Avenue was a weekend highlight and “;if you were gonna go to a club, you went to the Wave Waikiki.”; Pink's Garage, Liquids and The Attic were some of the other options back then, but local residents weren't necessarily interested in the music as much.

“;The whole club culture thing didn't really catch on until a few years later,”; said Chittom. “;Certain DJs were playing club music, but the average person at the club was just there to drink.”;

In his weekly column, “;Clubbed to Death,”; Chittom quickly learned that straightforward reporting would be a hard sell. Thankfully, his superiors at the time gave him a long leash and encouraged him to develop his own editorial voice.

“;The people they had covering nightlife were getting burnt out because they couldn't handle the criticism,”; he explained. “;So I knew if I was going to do this, I had to be very thick-skinned about it.

“;I always wanted to be informative and entertaining ... and I definitely liked the idea of shocking people, or just making provocative comments just for the reaction. I started off when I was 25 (years old) and I had this forum, so I was gonna be self-indulgent with it.”;

Within a few short years, “;Clubbed to Death”; was must-read material in a city with a dearth of quality entertainment writing.

But Chittom was also getting into spinning records and throwing his own parties, and soon discovered it was too difficult to straddle the fence between covering the club scene and being part of it himself. He managed to continue writing after hosting his first party at Indigo in 1997, although it didn't take long for him to notice a change amongst his fellow promoters.

“;Other people around town started looking at me in a different way,”; he said. “;Before, I was someone who could maybe help them out. Now, I was competition. ... I was starting to get burned out, too.”;

According to Chittom, it was “;2000 or 2001”; when he wrote his final column for the Weekly and turned to promoting full-time. The change allowed him to pursue additional DJ gigs, including a new style of party that brought local artists into contact with the club scene.

“;Gelareh was an artist, and I noticed there was a community of artists who were always showing together,”; he said. “;I'd go to their art openings and it was almost like a little party, and all the same people would be there.

“;I knew I could pull the club scene people, and I knew they would appreciate the art scene, but there was no link between the two.”;

So in February 2000, Chittom and Khoie partnered to launch “;Velvet,”; a bi-monthly party at Cafe Che Pasta. Khoie said she “;did all the art,”; while Chittom “;did all the music.”;

Art and music — sound familiar? Even before thirtyninehotel opened its doors, Khoie and Chittom were perfecting the formula that countless other venues and promoters now use every first Friday throughout Chinatown. At the time, however, the concept was groundbreaking.

While Chittom didn't formally join the thirtyninehotel payroll until 2007, he had been an integral part of venue's growth since it opened.

It was Chittom's idea to bring in world-class DJs from the mainland to help educate and inspire local club kids. He also helped guide the late-night offerings at thirtyninehotel in a direction that would ensure its viability in the years to come.

“;I think that Mark is the person in Hawaii who has been taking it to the next level for a while,”; said Khoie. “;It's ironic that he's leaving now, because only now people are beginning to realize his value.”;

After 19 years of living in Hawaii, Chittom realizes that there's no better time than the present to make his next move. With successful promoting and DJ careers to his credit, he sees New York as the next level to conquer.

“;I'm going up with Ryan Kunimura,”; he said. “;He and I have this music project we've been working on ... called Bumbye. We call it 'psychedelic disco.'

“;The fact is, you're not gonna break out of your local community unless you're putting out records. That's how it works — you establish yourself as a producer, and then you can make it as a DJ.

“;I've been DJing for like, 13 years or something, so I figure I have enough experience at that. So I want to go up there and put out records.”;

Before he goes, Chittom will team with DJ Juan Nunez for one more night of aural pleasure. Luckily, he promises to return “;at least once a year”; for guest appearances and quality time with the friends he's leaving behind.

“;As long as thirtyninehotel is here, I'll keep coming back,”; he said. “;I know I can speak for everyone who's been involved in 39 from the beginning — we're all amazed and really grateful that we've been able to do it for this long, and on our own terms.

“;I believe it's gonna keep going.”;




thirtyninehotel's 5-Year Anniversary

        with Mark Chittom and special guest DJ Juan Nunez

» Where: thirtyninehotel, 39 N. Hotel St.
        » When: 8 p.m. tomorrow
        » Cost: $15 (presale tickets available)
        » Info: 599-2552 or www.hsblinks.com/uu