In 1986, house music crept like kudzu from the Midwest down to the deep south, trailing DJ Ron Pullman’s storied migration from Austin to Atlanta. “Atlanta’s godfather of house” became known as one of the few DJs in the city spinning strictly house sets. The sound became a sort of special sauce for disc jockeys citywide, who were playing disco at the time.
Pullman was later joined in Atlanta by genre champions Tedd Patterson, Kai Alce, DJ Kemit, Jeff Myers, and Tommie Sunshine, who were drawn to the burgeoning southern hub of house from evergreen dance music communities like Chicago and New York. By the mid-90s, the Atlanta rave scene had exploded in clubs and warehouses from Buckhead to West End.
But with the new millennium came tides of change, as new regulations shuttered 24-hour venues and cracked down on the underground. Tensions between residential districts and the clubs they housed reached a breaking point when Baltimore Ravens star linebacker Ray Lewis was charged with the murder of two men outside Buckhead’s Cobalt Lounge on Super Bowl Sunday in 2000. As the dance scene was regrouping, hip-hop and trap grew in popularity in Atlanta and beyond, led by Southside and Lex Luger’s 808 Mafia.
In recent years, trap juggernauts like Mayhem, Heroes x Villains, and the beloved, late Speakerfoxx — the DJ for Yelawolf and Three 6 Mafia’s Gangsta Boo — put Atlanta’s beat-making scene on the map. Trap remains one of Atlanta’s major dance music exports; the prevalent boom of the 808 seemingly intertwined with the city’s pulse to this day. Underground mainstays like Alley Cat Music and Project B keep the renegade party spirit alive, and House In the Park — Atlanta’s legendary house music festival founded in 2005 by Ramon Rawsoul and Kai Alce — brings upwards of 10,000 house devotees to Grant Park annually to celebrate the city’s rich dance music heritage.
Here are the best places to go out dancing on any given night in Atlanta.
One floor below a bustling corner of Ponce de Leon Avenue in Midtown is a blink-and-you-might-miss-it Atlanta clubbing institution. Shielded from the ravages of development above is MJQ Concourse, a multi-room underground dance oasis that’s been in business since 1994. Dancers literally descend into MJQ’s colorful subterranean wonderland down a concrete ramp, welcomed by a mélange of technicolor murals. A grab bag of body-moving sonic tones across several distinct environments create a natural flow throughout the industrial space, reminiscent of European super-clubs.
MJQ’s history lies in Atlanta’s rowdy rock scene and its former life as punk venue/bar in the basement of the Ponce Hotel. Today, one can expect a rotation of local and touring DJs spinning an eclectic mix of EDM, pop, indie and hip-hop with the same unapologetic attitude that put MJQ on the map.
As the name suggests, music and food meet at Sound Table. This intimate, industrial space at the intersection of Edgewood and Boulevard is home to culinary delights and inventive cocktails. Plus, from Wednesday to Sunday, the place gradually transforms into a club space by nightfall, with electronic sounds ranging from downtempo to velvety hip-hop and soul reverberating off exposed brick. From a trendy dinner date to a night of pure grooving, the Old Fourth Ward gem’s hip, unassuming ambience is a hit.
Historic cultural district Edgewood Avenue’s ever-evolving nightlife landscape is home to a proper underground dance venue in Music Room. A cheeky boombox storefront signals the auditory delights within, beckoning patrons to get down beneath larger than life knobs and faders. The dimly lit club is nestled just a floor below ground, but it feels like a world away from the bustling street above it. Thick smoke fills the musky air as sweaty bodies undulate to the groove beneath faux vines and a collections of disco balls, with sounds ranging from groovy house and disco to hard-hitting techno.
A new Vegas-style giant has risen in the heart of Midtown. With design reminiscent of recording studios from the ’70s, Ravine is a warm, wood-paneled disco-fever dream. Its award-winning state-of-the-art system is outfitted with 120,000 watts of pristine Funktion-One sound and approximately 100 lighting fixtures. VIP tables flank the dance floor, but the high-end atmosphere is far from exclusionary, as eclectic patrons of all walks of life can find a home to express themselves on Ravine’s dance floor.
As one of the city’s premiere upscale clubbing spaces, Ravine brings in a steady stream of top-tier international DJ talent from the likes of Camelphat, Disclosure, and Kaskade. The venue is now also diversifying its programming to include art shows, block parties and other community-minded events, while also forging a reputation as a multi-platform production studiod servicing Atlanta’s booming film industry.
Little Five Points is a legendary Atlanta artistic hub, and that energy coalesces at Aisle 5. The kicked-back dive bar hosts touring artists ranging from electro funk and experimental bass to world music, with recent acts ranging from Roni Size, Full Crate and Channel Tres. No matter the soundtrack, local music lovers are attracted to Aisle 5’s laidback, no frills space. Flow arts such as gloving and hula hooping abound when electronic acts play the venue, and it’s common to rub elbows with a headlining DJ milling amongst the crowd.
There’s something undeniably sublime about raving in a church, and Atlanta is now home to an establishment that offers the holy opportunity. Just south of downtown at Believe Music Hall, lasers scatter into fractals and reflect off stained glass windows as bass reverberates from the vaulted cathedral ceiling.
Hands in the air point toward the heavens as touring DJs, primarily in the bass and house spaces, bring the heat to the 2,000-person-capacity space. The newest venture from Iris Presents, the promotion company behind Atlanta’s Imagine Music Festival, Believe infuses the brand’s legendary energy into a unique new territory in the hallowed halls of the picturesque 1900s era church. Moving into a space of their own has also allowed Iris to expand their offerings beyond EDM into monthly Latin and reggae events and make enhancements to the space, including a patio that will soon be home to outdoor events and mini festivals.
No list about where to dance in Atlanta would be complete without the local wax-slinging institution Criminal Records. Founded by Record Store Day co-founder Eric Levin over 20 years ago, the Little Five Points mainstay has grown into a counter-cultural wonderland, with local art, comic books and Funko Pop figurines lining the maze of aisles.
Criminal’s vinyl soul is also very much alive and well, with an extensive collection of new and used records that grows increasingly deep the further back into the shop one ventures. Precious details like hand-decorated labels throughout the sea of records remind you that in a streaming world, a little human touch goes a long way. Crate diggers can flip through classic house and disco cuts while taking in the telltale vintage scent that wafts through the air.
Beneath a constellation of more than 300 floating orbs lies an artfully converted warehouse space known as District. The sprawling compound is nestled down the road from Sweetwater Brewery on Armour Drive, where Midtown dissolves into Buckhead. Despite its industrial bones (the building was erected in the 1950s as an armory depot for the military), the decor of District feels distinctly organic. Each detail, from the venue’s crown jewel fully programmable Orbis Fly kinetic ceiling to the gently curving DJ booth, evokes the sense that the space itself is a living, breathing organism. District attracts top names across dance genres, from Baauer to Gareth Emery to John Digweed to Nicky Romero. And after working up an appetite at the club, stop by locally famous 24-hour R Thomas Deluxe Grill for a wide selection of healthy and hearty eats to satisfy vegans, vegetarians and carnivores alike.