Gazing upward at the high ceiling inside The Beacham, DJ Kimball Collins reflects on the role that the building itself had on the mystique of AAHZ, the progressive house-music parties that put Orlando on the international map as a hotbed of electronic music in the early 1990s.
"There was no way to explain it," says Collins, 45, who will be manning turntables on Wednesday, July 3 at AAHZ Legacy (The Final Reunion), a celebration that also will include DJs Dave Cannalte, Chris Fortier and host Stace Bass, all fixtures on the AAHZ crew in its heyday.
"We always wanted people to come experience it here," Collins says of the Beacham. "This is like our Studio 54; there's just something about this room."
Between roughly 1989 and 1992, AAHZ blossomed into a weekly all-night Saturday dance party that attracted devoted fans who would travel from across the state to dance until daylight. Before becoming an AAHZ DJ, Fortier was one of those fans, traveling from Melbourne for the intense music and lights.
He recalls his first AAHZ encounter in cinematic terms.
"There's a scene in the movie '54,' when one of the characters walks into the club for the first time and everything just slows down and it's sensory overload," Fortier says. "Well, that's really what this was like for me. As soon as we walked in that first night, I turned to my friends and said, 'We're coming here every week!'"
Fortier became one of the aspiring DJs who stood all night next to Collins, watching the way he changed the mood on the floor by changing records. Fortier, 42, is now an internationally known DJ and head of his own label, Fade Records, one of the numerous successful careers launched at AAHZ.
Collins considers Fortier the "third wave" of DJs in the AAHZ legacy. Collins, the second phase, was influenced by Cannalte's record-spinning at the wildly popular alternative-music night Spit, where the two started working together at the now-defunct Park Avenue nightclub in the late 1980s.
"It was heaven for me," Collins says.
At the same time, Cannalte was challenged by the way his new partner constantly pushed new underground music into the mix. At the time, it was customary for DJs to stick with a formula that worked.
"By him taking chances, it made me want to take chances," says Cannalte, 55.
That philosophy yielded AAHZ, a concept eternally beloved by its fans and those who created it.
"Many long-lasting friendships have developed because of the time folks spent at AAHZ," says Bass by email from Cleveland. "The legacy left behind is a positive one."
To maintain the integrity of that legacy, Collins and the others have decided that Wednesday's reunion will be the last in a series of such as events staged since the late 1990s. There's also a mini AAHZ documentary in the planning stages.
"I don't know anywhere where they are as dedicated, devoted and passionate about something that happened so long ago in a nightclub," Collins says. "It's managed to hold a reverence for people and that means a lot to us. We would never want to run this into the ground."
Nor would they host a reunion anywhere but the Beacham.
"It still has some sort of energy in here for them," Collins says, looking around the room. "We feel it."
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(The Final Reunion)
What: AAHZ Reunion with DJs Kimball Collins, Dave Cannalte, Chris Fortier and host Stace Bass
When: 9 p.m. Wednesday, July 3
Where: The Beacham, 46 N. Orange Ave., Orlando