Magic City holds a special place in the heart of the city of Atlanta.
Since 1985—when Michael “Magic” Barney bought the property—Magic City has been more than a strip club, it’s been a gateway to a place unreal. A place where wealth is the wardrobe, money is the language, hip-hop is the sound, and naked women are the rulers.
If the walls could talk, they would speak three decades worth of steel poles and Black ballerinas, dead presidents and dope boys, hot wings and famous rappers.
Monday nights at Magic City are something of a ritual. The weekly summoning to experience a fever dream at its most frantic. While money touches the top of the ceiling and the bottom of stilettos, across town, in a spacious venue aptly titled Monday Night Brewing, a different kind of fantasy unfolds.
Press Start, a weekly event hosted by Controllerise, allows patrons to choose their own adventure for a reasonable admission; a unique alternative for nightlife on Mondays in Atlanta. The venue offers 16 monitors just for console video games, a projector playing selected anime, live sets from renowned and unknown DJs and producers, and plenty of space for dancing, board games, cards, and other forms of personal entertainment.
The mixture of these cultures isn’t a surprise—they all co-exist online and on social media—but combining them seamlessly in the physical requires resources, an ample enough space, and vision. Press Start is what happens when you have all three.
Essentially, the premise is to take isolated forms of entertainment like watching anime, playing video games, and listening to lo-fi hip-hop, and offer customers a chance to enjoy them as a community. In their own words, via the Controllerise website, “We built this platform, so all the beat heads, anime geeks, art nerds, skaters and everybody else on that mellow wave had somewhere to vibe at.”
At its genesis, before a night of anime, video games, and lo-fi hip-hop was realized, the concept began in 2016 when, Controllerise founder, Atlanta-born producer Blkcubes, decided to pursue his vision of an all-instrumental event. At a generous price, Blkcubes was able to book The Music Room as the event’s venue.
One day, while scrolling through Facebook, Blkcubes saw STLNDRMS (Stolen Drums), an Atlanta-based, Detroit-born producer during his ongoing, twice-a-week live show, BEATS+CHILL, where the beatsmith plays mixes and creates a new beat from scratch. Following a Facebook exchange, the two met at a Korean bakery, a chance gathering ending with a name: Controllerise. STLNDRMS built the website and started on the early branding. Blkcubes set up the socials and began designing fliers. The idea started to take shape.
In July, while standing outside of Church on Edgewood, Blkcubes explained how one ambitious idea from their first night shaped the kind of platform they hoped Controllerise would become. “The original idea was to have a section of the show where we have a local anarchist and political activist come out and talk about their platform; like a zine onstage. It didn’t go so well,” he begins with a laugh. “But the idea was to be community-oriented.”
“What developed from that first event is our vision of inclusion. We don’t limit our stage to anyone of a certain gender, color, or any abstraction of fucking concepts. Just come fucking play. Controllerise isn’t just a space for people of color, but it is a fucking safe place for people of color to attend.” —Blkcubes
Almost on cue, STLNDRMS, Controllerise founder and weekly DJ chimes in: “It’s a no-weird-shit space. A no-Hollywood space. There’s no green room for artists.”
Comfort is what Controllerise promises every week at Press Start. It’s a place where you can park without worry and attend fearlessly in the company of those who wish to have a good time. Over the past three years, only one controller was reported stolen, and two people passed out. “They weren’t drunk,” STLNDRMS informs with a smirk. “They passed out cause they hit the backwood.”
The sly joke doesn’t dismiss the importance of the people who join them every week. They believe the customer experience is more important than anything else:
“People don’t buy experiences, products, or businesses, people buy themselves. If people resonate with something you’re doing, they’ll support you. People come to Controllerise because they’re the same as us and we’re the same as them. That’s why I can speak with an actual gangbanger. I can leave him and walk over and have a conversation with people from a TV station. Walk past a touring painter and then hop on the stage with two DJs who are nationally known. There’s a reason why all these people can be in one room.” —STLNDRMS
Although Controllerise began at The Music Room, a venue they praise for being a loyal and supportive space, their transition from music to multimedia didn’t occur until their move to Slice, a former pizza restaurant on Piedmont Avenue that’s now The Original Hot Dog Factory. Slice, unlike The Music Room, had WiFi and televisions.
STLNDRMS was able to bring his equipment from home to broadcast a Boiler Room-inspired stream through Facebook. They ran, “Anime, beats, and chill” ads which brought attendees from all over the world. Fat Man Slim, a friend, inspired the decision to incorporate a Playstation. Slice is where Controllerise found its aesthetic; the sauce that would separate them from other Atlanta-based platforms.
This move was made possible thanks to Controllerise weekly host MICXSIC (Mic Sick), a Phillippines-born, Atlanta-based emcee and entertainer who met STLNDRMS at the annual event he runs, The Freestyle Experiment. A quick friendship led the three minds to meet and discuss plans to work together.
“My thing coming into it, and I said it when we first met, I either try to make history or make money. If I can make both, cool,” Mic remembers. He saw Controllerise as a significant event, but to create a great experience requires more than great ideas.
“I explained to them that this is necessary; this is needed. My main thing, early on, I wanted to make sure if I did help, if I did come to the table, that Controllise would be something we could sustain. A lot of people have great ideas and will do something, but eventually, the business doesn’t make sense or something you overlook comes up. You do it once, twice, maybe three times and then it starts to fall apart. I wanted to make sure if we did it, we did it correctly, so we can keep doing it.” —MICxSIC
The brain trust of Blkcubes, STLNDRMS, MICxSIC, and their family of supporters have solidified Controllerise as a trusted environment for counter-cultures to mingle. There’s pride in their voices as they speak of the patrons of various backgrounds who arrive each week with varying interests.
Since their first show at Slice, the underground arcade and lo-fi kickback has remained a weekly event. “It means something when you can say, ‘On Monday, this is what you do in Atlanta,’” STLNDRMS says, adding, “I learned that from Low End,” a nod to the former epicenter that housed L.A.’s prestigious beat scene.
The commitment to consistency adds value to the micro-convention. That’s why Controllerise is a perfect contrast to Magic City. Magic City gives the American Dream, the intersection of money and sex, while Controllerise is the American Hope. A safe place encouraging being yourself while providing options for entertainment to the tune of music played nowhere else. Think Cheers, but instead of everyone knowing your name, everyone is equal. Everyone is family.
By Yoh, aka STLNYOH, aka @Yoh31