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John Redden: Master of Ceremonies.

July 22, 2013

Barbary01small Text and images by Rick Kauffman.

Everything that happens in The Barbary is manufactured by meticulous design — the lights, temperature, music volume, even the employees and attendees. All are micro-managed to an extent by one man, John Redden.

He tweaks decks and flips nobs as a hundred-plus fill his bar to capacity. He’s bare-chested in a zipper-clad black leather vest, revealing his extensively tattooed torso and arms. A swarm of bats dyed into his skin crawls up his neck. On his jugular notch lies a black anchor with the text “Est. 2007,” marking the date he took ownership of The Barbary on Frankford Avenue. During “Hands and Knees” parties, attendees are stamped with a matching anchor on the back of their right hand.

Girls seductively dance on top of tables, beckoning boys closer. It’s all a show, just a tease.

Barbary02smallBut like flies to a zapper, boys creep closer and closer. Then, they are shocked to receive a dousing of beer from the once-writhing girls.

Alongside fellow DJs Ian Saint Laurent, Scott Ackerman and Luke Goodman, Redden operates a double dose of mixers, decks and laptops. With the turn of a few dials, a custom-made “Hands and Knees” sign flashes behind them and the fog machine rolls a plume of vapor over the crowd.

He makes it all happen.

Barbary03smallBarbary04smallBarbary05smallRedden started venturing to Philly to catch R5 shows while he was a finance student at Villanova University. He was not from a family of means but his mother worked at Villanova and was able to send her three children there for free. Redden never quite fit in at that college – he was more punk rock than the preppy chic.

Eventually, he found an apartment in Fishtown where he lived with five guys in four bedrooms. They split the $700 per month in rent.

“The area was super sketchy,” Redden remembers. “But the houses were so cool and huge, and rent was dirt cheap.”

Soon afterward, with just a little money saved up, he decided to buy a house. Slowly, the value of the area started to increase, so he refinanced his home, now dubbed “The Barbary Mansion.” He lives with Saint Laurent and Barbary bartender/An Albatross singer/resident DJ Eddie Gieda III.

Redden was able to work the real estate market, ultimately owning various properties in the area. He worked a day job for the newly expanding Vitamin Water company, which looked to him to expand within Philadelphia. He never had any aspirations to be a club owner, though. DJing was his hobby, his passion. He liked throwing parties.

In 2005, Redden and his twin sister, Danielle, started throwing a party called “Socket” at Silk City. Later, he and Saint Laurent started throwing “Hands and Knees” every Friday at the M Room. He originally approached the old owners of The Barbary and received an ironic response.

“We don’t want any hipster bullshit in here,” they told him.

Then one day, Redden saw a “for sale” sign on The Barbary building and he set up a meeting.

“I was getting really sick of working regular jobs and shit,” Redden reminisces

By financing his various endeavors and finding a partner in purchasing the bricks of the building, Redden became the owner of The Barbary at the age of 27. He installed a top-of-the-line EAW sound system, heavily renovated the entire upstairs and offered the city a gay-friendly, punk-loving, dance-heavy hipster hangout.

Using his connections, Redden essentially grabbed up all the best DJs in the city to play his new club. Spank Rock did a weekly Monday party called “Jang House.” Gregg Foreman, Eddie Gieda and his brother Michael did “Turnaround vs. Immediate.” Making Time’s Dave P. packed the joint many, many times.

Every night was designed differently. To this day, that formula remains the same.

Eddie Gieda hosts an all-vinyl, punk and glam rock party, “Guitar Army.” Fame Lust photographer Mario Manzoni makes everyone wear black and red at his monthly party, “Cruel Intentions.” There’s an all-emo party, “Through Being Cool” (formerly MakeOutClub) and Katie Brazina’s dark-anthem and pop-ballad party, “Leather.” Pizza Brain visionary Brian Dwyer brings free pies for the hip-hop house party, “WYYLDESTYLE.” The weekly Monday night indie dance party, “Tigerbeats” is a Philadelphia favorite. Barbary staffer Chris Doyle regularly throws all-ages shows.

“John has created truly an artists venue,” says Gieda. “You can pretty much come up with an idea and if it makes sense, he’ll run with it.”

The ability for artists to create with total freedom is Redden’s dream. He’s very understanding with his staff, most of whom are musicians who travel for weeks at a time.

“The Barbary is the one true DIY venue,” says Brazina, host of the Thursday night party, “Leather.” “They’ll help you out with specials, bring in DJs and the crowd so you can have your party. Even if you’re playing electronic music, it’s pretty punk rock.”

“I really try to make it as DJ-friendly as possible,” Redden acknowledges. “it’s just my work ethic. When I’m there, I’ll be fucking around with the lights or telling the bartender this or the door-guy that. I’m trying to constantly make sure everything is right.”

Back amongst the smoke, Redden and Saint Laurent share a cigarette shielded by the screen of vapor while they shift back and forth on DJ duties all night. After years of tried and true practice, DJing is automatic to Redden.

He also just so happens to be the boss at the best dance club in the city.

“I’m pretty whimsical when it comes to things,” says Redden. “And when an idea gets in my head, I just go for it. Sometimes I get burned but sometimes it works out really well.”

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