Live Review / Photos: Dance Music Reflections – Deep Sugar @ Paradox (2009.01.10); Martyn and Joe Nice @ Hour Haus (2009.01.09)
All Photos: Josh Sisk
Dance—some Western creation myths favor a divine utterance rendering the visual (the Logos; Let there be Light!) Other traditions have the world arising from sound. But in the context of this article, one might find it enlightening to consider Shiva Nataraja and his dance of the 108 poses that engendered mortal existence. This belief, popular in Southern India, combines both the visual (dance) and the aural (rhythm) in a powerful synergistic way. Paradoxically, Shiva Nataraja’s swaying cosmic body forms both the Lasya, and the Tandava–the creation of the world, and the destruction of the world. Dance is literally the beginning, and the end. According to this Tamil belief, dance is not just a thing of beauty, or entertainment, but also the primal force of existence.
Why then Puritan America’s generalized abhorrence of dance? Why does dance music, and what follows—dancing to that music—carry such a heavy stigma in this country?
80s dance parties, ironic dance parties, hipster dance parties, just the general idea that dancing, rather than anything else, should be the focus of a party—these are all recent developments for Baltimore kids as was pointed out by Rjyan Kidwell at the most recent installment of Wham City’s lecture series. He was quick to add that this applied to white Baltimore kids, or in his case white suburban kids from North Baltimore County.
However, just because a certain demographic of a generation of Baltimoreans came up weaned on the influence of DC’s Dischord Records doesn’t mean that those dancing shoes came off for everyone. Yes, to fall into broad generalizations, Baltimore’s majority black population was dancing up a storm. Places like Odell’s and Godfrey’s saw the rise of an indigenous blend of house, hip-hop, hip-house, and UK rave that the national music press fawned over a few years back. But Baltimore club wasn’t always the de facto sound of this town. It was underground for a great many years, playing out in the shadows of House Music proper. Now, that has all changed. The various offshoots of Chicago’s House music (itself an offshoot of R’nB, Soul, Gospel, etc.) are now facing a crisis in this town, and indeed everywhere.
Like most things, music seems to move in cycles. It is very rare for something completely new to arise. Usually, a further formation of a pre-existing style emerges after the original scene collapses, and is stressed to the critical breaking. A diamond only appears after immense pressure is applied to basic carbon. Again, these are just some generalizations on my part.
Ultra Nate, promoter and one of the deejays behind the Deep Sugar monthly party, knows House music could fall soon. The loss of a venue for Shelter, a legendary House music night in New York, is in the back of her mind. Deep Sugar, like a fair number of electronic-based dance music parties in this city, has had a nomadic existence since it’s start. The party is currently housed at Paradox. It is a perfect, and hopefully lasting, fit.
Ah, House music. How do I convincingly put forth my ideas on this category of music without coming across as highly subjective and biased?
I should state that any type of music always has its detractors (though dance music seems to have more than most). Even under the broad umbrella of dance music, enthusiasts are myopic, closed-minded, and genre-particular. Ultra Nate, I think more than any promoter I’ve recently come across, strives for inclusiveness. Wayne Davis’s sound system at Paradox offers the best fidelity in this town, and Deep Sugar attracts some of the top House deejay talent (Frankie Knuckles, one of the genre’s originators, is coming soon!). But ultimately, it is the vibe from the crowd that makes this hands down, no questions asked, the best party in Baltimore for my money.
Deep Sugar partygoers distill all the elements of the genuine-but-misguided rave mantra PLUR into the only necessary ideal of that acronym—Respect. And I think this is worth emphasizing: for women going out to dance, being properly respected is a big deal. Also, for a straight white male in a party made up in part by gay black men, respect comes into play as well. But–let me stress–this party hammers home as thundering as the kick drum from the subs, and as piercingly clear as the “pea-soup” ride of the hi hats from the tweeters–these distinctions don’t matter–really, at all. Remember: “Who needs to think when your feet just go?”
Furthermore, I don’t think tawdry thoughts are in most minds while at Deep Sugar. This is a temple of worship, after all. The faithful come experience the almost spiritual feeling of House music on an amazing system, being played by veteran deejays, amongst fellow devotees. What other party hands out baby powder at the entrance (like a program for the worship service), just so people can spread it underneath and tear up the floor that much harder? I mean, I can think of some parties that basically handed out other white powders to people, but that isn’t what Deep Sugar is about. Here, the party staff recognize newcomers, and warmly welcome them.
Wait, what? Promoters that take the time to individually greet and remember patrons?
Deep Sugar represents a scene that was so extremely close to collapsing, but turned within, and came out for the better—battled hardened, and with a clear idea of what they are and aren’t. At its core is a supreme belief in the music.
Now for the contrast: Dubstep. The bass-heavy heir of drum and bass, raga, grime, and dancehall that was originally formed in England with heavy influences from Jamaica (obviously). It found a following in the Venn diagram overlap of fans from the wavering d’nb scene, and the up-and-coming grime crews. In America, to put it bluntly, this genre found favor amongst the same drug-addled, urban-styled-but-kicking-it-in-the-‘burbs retards that soaked up d’nb, and before that, rave. I am not knocking Dubstep, I love the music, but often find myself hating on the fans–or to use the popular d’nb message board insult—the “clones.”
Dubstep also faces a crisis (though not as dire as House music). It has gotten tagged as the “it” genre by the omnipresent canon of former indie blogs (now essentially the mainstream press outlets). Ah, the death-kiss-to-the-scene of satellite radio station XMU touting Burial as the newest, hottest thing in the “electronica world” (their words, not mine). Again, I love Burial, but hands off my music, indie bitch! The same goes for you bro/raver/hippy/wigger dubstep-clone combination!
In the dubstep world, at least in its derivative, watered-down existence in Baltimore, innovation is frowned upon. Some of the music I found most interesting in 2008 was a dubstep/techno hybrid as espoused by artists such as 2562. Included in that aural ilk is Martyn (pictured below left), formerly of Amsterdam–now residing in DC. He spun at a party two Fridays ago in Baltimore. I would have to say the diehard dubstep fans seemed disappointed—where were all the clichéd, and hackneyed hallmarks of the genre? Martyn was pushing boundaries—dropping acid tracks, and dense tribal rhythm loops closer to Jeff Mills than sparse minimalist kick/snare/hi-hat only drum machine beats of dubstep. The crowd seemed to be appeased when Baltimore native Joe Nice took the decks and dropped that familiar wobbly bass (so much for trying something new).
However, I should temper my criticism of the lack of enthusiasm compared to Deep Sugar. Obviously, Deep Sugar doesn’t deviate from House sub-genres too much. But there is a general attitude amongst the promoters, deejays, and patrons that if a track has got that swing, then play it no matter what sub-genre Discogs.com lists it as. Furthermore, what other genre of music makes people move as much as House? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Ultra Nate reached out to Shawn Caesar (president of Unruly Crew and longtime friend) to bring Baltimore club to the back room of Paradox. Unruly Crew accepted this welcoming gesture. After the hype they experienced a couple years ago, the label seemed eager to return to a focus on its foundation—the music.
“That is a great party that Ultra does, and she gave us an inviting hand. We told her we were definitely down,” said Shawn Caesar.
The Chavy Boys of London (side project of Scottie B, Shawn Caesar, and King Tutt) was featured in the back room at the most recent Deep Sugar party last Saturday, minus Scottie B. The project was founded as a way for all to get back to the fun of deejaying parties.
“This was born out of wanting to have fun as a deejay crew. Deejaying was the start of it all. It’s the fun part, when you have that crowd…that’s what it’s about,” said Caesar.
King Tutt added that the three deejays all bring something different to the decks, but as the demand for Baltimore club deejays grows past Baltimore, this presents new hurdles for the crew.
“The challenge now is getting us all in the same place, at the same time,” joked King Tutt. It should be added that at the time of interview and the party, Scottie B was making a tour of Australia.
But this kind of inclusion on the part of Ultra Nate, and the rest of Deep Sugar, points out the characteristic difference of this party compared to many others in Baltimore: they reach out to different scenes, and those scenes gladly want to be a part of such a thriving party.
Last Saturday at Deep Sugar, I danced literally all night without incident. On the previous night, Friday, shortly after the Martyn set I left after one of my friends confronted a guy about the really despicable things he was doing to a girl that obviously didn’t know him, and was barely aware of what was going on. Needless to say the asshole wanted my friend to mind his own business. The party staff thought the same thing, and clearly didn’t want us there anymore. I can’t think of a more telling contrast between the two parties.
If I had to think of reasons why dance music carries such a stigma, that incident–the barely conscious female, the predatory male (both surrounded by people too out of it to care), and the shady promoters trying make a buck off of it all—comes rushing to the front of my mind.
If I had to comprehend the grand spiritual power of Shiva Nataraja—the cosmic dancer that renews through destruction, and rebirths existence–I’d think of my experience of ecstasy dancing past dawn at Deep Sugar. Really, if you’ve never done it before, there is nothing like dancing for hours upon hours! Deep Sugar is the only place in town to get down for that long, the only place with music that kicking, and the only place with patrons that just straight-up want to dance.
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