Go to any fancy coastal city, and the options flash you openly: the slow early part of the week comprises club nights, filled with potential; you can just as easily hear whatever the hell you want, from drum & bass to deep house to armchair electronica, on a Tuesday as you can on a Saturday. The clubs are down with the kids and know that the weekly 40-hour grind means nada.
Aside from a few great evenings at a particular club we've vowed not to prop for a while, though, the early part of the club week in St. Louis has, in general, been dull, dull, dull. But in the last couple months, several out-of-the-blue celebrations have popped up in relatively unlikely spots, and, joy of joys, they're gradually pulling in the people, proof that the city's everlasting arms are open wide to daily beats.
One of the convenient aspects of DJ culture is the ease with which it supports community; unlike a rock band that needs a vanful of equipment to set up and tear down for a performance, all a DJ needs are his or her records and a shared pair of turntables. Because of this, an evening of DJs can support a half-dozen of 'em. In this sense, it's similar to a guitar circle in folk music: A group of like-minded souls interested both in learning and sharing music gather to strut their stuff and do a bit of ego-battling.
Tuesday nights, the Red Sea's basement rumbles with Juice, an evening filled with some of the best DJs in town playing tag-team on the turntables. Juice is the brainchild of jungle DJ Matt Hunt, who's been pounding the St. Louis pavement for the last couple years trying to get something exciting going, first at Pablo's and then at Cicero's. Finally, Hunt was approached by the Red Sea a few months ago, and asked to work out a Tuesday roster: "I took the night, and instead of doing a particular kind of music all the time, I wanted to make it an open forum for all the DJs in St. Louis to have a chance to come out and do their thing -- do whatever they want, formulate groups of DJs to play together, to program the music for the evening."
The cavernous basement, which is problematic for rock bands because of the wall-to-wall concrete booms the bass when it's filled with jungle, house and hip-hop. "As the weeks progress," says Hunt, "I try and take it on a straight line -- not skip around too much." He moves from like-minded subgenres like hip-hop to drum & bass in a single evening but tries to stay away from mixing too many in a single evening. Past weeks have featured DJ Fluxus, Phil Decker from the Bionic Crew, DJs Needles and B-Money, spinning hip-hop, and DJ Ses, who has, among other feats, perfected a blending of jungle beats and Roy Ayers' "Everybody Loves the Sunshine."
Tuesday, March 14, B-Wise from the Faded Crew spins dance-hall and Jamie D from the Bionic Crew spins raga. Upcoming weeks will feature nights devoted to breakbeat and house (starring Don Tinsley of the great Solid Union collective, who offer worthy Tuesday competition in the form of phenomenal house music across town on South Grand), ghetto house and electro.
Thursday nights, the place to be these days is Kearbey's on Lindell (right next door to Govinda's vegetarian restaurant). The night is called Natural Selection and is organized by Chris Schuller, a.k.a. Jumpstart.
Kearbey's is one of the strangest and coolest spaces in the city. Built in the early 1960s from the ground up as part of Hef's chain, the Playboy Club, the space glimmers with a '60s go-go vibe. The first floor isn't all that special, mainly because all the Budweiser crap -- banners and neons and flags -- steals the beauty away from the structure like a wart on a pretty face.
But climb the elegant spiral staircase -- everyone's graceful when they're waltzing up it -- and immediately you're in an old-school discotheque. Colorful mod rectangles are embedded in the walls, an L-shaped parquet dance floor lines the room and, best of all, a circular sunken lounge area, smack-dab in the middle, sits perched above the first floor like a bird's nest.
It's the perfect space for any dance music, yes. A particularly glorious space for drum & bass, especially while you're lounging in the nest, it affords the opportunity to sprawl comfortably as huge music pours out of the speakers.
As with Juice, jungle is the electronic subgenre of choice at Natural Selection, the center around which all the others must orbit (a curious fact, because house and trance seem to rule the big parties). Jumpstart has booked some of the city's best jungle spinners, including Tré, Jim K. (who was on it last Thursday), B-Wise and Chozen One, and has complemented them on various weeks with a plethora of house, breakbeat and hip-hop DJs: Jeff Feller, Ken Dussold, B-Money, Needles and others.
WAY OUT FLUX: Last week we reported that the Way Out Club's move to its new digs on South Jefferson Avenue was imminent, that the big grand-opening bash was to occur last Friday. Or so we -- and everyone involved -- thought. But alas, it was not to be. Three days before, just after RFT publication, city bureaucracy in the form of confusing, outdated zoning laws put the nix on the move until a required hearing, one that no one anticipated, takes place.
"I don't think anybody knew that this was going to come up," explains Way Out owner Bob Putnam. "I talked to (7th Ward Ald.) Phyllis Young before I ever bought the building. I said, "If there's any problem with zoning, any reason why you don't want it, let me know it now before I buy the building.' And she said, "Well, there's not.' It was one of those things that comes up on a computer and there's no way around it, but it's a pain in the ass."
In addition to ruining the scheduled grand opening, the required hearing blindsided owners Putnam and Sherri Lucas and has turned into a stressful situation for them; after reassurance from all quarters that the move would be relatively simple and friction-free, the two bought the new bar and dumped a load of money into its renovation but now are being forced to pay bills on two Way Out Clubs simultaneously, something the modest club's owners didn't anticipate.
So now the new Way Out Club must simply wait -- though the Cherokee location will remain open until the problem is resolved. The zoning hearing takes place on Tuesday, March 21.
"I got 90 percent signatures," says Putnam. "Everyone around me wants it. They're all businesses, and they're all happy to see something go in there." Let's hope the city realizes this.