For St. Louisans, the name Lemp conjures many things, and only one of them is beer-related. There are the caves, of course, which run beneath the south-side brewery that in its pre-Prohibition heyday churned out more beer than Gussie's brand. There's the Lemp family, plagued by depression and some sort of insanity, which resulted in a few unfortunate suicides. There is the mansion, reportedly haunted by the ghosts of Lemps long dead. It now plays host to many similarly doomed weddings.
But mention Lemp to members of a certain generation, and they think "rave." Oh man. In the 1990s, for an all-too-brief few years, the old Lemp Brewery complex played host to some of the city's great dance parties, and we challenge any snob in any city on Earth to find a better place for raves. The multi-building compound is filled with raw space above ground, but more important for our purposes were the labyrinthine basements and sub-basements. Some were deep underground, with low, claustrophobia-inducing ceilings that bounced the drum 'n' bass all over the place. You had to squeeze single-file down rickety spiral staircases to enter. Others were grand caverns with twenty-foot ceilings. House music echoed from wall to floor to ceiling, strobes and lasers flickered patterns in the archways, and you couldn't help but dance. Once tethered to the music, you felt like you were in on a secret, and the joy of knowing coupled with the power of the music and the release of dance resulted in the sort of carefree celebration of which memories are made.
But nostalgia, as the saying goes (doesn't it?), is for suckers, as well as the bored, the desperate, the lonely and, most important, the defeated. Those days are long gone, and all the ecstasy in the world won't bring them back. What's important is the present, and how we harness those halcyon days to create something uniquely now.
We're at the Duck Room at Blueberry Hill, drinking Lemp Beer and dancing along with the kindred spirits in !!!, the uniquely-now New York-based dance band that is conjuring all of these memories. The little basement bar is packed tight, and everyone is sweating and dancing including Blueberry Hill owner Joe Edwards, who's smiling like his roll is just kicking in. !!! is on fire tonight, and the heat is drenching us with sweat; the band is stomping out a four-on-the-floor beat, and if you close your eyes and lose your mind, within moments you're back at the Lemp, it's 4 a.m., and the party has reached its climax. (Quick, someone find us a candy raver to make out with!)
The band understands tension, and construct out of rhythms and sturdy basslines vast cathedrals of sound, which they then collapse with perfectly well-timed releases. Over and over again, throughout the night, build and collapse, build and collapse, build and collapse. It's enough to make a person thirsty.
The Lemp Brewery ceased making beer in 1918, but new ownership revived the brand in 2004. Its flagship beer is a sturdy, sweet, soft lager, closer to an amber than to a pale. They offer it down at the Duck Room, where it competes with dozens of beers for the affections of fickle drinkers. We're drinking it because we like it, and like history the company stakes its claim to be the "first American lager" on its label, which is debatable. But who cares? Let them have their claim. It's not hurting anybody. Life's too sweet to argue firsts and bests, especially when you've got a band as loud, as hard, as tight and as explosive as !!!.
This column is over now. We've got dancing to do.