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Boogie Nights Redux 

Local dance clubs are offering much more than just head-banging beats

In Michael Winterbottom's reality-based flick, 24 Hour Party People, the director attempts to chronicle the transition of working-class Manchester, England, from "new wave" epicenter to new rave genesis. A town that watched local heroes Joy Division flare then sputter after the suicide of singer Ian Curtis, Manchester was Ground Zero for the electronic music revolution that became its trademark in the late '80s and early '90s. And just as that grimy, industrial town segued in to a new culture of sound, so has the Triangle seen a steady progression of turntable music edging the guitar culture out of the spotlight.

With numerous venues opening their doors and DJ booths to local and national spinners, a phenomenon is happening that mirrors Manchester's early electronic period. Clubs such as Durham's Ringside and Chapel Hill's Club NV have programmed their weekends around this booming scene. Even some spots known primarily as six-string venues, such as Raleigh's Humble Pie and Chapel Hill's Local 506, are getting with the program. Matt Routh (aka Dj.exe, a local DJ who also heads up an Internet forum for area party people called www.trianglefuturemusic.com) sees the rising interest in DJ music as a sign of growing acceptance of the culture by folks who might have shunned it years earlier. "There are places in all three Triangle cities that support these kind of events," he says.

Durham's Ringside, in particular, manages to fit in all sorts of entertainment in one space. "Every Saturday night the 'Natural Selection' show takes place there," says Routh. "Fridays, more Latin-oriented DJs spin for 'Cuba Libre.' Some nights there's a jazz band on the first floor, on the middle floor there might be a rock band and on the top floor, there's most likely a DJ spinning a mix of old jazz and new electronic jazz. That's a really cool thing because there isn't any rule that you can't follow up, say, Ornette Coleman with some digitally produced modern jazz."

And music isn't the only form of artistic expression offered during these late night soirees. Stephanie Moore, founder and proprietor of Glamoore Productions, organizes an evening of multimedia whoopla called FAME, an acronym for Fashion/Art/Music/Entertainment. Moore, whose husband is veteran turntablist DJ LeMoore, cultivated her love of the form in the seminal New York club scene. "My 'fix' for house grew from spending many nights into mornings at some of the most famous NYC clubs [Studio 54, Palladium, Limelight, The Tunnel, The Saint, to name a few] back in the mid '80s to early '90s," she says. But the simple environment of pulsating beats and gyrating bodies seemed to beckon for more stimuli. "Each themed party is a surprise," says Moore. "I threw out the old promoter adage that 'everything should flow.' Most of us were raised by television sets, so we like lots of changes and stimuli, including different and exciting ear and eye candy," she says, adding that each party includes a "fashion aspect" (either runway or optional themed wear for the patrons), an "art aspect" (a wall of art by local artists), and lastly, the "music aspect."

"To me, that is where it all begins--with the music," she says. "Music sets the atmosphere. You hear the music before you walk into the club, and your mood and adventure is being set."

Ringside's monthly extravaganza, titled "Natural Selection" (www.natselect.com), features four talented turntable wizards trading off styles while keeping the rhythm together. Local talent Paul Brucke got involved in DJing while working at Clemson University's college station. Upon moving to the Triangle, he encountered a burgeoning environment of crafty musical types whose tastes ranged from rock to rap. After a couple of years spent traversing local spots, Brucke and pals Dave Hogan, Keith Ward and Marco Hammond landed at Ringside. "We play a wide mix of styles, but all of it has a deep connection to jazz, funk, and soul," Brucke says. "We mix older jazz, funk, and soul tunes with newer ones that are inspired by the older ones and utilize electronic production techniques, so what we play has a very organic feel." But while Ringside has provided a fantastic home base for these spin doctors, it has also opened up other venues to the group. "Natural Selection" has led to Keith's Friday show, "Cuba Libre," and DJ Marco has found several homes for his '70s funk gig, "Solid."

Lest you think that this new revolution is a strictly vinyl one, Thomas Logan of UNC's Carolina Electronic Music Symposium http://www.unc.edu/cems/) insists that modern technology can allow anyone with the right equipment to become a DJ. "People aren't just spinning on turntables anymore," Logan says. "There are people setting up two iPods and mixing between them, or hooking their laptops up with a mixer. The cost is relatively low and the technology is easy and accessible."

And just as FAME brings other artistic pursuits together with the music, CEMS attempts to bring together music makers and dance enthusiasts. "We've developed a subgroup of break dancers who show up at these functions and provide some visual entertainment along with the music," Logan says. CEMS, capitalizing on its status as a university entity, offers entertainment on school grounds as well, setting up in the cafeteria, the main quad and in "The Pit"--the heart of campus.

An interesting byproduct of these happenings is the melding of traditional gay club culture with a younger breed of beat enthusiasts. "Thursday nights at Flex, they have a drag show, so folks roam over to that and come back to my gig [at Humble Pie]," says Routh. "If you have a night where you're hitting spots all over and getting different experiences, that's a great night. Our feeling is gay, straight, man, woman, lesbian, bi-sexual, drag queen--you're all welcome. The more the merrier. I like to call it being 'radically inclusive.' There's no reason why all we can't share fun. Fun is universal."

One thing you thankfully won't have to contend with is the notorious "Velvet Rope" policies maintained by certain clubs. "There have been lots of 'club' clubs [bigger, flashier spots], as opposed to the smaller bars, that do offer this kind of music as well," says Routh. "But the thing that separates this experience from that is that it's really inclusive. Everyone's invited and a lot of the nights are free. You can get in with shorts on and the vibe is very friendly and casual." Logan echoes Routh's sentiments. "One of the things that concerns me about electronic music culture is the attitude that's pervasive in some clubs," he says. "The nice thing about what we do is that we make our events open to all types."

But what it all really comes down to is having fun. Stephanie Moore sees the link between the DJ and the dance floor as being a truly symbiotic one. She states, "It is refreshing to me to see that a wonderful night is made as much by the dancers as the music, guided as much by the spirit of the joy in the room as by the hand which chooses the next record." EndBlock

  • Local dance clubs are offering much more than just head-banging beats.

More by Zach Hanner

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