By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
It's a great idea, one that has the potential to turn into something large and annual if you winners actually support it: One evening -- this Sunday, the night before Memorial Day -- a handful of Washington Avenue clubs are uniting to throw a party. That's the gist of this year's Washington Avenue Beat Festival, and even if the unification is only partial -- none of the new bars (Tabu, Exscape) is represented, and the glaring nonparticipation of Cheetah is notable -- it's nonetheless a nice start.
On this evening downtown,Gal-axy, Tangerine, Velvet and the newest member of the Washington club scene, Lo, combine efforts to create a happening. Buy a cheapie wristband, commence to roaming and land where your fancy's stricken.
A number of acts stand out:
Ursula 1000, who performs at Tangerine, is from Miami and creates happy martini music, an updated and electrocized version of the Martin Denny/Les Baxter school of drunken-relaxation music. He gets brownie points from hipsters worldwide for being on the wonderful 18th Street Lounge label, which is owned and operated by the Thievery Corporation. But where TC travel to the depths of dub and sensual Latin sounds for inspiration, Ursula's a bit lighter, preferring a gentler, less complicated approach, though occasionally he'll toss in hard Big Beats to mix with the recurrent, beguiling little beats, and he always adds enough hooky fun to shake up a room. Resident ultralounge DJ JB opens.
At Velvet, three DJs share the evening. NYC's Micro, who visits St. Louis often, will spin whatever the hell he calls his flavor. He dabbles in a number of electronica subgenres -- techno, trance, breakbeat -- and resides in that mini, ambiguous world where the three intersect. Whatever you want to call him, he plays hard-beat music, and his mixes on Moonshine Records are uniformly adrenal. Denver's Greg Eversoul spins hard, bass-heavy house, and Velvet resident Rob Lemon concentrates on that splendid, palatable world where house and trance intersect.
The Galaxy's bill is a weird one: Dr. Zhivegas, the city's most popular and eclectic cover band, will do whatever it is they're doing these days (we can only eat so much cheese before we move on to something more, er, nutritious); and, more exciting, the quadruple-turntable party of Mike 2600 and DJ Device mixes old- and middle-school hip-hop with funk, soul and the occasional freaky '80s R&B jam. They're an absolutely amazing tag team, proof being their Superbreakout parties, which are held on alternating Saturdays at the Upstairs Lounge.
Finally, Washington's most recent club arrival is Lo, an "exclusive" lounge that opened this week. Owned by Tangerine's Blake Brokaw and run by ex-Karma owner Shawn Collins, the little club requires a "membership card" to gain admission, a risky move on the ever-fickle club scene. To receive a card, you must be deemed "cool" enough. No shit -- it says so on the card: "This card means you're cool, but not cool enough to get in free." To which we say thanks and humbly suggest, at the risk of losing our coveted cool card (actually, we're so goddamn cool that we've got an extra card; we'll sell it to the highest bidder), that the "coolest" clubs don't need to advertise it. Time will tell whether the interesting folks end up hanging at Lo or just those shallow souls who wanna hang at a place that's "cool."
Then again, we've always said that Washington Avenue needs a few more little clubs that draw not the sweaty Bud drinkers but the downtown lofters who, as it stands now, have few places to go in the neighborhood to get all liquored up; a club designed not for maximum beat pound but for minimal atmosphere music (Lo's musical aesthetic will apparently be Asian-flavored electronic music). This, according to Collins, is where Lo is aiming, and whether they hit their target ultimately depends upon whom they deem "cool," how much patience the Washington Avenue art types have with the idea of some doorman giving them the once-over; in the end, Lo's success depends not on whom the club admits but on whether the hipsters are interested in participating in the game in the first place.
Kudos to the Washington Avenue clubs for getting it together, even if we would have liked to have seen a bigger party.
Send local tapes, tips, discs and detritus to "Radar Station," c/o The Riverfront Times, 6358 Delmar Blvd., Suite 200, St. Louis, MO 63130; or firstname.lastname@example.org.