By Danny Wicentowski
By Lindsay Toler
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Allison Babka
By Lindsay Toler
By Lindsay Toler
By Ray Downs
The Monastery building has housed dance clubs for close to 30 years. One of its first incarnations was a place called Coleman's Plaza, recalls Jim Gates, who, along with the legendary Dr. Jockenstein, used to broadcast live on WESL from the joint in the mid-'70s. (Gates is also the father of one of the best hip-hop DJs in the city, Q95.5's DJ Nappy Needles, and one of the best break-dancers in the city, Nicholas Gates.) "There'd be people there until 10, 11 a.m." he says. "They'd go and eat breakfast -- and then come back and dance some more."
And, unlike today, the club wasn't alone. A scene centered on downtown East St. Louis, on Collinsville Avenue. "Up and down the streets and around the city, there were just so many nice clubs," says Gates, "but after 3 o'clock, people were generally intoxicated, and the fools started running things. All the good people left, and you're left with all the fools, and boy, you're talking about police, shootings -- they'd actually be chasing each other down the street in cars, shooting. It was nerve-wracking."
Dilapidated signs are the only remnants of the clubs; wig shops, wing joints and clothing stores now occupy the strip. The centerpiece of the area, the glorious Murphy Building, with its carved gray marble façade, is slowly collapsing. Weeds grow on its roof.
Terrence started working at the Monastery as the manager when the club opened on April Fool's Day 1997 and eventually bought out the owners. Within a few years, he had a solid crew in place: Mississippi, Debo, Tossin' Ted, Dave, Big Sexy Kooool DJ Kaos, Ed Lover, Decarlo, Pretty Boy and a few others. Some members of this crew have alienated and infuriated clubgoers in their time; as a result, all refuse to provide last names, citing concerns for their safety.
As with any upstart enterprise, the first six months were up-and-down. Then, in the summer of '98, everything changed with a single event -- a car show in the club's parking lot, organized by an outside promoter. Terrence wasn't expecting that many people, but by the time the show got going, cars were backed up onto the highway and blocking the MetroLink tracks 100 yards north of the club. Trains ground to a standstill. Four Bi-State buses were trapped in the jam, which lasted all afternoon. The police, who weren't given advance warning, had to abandon their cars and walk to the scene. When they arrived, they shut the car show down. "They told us we couldn't even open that night," says Terrence. "I understood that, and I left it alone."
Even though the event was shuttered, it put the Monastery on the map. But the next week, continues Terrence, "the mayor comes in. She didn't like what she saw, so she decides, OK, you gotta close until I see some changes."
The most pressing concern was the lack of physical separation between drinkers and minors. The Monastery was an eighteen-and-over club serving booze to the elders with no barrier between them and the minors. And that, as anyone who's ever been young knows, is a recipe for stealth swigging. So Terrence built a club within the club: On one side, 21 and over. On the other, no booze permitted.
"With that other wall there now," says Kaos, "it's kind of hard to tell, but when it wasn't there, [the room] would go all the way across, and it was crazy back then. So being understaffed, security-wise, and us playing the music we were playing, violence was all the time. We had a lot of fighting going on, people getting high, intoxicated, drinking liquor, whatever, and that affects you. When you're in the club and somebody steps on your new tennis shoes, you didn't mean to see it the way you did, but you did. The smallest thing would trigger something terribly big."
Terrence explains it more concisely: "You know what the wild, wild West used to be like? OK."
Dances emerge from music, a tiny miracle of sorts: They seep from an ephemeral, abstract plane and enter the physical one.
A dimension leap: In the head of a producer, a stirring of synapses. A muscle murmur.
A receptor twitch that somehow creates an internal sound -- a specific beat, a sample, a melody, a song -- that works its way from the bean by way of electrical current through the fingers that tap the buttons that zips the current onto the hard drive that processes all of that mess into some sort of logic -- glues it together and locks it in place. Once locked, the song's burned onto a disc that is sent to the pressing plant that presses the twelve-inch that makes its way to Big Sexy Kooool DJ Kaos, who places the needle on the record, which amplifies that same electrical inspiration from the brain back into a beat, melody, a rhythm -- song -- that enters the world by way of big booming speakers and into the heads of those amazing dancers over there, who feel it, who work it, who understand it instinctively and who move their muscles accordingly.