By Christian Schaeffer
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If you didn't make it to Miami for the Winter Music Conference -- and even if you did -- you won't want to miss its closest local approximation, the Washington Avenue Beat Festival. Yeah, you won't have the pleasure of rolling with half-naked supermodels (Dude! Like they'd even look at you!); on the other hand, you won't have to pay twelve bucks for a watery martini and abase yourself before insolent doormen who think you're some manure-caked Missouri fat-ass. We're from the Show-Me State, goddamn it: Give us the beats, hold the bee-yotch.
Over the past five years, the WABF has become a staple of the electronic-music scene, bringing hotshot talent and thousands of people to beautiful downtown St. Louis. The twice-yearly beat marathons are always a good time -- and this, the seventh installment, just might be the best one yet, thanks to the fact that Washington Avenue no longer resembles the Gaza Strip. Though it seemed as if the construction efforts would never end, much to the frustration of club owners and their confused patrons, the street is actually navigable again. "The street's completed as far as passability goes," explains Andrew Mullins, one of the event's organizers. "It's not completed-completed, though, if that makes any sense. The lights are not on, and all the trees aren't in place, and they're still doing some finishing touches that were supposed to be done by the end of April, but as far as driving, walking, all that's fine. The patios are open now, so you're going to see Washington Avenue starting to look like the Loop in the sense that you'll have restaurants, retail, bars, nightclub, residential, all existing cohesively."
In accordance with WABF tradition, five clubs are participating in the event, which takes place on Sunday, May 25, the night before Memorial Day. Lo offers its customary drum & bass lineup, with Usual Suspects veteran Keaton headlining. Tangerine brings a wide-ranging selection of the many permutations of house, featuring sets from big-name DJ/producer Lance DeSardi and regional favorites Slater Hogan and Pat Nice. Rue 13 boasts Wicked Crew founder and Om Records artist Garth, who's one of the heavies of West Coast house. Velvet's got everyone from hometown turntable maestro Charlie Chan Soprano to Christopher Lawrence, one of the world's most popular trance DJs (if your inner hipster shudders at the dreaded T-word, substitute "progressive house"). Kobalt, a Beat Fest virgin, hosts club king Louie Devito, who just happens to be the number-one-selling DJ in the world.
Because of scheduling conflicts, the Galaxy will not officially participate in WABF this year, although the Baldwin Brothers, a widely praised electro-lounge act out of Chicago, will perform for free that evening. Owner Casey Sutton, an active member of the Washington Avenue Entertainment District(which sponsors the event), says his club will definitely be part of the proceedings next time around. (By the way, the Galaxy is, as of press time, still without a liquor license: Sutton is working with an attorney and hopes to resolve the situation, which he describes as "baggage from the previous administration," as soon as possible. Unfortunately for the under-agers, though, you still have to be over 21 to attend the alcohol-free concert, because Sutton didn't want to cause problems for the other clubs.)
So, with all that stuff to choose from, how can you possibly decide? We consulted our resident dance-music experts for their endorsements. RFT staffer and DJ-about-town Randall Robertssays, "Definitely Slater Hogan at Tangerine; he's the guy who started that Muzique Boutique label that [Lo owner] Shawn Collins is involved in; he plays some really great deep house." Club denizen and RFT contributor Alison Sieloff recommends ending the night at Velvet: "I always like to close down my night at Velvet to see their headliners; this year it's Christopher Lawrence, who's played there before. I'm sure Velvet will be packed for that part of the night."
But the real point of the WABF is to follow your own inclinations, check out the clubs that don't fall within your usual comfort zone, meet new people, hear fresh sounds. The acts and even the venues might change, but the object remains the same. "We don't try to be different," Mullins explains. "We try to be consistent. It's always a unique and exciting collection of electronic-music artists from around the world. The goal is to bring new people to the street and expose them to things they wouldn't find in the county or in other parts of St. Louis."
A $15 wristband gets you into all five venues all night long. See www.weda1.com for more information.