Urban Caverns

The homeless take a hike so that a "community" can come together.

Apr 26, 2000 at 4:00 am
It's 11 a.m., and as the sun moves over the three abandoned Quonset huts at Chouteau and Compton avenues, Jeremai "O-Shae" Galyon snaps his cell phone open and tackles the first major problem of his day.

"I can't believe this, man, " he yells to his partner over the phone. "There's a fuckin' abandoned car right in front of the VIP room."

This morning, the "VIP room" is a walled-off corner in one of the unlit buildings, but over the next three days it will be converted by O-Shae's crew into a dressing area for Del tha Funky Homosapien. The buildings themselves, a tangle of shadows, graffiti and dust, will morph into the "hip-hop and jungle room," the "house and techno room" and the "chill area."

"I don't know," O-Shae exhales into the phone. "I guess it's stolen. It wasn't here when I left yesterday at 4:30. But I gotta get it out of here."

As owner of StreetSonic Productions, the 26-year-old is well-versed in the art of pacing with a cell phone. At the end of the week, his company will host an all-night dance party in these empty urban caverns, and the expected 2,000 people who will pay $30 each to get in will demand a good show. This is his first big production, so he's under some stress.

O-Shae wears thin wraparound sunglasses, a blue T-shirt and jeans that billow from his hips in apparent defiance of gravity. In addition to his production company, he owns an independent record label, Brand New Records, and on his leg is a tattoo representing the underground hip-hop band he plays with, Channel Six.

He yanks the phone from his ear and yells out the door to four kids with brooms: "Come on, man, we gotta get this shit cleared up!" He slaps the phone back to his ear.

"Yeah. Yeah. It's a Lincoln Town Car, man. What? How would I know if there's someone in the trunk?"

He strides quickly over to the light-blue vehicle, jacked up in the shadows of the building, and knocks several times on the closed hood.

"No, man, there's no one in there."

After O-Shae calls his partner, he will call the police, then the property manager and then the rest of his crew who haven't shown up yet to help whack weeds, bulldoze garbage and sweep away pigeon droppings, burnt wood, wet blankets, dog feces, tin cans, winter coats and the rest of the remains of entities on the edge.

Up until today, the high-arched ceilings and sheet-metal walls of the 162-by-36-foot buildings sheltered several homeless people, a pack of stray dogs and a large flock of pigeons. But they've all been booted out until after the party.

According to the property manager who leased the three buildings to O-Shae for the week, the structures are prefabricated Quonset huts that were used during World War II. After that, they stored industrial salvage. After that, the homeless moved in.

There is no electricity, no heat and no running water in the buildings. The floors are marked with the remains of small fires, and there are a mattress and a nightstand in the corner of one of the buildings on the property that won't be used for the event. On the night stand is a bottle of lavender fingernail polish, a Bible, a red plastic comb and a camping manual for Girl Scouts. Underneath is a bag of clothes for a woman and a child.

"I think these buildings have a lot of character," O-Shae says between disconnecting one call and starting another.

But for O-Shae, the lack of amenities means a lot of extra problems. He has to rent portable toilets and handwashing stations, and his sound and lighting man, Tim Creskow, will have to rig up generators and string lights.

It's been a rough month. In addition to dishing out thousands of dollars, O-Shae has lined up a dance-hall permit, a building-occupancy permit and insurance. He's handed out 15,000 full-page fliers and 8,000 pre-event fliers, organized online promotional pages and hired 12 security guards. He's gotten linoleum for the break dancers and wristbands for everybody. He's rented a bin the size of a semi for the trash.

He calls the event "eeeeeeee!" Contrary to what some might think, it is not a rave but a DJ festival that will feature DJ I-Cue, DJ PMS, DJ Arson and DJ Needles. There will be DJs from New York City, San Diego, Oakland and Chicago. There will be live drums and synthesizers and bass. The doors will stay open until 7 a.m.

O-Shae insists on calling his event a DJ festival instead of a rave, because he wants to change the reputation the all-night dance parties have garnered in the past few years. "It's really a new style of a rave," he says. "We're including hip-hop, so we're drawing the raver crowd as well as the rappers. But there is no gangsta rap. This will be fun. There won't be any rapping about stolen cars or stolen dogs or anything."

According to one of his fliers, the theme of "eeeeeeee!" is "Where the '60s meet the Year 2000."

"It's what a community should be about," explains 20-year-old Nick Joseph, a member of O-Shae's crew who works full-time at Home Depot in Bridgeton. "This is what it should be all the time -- having people respect each other, love each other, dance with each other."

Joseph, along with Scott Bartnett and Shaun Creamer, is scraping mud, or what he hopes is mud, from the floor of one of the Quonset huts.

"I'm doing this because O-Shae's my boy and I want to be part of the product," Bartnett says.

"Yeah," adds Creamer," and we want to make sure this is a really phat party."

When two St. Louis police cars drive up to the buildings, O-Shae shifts the cell phone from his ear to a pants pocket. He introduces himself to the officers and points them toward the stolen Lincoln.

"I'm into underground music, but I'm not this underground," he says as the police shine their flashlights onto the car in the corner.

"What are you all doing here anyway?" one of the officers asks.

"We're having a DJ festival."

"A what?"

"A DJ festival. We're bringing in Jay Biz of Hieroglyphics, Maseo of De La Soul, Del tha Funky Homosapien. They'll all be here. You should come."

O-Shae then hands the officers one of his fliers. "You'll be VIP," he says as he pulls the cell phone back out of his pocket.

As they wait for the city tow truck to arrive, one of the officers, Dwayne E. George, wanders the property and enters the building with the mattress and the nightstand. Along one of the walls sits a large pile of blankets, garbage bags stuffed with clothes, stacks of newspaper and small baskets of toiletries.

"Looks like someone was living in here," George says as he eyes the evicted effects.

"They belong to one of the guys that was living there," O-Shae says, pointing to one of the Quonset huts. "I only talked to one. I told him he had to vacate until after the event, so he moved all his stuff in here. I told him that after the event, he and the rest are welcome to come back. He didn't give me any trouble."

Before the crew came in, the "stuff" had been neatly arranged: Clothes were folded, newspapers stacked according to date and the bed completely made up. The officer explains that many of the city's abandoned buildings are used by people who have nowhere else to go. In back of the buildings, he adds, a group of people have created a shelter for themselves out of overgrown brush and fencing.

"It's like a cave," he says. "I wonder where they've gone."

The city tow truck finally arrives and drags the Lincoln, reported stolen at 9:30 a.m., from the building. Relief floods O-Shae's face as he gets back on his phone to find the rest of his crew.

As he waits for someone to pick up on the other end, he pulls the phone away from his mouth.

"It's all about music. Music unifies people," he says. "Money comes and money goes, man. But music, friends and family, they last forever."

Meanwhile, the sun has moved to the west and light filters in through cracks in the walls of the building that won't be used for the event. On the ground, next to the mattress and nightstand, a piece of paper rests on the dirt, in the sun.

"I have the power to control my perceptions," the note, handwritten in pencil, states. "I am a positive thinker. I know I can do something when I put my mind to it. This helps me to perceive myself in a positive light."