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Paint the Town 

Spraypaint Picassos from all over the U.S. converge for the Paint Louis event

Paint Louis 2000 takes place this weekend just south of the Arch, all along the great concrete expanse that has come to be known as the Graffiti Wall. The massive spraypaint explosion that winds along the riverfront has turned the urban landscape that is the South St. Louis banks into something magical; what once was bland, pukey concrete is now a canvas of wild-style graffiti art. This week, as has been the case for the past four summers, graffiti writers from all over the country will converge to reimagine the wall -- to cover over much of the old art and create some new.

The clueless who have yet to visit the wall are missing out on something awe-inspiring: two miles of graffiti murals, alive with color and filled with the sort of unpretentious energy that is seldom seen in the gallery setting. The annual Paint Louis weekend has snowballed into a nationally anticipated center-of-attention gathering not only for graffiti writers but for enthusiasts of the other three "elements" of hip-hop culture -- emcees, DJs and break-dancers -- and what was once a grassroots graffiti throw-down has evolved into a big-deal weekend. In years past, some of the most respected graffiti artists in the country -- artists from New York City, LA, Jersey, Chicago, Boston, Dallas, San Francisco -- have made the trek to the wall and left their tags there.

Says Paint Louis chairwoman Elani Myers, "It's its own entity at this point; sure, certain people have made certain decisions -- 'Yes, I'm going to put my time and energy into this.' But a lot of people have this sense that they're being pulled into something that is just meant to be and that we almost don't have any control over. The people who love it are giving us approval, or giving us sponsorship, or a free Web site (which, by the way, is a fantastic Web site: Everyone's using their gut instinct about being a part of something we have no control over, but the more of us who are involved, the more organized it feels."

But this is supposedly a music column, and though graffiti and music are inextricably intertwined, we should probably celebrate some of the emcees and DJs performing in conjunction with the weekend's activities.

It's all happening on Washington Avenue. On Friday, the Galaxy hosts the black-book party (so named because many of the visiting graffiti artists will be sharing their sketchbooks). St. Louis DJs Obi Juan, K-9, Needles and Mike 2600 will spin hip-hop and drum & bass. Saturday and Sunday, from dawn to dusk, the wall will be attacked by the artists, and all are invited down to watch. Do it. Saturday night at the Galaxy, graffiti artists/hip-hoppers the Shapeshifters perform, along with St. Louis' Bits 'n Pieces. And on Sunday night, former Invisibl Skratch Piklz/current Beastie Boys DJ Mixmaster Mike will perform, as will the Midwest Avengers, Mike 2600, DJ Device and DJ Andrew.

Mixmaster Mike is performing in conjunction with Washington Avenue Beat Festival, which, in a brilliant team-up, is occurring this year in conjunction with Paint Louis. At various clubs along Washington -- Galaxy, Velvet, Tangerine and Lo -- a load of DJs will be spinning house, hip-hop, drum & bass and techno.

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