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A lethal combination of nightclub politics and unlawful decibels, exacerbated by the oncoming heat and humidity, has thrown a wrench into the gears of "Sonic Saturday," the weekly West Palm Beach drum 'n' bass party that has held court on the back patio of Respectable Street for nearly a year now.
Under a canopy of trees and Japanese paper lanterns, local DJs Phat Phil, Blacki, and Pan kept the beat alive, but in recent months signs of trouble became evident. Back in late March and early April, Clematis Street nightlife was the target of a noise crackdown by police, and Sonic's booming outdoor sound system was a notorious offender. The trio removed a large bass cabinet that was responsible for many of the complaints and were frequently asked by the club's management to turn the music down. When the Sonic crew complied, the decibels declined to the point that, during a recent Bandwidth visit, the music was quiet enough to allow us to converse easily within feet of the speakers. But the onset of summer proved to be the backbreaking straw.
Steve Rullman, who works as both a bartender and DJ at the club, confirms that "For now, Sonic is on hiatus from Respectable Street. The change in weather makes it difficult to keep something going on the back patio. [It's] too hot for the customers and too rough on the equipment."
That sentiment is echoed by Phat Phil, Sonic's progenitor, who reports that he's already lost one $800 amplifier because of the stifling conditions. "The heat was terrible last summer," he recalls. "Everything gets gummy; it was so humid I had rust on my mixer, and we had sweat dripping on records. It was horrible."
But there's another obvious reason Sonic's nights were numbered: Attendance was always low. That was another point of contention between the club and the crew, and sometimes, Phil reports, communication broke down to the point that, over the last few weekends, no one knew if Sonic was going to happen until the very last minute. Sometimes the press, which has regularly lauded Sonic (this paper awarded it "Best Location For a Dance Night" in our recent "Best Of" issue), bought it a bit more time. But eventually the scant turnout couldn't be ignored. "Respectable's was cool and shit, but basically they didn't think we were bringing in enough heads and stuff," offers Blacki, who, Sonic regulars can vouch, makes up in energy what he lacks in articulation. Rodney Mayo, Respectable Street's owner, agrees. "We stopped doing it because it really wasn't bringing in too many people," he recently told Bandwidth. "And most of our customers missed the quiet escape of the patio. Even though we did have some die-hard fans that showed up every Saturday, the numbers were few."
Far more than just a group of DJs spinning records, Sonic provided an up-to-the-second barrage of new sounds from the U.K. including "tech-step," a recent new twig on the genre tree derived from the British garage scene. Most important, Sonic incorporated live MCs into the picture, adding localized rapping to the proceedings. The gifted Millennium Collaborator's style bordered on reggae toasting, and his clipped, staccato delivery flowed deliriously over the skittering beats. When the Collaborator was tapped several weeks ago by East Coast jungle crew 1.8.7. to add his skills to their nationwide tour, he jumped at the chance. Recently the raps of Earth to Adam, an equally formidable vocalist, were brought in from the on-deck circle to the Sonic stage.
However, Sonic will rise again -- directly across the street at the West Village Tavern, beginning June 3. There the event will take place in chilly, air-conditioned comfort. Blacki, for one, isn't worried about the change of venue. "People love us. We generate a good vibe. We're not like every other DJ out there -- we actually go out there and befriend you. That's the kind of vibe we try to represent."
Of course there are those who think Smith and company have already accomplished just that. The words mopey and gloomy are used in conjunction with the Cure much too frequently, showcasing the notorious laziness of the media. The vast majority of local press in advance of the concert inevitably contained more information about the hairstyles and fashion peccadilloes of some of the band's followers rather than anything substantial about the music or the Cure's formidable legacy. And that's a damn shame. Simply put, the Cure is the finest group to survive the late '70s, '80s, and '90s, and this constant attempt to relegate it to a footnote is disturbing.
Not one other so-called new-wave act from the 1980s -- not New Order, not Echo and the Bunnymen, not even the Smiths -- has proved to be a prolific, durable, and relevant rock band, which is exactly what the Cure has become. The nearly sold-out MARS Music Amphitheater crowd on May 20 would probably agree that the band deserves more than the mantle of depressing despondency. After all, that's not what Bandwidth heard during the flawless two-and-a-half-hour concert, and not one attendee we saw looked anything less than ecstatic. Unless you count tears of joy.