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It was after 2 in the morning when I stumbled into Asti's Lounge, an obscure, dimly lighted club in Sunrise, expecting to see a wicked dancehall performance. Bass Odyssey, a heralded Jamaican DJ crew known for its worldwide sound-clash victories and flamboyant stage presence, was the night's headliner. I'd seen fliers for the event at every Caribbean restaurant around town for more than a month, Jamaican-born promoter Screw Famous had been spending freely to promote a dancehall party for the ages. Photos of Squingy, the group's all-star selector, were plastered across colorful posters promising DJ sets by Bass Odyssey, Richie Pooh, Gary Sweetness, and Vello-City which should have made for a raucous night on the dance floor.
I knew not to show up early. Dancehall is notorious for starting late and going later. But after I showed up, it became apparent that my arrival was not late enough. Most of the action was happening in the parking lot, with people drinking by their cars, rolling up spliffs, or styling and profiling while waiting for the vibe inside the club to warrant the $20 price of admission. In Jamaica, dancehall shows often careen well into the morning hours before a headliner touches a turntable. But this was Sunrise, and I didn't know whether that name suggested it was possible for a reggae show to last until daybreak in such a conservative suburb.
"Bass Odyssey hasn't started yet," a voice said as I approached the door of the club. Turning around, I saw that it was Kick Boxa, one of the invited dancers of the night. It's routine for dancehall promoters to invite both male and female dancers (who keep their clothes on) in order to showcase the latest reggae moves; but when the dancers are outside, you already know what the vibe is like indoors.
I decided to stroll in anyway, and the ragga music blaring from the shit-kicking speakers on stage was no joke. Richie Pooh had just dropped the needle on Buju Banton's megahit "Driver" for the 60 or so patrons standing around the edge of the club hugging the walls for dear life. Save for a lone drunken woman dancing and gyrating for the hired cameraman, whose mounted mini-spotlight was fixated on her crotch, the center of the dance floor was practically deserted. Richie Pooh seemed determined to change that state of affairs and pulled back "Driver" one more time. The song has torn up dancehalls all over the world for the past two months, and I caught the crowd mouthing Buju's catch-all lyrics, "I got a Nextel phone and a Cingular chip, any problem you can reach mi pon dis." Since my Jedi mind tricks helped me snake past the folks charging admission, I headed straight to the bar, stayed with my vodka diet, and tried to strike up a conversation with Asti's not-so-friendly Colombian owner, Gustavo Londono. Sure looked to me like Londono wasn't enjoying the Caribbean atmosphere taking over his club. True, ganja smoke was wafting through the venue, but his security guys weren't doing a thing about it so why complain?
By 3 a.m., Richie Pooh was transitioning toward a more rapid-fire set and the dance floor was filling up. People were getting looser as various substances were hitting home. I, on the other hand, decided to hit the head and soon realized where all the hazy aroma was coming from. The men's bathroom was crammed with roughly 20 rudeboys wedged into a tiny space, and smoking weed was damned near a requirement for entry. Swear words like fuckery and bloodclat knifed through the air like we had been transported to a Kingston bar.
"Is Bass Odyssey in da place, cause mi no see dem," uttered one herbalist, exhaling obscenities and acting vexed at the slow pace of the evening. But everyone was laughing (maybe it was the ganja), and the scene was certainly mellower than a punk rock show, where folks do lines of coke off the urinals.
Back on the stage, at 3:30, Gary Sweetness was playing Mavado's "What Dem a Do" and enticing the crowd to yell his gangster catch phrase "Anywaaayeee." And just as the apex of the night seemed upon us, the house lights went up. Asti's seemed to be trying to wrap things up.
"I think the show is done this is the last guy, isn't it?" asked a security drone when I asked about the lights. No, I'm thinking, this is still the warm-up guy on stage, and the man folks paid to see is probably downing his Red Bull and coming up next.
It was seven minutes before 4 a.m. when Damien of Bass Odyssey finally took control of the stage. His recorded intro announcing that Bass Odyssey was in the building sent the crowd into a rush. A crew of choreographed male dancers stepped-up, and their playful slip 'n' slide movements jacked up the energy a ruckus felt like it was coming on (in a good way, mind you). But only seven minutes later, at Asti's closing time of 4 a.m. sharp, just as the place seemed finally ready to explode, Londono promptly walked over and pulled the plug out of the wall himself.
"Bumbaclaaat" could be heard flying out of the mouths of the audience after the sound dropped and the house lights, after dipping temporarily, came back up. Damien, using a microphone that still had juice, was as perplexed as everyone else. "Who is this man," Damien asked in confusion, both to the crowd and to his promoter, "and why is he saying this?... Can someone please talk to him?"
But Londono would not be moved. "In Sunrise, every club has to close at 4 o'clock no exceptions," he said, arms folded, backed by his own security detail. Things were going south fast, but I wondered why the promoter had waited so late to put on the final act hadn't this all been discussed beforehand? I called Screw Famous a few days later for clarification. "The owner of the venue really messed things up," he said, still heated about the shutdown. Folks walked out of Asti's pissed, and not all of it was directed at the owner. "In Jamaica, the dances always start late," Famous continued. "You can't get Jamaican people out to a dance earlier than 2:30, so I knew it would be a late start, but I paid $1,400 for that place, plus airfare and hotel for Bass Odyssey, and he didn't even play for ten minutes. He's an international act, and [the owner] should have let him play longer."
But Londono also wants to stay in business, so I could hardly fault him for trying to stay on the right side of the law. I did wonder about the competence of a man who throws parties for a living overlooking minor details such as closing time. It was a disappointing ending to a night that was just beginning to peak, but by sunrise, nobody was around to care.