There's a distinct sensation when you're at a party that's outgrown itself. The crowd's there, the music, the drinks, the same cigarette smoke and sidewalk jerk-chicken vendor, the same bouncer and bartenders, and the same guys playing pool in the back. But there's a certain air of restlessness, a subtle shift in energy. Savor this buzz, hang onto this buzz, make it grow, or watch it slowly fizzle out.
After six months of hustling, booking prominent DJs from the international underground, and even shelling out funds from their own pockets, the crew that hosts the monthly Monday night Too//Future dubstep party at Original Fat Cat's is close to reaching its carrying capacity at the downtown Fort Lauderdale venue.
Last night, the usual constituency of bassheads filled up the divey hub of all things alternative in Himmarshee to experience the subfrequency beats of Baltimore DJ Joe Nice, a veteran who's been credited with importing the dubstep craze from the U.K. to the United States back in the early 2000s. Nice is the first domestic DJ to headline the Too//Future party, which started back in February, when London's prized deep dubstep jewel DJ Youngtsa kicked off the series.
The huge momentum from that first night has carried Too//Future through each successive month, with big-name headliners like Truth, V.I.V.E.K., and J:Kenzo adding to the hype. And this time around, there were all the ingredients for a great party: a good crowd, passionate promoters, and a headliner with some serious musical chops. Still, something was off.
Nice, a superfriendly guy with a pretty insane musical background and record collection, started out his set as he often does, with a couple of unexpected tunes, old-school hip-hop tracks like Warren G.'s classic "Regulate," hinting at the full range of influences, not just electronic music, that have shaped his style.
"I wasn't limited to hip-hop stuff and R&B," he told us about his roots as a kid. "I was buying anything that I liked -- Guns N' Roses' Appetite for Destruction, Police and Zenyatta Mondatta, Sting's Dream of the Blue Turtles, Def Leppard's Pyromania. I had no problem having a Whitesnake tape in one pocket and a Boogie Down Productions tape in the other. I was that kid."
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Baltimore Club, a brand of dance music in the late '80s and '90s that fused the Miami bass and Chicago house movements, helped guide Nice toward a style that was thudding and percussive but with soul. Now the DJ says the types of dubstep he plays are "more closely related to house and Baltimore Club -- tunes that have a lot of movement but are not necessarily loud and overly boisterous or overly aggressive."
The crowd responded to Nice, who gripped a small flashlight with his mouth as he shuffled through his record bag and flipped each tune onto the turntables with the deft ease of someone who's been doing this for more than a decade. An all-vinyl set of underground dubstep music -- many tracks rare and even unreleased -- isn't something you get the chance to experience very often in Fort Lauderdale or even Miami. It's special.
"I remember saving up the money to buy Prince's 1999 album," Nice told us of his early analog days. "Nobody remembers their first download, but everybody remembers their first tape or their first record that they bought."
It's true: Today's dime-a-dozen DJs often rise to popularity without taking the time to learn the history, and as Nice also pointed out, "A lot of people now, their idea of crate digging is hoping you can find a 320 of the MP3 or a WAV of the MP3, as opposed to 128- or a 192-kbps quality... You value the music more when you actually have to work for it."
As Nice went deeper and deeper into his set, it was hard to tell whether those who were dancing in front of the booth had any idea what they were actually listening to. Sure, they might have been feeling it, but something about the way they jumped around, shouted, and flailed as the beats dropped seemed a little less inspired than previous incarnations of the Too//Future night.
Nice was the cofounder of the seminal NYC dubstep party DubWar, which ran from 2005 to 2010 and earned props from the likes of the New York Times, New York Magazine, and XLR8R, and he knows a thing or two about keeping a party fresh and sustaining momentum. The success of DubWar cleared a path for Reconstrvct, his latest monthly venture in Brooklyn, which recently celebrated its second anniversary with a massive lineup and a crowd numbering close to a thousand.
So how do you keep a party fresh? "With people," he told us. "You keep it going with the right people. The people involved have a passion for what we're doing and what was done." It's clear the DJ has a deep reverence for his musical predecessors ("You gotta know your history. You just have to," he said) -- but it's also about surrounding yourself with people who are willing to put in the work. "No one's gonna give it to you." With his own online radio show, Gourmet Beats, already well-established and a record label of the same name in the pipeline, it's clear this guy is more than willing to put in the work.
Leaving Fat Cat's, the sidewalk rattled with each pulse of bass. The jerk-chicken vendor held up a sign offering free samples. A drunk man hunched on a stool asked, "Are you a cracker too?" It was 2 a.m., and some people had begun to trickle out of the bar, reminding themselves that it was Monday night and there was work in the morning.
Too Future cofounder Eric Carbonell raised an eyebrow, admitting that he's tired too. "Just wait till our Saturday night starts up," he said. It was clear he's also feeling the growing pains of his little party.
Official plans have yet to be revealed, but there's already something in the works, including a possible addition at a local warehouse space. The guys who started Too//Future have been working and living in the drum 'n' bass scene for years, and while they might not have expected a party like this to succeed as it has, Carbonell insisted, "Things finally just seem to be falling into place for us."
Rather than let all the work they've put in reach an early climax and fizzle, the Too//Future crew is jumping on that restless energy that comes whenever it's time to take the leap to the next level. The team members have pooled their funds and know-how to book a huge act for their reboot in the fall (we'll keep that a surprise for now), and there's even talk about streaming the entire show online.
There's no formula to a great party that lasts. Somewhere between music and vibe comes success, and it takes a balance of passion and work ethic to get there. Someone with Nice's background can sum it up nicely: "The one word that you consistently hear in my opinion that's involved with dubstep or people that started a movement -- it's foundation. These people before us built the foundation. It's like building a house. Be original. Be creative. Don't be like everyone else."
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