As a clubgoer I had about had it with the Twin Cities electronica scene, especially in the Warehouse District. The average club (I won’t name names) seems to draw its vision of a great party from the covers of your average Ibiza Dream Dance mix. Ibiza is the Mediterranean island club paradise that has turned out countless compilations, always with a female pinup in sunglasses looking out over a beach paradise, with the usual mix of progressive trance and house. There is more energy invested in the average gogo dancer than in creating a good vibe or booking good music. Indeed, electronica has been suffering for quite a while in this respect, often becoming a caricature of itself in which fun nights dancing turn into sunglass-wearing wallflowers who have little idea what the music is and seem to walk around with dumb, pleading, confused looks that ask, “Is this where it’s cool? Cuz I’m cool.”
So I fled the Warehouse District, focusing more on fun and relaxing nights like those found at the 9th Circle at Club Underground, run by local Drum & Bass DJs MBC and Quad Control. I also spent a good deal of time in therapy trying to overcome my bitterness. Thankfully, my shrink’s answer was the following: apologize for the rant. Things are not as a bad as they seem. And recently, things have changed at one spot in the Warehouse Districtand – for the better – and more rapidly than could have been imagined.
To explain: once upon a time, in the basement at the corner of Fifth and Hennepin, there was a famous club called the Rogue. More recently it was known as the Level Nightclub, which had as its slogan “dance music lives here.” But it was run by mysterious figures from somewhere in Ohio. So, it was quickly discovered that this would not work in the Twin Cities. As a result, two informed guys from the local scene, Beecher Vallancourt and Zak Khutoretsky achieved something they had attempted for a long time – creating a club in Minneapolis. And they are starting to live happily ever after.
The club is called Foundation, and to the surprise of many, it has already opened in July after a blitz make-over – the grand opener was July 22 with none other than Detroit Techno guru Derrick May on the decks. I was touring Lambeau Field that day (sorry Vikings fans), but soon afterwards, I did manage to come down and check out the club. And I decided it’d be necessary to go twice – on August 3, to see Q-Bert (World DMC champion with Rock Steady in 1992 and with the Dream Team in 1993/1994), and on August 9, to see Roc Raida (1995 World DMC champion). The DMC stands for the Disco Mix Club and since 1986 it has been the most prestigious world championship for DJs, sponsored by the companies Technics and Ortophon. Needless to say, these were 2 impressive musical nights and, at $5 per show, not exactly a rip off.
The music manager Zak, under the DJ name the DEVIOUS One, has played out at such renowned industrial clubs as Tresor in Berlin. So, when entering the club, I expected to see a somewhat harder edge to the place and wasn’t disappointed – though I’d prefer it to have a more industrial, hardcore edge (but then again, my vision of heaven is a sweaty East Berlin Warehouse). He and a group of designers planned the club to have neutral colors – silvers, grays, and whites so that the lighting can be adjusted to create different atmospheres. There is a main room that can hold around 600 people – with 3 bars and an exquisite hardwood dance floor. A side room and bar equipped with a couple of Buddha images and leopard carpeting completes the club. The club also functions as an art gallery with pieces from the shop Leviticus Tattoo. And local artist, Chris Allen, will be doing live painting on most Wednesday nights, as he was the night of Roc Raida.
The crowds were quite diverse, with a mix from both the hip-hop and electronica scenes. Both nights were opened by local DJs Plain Ole Bill and Jimmy 2 Times, who are the staple of the weekly Hip Hop night called “Party & Bullsh*t” every Wednesday. The crowds seemed to enjoy the diverse mix of everything from Nas to James Brown to – shock of shocks – Journey. But when Q-Bert and Roc Raida got on the decks, much of the crowd snapped to attention, as though the decks were now an operating table upon which some extraordinary experiments were about to be performed. The other half kept the dance floor filled and moving – and a b-boy circle pleasantly formed.
The club was packed for Q-Bert, with a crowd in the back room with ravers intermingled, dancing to some D&B and dub-step. Representing the Bay Area with his “Cal” cap and stylish jumper, Q-Bert unleashed a relentless fury of scratching that would not let up for the next hour. His selection of tracks was diverse and often impossible to pinpoint, but of an overall style that Q-Bert has come to be known by – Africa Bambaataa electrobeats, ironic samples, happy hardcore whistle-scratches, trumpets, and one extraordinary riff from an Indian classical recording that settled over the whole club and let it be known that exotica had arrived. The incredible difficulty I had of pinpointing his sources reminded me of Q-Bert’s hilarious statement from the documentary Scratch, in which he states: “Since Earth, it’s like, uh, it’s like kinda like a primitive planet, what about the more advanced civilizations, how does their music sound? So I would imagine, you know, whatever they were doing, and uh, I guess that’s how I would come up with my ideas.”
The finale, however, was the highlight of the night, when his MC (actually more of an announcer), stated to the crowd, “Q-Bert’s going to make the turntable into a beat box.” It was a site to be seen – essentially, it brought the notion of scratching 360 degrees, reversing expectations of the role of scratching versus breaks. In a similar way to how the human voice as “beat box” shows its agility in mirroring “inhuman” electronic sounds, the scratch seemed itself to create the beat. One could simply not tell where the scratch and where the beat was – the shortest beat samples was morphed into an epic track. Not only that, but Q-Bert continued to provide beats, in an act of great generosity, when Plain Old Bill and Jimmy 2 Times returned to the decks.
Roc Raida’s performance, which had a smaller but equally engaged crowd, was quite different from Q-Bert. It started with Roc sporting his Yankees cap and a T-Shirt that proclaimed “I Don’t Do Requests.” Whereas Q-Bert’s set was a relentless torrent of rapid-fire scratches, Roc planned a steady party mix of everything from Snoop to House of Pain to Michael Jackson – a mix that was interestingly similar in pop diversity to Diplo’s performance a couple of weeks ago at the Varsity. He then unleashed a barrage of beat-juggling fireworks that in some cases startled the crowd. For his finale, Roc seemed to decide that a happy marriage between hard rock and hip-hop needed to be made, and so suddenly Black Sabbath followed Queen followed Joan Jett among others, in a truly beautiful moment that pointed towards a future of glam and heavy hip hop. And it was after this section that Roc Raida’s version of a grand finale took place. As opposed to Q-Bert’s beatbox scratching magic, Roc offered his trademark, which is a literal interpretation of DJ “acrobatics,” as full body acrobatics – doing 360s with one hand coolly on the “NY” cap, and the other hand performing beat juggling magic, which reminded the crowd that art is often about making what appears impossible possible. The finale was concluded with a long scratch and juggle on one of the L’s of “LL Cool J,” with a content smile on Roc’s face as the crowd screamed.
On a nice afternoon, after the Q-Bert session, I sat down with Zak to talk about his new club. I had two very important questions: the first and most important question I had for him was: how in the hell did you develop such a line up this quickly? His answer: connections, of course, with the qualification, “Fortunately, I was a promoter long before this club and tried to build a reputation for throwing good events and treating people right. So, even though for Beecher and I it is a new experience to own a club, we come to it with a lot of experience,” His diverse programming is ambitious and admirable: Wednesday with hip hop, Friday with techno, and Saturday with house, and a bi-weekly of Drum & Bass on Tuesdays to begin in late August. Acts from Guru to DJ Krush to Adam Beyer are planned for the coming months.
The second question, to which I was happy to have an answer in the negative, was: are there going to be any gated V.I.P. areas (admittedly, a pet peeve of mine)? He reassured me, “I am a regular guy. I’m not going to make a section of the club where people are not allowed to go. If you want a bottle service, you are welcome to it. We will reserve you a table and give you great service – because we are a club. But you are still going to be part of the crowd.”
And so, Foundation is off to a good start, carving a reasonable line between underground and club atmosphere, with the best prices for some of the best music around. My only advice is the following: steer clear of the Ibiza Dream Dance world, and you’ll continue to thrive.
For more information, check out “www.foundationmpls.com”:http://www.foundationmpls.com.