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Let's say that you're a regular at Nita's Hideaway. You leave town for a couple of months, and, upon your return, you decide to step into the club for a Thursday-night drink. As you pass through the doorway, you expect to hear roots-rock or classic soul pumping from the sound system, but instead you're greeted by a packed, sweaty crowd, with woofer-rattling hip-hop blasting from two turntables onstage, and a collection of breakdancers taking solo turns in the middle of the dance floor.
You're liable to think you've wandered into the wrong place, but you haven't. Rest assured, Nita's remains the no-nonsense rock and alt-country bar where The Revenants hold court every Wednesday. But for the last six weeks, Thursdays have become the property of the Bombshelter DJs and the freeform, tag-team turntable concept they've dubbed "Mission Control."
The Mission Control shows boldly trample across all genres of dance music, with no formats or restrictions to be found. There's only one formula at work: No formulas.
Mission Control came about when DJ Emile, frustrated by dance clubs that attempt to impose rigid formats on their DJs, decided to start spinning at the Tempe coffee house Higher Ground. After a few months of surprising success at such a small and limited venue, Emile was approached by John LeMire of Nita's Hideaway.
"A lot of people came to check out Monday nights," Emile says, between sets at Nita's. "There was a huge buzz about it. It was two monitor speakers, I had to borrow turntables, I didn't have anything. No club would let me play what I wanted to do, so I said, 'Screw it, I won't go to a club, I'll go to a coffee shop.' And this place was as wide as your closet. But I think what's been missing from a lot of these places is a vibe, they don't have a vibe. They just want people to come in and drink and get 'em out. I thought, 'I could create a vibe with my music.'"
When LeMire asked Emile if he wanted to launch a Thursday DJ night at Nita's, Emile turned to his Bombshelter cohorts Z-Trip and Radar. From the beginning, the Bombshelter DJs have been about trying to meld different record collections and sonic palettes under the umbrella of unbridled expression. Since Nita's carried no baggage as a dance club, Thursday nights were a blank page upon which the Bombshelter crew could fill in any colors it wanted and bring together any crowd it desired. In other words, it could create a vibe.
"We have a normal crowd that comes in here, which are a bunch of rockers, we have hip-hop kids, we have people from the techno scene, all the techno DJs and hip-hop DJs," Emile says. "One positive thing that's really come about, all the techno DJs, the hip-hop DJs and the house DJs have come together to our nights, and now know each other on a first-name basis, whereas before they didn't even know each other."
Every Thursday brings with it a new wrinkle. Two weeks ago, it was an art slam, with two artists engaging in a painting competition as the DJs worked the turntables. Last week, it was a percussion showcase, as friends of the DJs supplemented the beats and scratches with live conga and bongo fills.
"We're trying to incorporate all aspects of creativity--art, live music, everything," Emile says. "We just want to make it the hugest potpourri of creative vibes."
Z-Trip says the Mission Control nights have been among the best club experiences he's had recently. He says the Bombshelter crew tries "changing it up every week," and might even bring in some noteworthy guest DJs, but adds that "we wanna do it on the hush," to maintain an element of surprise.
Z-Trip can currently be seen in URB magazine's March-April issue as part of the "100 Most Exciting Artists, Ideas and Styles Emerging From the Urban Underground." Amidst short profiles on some of the hottest names in dance music, Z-Trip earns a full page, along with much praise for his "unique brand of turntable trickery."
Z-Trip's Mission Control exhibitions back up URB's lofty assessments. Aside from his ultra-dexterous scratching skills, Z-Trip's greatest gift is his musical intelligence. Both his turntable and production work reflect unusually Catholic tastes, filtered through a diehard, hip-hop soul. At Nita's, he managed to transform a 19-year-old Pink Floyd track into the basis for a funky b-boy anthem. He also resuscitated robotic early-'80s funk and old-school hip-hop, with an unerring sense of tempo and dramatic flow.
Sandwiched between the streetwise hip-hop and funk lessons of Z-Trip and Radar, Emile is the stylistic wild card, with his trippy, rave-friendly mix of drum 'n' bass and house. Part of the fun of Mission Control is watching the dance floor change dimensions every 30 or 40 minutes, as the crowd adjusts to new grooves and BPMs.
The turnout for Mission Control has been consistently impressive, with nearly 200 people regularly showing up on a weeknight. Emile says the Thursday-night slots work well for the Bombshelter DJs because they're usually too busy to pull something together on weekends. Besides, weeknight gigs mean less commercial pressure, and more creative freedom.
"I go to a club and say, 'Let me have your worst night, not your best night,'" Emile says. "If I get 50 people in there, and they've got zero, I'm looking good. If I get 100, I'm the messiah."
Maine Man: Big Pete Pearson is too huge a local fixture to be honored only once, so different Valley clubs are taking turns saluting this blues veteran before he moves to Maine next month. The next tribute show is at Melody Lounge, which hosts Big Pete's music--and barbecue--on Saturday, April 11, beginning at 7 p.m.
Who's in town: Before ska was a commercially proven flavor of the month, Dave's Big Deluxe was around, making Arizona safe for rude boys. It's not quite accurate to call this ska contingent a Tucson band anymore, what with band leader Dave Shuttenberg currently residing in Denver, Colorado, and parts of his band scattered in San Diego and Phoenix. But after seven years together, this band continues to maintain a long-distance skank, and it will celebrate the release of its new CD, Miss Fortune, with a Friday, April 10, show at Jackson Hole.
Whatever you thought of Concrete Blonde's music--and I think it tended to be on the bland side--there was no denying that Johnette Napolitano possessed one of the finest, most distinctive voices in pop music. She's been relatively quiet lately--unless you count guest-vocal duties with The Heads--but she's reemerging with a new solo album and tour, and she'll be at Gibson's on Friday, April 10.
Also, one of the biggest names in the booming Rock en Espanol movement, the Mexico City band Molotov--frequently described as a Latino Beastie Boys--continues Toolies Country's Tuesday-night Rock en Espanol series with a show on Tuesday, April 14.
Contact Gilbert Garcia at his online address: firstname.lastname@example.org