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Tom Anderson has seen a lot of DJs over the years. Many of them have spun for him over the past 16 years at his Scottsdale dance club, Anderson's Fifth Estate. But he says he'd never seen anything to prepare him for what he experienced a few months ago, when he saw the mighty Bombshelter DJ crew--Z-Trip, Emile and Radar--tear it up at Nita's Hideaway.
"I went down there just to check them out," Anderson says. "I sat back there and I could not believe what I was hearing. What they were doing up there was not just spinning records. They're artists.
"To listen to what they were doing, their remixes and all three guys playing six turntables and what they're coming up with, I stood in the back and I couldn't believe it. My jaw was down on the ground. I stood there for over an hour, and I went up there and handed them a card and I said, 'I'm your biggest fan.'"
At that point, Anderson had no hope of working with the Bombshelter crew, although the idea was certainly appealing to him. He just wanted them to know how impressed he was.
Weeks later, when word broke out that Nita's was about to be sold, Anderson called Emile and made his pitch.
"I said, 'I'd love for you to come work with me, 'cause I believe in what you guys are doing. More than how many people you're gonna bring in, or any money prospects for this thing, I want it in my place because I think you guys are just phenomenal.'"
With a handshake agreement and a commitment from the club owner to respect their creative autonomy, on Wednesday, August 19, the Bombshelter DJs ushered in their weekly Pentagon Night (a tongue-in-cheek reference to their alternate moniker, the Joint Chiefs of Staff) at Anderson's. After only three shows, the buzz is getting mighty loud.
Unlike the Bombshelter crew's shows at Nita's, which tended to bring in a radically different crowd than that club's usual roots rockers, Pentagon Night features a diverse group of Anderson's regulars, mixed with intense music fans who sense that something special is happening here.
At the September 2 show, the Bombshelter crew followed their usual pattern of transforming the performance into a mixed-media showcase, a kind of art exhibit with breakbeats. While the three DJs traded off on the wheels of steel, their sidekick Mr. Puma alternately provided commentary, exhorted the crowd to dance-floor euphoria and even launched into freestyle raps. To the right of the stage, the crew's artist pal Jim Mah Food intermittently worked on a blank rectangular screen, using a marker to draw the members of pioneering German electro-pop band Kraftwerk.
At their Pentagon Night shows, the Bombshelter DJs are reaffirming that their greatness lies in their ability to cover all the bases, to make hip-hop, vintage funk, and trippier techno sounds merge into one relentless groove. Anderson likens it to "a jazz beat jam, but with records." The power of their performances lies in their knack for daring and creative segues, shifting from the '80s synth-pop of Naked Eyes' "Promises Promises" to a snippet of "Shaft," into a bass-driven snatch of hard-core hip-hop. They make it sound so seamless and easy.
Although individual members take breaks from time to time, the beats never stop at Pentagon Night. As effective as each DJ is on his own, you can feel a surge of electricity run through the room when all three DJs step to the plate at the same time, with Z-Trip doing the mixes, Radar scratching at the turntable, and Emile on beatbox. The throbbing beats, powered by the group's own 10,000-watt sound system, can be so intense that at their August 26 show, neighbors from streets away, on Lafayette, called the Scottsdale police to complain.
On September 2, the dance floor builds slowly, inexorably. Fortunately, this is a crowd--unlike many club audiences--that understands what's going on, that knows that something creative is happening, and respects the flow that's being created. There won't be any requests for "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It" here. Anderson says the eclecticism of the Pentagon Night crowd is its greatest asset.
"You've got the skater kid, you've got the jock kid, you've got the rocker kid, the Rastafarian kid," he says. "You've got all these different people that like different forms that have come together, and the nucleus is jelling with this. That spells nothing but success.
"When we were doing Walt Richardson, when he was a new guy in town in 1983, it brought in that type of crowd. I could see all these different people coming together and partying and having a great time. I knew it was gonna be a big deal, 'cause you don't have to draw from just one source."
Anderson is so excited by what the Bombshelter DJs are creating at his club that he wants to get them on the airwaves. He's currently working to get the shows recorded with the hope that they could be broadcast on local radio on a weekend night. Though nothing has been set in stone, KEDJ-FM 106.3 seems to be the most likely candidate for such a move. Once that local hurdle is cleared, Anderson thinks a Bombshelter radio show could break through to a national listenership.