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Grooves wound like tight metal coils, rinsed-out Rastafarian rhymes at 180 beats per minute, dark and dirty bass lines, jazz vocals sung over rolling rhythms -- these are the sounds of drum and bass. Old hat in the U.K. -- where it originated as "jungle" -- and relatively fresh to U.S. ears, drum and bass has dragged its toes now across most cosmopolitan cities here since the mid-1990s, and Phoenix is no exception.
The Valley drum and bass scene, a small but unusually enthusiastic group, has had two main Valley spots to call home -- the now-defunct Lucky Dragon in Tempe on Monday nights from 1997 to 2002, and the Sky Lounge, the upstairs portion of Sports City Grill on East Washington. The organizers of the Thursday night "Frequency" events at Sky Lounge are now shopping for a new home, mostly for financial and promotional reasons and, according to a recent Internet post from local performer DJ Moniker, for fear the night eventually could grow stale. Regardless, the energy readily on display at Sky Lounge last week figures to carry over -- hard-slamming beats and a healthy mix of bohemian urbanites, techno-heads and stragglers who just want to dance as soon as the DJs hit the console.
The vibe that was obvious among the several dozen attendees last Thursday, when the performing DJs mixed nasty breaks with more restrained bass lines and vocal samples, seems to promise an upswing from what longtime players in the scene say has been a lull in recent months. The scene, they say, began to wilt late in 2002 when the original organizers of the Thursday night Sky Lounge parties (called "Subconscious" at first) pulled out over disputes concerning money. Soon after, an atmosphere that can only be described as "hippie's basement" waned, and attendance dropped as a result.
But with the beats growing increasingly harder -- and with women continuing to dance right along with baseball-cap-wearing, fist-pumping men -- whatever drop-off that occurred on the night's first wave appears to have leveled. Four of the scene's key players -- Jason Ayers, DJ Dehga, DJ Preecha and Frank Mendez -- now reflect on the scene's immediate past and are contemplating what's next.
Jason Ayers, co-creator of Subconscious
Turned on to drum and bass for the first time because of the simple fact that he heard it on a good sound system, Jason Ayers took drum and bass out of the back room and on to the main stage at Sky Lounge in April of 2002. He partnered with Adam Eaglerock, who had come from Atlanta in 2001 and was motivated to put together a weekly.
"A lot of people think really fondly back to that time," Ayers reminisces on the origins of Subconscious. "The night before [we started it], I had a big barbecue at my house, called up every DJ and hard-core fan I could think of and we outlined our ideas for the night there. We had our deal upfront with the bar that they were going to pay for talent. We just did our homework."
Able to bring big-name DJs such as British pioneer Andy C to Phoenix and foster a sense of community among local DJs, Ayers found instant success. Even after the night changed hands from Ayers (performing name: DeepFreq) to DJ Access in 2003 and took the name Frequency, people were still coming down in big numbers on Thursday nights. But that turnout didn't last, and Ayers has his own ideas as to why.
"When I was involved, I introduced what became the image," he says. "I bought tapestries to decorate the Sky Lounge mostly because I don't like acoustic reverb, and I did other things that all together made the space different from any other space. It was a lot warmer."
(DJ Access could not be reached for comment.)
Ayers' other contribution to the local drum and bass community came in the form of a message board, which started as a feature on his www.subconscious.com Web site.
"I created it as a general resource. . . . I allowed all promoters to promote there," he says. "Unfortunately, too many people didn't realize it was a supplement to drum and bass culture."
Some people think the board is "evil," according to Ayers. The "no love for the board" shtick rose from the dramas that would ensue over disagreements. The moderators quickly created a "Trash Can" forum especially for the haters.
Evil or not, as "Drum-Core" (http://www.drum-core.com), the message board lives on as a source of gossip, event promotion, political commentary, record release listings and even music charts.
DeMartel Woods, a.k.a. DJ Dehga
DeMartel Woods, who performs as DJ Dehga, is something of a historian and guru when it comes to the development of drum and bass in Phoenix. The friendly, fun-loving Woods discovered the genre in 1997 after spending his teens as an electronic-music junkie, listening to his uncles spin house records and attending raves. Once he heard the skittering rhythms of jungle, however, he was hooked. At first, he collected underground jungle records. Soon after, he began spinning records; his first gig coincided with only the second time he had ever tried his hand at DJing. Along with Ayers and Eaglerock, Woods helped launch the Thursday night affairs at Sky Lounge. The music then leaned more toward songs driven by rich melodies and vocals such as the Latin-influenced old-school U.K. duo Shy FX and T-Power's "Feelin' U" and "Shake Your Body." These days Dehga leans toward jazzy progressions classified as "intelligent" drum and bass, one of the many subgenres that inhabit this beast of many beats.