Club Next, a danceteria-style lounge in Old Town Scottsdale that embodies some of the stereotypes you might expect, doesn't seem like an ideal joint for low-key Phoenix house DJs Pete Salaz and Senbad. But the partners found themselves there after changing priorities and schedules forced them this past spring to move their weekly Wednesday club night from the more familiar surroundings of downtown Phoenix's Sky Lounge.
But s'all good, they say. And judging by a visit to their event last week, which they call Batucada, it is.
"We thought it might be a shiny shirt nightmare," Senbad says with a hint of pride in his voice. "We took the room and we were able to dirty it up. We give it that underground feel."
That may not be entirely accurate -- there aren't too many basements and warehouses with soft red lighting in the West's Most Western Town -- but there is indeed an indefinable quality to the Batucada jams at Next. Part of that has to do with the DJ's draw. Senbad says more than 100 of their regulars from Sky Lounge make the trek to Scottsdale each week. They stand out. They're the break-dancers, the pop-and-lockers; they wear the funky mesh caps, the Afros, the outrageous clothes. You won't see them wearing clear lip gloss or brooding by the front door.
Curiously, though, you won't see the usual "pretty people" suspects doing that much on Batucada nights at Next, either. Mainly, that's a function of the music, a style commonly referred to as "deep house." The beats are more polyrhythmic, the vocal samples are more soulful and the grooves are more fluid than the usual throbbing acid-house. Salaz and Senbad will often mix in samba from Brazil -- "batucada," actually, is a Spanish name for a style of Afro-Brazilian percussion-heavy music. With deep house, there's an awful lot to shake to, and with its frenetic cadences, even old ladies at the bingo parlor could choreograph a step or two.
The dance floor also has no real periphery; if you stand within six inches of the space, you're moving at least a little, however unintentionally. Picture this: I stand by the bar, looking for a patch of space to build a comfort zone, hoping not to look lost in club paradise. I watch as a series of dancers do their best to represent the beat. Most do a modified robot, flailing arms, heaving chests mechanically, while a few do a sorta running man, adding a few spins. An enormous dude in a throwback powder blue North Carolina jersey and matching visor and a girlie drink in hand busts a hip-hop move, running in space, rolling his shoulders. And he looks good.
I'm ensconced in these images. Then I look to the right. The guy next to me, smooth and Mexican with a thin white dress shirt untucked and designer jeans, is rolling his own shoulders, putting one knee forward, then the other. We're at the bar. I feel a hand brush my back. It belongs to a gorgeous blonde. She's in a cut-off dress top cut higher than most cut-offs and in jeans perhaps a size or two too small. She's wearing a pretty yellow-orange flower over her left ear. She's classic bar eye candy, but she's auditioning for the Supremes -- butt shaking, hands extended for a vintage Motown pose. Sadly, her touch was accidental.
So I'm absorbing this, and eventually I notice something. My knees are doing the exact same thing as that guy next to me, twitching and bending along to the rhythm. Senbad and Salaz, both chubby and nondescript-looking, have got me. With the deep house grooves, pervasive bass from the speakers, lighting darker and softer than usual, and a crowd caught up in the moment, they've successfully manipulated the room. Even the floor's one middle-aged couple, who with their just-out-of-work clothes and awkward embraces seem definitely out of their element, are transported, holding onto each other for dear life but enjoying the ecstasy anyway.
"Phoenix is very much a Top 40 and radio hip-hop city," says Senbad, whose real name is Sean Badger. "That's what we've been up against with Batucada. This is not typical."
Nope, it's not, especially away from that neighborhood where the Diamondbacks play, which DJs and other aspiring artistes would naturally prefer. "If you do something in downtown Phoenix, you'll get gay markets, you'll get urban markets, you'll get artsy markets," Senbad says.
Even so, the event is drawing its best crowds now, attracting more than 300 people regularly, according to the DJs. Part of that has to do with Next's generosity. The club, unlike Sky Lounge or, down the block, Soho -- where a brief stint ended with overcrowding and noise complaints -- Next doesn't charge at the door. Badger says he and Salaz walk away with the same money they always have but now don't have to gouge the dancers to do it.
"It was the right move at the right time," Senbad says. "Basically, we were supporting Soho. It's tough to support a club off of just a Wednesday night."
Just as it's tough to imagine synthetic Scottsdale supporting a couple of unmade-bed DJs merely looking to spin a few Masters at Work productions and build a viable house scene in the Valley. But these guys prove at least that a halfway decent groove can work small wonders. Speaking of which, by the end of last week's affair, even I, armchair rock critic and funk brother, end up on the dance floor for a few minutes, out there with the break-dancers and the wanna-be robots. It's a release, certainly, and really what this night must be about, regardless of the locale.
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