To an outsider, the rave culture probably looks a bit like an impenetrable, monolithic beast composed of blissed-out, glow-stick kids who'll respond to any beat that jumps off a turntable. It's a bit like the perspective that the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff had on the Communist bloc in the 1950s, and it's just about as flawed.
In fact, there are many fissures within the rave community, created by differences as big--or as trivial--as those that would separate a fan of Sleater-Kinney from a fan of Styx.
Willobee Carlan, head of Stoneage Management (Fred Green, Sipping Soma, Phunk Junkeez, etc.), sensed such a fissure on the local scene. "There were some clubs here that had rave nights, but they were all filled with kids," he says. "There wasn't a place that was really meant for the 21-and-over crowd."
So Carlan decided that if he wanted to see such a club in the Valley, he'd have to take matters in his own hands. On Thanksgiving weekend, he launched a Friday club night called KARMA at Bash on Ash. Starting on a holiday weekend is a challenge, and subsequent weeks have similarly been hindered by Arizona State University's Christmas break. But KARMA is slowly gaining steam, and Carlan--ever the optimist--thinks it's about to take off.
In attempting to build the perfect club night, he's left no detail unconsidered. All too aware that many people regard Bash on Ash as an unhip frat mecca, he omits any mention of the club in his promotional materials, simply offering a street address.
Also, every Friday he enters the club in the early afternoon and painstakingly reshapes it. He covers all Bash fliers with decorative rugs, moves the tables out and even replaces the oppressively bright lights near the rest rooms with trippier red bulbs.
He's also made a point of closing off the club's normal east-side exit, and requiring patrons to enter on the Ash Street side. As a result, you are immediately confronted by a winding entrance that consciously creates a sense of mystery, making you feel that you're entering an alien environment and not simply walking in on another Bash on Ash swing night. To top it off, Carlan has seen to it that the club offers special drinks for Friday nights, beverages with fitting names like Karma Chameleon and Instant Karma.
The process of reinventing Bash on Ash every Friday is considerable work, but it's pretty effective. The club gives off the kind of relaxed, trance-friendly vibe that Markus Schulz, KARMA's resident DJ (along with DJ Jon Boy), contends has been lacking at Valley clubs.
"The taste in music that the kids have is a little different than the taste that the 21-and-overs have," he says. "Right now, that music is what's really happening, the more progressive, trancey stuff. That's what I'm playing now, that's what I feel is where I'm at. I didn't want to play tracks that just don't mean anything. I wanted to get into playing more of the really beautiful progressive stuff."
Schulz adds that the under-21 scene tends to be about "nice hard beats, boom-boom-boom, and no real music." He says he finds himself drawn to techno of the more melodic songcraft variety, particularly the work of Paul Oakenfold (named best DJ of 1998 by DJ magazine). It's a trend that's gaining currency in the dance movement, but Schulz is quick to emphasize that he was into this kind of music even in its pre-bandwagon days, back when he plied the wheels of steel at The Works.
"What I felt in this city over the last year or two was that the garage house sound is what a lot of the underground DJs were playing," he says. "There were a few DJs that were playing the progressive, trancey stuff when The Works was open, but they've since gotten away from it, and now everybody's playing deep house and garage. I'm out there in the streets, I'm out there playing all over the country, and it's like [trance] was just not being represented in Phoenix. When I go out on a Friday or Saturday night, that's what I want to hear. I don't want to hear diva vocals about how she wants to be free, or whatever. I want to get some really nice melodic, trancey stuff, and there was no place in the city that was doing that.
"It's not just stuff that's empty, zombie beats," he adds. "It's actually something that touches your soul."
KARMA happens every Friday from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. at Fifth Street and Ash in Tempe.
Sistahs Are Doing It: For years, fans of Sistah Blue have clamored for some kind of a recorded document of the blues band's sound to purchase after shows. But, aside from a single cassette, none has been forthcoming. That's about to change as the band readies its self-titled first CD for release. The band went into Clarke Rigsby's Tempest Recording and recorded straight to two-track, subsequently choosing which takes were keepers. This no-overdub approach offered little opportunity for elaborate production, but it might be a good representation of a band that's at its best in a live setting anyway. Sistah Blue will play the first in a series of CD-release shows on Thursday, February 4, at Rhythm Room.
Empty Trunk: Trunk Federation's Saturday, January 23, show at Boston's in Tempe will be the band's last in its current incarnation. Bob Smith, bassist and occasional keyboardist for the quartet, is leaving the band to play with singer-songwriter A.J. Croce, or, as Trunk Fed singer/guitarist Jim Andreas puts it, "Bob's going off to be an adult-contemporary star."
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Smith's musical versatility has been a big asset for the band, as evidenced by a recently recorded six-song demo, which showcases something of a new Trunk Federation, a bit mellower than in the past, but willing to give full vent to its skewed-pop proclivities.
Not only is the group short a bass player, it's also label hunting, in the wake of the all-but-defunct status of Alias Records, which released two CDs by the band, including 1998's excellent but largely ignored The Curse of Miss Kitty.
The group's future without Smith is up in the air at the moment. "I assume the rest of us will do something else, but I haven't talked to all the other guys," Andreas says.
Heightening the gravity of the Boston's gig is the fact that another band on the bill, Les Payne Product, will have its set filmed as part of producer Ryan Page's cinematic celebration of Les Payne and the Arizona desert myth. Opening the show will be the always fine Tucson band Shoebomb.