"Jesus H. Christ on a crutch!" I cry as I ease our whip a block south of the downtown Phoenix arts venue .anti_space at 815 West Madison Street. "It looks like a freakin' Rob Zombie flick down here."
"Oh, Kreme, they're just crackheads," sputters the J-unit, pooh-poohing my dismay at being in the Phoenix equivalent of Fort Apache, The Bronx after 1 a.m. on a Saturday night. "It's even worse during the day, dood. Didn't you know? This is ground zero for the crack trade in this city."
"Really? Hmm, maybe I can trade you for a rock or three," I spit, as we ease by clusters of saucer-eyed men and women hanging out in the middle of the street. "Let me see if we can park a little closer to the entrance so they won't strip the ride clean."
We eventually find a spot on Madison where tons of other people have parked for the all-night house-music extravaganza RedMonkey, started by DJ Pete "SuperMix" Salaz many moons ago at the long-gone Riverbottom Lounge in south Phoenix. Salaz eventually moved on to co-captain the long-running and recently retired Batucada at Scottsdale's Next with our good friend Sean Badger, a.k.a. DJ Senbad. Still, RedMonkey has remained a powerful memory for the countless who got their groove on to Salaz's throbbing, sexual four-four beats.
The Buddha-like Salaz occupies a legendary status in P-town DJ-dom, with other mixmasters bowing down to him as if he were a stocky Aztec god. So SuperMix's decision to bring RedMonkey back, if only for one night, made it a must for Jett and me.
"See, that wasn't so bad," comments the Teagan Presley of the PHX, after we've walked a blocklong gauntlet to make it to .anti_space's oasis of relative safety. "All they did was stare at us hard."
"My plan, if attacked, was to throw you at them and bolt," I impart. "After all, it's important to our employer that yours truly gets inside the club."
"My hero," sighs Jett, sarcastically.
Inside, we pass a front desk laden with a huge basket of bananas, then meander blindly through a long, haunted-house-like tunnel of darkness, crafted by affixing black plastic to the walls and ceiling. We follow the electronic pulse emanating from the back to a curtain made from the same material as that on the walls. Beyond is a reddish light and a wall upon which hangs a stylized rendering of a crimson simian. This is the back wall of the DJ booth where Pete Salaz is setting the decks afire. A massive, multi-ethnic crowd gyrates before him beneath a roof draped dramatically with Army-surplus cargo nets, and an old-fashioned disco ball dangling from the center.
Past this main dance floor is a smaller one, and then a roofless, unpaved area that looks like some sort of gated back alley for the building. .anti_space normally operates as an art gallery when it's not hosting the occasional event, like this one or the monthly dose of industrial and noise-driven insanity known as Sadisco (formerly at Jugheads). On the wall of this back alley, assorted video clips are being screened. And though these are hard to make out because of lighting and the roughness of the wall, I swear one of them looks like an episode of the old, stop-motion animated Davey and Goliath TV series.
.anti_space doesn't have a liquor license, so the strongest thing it's selling are these skinned coconuts that the counter chick drills a hole into for straw-insertion. Anyway, the vibe's more about dancing, conviviality and art than gettin' tore up. In fact, one of the first chaps we meet is artist Banding Hendrix, the cat who did the monkey painting that greeted us upon entry. He's working on some abstract canvas as we chat him up.
"I'm originally from San Francisco," explains Hendrix. "But I'm here because the art market here is better."
"Better than San Fran?" I sputter. "Get outta here!"
"Creatively, there's not as much talent," he replies. "That's just because Phoenix doesn't have as many people as the Bay Area. But I can sell all my pieces for $700 to $1,200, and this is what I do full time. I don't have to have some other job. Plus I publish all my pieces through my company Dreamzart.com."
Hendrix tells us that he also has a regular gig doing live art over at the Hidden House on Mondays for After 9 Events' "Foreign Affair" evenings. So we ask what he gets out of doing his thing as part of a par-tay.
"It's all about evolution of the soul and going forward," he philosophizes. "Peaceful thoughts and abstract expressions. Having conversations with people about educated things. Instead of focusing on the negative."
I look around. Jett's disappeared on me. Can't keep that ho workin' no matter how bad I beat her. That's when I espy her cozying up to two lovely lasses, one of whom reminds me of Alyson Hannigan. You know, "Willow," from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Her name's Tarah, and her buddy's name is Kim. They've come all the way from Peoria for the shindig.
"What do you do in Peoria, Tarah?" wonders the Jettster.
"I'm a technician at an animal shelter, and I work all the time," she shrugs, sadly.
"I can certainly imagine how hard it is to work with beasts," sneers Jett, eyeing me.
"It's like an ER for animals, really fucked-up stuff," the Willow-ish Tarah relates. "The worst one was actually in the news a while back. This lady dragged her Chihuahua miles down a dirt road with her car without realizing she had done it. She brought it in, and they tried to charge her for animal cruelty."
"Did the dog survive?" I ask.
"It did, but it was a really big deal. Eventually, they did give the dog back to her, though," she says.
I smile, then say mock-sternly: "And if this happens one more time, no more Chihuahuas for you, young woman!"
Suddenly, Jett pinches me from the side and whispers in my ear, "Kreme, I've got a female issue we have to deal with."
"Let's name it Lenny until we know who the father is," I reply.
"No, really, my bra strap's snapped," she whines.
"And you want me to do what, lend you mine?"
"Not funny, fat ass!" she says, all pissy. "Hold the camera. I'm going to the ladies' room to see if I can fix it."
She hustles off, and I take in some impromptu break-dancing going down. I spot some of the folks from Batucada, which we profiled more than a year ago ("Deep House Daze," July 15, 2004). Over here, I see M3 sweatin' buckets, his dreads spinning crazily. And over there is my buddy Misha, workin' her fine boo-tay so fast it's making me dizzy. I have to say what's up to Misha because I haven't seen her in so long. She gives me a big hug and says she's living in Cali now, but that she came back to Phoenix just to be at the revival of RedMonkey.
"Honey, I'm 30 years old, and I've been coming out to house events since I was 18," she declares. "Pete 'SuperMix' Salaz is the man. I've told him many times that if I could've had a baby for every fucking pleasurable moment he'd given me out on the dance floor, I would be a mother times 80."
I shoot the shit with Misha for a minute, then mosey outside for a breath of fresh air. There I run into none other than Sean Badger, who's just walked his booful bride Azure Jones to her car, as Azure has to get up earlier than we do. The bear-like spinner, better known as DJ Senbad, tells me that he and Pete Salaz have a new Saturday eve of house music starting called "Lemon Drop Saturdays." The affair will kick off at Majerle's 9-Lounge on September 24.
"House music belongs in Phoenix, more than any of the immediate areas," says Badger. "It's better here, but people need to know -- especially with all these venues closing, like the Emerald Lounge and so on -- that if you want something to be in Phoenix, you've got to come out and support it in Phoenix. And that does not mean begging to get in for free and going in and out to drink in your car. You have to patronize an event to support it. This is a business for club owners. They wouldn't own clubs otherwise."
We're soon joined by Salaz, on a break from his DJ duties. He's gratified by the turnout and says another RedMonkey is planned for Thanksgiving Day, but the location is up in the air.
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As I'm talking to Salaz, the Jettster appears at my arm, jiggling noticeably. Apparently, she had to lose the bra because it was worn out, probably from being removed too many times by roving hands of both sexes. That's when she asks Salaz about his RedMonkey. Or at least the origin of the club's moniker.
"After this club we operated called Chupa ended, my partner at that time tried to restart this night we'd had before called Jumbo," says Mr. SuperMix, who proceeds to break it down for us:
"He got pissed and left Phoenix. I went to visit him, and when I came back, I was driving on the 17 around Durango curve, looking at the city. I was like, 'This is my city. I've gotta do something here. I'm gonna call it something stupid, like The Monkey!' I saw an Alfa Romeo, and I thought, 'Maybe Alpha Monkey.' Then I was like, 'No, fuck that, I'm gonna call it RedMonkey.' I like the animal. It appeals to a lot of different people. It's a little seedy, has some sexual connotations to it, and it's catchy. Guess I just got lucky with the name."