Music News

What's the Flavor?

Club-promoting is guerrilla capitalism at its sick best. Just peep the ongoing alley fight between promoters of two new hip-hop nights in Scottsdale--one at the Cage, the other at Club Tribeca. Here's the thrust-and-parry thus far: Until recently, Phoenix-based superhero DJ Z-Trip and his sidekick Fashen presided over a successful Monday-night hip-hop spot at Tribeca. Then Z-Trip cut a deal at the Cage to launch a Wednesday hip-hop night there called the Flavor Shop, which debuted June 4. Next, the promoter of Tribeca's night, Diamond Entertainment's Derrick Ware, fired Z-Trip after several of the DJ's friends passed out free-drink cards for the Cage's Flavor Shop at Tribeca on May 26.

Z-Trip's still pissed over losing the Tribeca gig. "I understand their point of view, but to me it's really fucked to have a club tell me I can't DJ anymore for my own people on a night that I hustled to build," he told me recently at his Tempe office. "Instead of saying, 'Let's work this out, let's handle this thing,' they dissed me."

Then they dissed him again. A few days before Z-Trip's debut of the Flavor Shop at the Cage, Tribeca promoters passed out stacks of free-drink and VIP cards for a new, second hip-hop night at Tribeca called--get this--the Flavor Shop. No one even, like, skewed the spelling to "The Flava Shop," or "The Flavor Shoppe." And for pure cheese factor, check out the cut-rate counterfeit quality to Tribeca's promo cards (graphic insert). The disinformation campaign failed. The Cage pulled in 800 people for the Flavor Shop's coming-out party. Tribeca's Flavor Shop drew low in the triple digits.

Ding. On to round two, Monday night, June 9. Z-Trip's friend and co-promoter Damon Sachs cruises Tribeca's parking lot in a car with banners proclaiming: Z-Trip has moved to Wednesday nights at the Cage. Inside Tribeca, Fashen, who, with Z-Trip's blessing, has replaced him there, is bumping the beats as usual. Then someone gets on the sound-system mike, tells the crowd Flavor Shop drink cards and VIP passes from the Cage will be honored at Tribeca, and starts talking smack about Z-Trip. Next, Fashen gets on the mike, says, "Fuck this shit, we're outta here," and walks out, midset. Two nights later, Fashen opens for Z-Trip at the Cage's Flavor Shop, which did around 550 its second week.

Meanwhile, Z-Trip puts out the word that any local DJs who go to work for Tribeca do so against his wishes--no small sleight given Z-Trip's rising national stature and elite veteran status here. The only notable DJ to cross the line is Dark Vader, who headlines Tribeca's Flavor Shop. Vader's the only Valley hip-hop DJ with the following and name recognition to rival Z-Trip, who deems Vader's move a break in the DJ code. "I put that night together, and as far as I'm concerned, [Vader]'s fucking my girl," he says.

Tribeca promoter (and pro football player) Derrick Ware did not return my phone calls, but Z-Trip confirms a rumor that Ware threatened him via a mutual acquaintance. "He said, 'Tell Z-Trip if anything happens to Tribeca, I'm going to kick his ass.'" Apparently, Z-Trip says, Ware was mistakenly under the impression that someone was planning to hire some west-side thugs to cause trouble at one of Tribeca's hip-hop nights (Valley club lore is rife with tales of rival promoters using exactly that tactic).

So who's winning the war? People who like to go hear hip-hop in a club, that's who. In the space of a week, the Valley went from having one prominent hip-hop night--on a Monday, yet--to three. The choice cut is Wednesday nights at the Cage. It's got the best vibe, the best music, and the best concept: tracks and attitude that stand out from the trends dominating contemporary hip-hop and hip-hop clubs. Here's Z-Trip: "Most of the hip-hop music that's coming out today is slower, it's under 100 bpm. Whereas before, all the fun shit, 'Peter Piper' and '900 Number' and all those party anthems, were like 105 bpm or faster. Now, everybody's getting high, and the music's not made so much for dancing anymore. It's made for sitting around, and being like, 'Yo, pass me that blunt. I'm feeling this.' And there's a lot of anger and negativity to the music. The energy level of most clubs has dipped way down, and I wanted to do a night where I could do some more energetic stuff."

Stuff like old EPMD, Run-D.M.C., Biz Markie, Special Ed, and Eric B and Rakim. On June 18, Z-Trip even dropped in two LL Cool J tracks that got the crowd off good--"I'm Bad," and the more obscure "Candy." Late in the night, Z-Trip started pulling some funk from his crates, including a little Kool and the Gang.

Added value at the Cage's Flavor Shop is the Green Room in the back, where DJs Tom C. and J-Cut spin lush aural rain forests of dance-hall reggae. You'll think you're in New York City, or at least San Francisco. Furthering that illusion is the rainbow crowd--blacks, whites, goldens, browns, ravers, b-boys, models, pro ballplayers, yuppies and blunt smokers, peacefully co-existing, if not mingling. So far, at least, the stark self-segregation that usually casts a pall over Valley hip-hop nights is absent from the Flavor Shop.

But the Cage's notorious, arbitrary dress code lives on. I saw four 30ish white guys in garish, short-sleeved dress shirts and flabby guts spilling over their belts get in with no hassle. A few minutes later, some younger blacks in hip-hop gear that probably cost twice as much and looked five times as good showed up, and the door bouncers ordered them to tuck their jerseys in. Come on, now. That just sets a bad tone for a club where everything's otherwise all lovely.

Get on the Hardfloor
Right now the family tree of electronic music is growing like Jack's beanstalk. And way up there at the top, like two or three branches below Philip Glass and Kraftwerk, is Hardfloor. A German hard-techno duo, Hardfloor started pounding out recordings in the late '80s and pioneered many of the now-trendy sounds centered on the Roland 303 synthesizer, including that real squelchy acid sound popularized by DJ Josh Wink. Hardfloor--keyboardist/programmers Ramon Zenker and Olever Bondzio--came to the States in early June for their first U.S. tour, the last date of which is Saturday, June 28, in Phoenix. I caught up with Zenker for a little Q&A right after sound check for Hardfloor's show in Denver last weekend.

Coda: Now that you've been here, what are the differences between the scene in the U.S. and Europe?

Zenker: Oh, there is not a big difference. Everywhere the same, yah? The whole world, they're dancing the techno thing. It is smaller here, though. We hear all this about the electronic music growing big here, but it is not a thing like in Germany, where it is very big. Lots of raves with five, ten-thousand people. May Day rave with 25,000 people. Big-selling records in Germany coming from the underground, so, no, it's not really growing so big here.

But I will say that in Germany, there is not so much drum 'n' bass. It's only in small clubs there, and here drum 'n' bass is a little bit more. We played yesterday in Waupaca, Wisconsin, and they had Frankie Bones playing techno, and then we went on, and then after this they had a drum 'n' bass DJ. It was a strange combination, but it worked out good.

Coda: What would you say has been your greatest single influence on electronic dance music?

Zenker: Well, that's hard. Maybe we influence the whole sound of today, yah? On our first record, we had a long break, we had a snare roll that just grows louder and louder, things that are in every record today. People say we are only a 303 band, but that's not so much anymore. We're moving more away from those machines. At the time we first began in Germany, everything we did was hard, fast techno, like 125 bpm. Now everything there is like that.

Coda: What are your songs about?
Zenker: Ooof. Nothing special, you know? We do what is in our minds, but we have no specific expression in them. We go into our minds, and then we put music onto computers, and then onto tape. It's not for meaning. It's for dancing and listening. Then, if you imagine something, it's your own thing.

--David Holthouse

Hardfloor is scheduled to perform on Saturday, June 28, with DJ Icey, Nigel Richards, Emile, Gary Menichiello, Alex Ruiz and eight other local and national DJs. Info lines are 1-602-495-8181 and 1-602-452-000.

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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse