House party

Monks Wine Lounge joins local scene with live cutting-edge jazz and dance music

THE TABLES ARE TURNED<br> DJ Nemo rocks the house at Monks during a guest appearance on a recent Tuesday night.

DJ Nemo rocks the house at Monks during a guest appearance on a recent Tuesday night.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Even though John Dean emphatically declares he is “just a server, a wine steward” at Monks Wine Lounge & Bistro, he is clearly the driving force behind some radical changes happening there as far as live music goes.

Since last September, with the support of new owners Keely and Kevin Coy, whom Dean praises as “an absolute godsend as far as listening to the heartbeat of the community,” Dean has transformed Monks’ music scene from offering the familiar (to Chico restaurant patrons) weekly evening of what might be termed “dinner jazz,” to presenting multiple evenings per week of cutting-edge music.

In addition to offering jazz on Wednesday nights that Dean describes as “rock-solid, straight-baller, hard-core jazz,” Monks also has made a home on Tuesday late-nights for “Maison Musique,” or “house music,” a highly infectious form of electronic dance music. What the jazz and house music at Monks both have in common, Dean points out, is an “artisanal, roots quality … a profound passion that’s being put out there.” Tuesdays feature such seasoned, talented local turntable artists as Taiyo Thompson and “Southampton” (Aric Brown) spinning into the night in the creatively mood-lit room for a very enthusiastic, dancing, chatting and drink-sipping crowd.

“Tuesday nights are a direct result of going out and seeing how wonderfully accepted electronic music was at Panamas,” explained Dean, seated in the living room of his high-ceilinged apartment sectioned out of a downtown turn-of-the-(last)-century wooden house.

Dean was a vocalist in Central African Republic reggae band Anonymat during one of his late-'90s Peace Corps stints after graduating from Chico State with a degree in anthropology. Reggae, his favorite listening music, pumped in the room as he spoke.

“I hadn’t heard such great music in a long time,” Dean continued, speaking of “Velour Lounge,” the popular house scene that’s been going on a block away from Monks at Panamas Bar & California Grill every Saturday night for almost a year and a half.

“I asked Keely to check out Panamas,” Dean continued. “People were having a blast, the place was packed and it wasn’t rowdy. People were there to dance and have a good time.”

Dean, who moved back to Chico from the Bay Area in 2005 after being a music booker for two years of “real deep underground house” turntable DJs at San Francisco’s Oxygen Bar Sushi and Sake Lounge, has no qualms about crediting Panamas with inspiring him and the Coys to start up “Maison Musique.” In fact, it’s part of the spirit of community that is evident on the local house scene, which also includes the occasional weigh-in from Lost on Main.

Local turntablist Ayrian Dilts, who DJs regularly at Panamas, but also makes a guest appearance at Monks every now and then, speaks of the Monks-Panamas house scene as “cooperative” and “kind of a community” in which the DJs and club-goers freely move from one venue to the other.

“It’s an alternative environment,” the soft-spoken Dilts offered. “I think that’s the biggest thing. It’s an environment that’s not a top-40 dance floor.

“We’re taking a crate of [records] of brilliant minds at work and collaging that sound [via dual turntables],” Dilts said of his job as turntable artist. “You have to be sensitive enough to feel the vibe of the crowd around you …. The dance floor will clear in a second if you read it the wrong way.”