Bass to the future
Is popular Midtown dubstep night Grimey only the beginning for beats in Sacramento?
There are bottlenecks at TownHouse Lounge. The two-story Midtown bar’s ground floor is so packed that people jostle and push from the bar near the front door to the tables and benches in the back of the room. Dancers bop and bounce to a medley of bass and beats on the floor adjacent to the tables. Somewhere, a smoke machine is steaming the entire room, turning the air into a misty fog.
Tonight is Grimey, a twice-a-month event that has miraculously drawn hundreds of people here on a Tuesday night. “Grimey” refers to grime, a form of U.K. hip-hop, as well as the party’s horror-flick aesthetic. The deejays, headed by event promoter and resident DJ Whores, spin a mix of dubstep, U.K. funky, instrumental beats and other future-forward electronic styles with silly monikers. It could also refer to the run-down club itself: The bathrooms feature clogged toilets, and some of the bench cushions’ upholstery is frayed and torn. The dirt and muck enhances Grimey’s seedy, underground vibe.
This week, there are two headliners. Richmond producer the One goes first, spinning a blend of techstep and jump-up drum-and-bass. Grimey resident emcees Skurge and Bru Lei chant and rap over the tracks, and Takeshi projects hallucinatory visuals from his laptop onto the dance floor’s back wall. At one point Skurge shouts, “Who’s ravin’ inside the house?”
Then at 11:40 p.m., Noah D, a producer from Portland, Ore., steps to the CD decks. He kicks in with two tracks of reverberating bass and ear-aggravating treble that overwhelms the peaking crowd—until the sound abruptly cut out. As DJ Whores and sound engineer Justin “Crescendo” Abrahams frantically attempt to restore it, the dance floor slowly clears out, with some people heading to a roped-off area outside the TownHouse that serves as a makeshift patio, and others simply walking into the night, period. (It is a weeknight after all.) A few minutes later, music is restored, but the momentum is lost … at least until 12:15 a.m.
Grimey will draw more than 370 people throughout the night. Its best turnout was last November 30, a cold night when 475 people came to see Lazer Sword, which plays an astringent mash of Los Angeles glitch beats, straight-up hip-hop and wobbly rhythms, a stark contrast from the trebly bass experiments of Noah D (think Aaliyah meets Kode9 meets Flying Lotus—or, better yet, think of the movie Tron).
“Grimey is more of a bass-forward music. [Dubstep] is not all we do,” says Whores a few days later during lunch at The Golden Bear, where he party-rocks drunken revelers with pop and hip-hop hits on Saturday nights. Dan “DJ Whores” Osterhoff is a familiar man about town with sundry projects on tap, but Grimey, which he launched July 2010, may be his most impressive success to date. Not only does Grimey average between 250 to 300 people outside the usual Thursday-to-Monday party calendar, but it also transports underground electronic music out of the dodgy one-off raves that has long typified Sacramento’s erratic scene. It draws a mixed crowd of dubstep enthusiasts, who travel from as close as a few blocks away in Midtown, and as far as Valley suburbs like Citrus Heights and Grass Valley, and San Francisco.
“You get hip-hoppers, hippies, ravers, the indie hair-metal kids, the Midtown lesbian scene,” says Whores.
DJ Whores has plans to start another Grimey-type monthly party at a downtown club he declines to name because its details are still being confirmed. The new event, Downlow’d, is tentatively scheduled to launch during the last week of February, and its residents should include Whores, Citystate (a.k.a. Ryan Lindow) and San Francisco deejay Just Loco.
At first, Whores considered taking Grimey to a new venue instead. But in the end, he concluded that moving Grimey would be a mistake. “I would be messing with the rhythm of the night, how it works and the chemistry.”
Hence, a second bass night called Downlow’d. “It’s focusing on the mature bass sounds: garage, 2-step, U.K. funky, sounds blowing up in the U.K. right now,” he says. Representative artists include Ramadanman, Toddla T and Bok Bok. “I like a lot of it because it sounds like R&B music and house.” Then he claims, “Sacramento usually gets things two years later. I’m giving Sacramento the opportunity to pick up on it while it’s happening.”
Dubstep’s sluggish beats and bass rumble is recognizable to a generation of ravers in the United States. Some elitists have even begun labeling mainstream dubstep as “brostep,” a sardonic reference to the genre’s standard clichés—repetitive bass drops and frequencies—and the American kids who go apeshit for them. By contrast, garage is new and exotic. And when Noah D and Lazer Sword flirted with a few garage tracks during their respective Grimey appearances, they cleared the dance floor. (Ironically, Noah D. has been labeled a “brostep” producer on a few online forums.)
“The people that were left on the dance floor are more open-minded. The people that it cleared, those are the brostep lovers,” claims Whores.
Such minor idiosyncrasies can mark a party’s success or failure. For every Grimey that hits the sweet spot, attracting both hard-core rave junglists and electronic sophisticates, there are dozens of local promoters that flop when their high-minded intentions of bringing cutting-edge sounds to Sacramento clash with the reality of what audiences actually want to hear.
Downlow’d and Grimey, as well as similar parties around the city—including The Format on Thursdays at Momo Lounge—will test the city’s appetite for beats ’n’ bass and its varied permutations. Whores believes he can draw 200 people to Downlow’d without diluting the Grimey crowd.
“I think I can get that for a monthly,” he says. “I’m going to gamble with Downlow’d, but I’m willing to do it because I love the music so much.”