Last month, I was given a seemingly simple assignment: research the DJ/dance scene in Chico. I had no idea what that meant, much less where to start. I knew I was personally interested in real artists; people bringing brand new music to Chico, as opposed to top 20s DJs playing at Panama’s. Then I remembered Beta – that dubstep thing that used to happen at Lost On Main all the time. I decided to start there, armed with a pen and some questions. What is cool about dubstep? Is it all called dubstep? What’s it feel like to dance to it? What drives these DJs? Do they make good money? Do they tour?
The first person I could track down was Jordan Layman, former affiliate and manager of Beta. During Beta’s residency at Lost, Mike Z and Simple Science threw down the beats, while Layman watched the wallet, booked touring acts, took care of press…that sort of thing. Through him I gained general insight into our scene and some direction concerning where to go next.
What Happened With Beta
Mike Z had a history of being a photographer for Lost On Main, and eventually traded in his camera to pay for some mixing equipment. Through his photo connection, he was given the unique opportunity to DJ a dubstep one-off at Lost on August 29th, 2009. Graduation Day.
Layman recalled. “[There was] a sort of attitude that was like, ‘Well we’ll give these kids a huge night, they’ll blow it, and we won’t feel bad about sending them away.’ But that night, the party exploded. Lost wanted us to play weekly after that.”
And so it commenced. As dubstep went viral across the country and the world, Chico had its own microcosm phenomenon happening bi-weekly on Main street. Touring DJs from around the country – particularly from the Bay – were making sure they stopped in Chico to experience the totally awesome gig known as Beta.
“We’d never planned on it reaching the success it did,” expressed Layman. “Originally, it was just a one-time thing. Pretty much the whole time we were just breaking even. It was really for the experience of sharing, for providing a space to be weird and hear new music that you couldn’t get anywhere else around here.”
Things between the boys of Beta and Lost got strained over time. Quite simply, the people coming out to listen to music just didn’t drink very much.
Layman explained, “People weren’t coming out to get hammered or to get tripped out. We were there to dance and be with the people we love. Lost didn’t understand that. I remember them asking me, ‘How do you get so many people together without any fights?’ and I was confused. Why would we fight? Who gets together to fight? We’re here to listen to music. This is meant to be a welcoming party geared toward sharing good music.”
Beta may be currently defunct, but through Layman I was turned onto BassMint: the underground dance party being thrown every Friday night. The journey continues!
Howl Goes To BassMint
In the lobby was a pleasant young man taking money and stamping hands. Behind him were stairs descending into that magical, Chinese culinary world known as Peking. Delicious bass beats were drifting up the stairs, instead of the usual aroma of bomb-ass orange chicken. When I took those stairs, I left the Chico bar scene behind and found myself in a low-lit, low-ceilinged lounge straight out of the film, Tokyo Drift.
I settled down with a beer to observe. The low lighting was pleasant. The space was mostly in shadow, with deep greens and violets providing highlights. In that room, everyone’s features took on this stylized, light/dark contrast. The room was sparsely filled, the music was chill, and I was a bit uninterested at first. “No one’s dancing,” I thought. “Is there somewhere the party is actually happening?”
I got restless and decided, “Fuck it. A good story will only happen if I have a good time.” I got up and started to throw down, joined by about 15 other brave souls in front of the DJ.
The night quickly got more interesting. I danced, I listened, I zoned out in front of the subwoofers, I took sit-breaks to drink and get hit on by young women, and then I would do it all over again. As I got more engaged in the night, the night got more engaged with me.
When I had talked with Jordan, he made it clear that, more than just dubstep, these artists were interested in “bass music.” When I stood in front of that sound system, my body understood; this is a celebration of bass.
I could FEEL bass; a visceral quality that couldn’t ever come through headphones. I stood by the speakers for long periods just to be enveloped by it. Standing so close to the sound forces you to adapt – to engage your body and shake loose the resistance against being pummeled by sound. Resisting the volume in that room causes tension and boredom. Relaxing, and letting the waves flow through me, delivered a sensation of spaciousness…and fun. Sometimes I danced and sometimes I stood still, floating on the surface of an aural ocean. I loved how penetrating the low-spectrum bass waves were, how it felt to have my insides vibrating with the huge beats. It was very cathartic.
Before I knew it, it was last call. I’d thrown down for a couple hours, dancing with more cute women than I knew I had a right to, and I didn’t even need to get trashed to do it.
Layman identified two of the more prominent artists, Eyere Eyes and ALO, as the champs holding the BassMint torch. I met them both for coffee to pick their brains and answer some of the questions I had from the previous night at BassMint. First off, what the hell were those DJs doing with all those buttons and dials?
“Those black boards in front of the Macbooks are MIDI controllers, which those guys use with Ableton Live,” explained ALO. “They can control effect levels, bring up multiple songs at once, and play different pieces of each one…the two of us use MIDI controllers, turntables, Serato, and Traktor. With the turntables, we can work with two songs at once and slow shit down or speed it up. When you see either of us up there working, we’re busy auditioning tracks to put up next. We never know what the set’s going to be ‘til we’re up there in it. So you’ll see us working one song ahead of what’s actually playing.”
It came out in the conversation that, like the boys of Beta, they’re currently breaking even week-to-week. Any extra cash they make gets held onto, so they can pay for touring artists. So why do they stick around to perform for free?
“It’s a rare thing to find a creative outlet unique to yourself, and it’s even more rare to have the means to pursue it,” Eyere Eyes said. “We both have that luxury, and this [BassMint] just feels right…like going to church on Sundays. I wouldn’t feel like a real human if I wasn’t expressing and sharing like this for others.”
“It’s just a great community space,” ALO continued. “Friday is the night where we can connect with the people we like, and listen to music the way it’s meant to be heard.”
Howl Throws In The Towel
We tend to pigeonhole these events as drug holes; people go to this deep, dark, dirty place to get high and listen to walls of noise. If I learned something from all of this, it’s that our preconception of the bass/electronica scene is a bit flawed. Yes, it’s definitely dark and deep, but in a good way. You go to the darkness inside yourself voluntarily, in order to release it consciously. This is a loving, respectful community, with a simple desire to share the drug that is quality bass music. You can have some too, if you want.
BassMint happens every Friday night in Peking from 9:30PM to 1:30AM. Local performer nights are $2 before 10PM and $3 after, while touring performer nights are $3 before 10PM and $5PM. 21+ only.