The differences don't stop there. Morales is a versatile DJ who has done his time in the rave scene but also has a command of hip-hop scratching. Prick him, and he'll bleed vinyl. Cruz, on the other hand, is mostly a selector, the everyman DJ who got into it to share music and hang with friends. Though he can spin records, he doesn't shy away from hooking up a laptop and iPod to his mixer, and he chats with people during songs.
Morales runs a promotions company called Downplay Productions, which books top-name and underground hip-hop and electronic acts such as Prince Paul and Z-Trip. Cruz is the vocalist the screamer, essentially for Lawrence's heaviest hardcore band, the Esoteric. Together and by themselves DJs Cruz and Konsept have opened or closed at the biggest Lawrence shows, most recently the Juan Maclean and LCD Soundsystem last Thursday at The Granada, a special night for Neon.
Actually, that should have been a big show. LCD frontman James Murphy is one of the most exciting and talented guys in rock right now; he leads an electronica-laden disco-punk band that's heavy on the drums, the bass and the fury. Murphy also is the founder of DFA Records, the Brooklyn collective that houses Black Dice, the Rapture and others. The Juan Maclean is an up-and-coming group that's almost all electronic and has more of an '80s techno sound.
But whereas Neon usually packs The Granada with more than 600 people from all over the area, this special night, with its $20 cover charge, drew fewer than half that many to a tour that's been selling out bigger venues at $35 a ticket. Standing outside at times (the PA was ear-shatteringly loud), I watched several would-be Neonites walk up to the door, eye the cover charge and walk away in disgust.
It was their loss, because even though the Maclean got derailed by equipment malfunctions, LCD tore the roof off. A boiling pit of bodies amassed at LCD's feet, responding in unison to every dynamic explosion it was a small group, but Murphy ruled everyone in it.
I left early to save my ears, but I heard reports that after LCD was over, the cover dropped and more people came to bask in the familiar Neon glow.
Neon doesn't have nearly that type of following in Kansas City, as the Cruz-Morales teamup at Kabal the following Friday made clear. And that's a shame. Kabal has a lot of potential to be a fun dance club, but with the exception of Frisky, the house-music showcase hosted by Deep Fix Records it can't seem to regularly attract a diverse, peaceful crowd the way that weekly parties like Neon and Fat Sal and Señor Ozgood's Soundsystem (Thursdays at Jilly's) can. A shooting outside the club last month drove this point home and drove a lot of people away.
Most Fridays at the River Market nightclub have Frisky downstairs and Top 40 hip-hop DJs upstairs which Cruz and Morales decidedly are not. Paying the cheap $5 cover, I walked in last Friday to the strains of "Under Pressure" by Queen and a nearly empty dance floor. Cruz was spinning, and when he decided to play "1, 2 Step" by Ciara, the floor predictably filled with grinders, mostly women moving in ways that you see only on viral videos and late-night E! programs.
The entire night was a struggle for the boys from Lawrence, who had to deal with a fickle crowd that constantly bombarded them with requests. Cruz said he was OK with going Top 40, but Morales seemed more bent on preserving Neon's integrity which was easier for him. Being the more hip-hop-oriented of the duo, he was able to mix the new and the old the Ying Yang Twins and Michael Jackson, for example.
Away from the decks, Morales said he hoped that bringing Neon to KC once a month would remind people here that it's still going strong in Lawrence. As someone who dreads going to Lawrence on weeknights, I understand why Neon has lost much of its Kansas City contingent.
And a few people at Kabal were eager to take advantage of Neon's rare KC appearance. Emily, a teacher, had been a longtime Neon devotee but quit going not only because of the distance but because The Granada's 18-and-older admission made for some embarrassing encounters with her students. She said she hoped Neon would establish a foothold at Kabal.
Less enthusiastic were Ashley and Liz, who seemed interested only in dancing to classic stock. They retired from the floor in disappointment every time a hip-hop hit came over the PA. "They're catering to the crowd, at least," Liz acknowledged.
Ah, the crowd. Well over half were dressed like gangstas and the hoes who love them I'm sure they were harmless, but they obviously weren't trying to look that way. Neon's success in Lawrence proves that it's possible for DJs to play rousing, eclectic music and get hundreds of ordinary people of all stripes moving to the same beats.
If they could figure out how to do something close to that in Kansas City, I, for one, would be glad to set aside five bucks every week to get Cruz and Konsept out here more often.