If you're just tuning in to the Ultra Music saga, which has been documented in these pages, it went down like this: Over the previous month, a total of 26 on-time (and several late) submissions were sent to my office by DJs who wanted to be one of the five selected to play competitive 30-minute sets at Jilly's last Friday night, February 24, before a judging panel of my music-savvy Pitch co-workers. The best DJ of the night would win a trip to Miami to fill a spot at the Ultra Music Festival portion of the Winter Music Conference, the biggest electronic music get-together in the country.
Jilly's is a cozy bar at 19th Street and Broadway. Its owners are named Bob and Devona Pierce, and they tend to push their small club's limits when it comes to hosting local music. In addition to purchasing in-house DJ equipment, Bob placed a row of massive, chest high PA speakers in front of the stage, the likes of which I've seen at, oh, the Beaumont, maybe? Fortunately, the sound was kept at reasonable levels all night, which meant you could feel the beats deep in your chest, but your skull didn't explode.
Joe Kochen (pronounced ko-shin) was the de facto first contestant because his setup required not just turntables but also a laptop. Nicknamed Joko, Kochen is a fresh-faced young DJ who claims to be one of the few in town who focuses on funky, danceable techno music. Unfortunately, the small crowd assembled at 8:30 didn't take straight to his sound. A couple of kids danced, but even more stood, arms crossed, watching Kochen work his decks. He'd been nervous beforehand, and he seemed to be playing it a little too safe throughout his set.
Once Joko was done, DJ PDP (Patrick Kelly) took his place and turned the burners up a couple notches. PDP was the only DJ who returned from last year's competition, and his sexy house-music set more confident, commanding and funky than last year's got the growing crowd to start moving more and caring less.
Hell, PDP himself was providing the inspiration to boogie. Neck snapping and body pulsing with a headphone over one ear, Kelly definitely had the best stage presence of any DJ of the evening. You almost wanted him to set the mix on autopilot, vault over the turntables and hit the floor to bump with the ladies who had come to get down. With any luck, Mr. Kelly will become a household name in KC.
Speaking of which, Xan Lucero of lauded Kansas City duo the Control Freeks spun third. Living up to his group's name, Xan had provided the turntables for the evening, fearing that the ones at Jilly's wouldn't be up to par. (This didn't make Bob particularly happy, but all's well that culminates in people drinking and dancing, right?)
It was only 10 p.m. when Lucero took the stage, but the room was packed wall to wall with people ready for a badass DJ to grab them all by neck and shake 'em which was exactly what the heavily tattooed Lucero did. What ensued were the wildest 30 minutes of the evening.
While Lucero laid down record after record of hard, orgasmic house, his partner, the towering Atom Bryce, stationed himself on the side of the stage, dancing, clapping and hyping up the crowd to roof-raising levels. No doubt, many of the people present were Freeks fans, but you can't fault a DJ for having a following. After 20-plus minutes of dance ecstasy, Lucero's sampling of '80s classic "The Promise" by When in Rome, with its Molly Ringwald-slaying bass line, sealed the deal. Benevolent is the DJ who gives his audience something familiar to latch onto without bombarding them with nostalgia.
Next up was Michael Thomas, known about town as SVS, and he launched into a skittery, ragga-flavored jungle beat. The sound was refreshing and exotic, but the music was hard for the mainstream crowd to dance to. Only about four people, all of them women, got into the groove, and the rest of the room decided to hang back and talk and drink. SVS threw down a seamless set, which people seemed to appreciate intellectually if not physically.
Luis Gonzales DJ Kinky to his peers was the last to spin. He took a little extra time setting up his CDJ turntables, but the slightly thinned-out crowd was still ready to dance. His set was basic and danceable, but it lacked both climactic builds and the Latin-induced tribal sounds that had made his submission CD so tasty. Kinky was playing it safe, and the result was run-of-the-mill house.
It was time to pick a winner. Buoyed by the rounds that Bob and Devona had kindly been providing, I careened from judge to judge. The room around me was a bibulous blur, but one thing came through loud and clear: Xan Lucero was the winner.
I told Xan to ready his victory set, to which he replied, "I only got one record left!" But a celebration had to take place, so while he geared up for one last spin, I grabbed the gold record and bling necklace for crowning the Control Freeks KC's ambassadors to Miami. (Atom will have to buy his own ticket, unfortunately.) I called out for a "hot girl" to bestow the honors upon Xan (Lord, I had been looking forward to that moment), and a tall blonde with whom I happen to share an office wall emerged from the crowd. Cheers and music filled the room.
I proceeded to run amok in the city, and the end of the night found me hunkered down alone behind a rock wall in Westport, devouring a polish sausage from a street vendor, most memories of the earlier party at Jilly's smothered under the night's later revelry.
All hail the Ultra Music DJs, and thank God for www.phocas.net. Freeks & Geeks Our little DJ battle incited a dance revolution for the second year in a row.