But the disparate entities of Deep Fix and Kabal are making house-music history.
For more than two years, Deep Fix's owners -- Joey Carr, Chris DiGirolamo and Dave Duckworth -- have been bringing the top names in underground or "deep" house to an eager audience of clubgoers at Kabal, and they've done it consistently, passionately, and often at a financial cost to their business. As a result, Frisky Friday -- and with it, Kansas City -- has become known as a destination for world-renowned DJs to spin their style of electronic dance music to rowdy crowds. And when Frisky has no headliner, Deep Fix takes to the turntables as the Simply Soul Syndicate.
"I could name two other people in this record store that have played [at Frisky Friday] besides me," says DJ Pat Nice over his cell phone while shopping Gramaphone Records in Chicago. "It's top notch. The setup is exactly what you want as a DJ.... They took this club and pretty much turned it around."
Nice moved from Kansas City to Chicago a year ago to live and work in the town that gave birth to house music, but he comes back regularly to spin at Frisky. After all, Nice has a long history with the Deep Fix crew, dating back to when the guys experienced Nice's sets when raves were the heart of dance culture. Now, Nice respects and continues to mentor Deep Fix; for its part, the store's own label has just released Nice's Mixed Plate EP.
"They work harder than almost anybody I know, and they're about as knowledgeable as anybody you're going to find in the city," Nice says. Plenty of people get into house music, he adds, "thinking they're going to make a shit-ton of money." Most of the greedy types have been weeded out by the waning of dance culture and the death of the rave, but Deep Fix has kept going. In fact, it's one of the biggest vendors of house music on the Internet -- and the reason for this has nothing to do with money. Any notion that these entrepreneurial DJs might be rolling in green evaporates as soon as you meet them.
The three owners of the humble shop on 39th and its thriving online empire are modest and nonchalant -- especially for entrepreneurs whose business fuels the market all over the world, with loyal customers in Brazil, Belgium, Australia and South Africa.
All in their late twenties to early thirties, Carr, Duckworth and DiGirolamo, along with employee Matt Reardon, are at home in their shop -- which makes sense, given all the time they spend there together. The main room holds records in display cabinets inherited from 180 Records, the DJ shop they took over in 2001. Turntables sit on counters. Fat, colorful fish swim in an aquarium as Samples and Wax -- the in-store cats -- lounge high upon shelves. The air conditioning is off in the adjacent office, where stacks of break-room-variety snacks and cereals wilt in the heat.
The real story of Deep Fix began here in 2001, when the trio of young promoters -- who were then best known for a massive, totally legal 2000 rave called Where the Wild Things Are -- realized that the scene was missing a crucial element.
"Just in order for the music to survive and flourish, DJs need records, and you gotta have a record store," Duckworth says.
But despite the initial demand, things didn't go quite as planned.
"When we started, we'd have people sitting out there waiting for the records to come in every week," Carr recalls. "Then it just kind of died after that, and that's when we took the store online." In 2001, business was at its peak, he says. "We had our best month and our worst month back-to-back. After 9/11 -- boom -- most of the DJs that were getting gigs at local bars lost most of their gigs because people weren't going out."
It's hard to imagine terrorist attacks affecting something like the house-music industry, but the fragile economy of recent years hasn't been easy on the people who want to have a good time -- or the DJs who want to give it to them. Since then, Deep Fix has proved that an insatiable love for music can carry people through almost anything.
But a little business savvy is always good, too.
Unlike many online retailers, Deep Fix sells only the records it has in stock, a method the guys refer to as "real-time" selling. This way, customers never see items disappear from their virtual shopping carts during the course of browsing, and they don't have to wait extra days for records to arrive because the store had to order the products from somewhere else. Deep Fix ships orders at the latest time possible every day, which, combined with its central location, outfits DJs on both coasts with new releases by Friday night. The store's Web site also has generous audio samples and detailed images of every item in stock, not to mention competitive prices.
The downside to the business is that, for all their hard-earned integrity, the Deep Fix boys still live pretty much hand-to-mouth.
"Basically, we reinvest all our income back into the store," Duckworth says. "All the records we buy get eaten up immediately ... there's an incredible turnover rate."
The business is caught in a cycle where sales keep increasing but profits get eaten up by the constant need to update inventory -- and by the high cost of maintaining Frisky. Unlike the rest of the music industry, DJs don't tour; dance-music promoters must fly them in from their home bases, put them up in hotels, wine 'em and dine 'em (usually at Gates), and pay them a substantial wad of cash. So don't complain when the cover's high at Kabal -- Deep Fix is just trying to break even week after week.
Though it isn't lucrative, at least the work is rewarding in other ways. Deep Fix's Internet store and Frisky Friday are so well known in the international DJ market that the guys can legitimately lay claim to putting Kansas City on the house-music map.