The east Crossroads was pretty dead last night, save for a small, brick building -- more like a room, actually -- just south of Grinders. The Scion Lab is a brand-new venue that's begun hosting music, fashion shows and afterparties for CrossroadsKC shows. It has doors that open directly onto the concert lot behind Grinders (though its main entrance faces the parking lot on the east side of McGee south of 18th). It even contains a spic 'n span new green room built for the acts that play the Crossroads, which, I am told, is something that the larger venue had been in sore need of.
The Lab was set up for Scion by the local marketing firm Dept. Zero (from which a boisterous, hoarse-voiced representative named Fritz was on hand) to host underground-flavored events, such as last night's Future Funk Wednesdays jam put on by Miles Bonny's INnatesounds Crew.
The night brought DJs Leonard DStroy and Brother of Moses with featured performer Reggie B. It was chill and open, with maybe 25 people when I got there close to 11. It was a $5 cover and -- get this -- an open bar. That's the arrangement for the next four Future Funks, so if you saw but did not heed my texts and tweet last night, you might want to clear your schedule the next few hump day nights.
I know it's hard to get people in Kansas City out on a Wednesday, but five bucks for free drinks (well, you gotta tip) and an intimate performance from KC's premier underground progressive hip-hop and R&B gang is worth the price of being late to work the next day.
There were a few hip-hop scenesters in the small crowd: Dutch Newman, Negro Scoe and Chris Milbourn, who was giving away free copies of his Demencha 'zine. Later arrivals included D/Will, thePhantom*, James Christos, and PL from the Soul Servers (whose tweet is a must follow). Jazz drummer and experimenter Brandon Draper was there, taking in the scene with local promoter Dan Barickman of Double Happiness. (They would have you know that Draper's band Organic Proof is playing with Bonny tomorrow night at the Record Bar.) Miles, of course, was in the house, sporting his own special cup and beardcomb.
Around 11:30, Miles conducted a live interview with his INnate colleague Reggie, asking about the singer's recent move back to KC from the West Coast, projects with Daru and his (and the label's) growing international following. Kansas City artists selling records -- real records -- overseas. Who woulda thunk!?
After the interview, Reggie began his set. It started off with a bouncy groove kicked along by a squelchy Parliament-sounding bassline with Reggie crooning and tickling the keys. The set got more soulful as Mr. B stepped away from the keys and out front, letting his improvisatory vocals veer between funk and jazz while his DJ, DStroy, spun smooth but complex and ethereal beats. The space-telescope images of stars and nebulae on the flatscreen TVs mounted high up on the walls went well with the music.
Then things took a turn for the rowdy as Bonny joined Reggie and his backup MC (who's name I didn't get) on a few harder-hitting hip-hop numbers.
All in all, the night felt like a tiny, defiant explosion on Kansas City's undyingly small-town landscape. I mean, here we were, 30 or so people, drinking for free and watching live, future-forward hip-hop on a random night in a part of town that sees major activity only two or three nights a month. It seemed almost ... anomalous. But if Fritz and his pals at Dept. Zero and Scion have their way, all kinds of events will take place at the Lab: not just live music but also yoga classes and microbrew tastings, according to Fritz. Yeah, yeah, I know the ultimate goal is for Scion to sell cars, but I've been to plenty of corporate-marketer parties where the whole thing feels like a commercial, and last night, Toyota's presence was kept to a refreshing minimum. (I think they could even take it one step further and do away with the automotive-themed seating, but whatever.)
Of course, it's the music that I care about -- and the networking within the scene. I don't want to embarrass anyone, so I'll leave out the name, but one of my friends, a well-known figure in the midtwon rock scene, showed up toward the end, and not only had he not heard of the younguns like thePhantom* and D/Will, he had never heard of Lenny D, either. Likewise, none of them had heard of my friend's projects, either.
That's the thing about Kansas City. Sure, it's small. But it's also so cliqued up that people rarely leave their comfort zones. There are exceptions, of course -- like the blending of hip-hop and jazz that's been going on, thanks to cats like Bonny and Draper -- but it often takes random, unexpected encounters like last night to get anyone together.
As I understand it, the Scion Lab plans to be open for a year, and during that time, people who want to put on locally oriented, public events there can rent it out for free. They provide the sound equipment (and possibly the bar, though I'm not sure on that), and the artist or group that rents it collects all the money from the door. I'm pretty sure that last night was 100 percent profit for INnatesounds.
Pretty cool, huh? Let's keep this lil' vehicle's motor running.