In February of this year, Dj Nature overheard two "art school rock kids" talking about The Party, his Wednesday night residency at Rubber Gloves in Denton. One of the kids explained to the other that he had gone to Rubber Gloves for one of Nature's sets, only to find that "the Dj was playing all this ghetto music, and I was like what the fuck is this? This is gross."
Statements like these really make one wonder about the state of pop music in the metroplex. Looking at a list
of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States inspires further contemplation: Dallas- Ft. Worth ranks number five in population behind New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia, and just ahead of Miami, Houston, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Detroit, Boston and San Francisco. If you think about it for a moment, you'll realize that just about every single one of these cities has gained national attention for their local music scenes at least once in the past 25 years. Whether it be the D.C. or L.A. hardcore scenes of the early 80's, Detroit's garage rock, Houston's hip hop, New York's downtown/mutant disco, or Chicago's post rock, all of these places have produced movements full of bands and artists that have had a significant impact on the music that many of our readers listen to. All except for Dallas- Ft. Worth.
Sure, this town had the Toadies
(who were featured on the Black Sheep soundtrack!)
, Tripping Daisy
and Erykah Badu
, but Dallas is the only one of these large metro areas that hasn't had any real movement to call its own, almost nothing to indicate that the area even has a pulse when it comes to cutting edge musical culture. You can explain this phenomenon however you want (there are so many ways to do so), but part of the blame must surely be placed on the attitude expressed by the art school kid above. Many music fans in the metroplex appear to be relatively close minded when it comes to discovering new music and mediums, and this rather conservative mindset seems to be especially prevalent amongst local "indie" rock fans who somehow have the audacity to insist that they have good taste. Just take a look at all of the most popular rock bands in Dallas right now (Death Ray Davies, Titanmoon, all the singer songwriter garbage, Burden Brothers, etc.), and tell me that this town hasn't simply copied the line up of Edgefest 96 and repeated it over and over and over again ever since. Bands, concert promoters and fans all seem to be unwilling to move away from the past as they watch their concert venues shut down, music festivals fail, and radio stations refuse to deliver any new exciting music on a massive scale. Flipping through the pages of the Observer often seems like a convenient way to pretend that the last several years of independent, experimental and electronic music never happened, and venues are generally having a hard time selling the vast majority of same old same old local bands to audiences that are complacent but clearly bored. This has all been discussed to death before, but its worth repeating: by many measures, Dallas- Ft. Worth is still in a slumber, and it might not wake up any time soon, especially now that the Morning News is cutting its entertainment staff and the Observer is about to start being run by a robot or something. Simply put, getting any kind of attention for doing anything new, different or even just quality is going to be a challenge around here for quite a while.
The good news amidst all this doom and gloom is that there appears to be some exciting new activity brewing just under the radar, and Dj Nature, Select
, the three key figures that make up the Central Booking Agency
, are right in the middle of it. In fact, all three of them actually see a lot of emerging bright spots in Dallas right now, mostly revolving around the expanding dance and experimental electro scenes that have been gaining momentum around town for the past several months. "When we say that we feel like things are starting to happen in Dallas, its more us restating what people have been telling us for the past few months," says Sober, a.k.a. Will Rhoten. The group references many conversations with out of town music figures who claim to have heard very good things about the happenings in Dallas as of late, and one can make a pretty good argument that Central Booking is itself partly responsible for the recent onslaught of good vibes. "I think we just sounded the alarm," says Sober, "and the rest of the people who were already on the same page heard it and responded."
The alarm they sounded was one that many Dallasites needed to hear, and Central Booking has received a quick and rather loud response from a surprisingly diverse group of people. Not diverse in that latte liberal NPR sort of way, but more like a diversity of tastes, interests, ages, attitudes, and musical persuasions, all of which are being brought together by a group of DJs that defy simple genre classifications and inadvertently call into question many of the antiquated assumptions that a good portion of local rock fans still seem to have about dance music and DJs.
Central Booking's mainstay thus far has been The Party
, Dj Nature's weekly show at Rubber Gloves and monthly event at ZuBar on lower Greenville. People that read this blog surely have heard all about the party by now, but judging by the crowds that have been showing up to Central shows in Dallas recently, there are a lot of other people that are starting to notice too. The immediate appeal of Central Booking's events and The Party in particular is the simple fact that everything they play is accessible, fresh and highly danceable, pulling from a ridiculously wide range of genres to produce sets of music that most people, even those who closely follow trends in electronic music, have probably never heard before. "We don't want to play 4 hours of 80's records, or 4 hours of hip hop, or new wave or bmore or whatever else," says Nature, "its more fun for us to switch things up, and I think that this lets us explore music in ways that other performers or DJs don't get to or have yet to try."
On any given night when Central Booking is running the show, audiences will hear old and new pop hits from the likes of The Smiths, Janet Jackson, Shakira, R. Kelly, Keith Sweat, Justin Timberlake, and Al B. Sure, but will also encounter more underground material like CSS, Drop the Lime, Ratatat
and Spank Rock
, as well as a generous helping of both old school and new hip hop. However, the real selling point is the hearty helping of hard to find international tracks that make up a large portion of the Central Booking sets. African and middle eastern tracks, such as those featured on Nature's excellent new mix CD The African Game,
as well as
Brazilian funk, Jamaican one drop reggae, and dance tracks from all over South America and the Caribbean are all featured in just about every set. Much of the international music takes cues from American hip hop, but a lot of it expands upon its base, incorporating everything from Kraftwerk inspired minimal elctro to the traditional folk music of the various nations from which the artists originate, creating sounds that are distinctly familiar enough for American crowds to dance to, but also foreign enough to be exciting, interesting, and a bit challenging at times. It should also be noted that these guys aren't the "Dallas version" of whoever in New York doing blah blah blah: Central Booking is the real deal, staying current with so many different scenes from around the world that they are playing many tracks before just about anyone else in the United States get a hold of them, providing the Dallas dance crowd with a chance to hear the newest innovations and changes in dance music before audiences in larger and typically more respected U.S. cities get to. For a quick bit of proof, you can venture over the Central Booking blog
and explore their "En La Calle" series, a group of new downloadable tracks that the trio updates each week to spread the word about some of the better songs that they've been listening to and spinning lately.
The eclectic backgrounds of the three Central Booking DJs partially explains the diversity found in their sets. All three have been Djs for years, and each of them brings a different set of influences to the table. Nature began his career at Rubber Gloves in the late 90's, earning a very large following amongst the early Rubber Gloves faithful. Soon after establishing himself in Denton, however, Nature journeyed to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he became highly involved in the developing reggaeton scene. In fact, after an appearance in Fader
magazine discussing the emergence of Puerto Rico as a force on the international dance scene, Nature moved to New York, where he was instrumental in bringing some of the new sounds of the Caribbean to influential lower East Side and Brooklyn dance circles, earning him mentions in the same breath as Diplo
, and even providing him with the opportunity to work with New York No Wave legend Arto Lindsay
. Select and Sober come from Dallas and Ft. Worth, respectively, and both have been a part of various local scenes for years. Select has been DJing and doing urban promotions since he was 15 years old, growing up around punk, 80's metal, motown, soul, hip hop, bagpipe music and percussion. Sober started getting into hip hop in the mid 80s, and is also a visual artist that has worked in several different mediums, including most recently a clothing line called "Decade."
Commenting on the wide range of fans that the trio has attracted, Select says that "we (Central Booking) all come from pretty different backgrounds, so that helps. And when we're not together, we sort of run in different circles." BBoys, skateboarders, club scenesters, hipsters, visual artists, rock musicians, filmmakers, graffiti artists and just about anyone else in between can all be found at a typical Central Booking event, and all of them seem to be there for the simple reason that Central Booking is doing something different from everyone else in Dallas, refusing to allow themselves to be strapped down in one type of scene, playing one type of music to one particular group of people. "There are a lot of people that were just tired of going out to the same types of things in Dallas that are coming out and having a good time at our nights," says Sober. "And we're playing a lot of records that haven't even touched the marketplace yet, so for a younger sort of music savvy crowd, this is what they wanted and weren't getting."
The trio also raises an interesting point about the attitudes of knowledgeable music fans these days. With most albums and tracks available for free with just a click of a button and a high speed internet connection, singles matter more than ever, and people are more easily able to explore genres and artists that they probably would not have bothered to listen to years ago. As a result, honest music consumers are realizing that genre labels really don't mean a whole lot, and many are rightly throwing them out the door in an effort to connect with sounds that they like, no strings attached. " The fact is that people go out to have a good time and I think Dallas has been conditioned to think that a good time can only mean one thing to one person," Nature says. "Rock shows, hip hop shows, dance clubs. Is that what we boil down to as listeners and artists? A lot of people that would go to an Undoing show probably secretly like UGK. They have Mike Jones on their ipod. Their girlfriends might secretly get wet for Justin Timberlake."
The point is that the rockist attitude that many in the metroplex seem to have is dying, and any club, promoter or fan that limits themselves to certain songs, sounds and scenes is probably well on their way to becoming completely irrelevant. Do people that like Rogue Wave only listen to indie pop? Doubtful. Do people that are into house music completely disregard Lightning Bolt? Not likely. The universal inclusiveness that can be found at a Central Booking event is an indicator that things are shifting in Dallas, and the trio is quick to point out that there are many others out there doing new and exciting things around town as well. "Theres definitely a new mix of people doing things in Dallas music right now," Nature says, adding that people such as Prince William, Stephen R, Gorilla vs. Bear, Meat Radio, High Society, Wanz Dover
and the Laptop Deathmatch
crew are all helping to cause a positive shift with a clearly inviting, anything goes vibe open to anyone that is sick of the norm. And considering the recent popularity of events held by all of these people, there are many music consumers out there that are bored as can be with the Dallas norm.
The Central Booking crew doesn't like to overthink things, and it works in their favor. There are a lot of people bitching about Dallas right now, figuring out ways to "save" it, and trying desperately to keep things in order, keep things going, and keep them the same. "Chaos works if its allowed to be chaos," Nature says, and he makes a good point. For the past several decades, Dallas has for the most part failed to attract the kind of attention that a metro area of its size should. Perhaps part of the problem is simply that people are thinking in old and outdated ways, limiting the potential that Dallas might have if people like Central Booking are allowed to thrive. While the Dallas old guard is worrying about Deep Ellum and people not supporting the local scene, DJs Nature, Sober and Select are having a fucking blast with a group of people that have been dying for something new.
Perhaps its the elimination of genre boundaries, or the knack for finding new music, or the captivating marketing that has led Central Booking to true local underground success with the potential to possible help put Dallas on the map for the first time. Its hard to predict what will happen in this town from one month to the next, but these guys are obviously doing something right. Nature sees it as a simple matter of people having fun at their parties without all of the pretension and posing that seems to be present at most Dallas rock shows. "The fact that guys are getting lapdances from their girlfriends at (The Party) for the first time doesn't hurt either," he says. And I think the man might have a point.