Portland dance nights are getting weirder, better, and more diverse, and the change is coming far from where people might look.
While serious criticisms of Old Port’s nightlife are nothing new, these days DJs and dance circles can point to a growing number of alternatives throughout the city. And due to bizarre competitive tactics between Old Port clubs, an uneasy gulf between the Top 40 circuit and other DJs, and the growing availability of safer, more specialized parties elsewhere in town, Portland dance circles are thriving without the help of downtown.
“It’s an exciting time to be a DJ in Portland,” says Greg Gould, who began playing and producing parties in Portland under the name DJ Silverchild in 2007. Gould says that people in Portland these days dance to a greater variety of styles than since he can remember, citing recent developments like the Bass-Time Continuum at the Big Easy (every Thursday night), and Empire’s Penthouse party (the last Friday of the month), a project of veteran house DJs Chris Gauthier, Marcus Caine, and Ed Garrison.
“It’s exciting to see jungle and drum and bass come back into the forefront,” says Gould. “And vocal house—when I started that was only at Styxx, but now it’s being played everywhere.”
“I don’t think there’s been a better time,” he says. “If you wanna go way back to the Metropolis in 2001, maybe, but nothing has been as good as what Flask is doing.”
CHANGING THE TEMPO
Several other DJs echo the sentiment that Flask Lounge is leading the march of progress of Portland’s nightlife. The dark, sultry Spring Street bar hosts numerous parties per month, from a network of dance nights that include Jamie O’Sullivan’s tech-house-driven “Love” (every first Friday) and Mr. Dereloid’s “Foundation Friday” (every second),
Don Damiani and MC Pensivv’s bass-heavy “TRVP NITE” (select Sundays), to the radical queer foundations of “Sub/Merge,” a last-Saturday-of-the-month party-floor assembled by a 9-member consortium of activists who donate proceeds to left-wing political causes.
As the number and quality of outer-circle dance nights grow, Portland DJs are exerting direct influence on the environments they’re creating, as well as drawing attention to the origins of the increasingly diversifying music they’re playing.
“If you hire me to play an event, it’s going to be challenging for the people who come out,” says Mo Nunez, a Portland DJ who plays by the name Mosart212. “Research and education are so integral to my music.”
Nunez believes that the roots or origins of a song or style should carry some significance in the exchange between DJ and audience. He plays anything from hip hop, funk, soul, pop, house, and indie-rock, and his sets often include sample-flipping, the practice of mixing a newer song into the older track from which it takes its sample.
“I’m a punk kid who loves pop music,” adds DJ Red Tide, who hosts “Sub/Merge. “But I’ll play hip hop, electropop, Top 40 stuff, remixes, some trap music, Bounce, and Jersey club, too. I want to play stuff that people have some familiarity with, but also pushes the boundaries.” One of the organizations that Red Tide and company donate to is Breakout, a rights organization for queer youth in New Orleans.