Kool Herc’s Birthday/Sutra; Normalized Dance Night/Niagara Bar
Thursday, April 26
Better than: Reading about how NYC’s nightlife is dead.
Last month, in the spirit of March Madness, SOTC created a tournament with the aim of crowning the quintessential New York musician. Popularly dubbed the Godfather of Hip-Hop, Kool Herc made it onto the bracket as a representative of the Bronx, though he was knocked out of the running early. Readers voted Bette Midler on to the next round instead. It’s funny, really—an over-the-top diva pitted against an understated, genre-defining man of the streets—but the legendary DJ’s understated familiarity is part of his charm. (As our bracket lobbyist noted, the 57 year-old DJ can be seen riding his bike around the Bronx during warmer months.) And at his birthday celebration at Sutra last night, it couldn’t be any more apparent that as far as New York’s rap community is concerned, Herc will always be the guy who made it happen for them all.
“We owe everything to him; without Herc, there would be no us,” declared an MC into the mic as the man of the hour lumbered into Sutra’s upstairs lounge. Naturally, this grand sentiment was immediately followed by the promoter shouting out his own gig that would take place the following week. As for the “us” in attendance last night, the room was filled to the brim with the Who’s Who of the city’s rap and turntablism elite. DJs on the bill included DJ Scratch, DJ Premier, Evil Dee, and Just Blaze. The Crooklyn Clan, Tek of Smif-n-Wessun, and X-Ecutioners DJ Eclipse and Mista Sinista chatted by the bar while a crowd of friends and industry folk enveloped the birthday boy.
There’s no getting around that parties stacked with DJ legends like these are meant for nostalgia and reverence more than anything else—no matter what the given reason. “It’s an alternate universe,” noted one DJ outside. “I wonder if anyone inside knows that things have changed since twenty years ago.” And although the night’s venue was one that wouldn’t allow backpacks or fitted hats, there’s no doubt that revelers were celebrating their golden years just as much as Herc was. “This is the part of the show where you don’t dance,” commanded DJ Scratch upon taking over the turntables to play Dead Prez’ “Bigger Than Hip-Hop”. “You stand around the DJ and watch this shit.” The room complied.
Seven blocks away, Baltimore’s Mark Brown was supervising a very different group of nightlife patrons. Tucked in the back room of Niagara Bar, a dive on the corner of Avenue A and 7th Street, the visiting DJ was a guest for house producer DJ Odd Facade’s Normalized dance night. The name of the party gives away its intent; the small dance floor is aimed at massaging the oddities of their revelers and the tastes of their DJs into an intimate, all-inclusive, we-don’t-give-a-fuck club night. If last night was any indication, leaving inhibitions at the door [or, ahem, curtain that half-separates the nook from the main floor of the bar] is part of the deal.
In comparison to Sutra’s jam-packed standing space, Normalized was a freeing relief. The club’s floor peaked at fifteen dancers at most—a group that was made up of a strange mix of young, fratty college boys, people who trickled in from the main bar, and a few of the DJ’s vogue-fiending friends. At times they managed to take up the whole room, each doing their own particular mix of ass-grabbing grinding, wide spins, or whatever else felt right to the mix of funky, Baltimore club, and the like. That’s not to say that the one overzealous Jets jersey-wearing bro in the room came to vogue, but rather that the total lack of pretension made him comfortable enough to jump up and down to Mike Q’s remix of “The Ha Dance” in an effort to keep up with the girl who duckwalked and dipped nearby. And, honestly, that is good enough.
Critical bias: I have previously covered the Fat Beats closing, the Roc Raida tribute, and the twentieth anniversary of the Stretch and Bobbito show for the Voice.
Overheard: “Shout out to all my nieces up in here. To all my Japanese crew, Konnichiwa.”—MC at Sutra