by Juleana Enright
While I’m typically not keen on revisiting similar topics back-to-back (see last week’s column on new electronic educational institution Slam Academy), the final night of First Avenue’s techno-focused series, BLACK, wasn’t an event I could let slip away into the night without a proper goodbye, especially since the dance night has been a crucial addition to the Twin Cities’ electronic music scene for over five years.
A deeper, bass-heavy counterpart to the Mainroom’s Too Much Love on Saturday nights at First Avenue, BLACK has been a weekly-based installment premiering the best local electronic music with a few international and national guests thrown in. Held steadily in First Avenue’s Record Room (formerly the VIP Room), attendees could cross over from TML to BLACK for an epic showcase of cutting-edge local talent and innovative sound, dance til’ they were sweaty and ogle the techniques and equipment of the Twin Cities’ most stylish DJs.
The final installment of BLACK happens this Saturday, and fittingly welcomes a set from DJ Digital Rush, a techno vinyl veteran primed to deliver a solid night of audio bliss to a dark room of loyal technoids – the perfect last hurrah. And as Minneapolis says “adieu” to their most accessible techno-faithful night, devoted fans may be left with void that can only be filled by hopes of throbbing beats ‘n’ heavy bass. So, what does its end mean for the future of the local electronic culture?
I caught up with local artist and resident DJ at BLACK, Mike Gervais, to chat about the series’ success, why the creators are calling it quits and what we can expect next from the Twin Cities’ evolving techno milieu.
l’étoile: Tell us about BLACK’s inception and your role in the series.
Gervais: BLACK didn’t start out with formats we are familiar with today. It initially began with the HOME events (coordinated by our friend Nik Gunz) in what was then the VIP Room. I’m fairly sure Bryan Gerrard was still doing house nights there, too, but my timeline may be off. Saturday nights were spread out to the various groups over time: Particle People, Bassheadz, Hot Dish, Timefog, Loud+Clear, and my event SYSTEM.
l’étoile: After half a decade of weekly beats hosted by First Avenue, what made you decide that this was the right time to end the night’s run?
Gervais: It wasn’t exactly a consensus but I think a lot of us have been feeling like we’ve accomplished what we came to do in the Record Room. It’s been a great ride but considering the room capacity, acoustics, and length of time, there was only so much we could do with the space. I have been looking for a change. A new challenge with new opportunities.
l’étoile: Over the last five years, who are some of the most memorable guests to grace the decks?
Gervais: Personally some of my favorites were Ben Klock, Marcel Dettman, Matthew Dear, Claude Von Stroke, Audio Injection, Daniel Bell, Anthony Parasol, Kyle Geiger, Silent Servant and local heroes Dustin Zahn and DVS1. I wasn’t there but I hear Tanner Ross, Levon Vincent and Soul Clap were great nights too. Not to mention the countless amazing sets by our local artists.
l’étoile: What’s your opinion on the current environment of the local techno scene and how it’s evolved since BLACK began?
Gervais: I would have to say the current state of local techno is pretty good. We have events every weekend and sometimes multiple events on the same night. There’s a genuine love for this kind of music in Minneapolis that isn’t always easily found in other cities throughout the U.S. I consider myself lucky to be here. BLACK started around the same time Foundation closed so I think a lot of us were really happy to have a place to gather again. Over the years we have gone through periods of boom and bust with the underground techno and house scene. A couple of years ago a variety of regular events started to dry up and we have been in that pattern until recently. There are some new groups in Minneapolis putting in the effort and we are starting to see some fun nights again.
l’étoile: Why do you think this night has been so important locally?
Gervais: BLACK has been like a home base for the techno and house community. If there was nothing else going on, we could always rely on BLACK in the Record Room to have artists and music we knew we would enjoy. It’s significant that an establishment in Minneapolis would support this kind of music when they could easily, like many other venues, have a more mainstream musical format. Although not every BLACK event was packed, First Avenue still supported us, which made the events that were packed much more special.
l’étoile: Are there any electronic related events or on-going music nights you think can help fill in the gaps in the absence of BLACK?
Gervais: Recently I was fortunate enough to make a connection with The Eagle Bolt Bar off Washington and 5th. Within the Eagle Bolt complex there is an underground bar called Bolt Underground which myself and a few of the other guys from BLACK (Jesse Jakob and Aaron Hart of Particle People and Aaron Litschke of Loud+Clear) all have a monthly Friday night. These nights could potentially replace the hole that BLACK leaves and more. We’re all going to have to adjust from Saturdays to Fridays.
l’étoile: This series has definitely been the most popular and prolific electronic dance music showcase the Twin Cities has seen. Now that it’s ending, where do you see the music that you’ve help champion heading? Are there things you’re excited about? Trends you’re worried about?
Gervais: Referring back to the last question, I’m really excited about the potential at Bolt Underground. The space is bigger, the sound is better, and the vibe is more in tune with where house and techno came from in Minneapolis. We’ll be able to put on bigger shows that just weren’t possible in the Record Room. I also see a great opportunity to meld two diverse communities together.
One trend I’m concerned about is the fact that we are an aging demographic. I haven’t seen a lot of young faces in the crowd lately. Even though there has been a huge ground swell of electronic music marching into the mainstream, our community has remained mostly untouched. For example, it seems natural the younger crowd at Too Much Love, listening to a similar style of dance music, would be crossing over into the Record Room to hear our deeper sounds, but that hasn’t happened. Regardless of our age, there will always be a handful of people like myself dedicated to this kind of music and this style of an event.
To find out more about Gervais’ future events you can follow him at mikegervais.com and systemmusic.net. Plus, check out what’s new from the rest of the BLACK crew, including Jesse Jakob, Aaron Litschke and Aaron Hart on Facebook.
“BLACK: Last Dance” happens Saturday at 10 pm at First Avenue’s Record Room, 701 1st Avenue S, Minneapolis. The event is +18. $5 or $3 crossover from TML. Click HERE for the First Avenue site.