This past week, there were at least five electronic music events in Nashville, but the fact of the matter is that Nashville is still behind the times when it comes to electronica. This is no longer a "fringe" genre, but plenty of people in Nashville just don't get "the whole DJ thing." Some forward-thinking local promoters and booking agents are doing their best to change that, and last week gave dance-music fans plenty of reasons to get their groove on.
Drum 'n' bass (or d&b)along with its subgenres of breakbeat and jungleis old news to much of the South. But aside from a few DJ nights around town and a specialty show or two on Vanderbilt's college radio station, it's still relatively underground in Nashville, compared to other styles of dance music. So the arrival of the Planet of the Drums (POTD) tour, a collaboration between veteran DJs Dieselboy, Dara and AK 1200 and young MC J. Messinian, was highly anticipated by the electronic music community. The mission of this "kru" and the tour is to showcase the best of d&b and act as a voice for the d&b "way of life," which is less about flashy clubs, glam threads and ecstasy-induced states, and way more about talent and a dedication to the scene. POTD's mission statement also asserts that these artists will not support promoters who use d&b to "line their pockets." I admire their bohemian, art-for-art's-sake ethos. The wildly popular tour is now in its fourth year, traveling to Calgary, Hawaii and everywhere in between.
Dieselboy and Dara have been at the helm of drum 'n' bass for more than a decade. I've seen them both several times over the past eight years and honestly wasn't expecting anything new. My group of eight arrived at Exit/In close to midnight and almost bounced because of the $20 ticket price (far more than the price being charged at some other stops on the POTD tour, I later learned). But we paid up, and I'm glad we stayed. The headline performers had already taken the stage and built up a contagious energy. Multiple turntables were set up, allowing all three DJs to spin and mix together while MC Messinian prowled relentlessly across the stage. Unless you're a real "basshead," the fast, hard beats of d&b can get repetitious and tiring, so live MCs add an element of raw excitement and spontaneity. Though he wasn't the smoothest, MC Messinian had passion and a breath of fire. He stayed constantly involved with the audience, fed off of their energy and gave it back twofold.
The older I get, the more I cringe at the phrase "18 to enter, 21 to drink." How serendipitous that this "18-and-over" crowd was delightfully well-mannered. As at most d&b shows, the audience was mostly comprised of young men with short hair, dressed simply in T-shirts, baggy pants and cool kicks. The sweaty spectators danced with abandon, but were conscious of each other's personal space. The depth of the music and the preternaturally positive vibe was impressive. Even better was the fact that my three d&b neophyte friends were able to dance and feel comfortable in a new, and potentially intimidating, environment.
POTD combines the talents of some seriously influential drum 'n' bass craftsmen, and over 500 people came out to enthusiastically reprazentdespite the ticket price. Everyone I spoke with agreed that the music and energy were all there. The evening's success should serve as a catalyst to bring more internationally known DJs to Nashville. Here's hoping that the success of shows like POTD will lead to the development of a plush, dance-music nightclub that regularly showcases touring DJs. While the Exit/In is a local institution, it can't really hold more than 500 people and doesn't provide the "total experience" of a pulsing, thumping, multilevel club.
Amy Waddell, photos by Darek Bell