Triangle DJ scene is a sad state of affairs

I moved from New York City to North Carolina’s Research Triangle region on August 1, 2010 for a job opportunity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Wikiepedia best describes the area:

The Research Triangle, also known as Raleigh-Durham and commonly referred to as simply “The Triangle“, is a region in the Piedmont ofNorth Carolina in the United States, anchored by North Carolina State University, Duke University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and cities of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill respectively.

The eight-county region, officially named the Raleigh-Durham-Cary CSA, comprises the Raleigh-Cary and Durham-Chapel Hill metropolitan areas and the Dunn Micropolitan Statistical Area. A 2009 Census Estimate put the population at 1,742,816. The Raleigh-Durham television market includes a broader 23-county area which includes Fayetteville, and has a population of 2,726,000 persons.[1]

The “Triangle” name was cemented in the public consciousness in the 1950s with the creation of Research Triangle Park, home to numerous high-tech companies and enterprises. Although the name is now used to refer to the geographic region, “The Triangle” originally referred to the universities, whose research facilities, and the educated workforce they provide, have historically served as a major attraction for businesses located in the region.

I considered moving here for two reasons. First, the region has a technology focus. Research Triangle Park houses companies like IBM, Red Hat, and Cisco. Apple, Facebook, and Google have all built data centers in the western part of the state. There’s a start-up culture rising in Durham and UNC Chapel Hill’s Chancellor, Holden Thorpe, began an Innovation Carolina initiative at the school, which looks promising. It seemed as if the time was right to leave New York City. When the opportunity presented itself, we decided to make the change.

The second reason I moved here is because I’d seen a semblance of a DJ culture scene. When I was considering this area, I attended a conference in Raleigh with the dual purpose of coming down for the event and scouting the area. During our stay, we happened across the Mosaic Spring Music festival, which takes place at the Mosaic Wine Lounge near Glenwood Avenue; a residential area fronted by a number of bars and restaurants.

Mosaic, for all intent and purpose, is specifically dedicated to the DJ culture. The venue attracts a trendy, professional crowd. Keith Ward both books the room and DJs himself, along with Stephen Feinberg. Keith schedules these festivals twice a year and books predominantly local DJ talent for a full week. After stumbling on what I think is one of the few jewels in the nightlife scene in Raleigh, I thought that might extend further out into Durham and Chapel Hill, but I was wrong. It doesn’t.

Once I moved down last year, I attended Sound Cartel events hosted by DJs Marshall Jones and Nugz. They’ve got something going on in trying to create a vibe for house music in the Triangle. Little by little, they are building a following. At Mosaic, I hear they draw a nice crowd. But in Chapel Hill, there’s not much going on for them, or anyone else playing true house music. It’s up and down. One night, there might be 20 people, and on another, they might get 60 to 100. Generally, the more heavily attended nights are when they bring in an outside DJ and promote it to the DJ culture community, who show up in droves to pay hommage to a legend that may grace “the decks.” As the college crowd latches onto Dubstep as the the flavor of the month, true house music seem to have been abandoned. We don’t know why.

What we do know, is that electronic music fans in the Triangle will go to large, open air music festivals or stop-over dates featuring DJs like Tiesto and Kaskade. IdentityFest kicked off in Charlotte and Tiesto played a date in Winston-Salem. That begs the question, if these people are attending DJ culture events around the state, why aren’t they supporting the club culture? Is it the economy? Any cover charge today is sneered at, especially since bars are considered social clubs and must charge a fee on top of the cover fee. I don’t know the reason why that is, but I can guess that fee is really a way to keep underage kids out of the bars. The hours? With so many parents living in this area, they’ve outgrown the desire to go out at night. Chapel Hill and Carrboro are sleepy little towns. While the college crowd hits the pubs up on East Franklin Street, anything that doesn’t target that market is going to be challenged with building a crowd.

Do these young people not identify house music as “electronic” music? Maybe. There is little, if any radio support in this area for dance/electronic music. Satellite radio is national and they don’t run local promotions for club nights, so you won’t hear advertising on the radio like you hear in other markets. College radio is predominantly hip-hop.. Local Internet radio gets a scattered following. It’s very hard to build a local audience on the Internet. There just aren’t enough listeners to sustain it, so the sites that are playing dance music are attracting an International audience, which doesn’t bode well for local attendance.

There are some venues in Chapel Hill with DJs, but those DJs are typically younger and playing to the college crowd. Sure, they are part of the fabric of DJ culture, but they’re not trying to develop a signature sound. They’re playing what’s hot. No problem with that, because there should be room for everything. But, there isn’t.

I played out twice in the last month at Durham’s Casbah, a rock club with a decent sound system and light show. On a Saturday night in Durham, I found the Brightleaf Square area, which is comprised of old, renovated tobacco warehouses with shops and restaurants, and a few free standing college oriented watering holes, to be very quiet. There was a distinct difference between Friday, where the street was busier, than Saturday where it was not at all. It seemed like a Monday night and not a Saturday.

The question then becomes, how do we change this? In an area full of soccer moms and dads, twenty-five thousand plus students from UNC and half that from Duke, where is the disconnect? It seems that the Latin themed parties attract an audience. I’ve been to a few salsa events, which were crowded and everyone was dancing. Have people forgotten how to dance to house music? Do they care?

Chapel Hill is very family oriented. If you move here, you’re either a student (undergrad or grad), or you have a family and you’re sending your kids to one of the top school systems in the country. There seems to be no in between. Migrate east toward Raleigh, and that’s where you’ll find a younger scene. But out here in Chapel Hill, it’s hard to get people out of their houses on a weekly basis.

In addition to families, the area is known for its live music venues. With that, you have to also compete with other artists trying to do their thing as well. The Independent Weekly is similar to New York’s Village Voice. It provides a smattering of coverage for EDM events, but people generally know it as covering alternative, rock, country, bluegrass, and hip-hop. I can’t say that I’ve picked it up and found a weekly update on the EDM scene. And, maybe that’s what’s needed: education.

If people don’t know, they can’t support. Maybe, they’re just not hearing it. I have some ideas, but with all my comings and goings and what I’m involved with, I’m certainly not going to be the one man army. It takes an organized and cohesive message. One bright spot is the TriangleBeats.com website and e-mail list-serve. If done correctly, Triangle Beats can serve as the conduit for people who want to learn and participate in EDM culture. It remains to be seen whether the participants can glue it together and make something happen. I’ve gotten involved on a surface level, just to give some advice. I really see EDM education as the primary driver. If TriangleBeats.com can then educate, both online and off, we may have found something. But, it’s going to take years to grow a scene. It’s not going to happen overnight.

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