The Underground dance party is in with the indie crowd

Britpop bash at Ottobar has grown and evolved

July 21, 2005|By Mason Marcus | Mason Marcus,SUN STAFF

While the city's trendiest denizens - the hipster elite - can usually be found sipping whiskey tonics at Sonar's Taxidermy Lounge, those searching for the best indie dance party in town should look no further than the Ottobar's monthly Underground dance party. The Converse-clad regulars celebrate the party's fourth anniversary Saturday in royal style with the best Britpop, indie, electro and new wave the city has to offer.

The party is the creation of Matt Walter and Craig Boarman, who started indie dance nights in Baltimore when they saw a similar party called Mousetrap at the Black Cat Club in Washington. Walter and Boarman's brainchild, originally held at the Spot (now defunct), was soon moved to the Ottobar. The pair began to spin strictly classics of early '90s Britpop such as Oasis, Blur, Suede and other British rock idols including the Smiths, the Cure, David Bowie and Depeche Mode.

To keep with the "Brit night" theme, the bar served $3 Bass Ale and Newcastle. Even the name for the party, "Underground," came from the U.K. subway system. But soon after, the duo's set-list grew, Boarman wrote in an e-mail.

"There was all this other great music that would fit ... electro stuff like Ladytron or Peaches, or stuff like Le Tigre, the Faint," wrote Boarman, who co-owns the Ottobar and spins at the Underground party.

A natural evolution followed. When such British-influenced bands as the White Stripes, the Strokes and the Hives started to break, they were incorporated into the set. Over the past two years, artists such as Franz Ferdinand, Interpol, the Rapture and Bloc Party have found their way onto the dance floor at the Ottobar. At first, the party drew a diverse crowd of art students, musicians and locals whose interest was perked at punk and emo shows that Boarman promoted, he said.

"[They were] looking for something different ... somewhere to dance and let loose instead of going to a show and trying to act cool," he said.

Although indie dance parties aren't unique (Miami, Philadelphia, and Washington each have one), Ottobar co-owner Brian DeRan said they have become a bit of a phenomenon in the Baltimore region.

"They take place in towns that don't really have a nightlife large enough to sustain a place that just has dance-oriented events," he said. DeRan said that while a larger city such as New York can support bigger and more expensive dance clubs where people go to see and be seen (Studio 54 and the like), crowds flock to Underground for different reasons: They can dance in a dark venue to loud music and can afford it.

In the past four years, Underground has met with such great success that it temporarily spawned a number other of dance parties in Baltimore, including Bliss at Fletcher's, though interest eventually waned. The city's other magnet indie dance party, Taxidermy Lounge, started soon after. It's still held every Friday night at Sonar. Boarman likes to point out that although both dance parties are renowned in indie circles, there is a difference between the two.

"TaxLo is called an indie night because it's put on by indie dudes and they have some indie kids dancing, along with a ton of college kids and hip-hop kids," he wrote. "At TaxLo you will hear some indie stuff like Le Tigre, Peaches, M.I.A. or DFA Soundsystem, and they also play a bunch of non-indie hip-hop, '80s etc. - Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, Michael Jackson, etc."

While the gap between Taxidermy Lounge and Underground is a little wide, it's not too deep. They both play the same sort of tunes and cater to the same crowd. Boarman said what sets Underground apart is an ardent devotion to new underground music, hand-picked by Walter and himself, who scour U.K. radio stations and charts and try to break bands like the Killers well before anyone in the States has heard of them.

The party Saturday will be a tribute to these bands. The pair will play the most popular selections from the past four years. Keeping with the "Brit" theme, prizes such as CDs and a Ben Sherman gift certificate will be given out. In the past few years, the Ottobar gave away a trip to London and an iPod with 700 songs.

If the past has been any indication, the crowd - 400 to 450 people - will be anything but mainstream. It will be a who's who of the Ottobar: college kids, hipsters, sulky suburbanites and people who just want to dance, dance, dance.

"But if you're in the mainstream, you're certainly welcome to come as well," said Boarman. "In Baltimore, there isn't a night other than Underground where you can dance to or hear the music we play. Underground ... certainly is unique" he wrote.

Underground will be held Saturday night at the Ottobar, 2549 N. Howard St. There will be no cover for the first 20 people in the door, then a $5 cover for 18 and older, and the bar will serve $1 draft drinks, Natty Boh and rail drinks until 11 p.m. Call 410-662-0069 or visit www.theottobar.com for more information.

For more club events, see Page 31.

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