Lick it Up

Tinkering in the garage: DJ NatOsha

Tinkering in the garage: DJ NatOsha

FASHION LEADERS OF the Minnesota dance underground, I implore you: Make knit caps and warm coats seem funky, please? For the improved health of all your dance-minded contemporaries. I mean, we've all endured just about enough sweeps-week onslaughts of yellow journalism about how kids are going to parties for the sole purpose of gobbling ecstasy and raving off into perdition, right? Well, concerned adults: Based on my most recent trip to First Avenue, I've got a pretty strong suspicion of what malady threatens our nation's beat-crazed children, and it ain't no goopy fluid accumulating at the base of their spines. No, it's sniffly noses.

I don't want to sound like your mom, but you kids really should put some coats on. I don't want to hear that you're only parked a half a block away. And I don't want to hear that it's raining instead of snowing. Criminy, it's still January out there! Besides, I saw you bare-shouldered cuties shivering and wet and you hunky lunks too cool to cover up. Trust me, nobody looks cool when they're gargling phlegm.

Not that I ventured down to First Avenue on a Sunday all-ages night on some sort of public-health crusade. I'd popped in to check out the Lick, a monthly showcase for local DJs infatuated with the latest, most ballyhooed dance trend, 2-step garage. If I had a quarter for every time a dance-oriented friend of mine told me how much I'd dig 2-step, I'd be able to plug the meters for all my CP co-workers until spring. I'd been told that it would play to my affinity for American R&B--contemporary hip-hop-inflected R&B, that is, not just old-time diva disco. Yet the scant recorded evidence available stateside, while more songful than the house or jungle norm, had left me skeptical.

There's a reason for that, of course: The recorded evidence never captures a DJ music realizing its fullest potential. By the time Artful Dodger's "Rewind" sneaked into my rotation for singles of the year, most serious clubbers were starting to grow sick of it, or at least the way it monopolized the attention of dabblers like me. Turns out that 2-step is a more varied genre than that one single lets on. And convincing people that garage can encompass many styles, jokes Lick organizer Aaron Hart, a.k.a. Aaron Bliss, is the hard part. "People think, 'Oh, its going to be 2-step all night. How many times am I gonna hear "Rewind"?'"

The night before the Martin Luther King holiday--no school the next day!--hundreds of kids were crammed together on the mainstage behind PD Spinlove as he blasted Fatboy Slim into the club's crannies. For once the VIP lounge, tucked away at the far end of the upper level of the main room, did feel genuinely exclusive, even if that exclusivity was based only on being of drinking age. When I arrived in that unexpectedly spacious room, DJ Aaron Bliss and Easyrider were spinning while Chris Caesar, who goes by the name MC Mystery, was taking the mic sporadically in white visor and medical smock. (His frequent demand-cum-plea: Get the fuck up.) The uncramped space offered relief from the press of bodies outside (not that most were seeking that kind of relief) and the mood seemed rather cozy--lots of hugs and warm glances of recognition around the room.

The local garage scene, it turns out, is close-knit by design. "It seems like the only way to get things done in Minneapolis is as a collective," Hart told me later. The foundation for this particular collective was laid when Chicago 2-step proselytizer DJ Casper started an e-mail list. By the end of last winter, a group of Minneapolis 2-step fans had started to convene. "We started having little meetings: Like, what should we do next," says Hart. Since DJ Greg "Big Daddy" Comstock, who helms the Sunday-night Spectrum dance party, helped hook them up with the VIP room, response has been growing.

DJ NatOsha (or Nicki Halvorson, as she signs her checks) agrees. Halvorson got involved with the group of DJs when she was starting her own Web site ( But in Duluth it has caught on even faster: Halvorson says her most inspiring night of spinning has come at Duluth's Tap Room, where interest in the music has been stirred up by airplay on college radio station KUMD-FM (103.3). "These records are hard to get, but kids were singing along to my records," she says with amazement.

That Sunday, incidentally, was the last of the Lick's Sunday-night parties: First Avenue has decided to suspend Sunday Night Dance Parties until school closes. (The garage collective will be popping up intermittently while angling for a monthly Tuesday spot--though competition for such niche nights is heavy.) Considering the fact that the Mainroom has been all but devoid of rock shows this year--go ahead and name one--this is yet another indication of how essential DJ nights and the kids who flock to them have become to the club. Now if these groove urchins would just wear their mittens...