The Twin Cities' best summer dance party, Communion, never misses a beat

DJ Christian James helped relaunch Communion.

DJ Christian James helped relaunch Communion.

On Sunday afternoons, downtown Minneapolis rests.

The previous night's collared shirts and bachelorette tiaras have long since stumbled home. Straggling Twins fans linger with their last beers before leaving to recharge for the work week. Soon 9-to-5ers will reclaim the city's core in an express-bus siege.

But during these transitional hours, downtown — at least a hidden pocket of it — belongs to a different crowd.

A steady bass thump echoes around the corner of South Fifth Street and Nicollet Mall. Passersby quizzically spin their heads, futilely looking for the source. An in-the-know beard charges past them on the sidewalk, late for the party of the week.

Through the grungy rabbit hole of the Pourhouse's garage, beloved summertime dance party Communion is jumpin'. The sliver of an alley between the Lumber Exchange Building and a depressed parking ramp teems with bodies in motion, a funky house track setting the pace. It's Communion's season kickoff party, a date Twin Cities fans of underground dance music mark on their calendars each year.

Steve Seuling has kept the party going for 10 years.

Steve Seuling has kept the party going for 10 years.

"Whenever Communion starts, that's like the sign that summer is here," regular Kyle Goodrich said two weeks ago through an amiable beat wave.

This year marks the 10th anniversary — an eternity in nightlife years — of the Sunday afternoon/early evening ritual that runs weekly through Labor Day. While myriad dance nights have risen and fallen during its lifespan, the resilient party has withstood feuds with club owners and constant displacement, a testament to the concept and the crowd.

Communion was conceived by DJs Steve "Centrific" Seuling and Dustin Zahn, a former local techno star now shining in Berlin. The pair traveled around the country while coming up together, checking out dance floors in other towns. Seuling and Zahn fell in love with the early-morning parties they hit in Detroit and Miami, which often popped up behind a restaurant around sunrise. They wanted to capture that extended, blissed-out feeling of de-escalation and bring it to the Twin Cities.

"The after-after-party," as Seuling describes it, sitting outside a coffee shop in northeast Minneapolis. "The sunshine brigade sort of deal, you know?"

With his beach-bum cadence and sunglasses pulled over his eyes, the 41-year-old's demeanor matches Communion's philosophy: keep it low-key and surf the psychedelic plane between house and techno. For rave vet Seuling, whose wheelhouse is those 4-8 a.m. slots, that headier style is second nature. But it doesn't exactly vibe with the Top 40 and electro-house shaking Twin Cities clubs Fridays and Saturdays.

On Sunday, after the party-bus fleet calls it a weekend, Seuling and Zahn figured they'd be free to spin anything they pleased without pandering to the downtown masses. After all, a kaleidoscopic crowd of twentysomethings, old-school house-heads, and a dreadlocked hippie with elastic limbs beats an empty bar. A third founding partner, Jay Tappe (Strangelove), helped lock down Solera's rooftop, where Communion resided for its first (and stablest) four years. Contrasting with Seuling and Zahn's underground techno sensibilities, big-room-leaning Tappe is more of a "clubby guy," Seuling says, and brought a different crowd.

"In the daylight it always meshed well for some reason," Seuling recalls. "It maybe wouldn't work in a club, but it totally worked on a rooftop."

Cheap mojitos and ever-flowing sangria certainly didn't hurt. Regardless, in 2011 Communion crossed the street to newly opened Crave, where Tappe landed a job. After two years of afternoon roof parties, the owners wanted to change the name and shift toward more mainstream music. Seuling reluctantly agreed.

But two weeks in things imploded when owner Kam Talebi didn't care for Seuling's selection. According to Seuling, the dance floor was packed when Talebi approached the DJ booth. "He whispered in my ear, 'I thought I told you never to play this shit in my club again,'" Seuling recalls.

That night he typed up his "I quit" letter, and by noon the next day Communion had a new (very temporary) home. With Zahn having already split for world techno capital Berlin and Tappe staying at Crave, Seuling recruited Christian James to relaunch Communion at Insert Coins. They threw one party in a courtyard the bar apparently had no rights to before shifting to 400 Soundbar.

However, their reign outside the North Loop club was also cut short. As the summer of 2014 wound down, a shooting that sent nine people to the hospital — one of whom eventually died from gunshot wounds — abruptly shuttered Soundbar.

"OK, we got three weeks left," says Seuling, recalling his internal pep talk. "Let's do whatever we can to keep it going. We've never been stopped before. We've moved in the middle of the summer and never missed a beat. We don't want to do that now."

After finishing the year at Skyway Theatre, Communion jumped to its current and unlikely location a few blocks down Hennepin Avenue at the Pourhouse, its fifth home in as many years. There's little overlap between the party bar's usual Fireball brigade and the techno fiends who now cap their weekends on its makeshift patio. But in true Communion fashion, it somehow works. Beneath an industrial fire escape stairwell and an air duct worming out from the weathered brick building, the concrete crevice feels like the site of a pop-up mini rave.

Most importantly, they are free to play what they want and have built a crowd willing to take chances with them.

"We're kind of like shamen," James muses. "We don't really play what people want to hear. We give 'em what they need."

For 10 years, house and techno fans have followed Communion wherever it roams.

For 10 years, house and techno fans have followed Communion wherever it roams.

Though the details are still unfolding, Seuling plans to properly toast Communion's anniversary at Wisconsin's Even Further festival. The woodland rave, which famously brought then-unknown Daft Punk to the U.S. for the first time, is hatching a reunion bash the third weekend in August, Seuling says.

Beyond that, Seuling plans to keep holding his Sunday techno service as long as it has a home and loyal dressed-to-sweat parishioners.

"I can never quit anything," he quips with a smirk. "I never know when to stop."

4-10 p.m. Sundays through Labor Day weekend
$10, 21-plus
The Pourhouse
10 S. 5th St., Minneapolis