RIP Dope Jams

[caption id="attachment_65409" align="alignleft" width="640"]Dope Jams Dope Jams interior photo courtesy of Dope Jams/Facebook.[/caption]

Every week or thereabouts, Mutant Dance Moves takes you to the shadowy corners of the dancefloor and the fringes of contemporary electronic music, where new strains and dance moves are evolving.

The new year got off to quite the start when Ft. Greene’s record/ CD/ book/ magick shop Dope Jams posted their annual, feather-ruffling Best & Worst List of 2012, emphasizing the latter as “more incontrovertible proof that our civilization is marching bravely with chests puffed out and chins raised high towards its own inevitable and very much unironic dissolution.” They then proceeded to hilariously dress down dance titans ranging from Carl Craig to Ron Trent, Drexciya to Cajmere, also dissing MDM faves like L.I.E.S. (“we need to establish a full blown Morelli/L.I.E.S-esque boycott of his shit”) and Andrès (“if this record came out fifteen years ago it would have been forgotten two weeks after it was released”).

In licking a shot at Jus-Ed, they wrote: “He just continues down his path no matter what's going on around him, there can be 16 inches of snow on the ground and the muthafucka is still cutting the grass … and wait till the piano line comes in. Does he even listen to what he's making? This is a perfect example of how bad dance music can be!” To which Ed responded with a YouTube video, saying he was naming his next track “Dumb Jams.”

Not as good a joke, but Mr. Edward McKeithen of Bridgeport, CT now has the last laugh, as Dope Jams announced their shuttering of their shop on Myrtle Avenue soon after, their own struck pose “... with chests puffed out and chins raised high towards its own inevitable and very much unironic dissolution.” Last weekend they hosted their final Celebrate Life party within its black walls, and yet again another record shop will no longer be housed in brick and mortar.

But there was more to Dope Jams than that. For the past seven years, shop owners Francis Englehardt and Paul Nickerson held court between the yeshivas, bodegas and storefront ministries of Clinton Hill, just beyond the sprawl of gentrification, though the mass email they sent out suggested rising rent prices were to blame for the store’s closing. It was an intimidating place to visit as a customer and one Brooklyn-based producer posted to Twitter how daunting it could be in that shop, asking where the Omar S. section was and then being told they wouldn’t sell it to him because he “didn’t look for himself.” But as Englehardt and Nickerson themselves admitted to Resident Advisor in a story last year: “We are complete fucking assholes. We know that we're assholes and we're okay with that.”

"For all their tearing down (or bootlegging) of their idols though, Dope Jams know how to throw a sweaty, no-frills, no-bullshit fun-as-fuck dance party."

It’s one thing to be assholes and another thing to be bootleggers, which was the shop’s true stock in trade. Lovingly silk-screened and rendered as they were (with bon mots like “THE GOOD TIMES OF TODAY ARE THE SAD THOUGHTS OF TOMORROW” and “UNAUTHORIZED DUPLICATION IS NECESSARY TO BRING LIGHT TO GREATNESS” etched into run-out grooves), the walls of Dope Jams were lined with unauthorized duplicates. That it’s merely the high fever of New York rents killing the store rather than lawyers representing the likes of these litigious folks might be fortunate. As for the shop’s house-oriented label, it’s not hard to imagine that none of these artists who had their tracks “reissued” saw a penny from them. But I’m guilty for buying a few of these myself (the demo of “Too Much Blood” is the most wicked Jagger-Richards track imaginable), so they know their base.

For all their tearing down (or bootlegging) of their idols though, Dope Jams know how to throw a sweaty, no-frills, no-bullshit fun-as-fuck dance party. I wound up at one late last year already at a full lather, the room dark save for washes of flickering lights. A half-dozen friends and I entered and immediately started to move, immersed in the deepest waters of deep house. For hours, Englehardt and Nickerson whiplashed their heads from the vantage of the store’s in-house DJ booth, gauging the crowd and grinning maniacally as they levitated the party at will. And we had to keep moving, well into the witching hours of the night.

By day, the magick items the shop stocked seem downright cheesy: Nag Champa incense that infused your clothes, skulls that held candles, Crowley books. But at this hour, these items become decidedly more sinister, this dance now turning into a ritual. It’s a heavy realization to have. And right around 3 am, right when our energies began to lag and the door out onto the street beckoned, Englehardt and Nickerson built up the room’s intensity to a pitch before breaking into an old-school hip-hop set with The Jungle Brothers and De La Soul. It was refreshing after so much mysterious, amazing music. But they then went straight to the pleasure zones: “Crazy in Love,” “Promiscuous,” “Rump Shaker,” “Jingling Baby.” It was a glorious payoff, a serotonin rush to beleaguered dancers, and one of the finest nights out in the city. To know it was one of the last feels bittersweet. RIP, Dope Jams.