The Somnambulants


Heard, not scene
Electropalooza welcomes everyone by playing up the bands and beats of electro music while playing down the movement's clubby trendiness

By Sarah Tomlinson, Globe Correspondent, 5/23/2003

As the name promises, this weekend's Electropalooza fest in Roxbury is shaping up to be an electro-music extravaganza, with up-and-coming bands from New York City and Chicago, baton twirling, and a DJ spinning ''eclectic beats.'' But there's a healthy dose of irony in the name, too, according to organizer Stephen Crowe.

''We said, let's call it Electropalooza to make a mockery out of electro music as it is today,'' the 24-year-old event producer said at an outdoor cafe in Jamaica Plain.

Why mock electro music? Crowe, a fan of the genre, offers two reasons. One is the current trendiness of electro, a kitschy brand of electronic music, which has spawned fervent online discussion groups, special club nights, and a fashion consciousness that blends '80s cheek with a reconstructed artiness. Critics argue it favors style and scene over substance.

Second is the who-you-know aspect of the sometimes cliquish electro world. Along with the fashion focus, this has discouraged some from braving the scene.

Crowe's Electropalooza event at the Berwick Research Institute in Dudley Square aims to combat all that by welcoming a diverse, all-ages crowd to the one-night fest tomorrow night.

Bringing such diversity to often insulated music scenes such as hip-hop and punk is the central goal of Crowe's project, Scarecrowe Productions, which celebrates its one-year anniversary at Electropalooza.

Scarecrowe - which Crowe describes as ''queer-owned, operated, and DIY-styled'' - books punk, hip-hop, and electro shows, often with a socially activist bent, into alternative venues like the Berwick Research Institute. Such venues offer informal artistic settings that encourage community through audience participation. The goal is ''putting community over scene and putting diversity over scene,'' Crowe says.

Which, along with the fact that he loves the music, makes electro the perfect genre for Crowe to tackle. Furthermore, the bands set to play at Electropalooza - Navy, the Countdown, the Somnambulants, and Swiss Dot - appreciate having the focus returned to the music.

The electro movement has become ''similar to disco,'' says Joseph White, singer for New York-based duo the Somnambulants. ''It has a reputation as this sort of lavish lifestyle and scene that's club-oriented and fashion-oriented - and I don't think it began with that intent.''

Another attraction for the bands, which are all playing Boston for the first time, was the chance to leave the typical club setting - and all its trappings. ''I'm really looking forward to the venue,'' said Tamar Berk of Chicago-based duo the Countdown. ''It may not have all the same things that a rock club may have, but the kids can go, and since it's about the music, that's what's most important.''

Crowe's friend Laurel Kirtz, a 28-year-old freelance gardener, housecleaner, and contributing editor at the Improper Bostonian, who will perform a baton-twirling routine as Ms. Dominica K at Electropalooza, was happy to be part of the event.

She notes that she doesn't twirl her baton for just anyone. ''That's because I want to be part of things that are important to me, important to the people, and also quality entertainment.'' Because the nights Crowe organizes have all of these qualities, Kirtz says, she attends even when not performing.

Crowe has booked shows at clubs - such as the night he mixed punk rock bands with the queer Arab hip-hop group Juha at T.T. the Bear's. But offering all-ages shows is particularly important to him.

''I feel like a lot of people in the 21-plus crowd who would come to these shows have probably already worked through a lot of the stuff that they might learn about or have access to at the shows,'' he says.

From the first event that Crowe booked, he wanted to offer more than just a night of music. He was inspired by his friend Mordecai, who founded DDY (Double Dare Ya) Productions in New York City to organize shows for queer artists.

After helping her spread the word about DDY in Boston, he started Scarecrow as the Boston counterpart to DDY. His first show, last May, was a joint Scarecrow/DDY event. The night, which he called Las Bocas de Fuego (Mouths of Fire), benefited Whats Up Magazine, a South End-based publication by and for the homeless and disadvantaged, of which Crowe was once an editor.

Almost a dozen groups distributed information, including Agitprop! Records, a queer punk record label based in Hanover, and Red Eye Magazine, a hip-hop and social activism magazine from New York. Crowe, who calls himself a ''socially radical party planner,'' thinks that while people go out to be entertained, they appreciate being given more to think about than just music.

''I definitely think that there's a lot of people that do want to learn something by going to a show,'' he said.

For Crowe, more important than who plays the shows he organizes or what message they present is the creation of an environment where everyone feels welcome and included. This, he says, is particularly challenging with the local hip-hop and punk scenes, which Crowe describes as hypermasculine.

Some people in those scenes, he says, aren't aware that those of a different gender, race, or sexuality might feel uncomfortable at the shows. ''I do encourage diversity at the shows,'' he said. ''I do encourage awareness.''

Sometimes Crowe also gets frustrated with Boston's conservatism. He suspects his shows would attract bigger crowds in New York City or San Francisco. But it was this very dissatisfaction that fueled him to start organizing the events he would want to attend.

Ultimately, Crowe loves to see people have fun and get down to the music he is passionate about. ''I get a big adrenaline rush when I see a show happening that I put on and there's just, like, so many different types of people there, and everyone is just going crazy,'' he said. ''It's really, really awesome.''

This story ran on page D12 of the Boston Globe on 5/23/2003.
Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.