If you haven't already noticed, San Diego's electronic music scene is popping. Voyeur brings in trendy DJs each week, El Dorado puts on wild dubstep dance parties for its twice-monthly Dub Dorado event and Spin Nightclub is now hosting international names as part of Mainline, a new bass-music series.
But when it comes to the more innovative sounds—underground hip-hop, purist dubstep, experimental DJ shows—Kava Lounge is where it's at.
Located where The Casbah used to be, on a remote stretch of Kettner Boulevard in Middletown, the modest-sized nightclub might not have Spin's three levels or Voyeur's crazy LCD wall, but it's got a crystal-clear sound system, an exotic menu (including kava shots and organic Blue Sky soda) and a consistently intriguing calendar of events.
So, it's no wonder why some of the city's most innovative electronic music producers have found Kava Lounge to be the ideal spot for a series of secret meetings that Mateo Silva, the club's de facto manager, has dubbed “Family Matters.”
For six months, they've gathered regularly at the club to share ideas, test out new tracks and unleash their weirdest experiments. Any producers are welcome to attend, but the meetings are invite-only to outsiders, even to fans and friends. This isn't about selling tickets and putting on a dance party; this is a meeting of minds.
“My favorite thing I get out of these meetings is the fact that I can get feedback on my tracks from the more experienced old farts,” says Steve Sleeve, a local producer and promoter. “I've learned a lot and my music wouldn't be the same without them.”
In time, the public will have a sampling of what's been shared inside Kava Lounge's dimly lit sanctum. Dataset Clothing, a new clothing company based in San Diego, is putting together a compilation of local electronic music featuring many of the regular attendees. Miguel Vega, the company's owner, says he plans to have the compilation out by September.
But the meetings will stay private. The people behind them want visitors to meet other producers instead of just huddling with their friends. They want people to show their wild sides rather than just play material they're comfortable with.
“We all understand about sharing works in progress, or tunes which aren't mixed down properly,” says Donnie Valdez, aka EshOne, in a Facebook message. “I think having an outside audience would make people clam up, and only share things that they know will be accepted.”
I visited a meeting recently on the condition that I wouldn't give any details about when it's held. More than a dozen electronic-music producers were gathered at the club, sipping beers, lounging around and taking turns at the towering DJ booth.
Some of the sounds explored the bounds of texture and rhythm. Santino Romeri, a member of the electro band Illuminauts, showcased a piece of psychedelic neo-soul with a hazy lead and percussive accents. Aaron Zimmermann, aka Misk, dropped a boundary-pushing dubstep track he made with EshOne, featuring subtle shifts of African drumming samples.
At one point, an up-and-coming producer named Dead N Gone dropped a new remix of “Psychopath,” a song by the producer Torqux. With its ominous synth line, massive beat and burping bass, Dead N Gone's dubstep treatment sounded downright apocalyptic.
Visitors feel a friendly sense of competition. “People are really honest and chill about it,” Misk says. At one point, he teased a producer for using a recognizable synth preset, but he was also eager to hear what veteran dubstepper Puppy Kicker had to say about his own tracks.
Before the meetings started in March, Silva would regularly chill in the club when it was closed, spinning vinyl from his massive collection and testing out his own music. He decided to open the club for the meetings when he, Sleeve, Valdez and James Huntington (aka Hm.t Dm.t) started talking about making a space to share ideas.
“Back before we started this night, most of us were already always sharing production tips with each other at shows or sending each other tunes over the internet,” Huntington says in an email. “It felt really impersonal. Especially with the short attention spans I feel most of us have, it's easy to get sucked into another conversation, or fall into the black hole of the internet.”
The community has been growing stronger since the meetings started. Visitors have collaborated. New faces have shown up.
On the night I went, a budding producer, Rudy Palos, was visiting for the first time. When he put on a funky dance track, two guys started freestyling to the cool synths and pulsating beat. When I asked Palos what the track was called, he shrugged.
“I just started working on it just this last week,” he says. “It sounded kind of shitty, so next time I know to bring something a little bit better.”