“Yo, you haven’t seen me like this.”
That’s the first thing AJ says to me as I approach him outside The Velvet Underground, the site of my inaugural dubstep show. After my interview with him about a month ago, AJ and I settled on a double feature to be my introduction to the genre: SPACE LACES and MUST DIE!, two heavy-hitting bass acts. After getting to our meeting spot, AJ and his best friend Shane greet me and compliment my outfit. I had texted AJ earlier for outfit suggestions- “Wear something dark and dangerous,” he replied, so I went for an all-black and white motif: black cargo pants, a black and white crop top, and my Adidas Superstars. I also popped on a baseball cap, because I had a feeling I’d want my hair pushed back. I was correct, but more on the sweat later. To complete the ensemble, AJ hands me a bandana from Ever After, a bass festival in Kitchener that has been rocketing in popularity. I tie it around my neck as we head inside.
“There’s definitely going to be a mosh pit,” AJ comments as we clear security and head to the bar. Velvet Underground is one of the smaller venues in Toronto, with a roughly 400-person capacity- so there’s definitely room for a decent mosh pit. The club is quiet at 10:17, but there are some very excited crowd members for the first opener, GUESSWHOSDEAD. As we grab our drinks and relax, AJ turns to me, excited. “I can’t wait to see what you’re like out there.” AJ smiles wickedly at me. “When there’s a crowd? I can’t wait. I’m intrigued!”
“Honestly? Me too,” I respond, and it’s true. I’m comfortable with who I am within a techno or house music perspective, but the idea of seeing who I could become inside a dubstep show is pretty exciting. The vibe of the room helps too; GUESSWHOSDEAD is headbanging along with the small crowd, and it’s cool to see a DJ so into their music. Even if the BPM is not what I’m used to, it’s so different that I find myself really enjoying it. But there are still some familiar moments- AJ and Shane have a good laugh as my inner tween comes out while scream-singing along to a dubstep remix of Cascada’s “Every Time We Touch”. The second opener, Thrizzo, even plays a couple of tech-house tracks, and I get to shuffle along to the slightly slower beat.
After a fresh air break, the club has filled up quickly, and I get to take a look at the crowd and their outfits. Girls are wearing a mix of shorts and fishnets, button-up shirts and crop tops, cargo pants and baseball caps. Dudes are wearing long sleeves, baseball shirts, and many t-shirts emblazoned with their favorite DJ. There are even a few Kandi kids, which makes me both happy and sad: happy that the tradition is still alive in bass circles, sad that I didn’t bring any of my own. And everyone has a bandana. As MUST DIE! enters the booth, I slip mine over my face, smelling lavender laundry detergent. AJ quickly materializes and adjusts the fabric over my face. I glance at my reflection and see that a dragon’s face has appeared over mine. Wicked.
MUST DIE!, one of the headliners, then begins to spin a set that is filled with heavy drops and aggressive electronic sounds. It’s not my first choice, but being surrounded by people so into the sound makes it easier to get into. The best part of the night is watching everyone dance, AJ especially. He approaches people full throttle, headbanging straight towards crowd members. They rise to the occasion, trying to match his energy, exploding in time to the music. In a move I would see several times throughout the night, he grips another guys hand and they headbang side to side, a dubstep handshake. It’s a fountain of unbridled enthusiasm, and I love it. After the first hour, I’ve stopped being afraid of people knocking their heads together. That’s the thing- everyone may be flailing around, but they never collide, respectful of each other’s space. Unless it’s a mosh pit. Then there are plenty of collisions, with AJ usually at the center, a human pinball.
Towards the end of MUST DIE’s set, I recall something AJ told me as we took a break earlier in the night: “It’s all about the buildup.” He’s not wrong. As MUST DIE drops “Bliss 2K” the entire crowd goes wild, thrashing and headbanging in unison. It’s drop after drop after drop. I’ve joked that tech-house is all about endurance, but I was sorely mistaken. All throughout MUST DIE’s set, I thrash, I headbang handshake, and I even get into a hair-flip battle with AJ, my blonde locks whipping against his red tresses. By the time SPACE LACES takes the stage to raucous cheers, I’m sweaty and exhausted. It feels like I’ve been running a 100-meter sprint over and over, and I crash on a couch in the back. But there’s barely any time to rest as SPACE LACES launches into a gritty, pulsating set that shakes the rafters of The Velvet Underground. By the time he drops his collab with Excision, “Throwin’ Elbows”, my energy is back full force. I launch off of the couch and weave through the crowd, finding AJ at the very front, in the middle of a mini mosh pit. He sees me and grins wickedly, grabbing my shoulder as we rock to the beat together. It’s sweaty. It’s aggressive. And it’s awesome.
At 2, SPACE LACES closes out and GUESSWHOSDEAD comes back on. The boys and I split for the nearby pizza joint, and as we share slices, we all reminisce on the show. AJ turns to me and smiles broadly. “Man, you really threw down. Like, you were going for it!” he congratulates me. I suddenly feel very proud of myself- I survived a bass baptism by fire, and I came out on the other side, throwing elbows.
Not too bad for a first-timer.