On the slightly more underground side there’s intimate warehouse spot Dark Room, run by 34-year-old Ebiz Kowli. The venue is in the cultural district, where you’ll find abandoned buildings alongside art museums and, increasingly, lots of construction work. Gentrification is beginning to make a difference, fuelled in part by the Hyperloop train system proposed by Elon Musk. Whether it will happen is uncertain, but talk of it is raising Baltimore’s profile. It’s a city on the verge of a new lease of life.
So far Ebiz has a mutually tolerant relationship with the authorities. “They want us to be here for now because it makes the area interesting. In three or four years that will probably change,” he says. “The main reason I moved to this block is because everything around it was abandoned. We could do whatever we wanted. The cops pop their head in sometimes to see what’s going on, but we’ve never had sound complaints.”
Dark Room is basic but functional, the DJ booth at one end, a small sofa at the other and not much else. It has a bring your own bottle policy so there’s no bar, just a separate chill-out room with a couple of toilets, another sofa and a smoking area outside. Its entrance is down an alleyway at the back of the building. The decks are on a wooden platform suspended from the ceiling by chains, and the soundsystem obscures the DJ. “I like to have a barrier there. Yes, the DJ is an important element of the night but it’s not everything,” Ebiz says. “I want people to dance and express themselves, not stare at the DJ all night.”
The only sources of light are the back room and a red lamp in the booth, echoing Kerri Chandler’s infamous quote about “A basement, a red light, and a feelin’”. The building that houses the rave space has four levels. On the second floor he’s building music studios, on the third floor his own apartment is being constructed and the basement will also be utilised at some point, with a cheeky afterparty room also in the pipeline. This is his baby, and the raw aesthetic belies how much work and attention to detail Ebiz has put into it. “Everyone who comes knows what’s going on; there are no walk-up ticket buyers. It’s a destination,” he tells us. This is confirmed by the dancefloor faithful. “I love drum ’n’ bass, mostly, but it’s hard to find that here or in Washington, where I live,” 28-year-old Andy tells Mixmag. “I come here because it’s a great alternative, the crowd is friendly, expressive and know their shit.”
“Most of my friends buy tickets to every party no matter whether they know who’s playing or not, because it’s always someone worth seeing,” says 33-year-old Christina, a receptionist.
Detroit heroes Scott Grooves and Norm Talley work through a broad selection of house, techno and soulful jams as the dimly-lit dancefloor throbs, writhes, bounces and flails all through the night. Like Teddy’s bash, it’s unrestrained, inclusive and communal, representing the core of Baltimore’s club scene – and the very fundamentals of the music itself.
Many thanks to Hotel Indigo and Visit Baltimore
Marcus Barnes is Mixmag’s techno editor, follow him on Twitter