Word spreads by flyer and e-mail, drawing a small but dedicated corps of young hipsters to a nondescript club on a sleepy, dimly lit street corner. They are in search of deejays spinning a sound so new that some have crossed state lines for their first chance to dance to it.
That sound is UK Garage, or Two-step, a dance genre from London’s underground club scene that has crossed the Atlantic – and not just to such likely haunts as New York and San Francisco.
It’s also growing in popularity from Washington to Dallas and, in this case, Minneapolis, where a seven-member group of deejays known as the Steppers Alliance hosts Garage dance parties and has even started producing some of its own tracks.
The group includes Matt Brady, a college student who, at age 20, is its youngest member and refers to himself as the “baby stepper.”
“When other kids were busy buying cigarettes and clothes and all that other stuff, I was buying drum machines. I was a dork,” Brady, who deejays under the name Signore Veloce, says, laughing.
He discovered Garage music during a trip to England in the fall of 1999 and – as his deejaying counterparts did – fell in love with it.
It’s a sound that, at first, the novice listener might not distinguish from the many forms of techno dance music that have evolved since wildly popular House music first emerged from Chicago and Detroit in the early 1980s.
But just as House incorporated Latin, soul and disco sounds, those ingrained in the scene say Garage – named as a nod to its predecessor – takes that eclectic sound farther, incorporating a more intricate, skippy drum-and-bass beat with hip-hop and R&B vocals and even reggae.
This time around, cities like Chicago have been slower to catch on.
“I’m not sure they’ll ever get past House here,” sighs Julian, a 26-year-old deejay from that city who spins Garage under the name Casper but declines to give his last name.
He and others say it may well be the city that brought the world Prince and R&B producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis that becomes the Midwest’s Garage hub.
“Minneapolis has always been really accepting of new things, new genres,” says 29-year-old Nicki Halvorson, a Steppers member who works in advertising production when she’s not deejaying as “natOsha.” “We want to hear new, new, new things.”
At the Steppers party, members of the crowd – some pierced, some wearing extra-wide-legged pants – alternate between standing and dancing. Often facing the deejays, they watch and listen until finding a groove they like. Then suddenly arms and legs begin to flail, in sometimes jerky, sometimes smooth motions.
One dancer spins on his head for several seconds.
“Oh, I love this!” says Andie Bunnag, a 23-year-old retail clerk from Minneapolis, who was eager to dance to Garage after buying her first Two-step CD just weeks before.
Nicholas Goodroad, a 20-year-old who is home in Minneapolis for the summer from his college in Fargo, N.D., says he likes Garage’s “clean scene,” referring to the noticeable absence of drugs and alcohol at the Steppers’ 18-and-over party.
But Minneapolis is far from the only place where Garage is taking root.
It’s popular “even in Kansas,” says Hafid Saba, a 24-year-old tech consultant and transplanted Brit who lives in Lawrence, Kan.
It’s also creeping up in more mainstream music. Some say “Pop,” a song on the latest ‘N Sync album, has a Garage sound. And British Garage star MJ Cole co-produced the popular remix of Mariah Carey’s recent single, “Loverboy.”
Garage may also help propel British R&B singer Craig David’s career in this country. Garage’s influence can be heard on “Rewind,” a song on David’s album “Born to Do It,” which was produced and co-written by Mark Hill, a Garage pioneer from the south of England.
Hill is about to release his second dance album, “It’s All About the Stragglers,” under the name Artful Dodger, once a duo act that he’s since taken solo.
While Hill says his fellow Brits are starting to tire of a genre that’s been around since 1997, he has been happily “educating” New York club-goers to the fine points of Garage.
“It’s got that kind of party atmosphere over here again because it’s really fresh and different,” says Hill, who’s hoping to play in other cities.
Back in Minneapolis, Brady, a.k.a. Signore Veloce, says even his parents “really get into it.”
If that isn’t proof of Garage’s potential for wide appeal, he adds, “then I don’t know what is.”