Note: The following story was written by the great Imade Borha, who also pens an occasional Music & Mental Health column for us. It appeared as the cover story in today’s issue of 72 Hours. If you dig, you can follow Imade on Twitter here.
On a frigid Thursday night in December, lovers of electronic dance music packed Café Nola at a celebration of Future Sound’s fifth anniversary. The monthly event transformed Café Nola into a dance club with strobe lights, projected video clips, and a wall of LED lights behind the performing DJs.
Stepping into Nola was like stepping into a trunk rattling car. The hard hitting sound reverberated in your chest.
After Andrew Gumas, known as Gumdrop, opened the event, Jared “kcik” Bileski mixed trap hip-hop with EDM in a way that would make a freestyle rapper salivate. The music’s vocals, which varied between mumble rap and chopped and screwed, took a backseat to intricate rhythms of syncopated hi hats and double-time beats. Old met new in remixed standards like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” There was a sense of anticipation as the remix progressed. When kcik dropped the beat, one man jumped in synchronized timing.
People’s enjoyment of the music was as diverse as kcik’s set. They hugged each other, huddled by the DJ table to dance, or just stood and nodded their heads to the music in approval.
Kcik stayed focused throughout it all, turning knobs with the focus of a surgeon.
“It’s a bigger turn-out than I thought,” said Future Sound founder Derrick Miller as he made his way through the crowd. “I’m loving this.”
Shortly after, gangsta rap rumbled out of the speakers. “Hold up. Hold up. Hold up. Wait. Turn the beat up.”
Screams of delight could be heard later when Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot” came on. Some people shed their winter coats on the back of chairs to join the small but faithful group of dancers.
Five years ago, few people attended Future Sound. Miller, who’s been an EDM fan since the mid-’80s, simply played music off his laptop with the support of fellow DJ friends Ray “Sigmund Void” Naegle and Chris “Synapsis” Heyrend.
“I knew it was going to take some time to build up,” Miller said in a group interview with Future Sound DJs before the show, “because I had done these events before, and it always takes a while to get something going.”
Gumas came along the following year and felt Future Sound could be made better, he said. Gumas, who previously tried to form a non-sanctioned DJ club at Hood College, teamed up with Miller to promote Future Sound in the Frederick area. Miller started diversifying Future Sound DJs by sharing booking tasks with friends like Gumas. “We wanted to make our town feel like a cool place for kids our age,” Gumas said. “They’re all driving down two, three times a week [to D.C.], going to clubs. We wanted to make it local and be our thing.”
For many Frederick residents, EDM comes with a learning curve. This music can be hard to define since EDM is often an umbrella genre encompassing pop, hip-hop and rock through incorporating synthesized sounds.
Many Future Sound DJs have a memorable first experience with EDM, where they were overwhelmed by what they were hearing. Gumas’ first time came when he was invited to step inside an acquaintance’s car. “He rolls the windows up, I’m like, alright, we’re all going to die. He turns up the stereo … it’s called Mt. Eden dubstep. He said, ‘Just listen. Just listen, guys. This is the new s—. This is Euro right here. This is what they’re doing in Europe. It’s called EDM,’” Gumas said. “It shocked me at first. I thought it was abrasive,” but when Gumas researched the genre, his opinion changed. “And then I realized that I really like it. The rest is history.”
EDM newcomers can also be a bit jarred when they first enter Nola’s doors. “Sometimes you watch it happen, like the transformation,” Gumas said. “You’ll see them looking to all their friends for approval. ‘What is this? I don’t know, what is this?’ They’re looking around, and they start making fun of it.”
Kevin Maddert, who occasionally DJs as JustKev, added what happens next. “And instead of leaving, they go primal and subsume themselves in it. You turn around and these people are going insane on the dance floor.”
With a $5 cover charge, Future Sound barely breaks even, but less focus on making money means more room to take risks. “This Future Sound thing is a labor of love,” Miller said. “So we’ll have a famous DJ from D.C. or Baltimore come in, and another time we’ll have some unknown bedroom producer who feels like their music deserves to be heard.”
A DJ set at Future Sound can include a Backstreet Boys remix alongside trance or surfer rock. Undoubtedly, each month offers listeners a chance to hear something they’ve never heard before.