The first three months and change in earnest at the Crown, the recently renovated and nobly repurposed third floor studio-turned-concert space at the Carolina Theatre, has been an exploration of boundaries of sorts. Most of the shows presented early on by the Carolina Theatre’s in-house promotions team have angled previously tested waters, drawing respectable crowds to check out familiar names in subdued, even spartan new surroundings. It served as the venue for Jack Carter & the Armory to release an album of rowdy rock-and-roll cabaret called Billy the Kid, soaring pop-punk purveyors Unifier to rock with national upstarts Somos, and Americana and Africana to convene when Bruce Piephoff and Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba shared a bill just last month. It was inevitable that the measured success of those events would open the door to grander visions for the space, however, and it was realized last Thursday with “Dance from Above 1.0”.
It was the first in what is intended to ultimately be a monthly series of dance parties favoring progressive electronic music talent over playlist DJs, like local beat whisperer darklove. and Charlotte deep-house wizard Collectr. The bare room exploded with color from a full visual array created by videographer Adam Graetz and presented by Brandon Warren, and even more stunning production than the show’s headliner Marley Carroll saw when he closed out the final night of the recent Moogfest at a Hopscotch showcase.
The Asheville-based Carroll is a guy with a strong case for not only being among North Carolina’s preeminent dance music producers, but all-around musicians, period. He’s part of a wave of progressively-minded electronic artists like Robert DeLong, Classixx and fellow North Carolinian-turned-Berliner Machinedrum who see equal value in the visual cause and the visceral effect of making dance music. He’s both a classically-trained percussionist and a champion turntablist who deploys the full spectrum of his abilities toward a singular goal — moving bodies. Thursday night, the tactile element to watching him create music from his superlative 2013 record Sings was just as satisfying as the natural outcome of his playful rhythmic expressions.
Outside the Carolina Theatre, the atypical thump of bass emanated down to street level, but inside, Carroll was creating a symphony of downtempo, Afropop-centric groove on Technics, a mixer, microphone and an array of esoteric hardware. His set opened with the impulsive “First Thought, Best Thought” and slyly transitioned into the future-garage angle that British producer Little People took on his recent remix. Carroll offered his own perspective on some of his peers and influences, turning in a chilled-out remix of Asheville shoegazers Sonmi’s “Future 26” and a shimmery deconstruction of the Polish Ambassador’s ultra-funky “Oh Love”.
His original compositions concluded with “Speed Reader”, the melodic opus that unites the stylistically far-reaching Sings under a single, gentle anthem. Part of his audience broke from their sweaty bacchanal just long enough to purr along with Carroll’s soft intonations, which even seemed to take him by surprise. Likewise, Carroll’s audience might have been thrown when he broke into a DJ set of African electronica. His left-field playlist included beats from the Owiny Sigoma Band, one of the finest discoveries of Acid Jazz founder and cosmopolitan crate digger Gilles Peterson, and a remix from the Knife’s Olof Dreijer of a track by child soldier-turned political activist Emmanul Jal.
By just about any conventional measure, the show was an incisive success. That audience, has it happened, set the door record for attendance at a Crown show — against less than a dozen shows, but a record nonetheless — at 205 paid entries, along with bringing in more (but as of yet undisclosed) bar income than any other Crown show to date. Yet, the independent promoters who brought the show together still came out on the losing end financially. The Carolina Theatre took the reservation fee, the bar and an additional 15 percent off the door off before the talent was paid, which at five dollars admission, was intended to dissuade barriers to entry for the new series, according to Daniel Olsen of promoter Jazzy Joel Productions.
While there are obvious safety nets built into in-house promotions at the Crown — it’s easier to sell milk when you own the barn, in this case — their current structure seems presents independent promoters with dire scenarios for trying to keep admission fees down while also diversifying the space’s offerings. Olsen said that much of the logistical support that lead to the show’s success was provided pro bono in order to get the series off the ground; when decorum prescribes payment for all services rendered in the future, a cutting edge party could quickly become bleeding edge.