Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Mehmet Dede of Drom Reflects on the Defiant Relaunch of A Popular Manhattan Nightspot

In these difficult economic times, while some New York clubs desperately pander to the lowest common denominator with jello wrestling, beer pong and other ways of killing time on the Jersey Shore, the elegant New York East Village nightclub Drom at 85 Avenue A between 5th and 6th St. is relaunching itself as an all-purpose world music emporium on April 1. It should come as no surprise that we’re fans of the club: having rated Drom as Best Manhattan Venue of 2009, we watched them slowly gravitate to being more of a restaurant before rededicating themselves to the live music that made the place such a mecca in its first two years, beginning in 2008. Drom’s Director of Programming and Bookings, Mehmet Dede, who along with global promoter Serdar Ilhan is responsible for the makeover, took some time out of his schedule to speak with us. Here’s the scoop:

Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: It’s no secret that we’re glad to see that Drom is back – we spent a whole lot of time at your place a couple of years ago. What’s behind the decision to make it a fulltime music venue again, other than it’s a lot of fun?

Mehmet Dede: It’s always been a fulltime music venue. About a year after it opened some creative differences arose among owners and the programming became less cohesive – the club lost its soul, in a way. When co-founder and brainchild behind the club, Serdar Ilhan, bought out his partners last summer (with his new partner Ekmel Anda), he not only remodeled the club, but also made necessary programming and management changes to re-brand the venue to fit its motto, “Global Music for a New World.”

LCC: On one hand, what you’re doing makes sense: the Poles want Polish music, the Turks want theirs. Same with the Azeris and the Dominicans and every other great culture in this melting pot of ours. So there should be a consistent market for all of that. Yet no club dedicated to “world music,” that is, music that represents pretty much every culture, has ever managed to stay in business in New York. Are you on to something that nobody else is?

MD: We tend to think of “world music” as music that brings together communities. What I think sets Drom apart is that it is open to sounds from more countries, communities and genres than other clubs: You can hear Russian space-age pop music, an alt country band and traditional Greek music all within the same day, at times here.

LCC: Does the grand reopening involve the sound system, or the decor? Since day one, you’ve been one of the best-sounding rooms in town – I hope that won’t change…

MD: We’ve enhanced the sound system, added new gear to our technical inventory and enlarged the stage area. We’ve also painted the floor, added new artwork to the walls, and new furniture as well. The biggest change is the addition of a big chandelier, which makes you feel like you’re listening to the artist in your living room.

LCC: You and Serdar use the club as home base for your frequent global music festivals, whether in Central Park, at the UN or the Town Hall among other venues. The latest kicks off with a mammoth free concert in Central Park on Friday, June 17 with legendary Turkish songwriter/filmmaker Zulfu Livaneli. Will you continue promoting big events like that one?

MD: Yes. Serdar and I started off as promoters, and over time added producing festivals and running a nightclub to the list. Today, while we continue to produce one-off shows in and around town, we wanted to bring our experience in doing these events to a live music hall.

LCC: Your schedule for April is as eclectic as anybody could want. Palestinian-American songwriter Stephan Said continues his monthly residency; you also have jazz, Turkish music, a terrific classical pianist playing her cd release show, Turku’s hypnotic Silk Road songs on the 16th, and diverse Middle Eastern sounds with Duo Jalal on the 27th, just to name a few events. Anything else that we should know about?

MD: I would add to that list the Beatrockers & Hardknockers event on April 23rd – the ultimate showcase of the beatbox artform. Poum Tchack, a sextet from the South of France, who are elegant and classy, will play on April 30th. Last but not least, new-soul-comer Chris Turner will play at Drom in April.

LCC: Maybe this isn’t your department – or maybe it is – but I noticed that while pretty much every other restaurant out there has raised their prices, Drom’s are lower than they were last year. And the menu is simplified. What’s up with that? Will you still have that mezze [appetizer] plate that I love so much?

MD: We have simplified the menu because we have a better idea now of what people eat when they attend a concert at our venue. We are primarily a live music hall:  to complement that, we’ve added easy-to-eat main courses, bar food and finger food to the menu. Don’t worry, your fave appetizers will remain on the menu!

LCC: Is there a reason why your place is so pleasant and so many other clubs aren’t? I mean, when I go to Arlene Grocery, the crackhead who does the door acts like she wants to rip my head off. If I want a decent seat anywhere near the stage at City Winery, I have to show up super early. Yet when I come to your place, it’s dark and cozy, everybody’s friendly and relaxed, I can always manage to find a spot somewhere to sit if I’m hungry and I never start to feel like going up and strangling the sound guy. Does one have to be Turkish or Bulgarian to run a club that doesn’t make the customers feel like they’re in a concentration camp?

MD (laughs): Maybe it’s the Turkish hospitality?!

March 31, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This Dec. 10, a Global Dance Party with Real Live Music – Who Knew?

A lot of people know about this, actually – but there’s always room for more. Scott Kettner and Mehmet Dede are the brain trust behind the frequent Is America Part of the World? global dance parties around New York. For awhile they did them at the Brooklyn Yard; this time out they’re at Littlefield. Scott plays drums in the excellent, absurdly eclectic Brazilian-flavored Nation Beat; Mehmet holds down a corner of the Drom nightclub empire and produces music festivals including the NY Gypsy Festival. Here’s their take on their next show, Friday, December 10:

Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: The club’s going to keep the floor open, people will be dancing just as they usually do at your shows, right?

Mehmet Dede: Yes, absolutely. Our series is about the heart and mind as well as the feet – it’s a global party. Dancing and having fun is an important element for us.

LCC: All this is happening Friday, December 10 at Littlefield, showtime says 8 PM, is that actually the time the bands start?

MD: Doors are at 8 PM; the first band, Tall Tall Trees, will go on at 9. After midnight we’ll continue with DJ Turnmix, who is an excellent dj from Barcelona. Did I say this is a global dance party?

LCC: What’s the deal with tickets? Thirteen bucks, that’s about four dollars a band…

MD: Yes, we wanted to keep the ticket prices down to give people more for their money. In this economy, I think people will appreciate it.

LCC: Let’s see if I got this right, first band is Tall Tall Trees, who are a very funny, wry sort of acoustic Americana jam band with banjo and guitars and upright bass. True?

MD: That’s a pretty good description. Scott?

Scott Kettner: Yes, they’ll be the first band. They are a really high energy band that take Americana and rockabilly to a whole new level. I think they are using electric bass now.

LCC: The second act is Brooklyn Qawwali Party, at ten, right? I’m personally not a fan of qawwali music so I was very surprised to see that these guys are a funk band, from what I’ve seen on youtube they’ve got about 50 people in the band and they really rock the party. Do they also do the hypnotic sufi chanting stuff?

MD: It’s not exactly 50 people, but yes they are a crowded band, and they love to jam onstage. Some songs can easily top 10 minutes. They’re both hypnotic and transcendental, but also groovy and danceable. They are a party band with a spiritual vibe. It’s a joy to see them on stage.

LCC: Scott, I have a bit of an inside track on your band Nation Beat because I’ve seen you a bunch of times – with Liliana Araujo your Brazilian chanteuse, and with Jesse Lenat the country crooner for example. You play country, and Brazilian styles, and funk, and soul, and I’ve even seen you go into a surf groove. Do you have a favorite of all these styles, and what is it?

SK: My favorite is when all of this music blends and there is not a “style.” That’s what really gets me off about drumming and music…when it can’t be defined. I love hearing a band play and walking out wondering what the hell it was. That’s partly the purpose of this festival, to bring together groups who are blurring the lines of genre and just pulling together the music they love to create a sound that isn’t contrived. When I was in high school I played in a surf punk band called Liquid Image and also played in some local funk and blues bands. Then I moved to NYC to study jazz and developed a passion for Brazilian music. So when I sit behind the drums or compose a song I’m always searching for a way to bring all of these musical experiences together.

LCC: A surf drummer: I knew it. Very very cool, as you probably know we are huge surf music fans here. Now out of all those Brazilian genres you play, what would you say is your specialty? Forro? Frevo? What does Nation Beat bring to it that’s original, that makes it all yours?

SK: I really love maracatu and forró. I moved to Brazil specifically to study maracatu back in 2000 and have developed a very deep relationship with the music and culture of this rhythm. Nation Beat is a collaboration between Brazil and the US. We’re a band that seeks the similarities between the music and culture of the northeast of Brazil and the southern United States. We play a lot of rhythms from the northeast of Brazil; maracatu, forró, coco, cirando and frevo, all music that Liliana Araujo grew up listening to. When her and I get together we bring our musical backgrounds to the table and the result is Nation Beat. This is what makes it OUR music, the fact that we’re not trying to imitate a style but rather bring our musical backgrounds together to create OUR own music.

LCC: Is it ok if I ask some hard questions now? For example, how effectively do you think “Is America Part of the World?” comes across? What I mean is that the idea is pretty funny if you think about it – obviously, America is part of the world, we’ve got just as much a right to make “world music” as anybody else. But is it good branding? Something people are going to remember?

SK: I think it’s a great name…thanks for the idea! [grin]

LCC: At this point in history, is Brooklyn really part of the world? You’re playing a club in Gowanus where there are all these hideous gentrifier condo buildings sprouting up amidst the warehouses, rents are rising, destroying the neighborhood. How would you respond to a cynic who might say something like, “These guys are just a bunch of rich white kids ripping off styles from around the world, if they really cared about the world they’d bring in a real qawwali band?”

SK: First I’d say I’m not rich and not even close to it and I think I can speak for all of the musicians on the event. Second I’d say if all you really want to hear a “real” qawwali band you probably won’t come to our festival and probably shouldn’t. The whole point of this festival is to bring together bands who are interpreting the music that they have a passion for. We’re searching for the point of convergence where our musical backgrounds meet with our musical passions. That’s it. If you think about the history of all music in the new world; jazz, blues, salsa, merengue, samba, maracatu, rock and roll, etcetera, you will not be able to define this music without realizing the fact that it took many cultures, many people coming together and mixing their musical and cultural backgrounds. None of this music would exist if it weren’t for Europeans, indigenous and African people being thrown into a turbulent culture where they had to find common ground to communicate together with music. So what’s the difference if we choose to do the same thing today?

LCC: I’m always impressed with how diverse the crowds are at your shows: at least they’re part of the world. Beyond the usual Bushwick blogs, how do you get the word out about them? Or is it a word of mouth thing, either you know or you don’t?

SK: I send out a big newsletter every month announcing our gigs and we also do the social networking song and dance. There’s a community of people who are really interested in what we’re doing so they just keep tuned in to what we’re up to.

LCC: How’d you end up at Littlefield this time? I like the place a lot – the sound is good and there’s none of the disrespect you get on the Lower East Side for example…

SK: My partner Mehmet and I checked out the club and really liked the vibe of the people and the room. It also has a great sound.

LCC: After this, when’s the next show and who’s on it?

SK: This will be Nation Beat’s last show in town until 2011. I have a brass band playing forró music on December 14th at Barbes.

Is America Part of the World starts at 9 on Friday, December 10 with Tall Tall Trees, Brooklyn Qawwali Party at 10 and Nation Beat at 11 at Littlefield, 622 Degraw St. (3rd/4th Aves.) in Gowanus, Brooklyn, easy to get to from the F or R trains. Tickets are $13 at the door and will probably sell out: early arrival is advised.

December 2, 2010 Posted by | concert, funk music, interview, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment