Vinyl & Verses' Hard-Won Birthday
It's not a fairy tale of success, but it's a success just the same
Four years ago, local hip-hop was hard to find. Clubs wouldn't book it. The few crews that existed hadn't yet coalesced into a sturdy scene. "There was no sign of hip-hop anywhere," says Phillip Torres. He wanted to perform, to see his friends on stage and to get paid.
The fourth anniversary show of Vinyl & Verses on Independence Day marks a hard-fought victory for Torres and the hip-hop community.
Vinyl & Verses got its start in Sauce's Liquid Lounge as an MC battle. Though there weren't many organized performances, the night blew up. A large, aggressive crowd and graffiti in the bathrooms shut the party down after a handful of months.
Torres, aka Flux, took his show to Burt's, a bar entrenched in local rock. And though a fairy tale ending would go something like, "The hip-hop night was immediately embraced and became even more well-attended than before," of course that's not what happened.
"It was dead," says Torres. "We struggled for about six months." After all that down-time, after scraping through and paying dues, turnout became ... mediocre. "I was just trying to figure out what to do," he says. Torres booked more DJs and started calling in more local talent.
In the meantime, a lot of the performers doing MC battles and freestyling formed groups. It was only through the grace of Burt's owner Kim Wong that Vinyl & Verses stuck out its rough year to become the Wednesday night draw that it is. Today, Torres estimates you'll find about 100 people at any given V&V. On really good nights, a capacity crowd floods in. Once in a while, a line will form outside.
The hip-hop scene in Albuquerque has grown considerably over the past few years, due in large part to the regular, weekly outlet. "That really inspired people and also helped them build on their skills, whether it be DJing, MCing or breakdancing," Torres says. "They're really pushing themselves. People are watching and listening." That's not to say the V&V crowd is necessarily forgiving. "It's a critical audience. You'll know when you're not doing well." Lesser performances spark crowd apathy. People will go to the bar and conversations grow louder than the music, Torres says.
There were times when Torres wanted to quit. "I was by myself, promoting and booking and dealing with different attitudes. I'm glad I stuck with it." Over time, lots of people have gotten involved and begun helping out. Other artists have a vested interest in seeing the night grow. The format has changed, too. "We've been through that whole trial-and-error period. We've seen what didn't work—open mics, weekly battles, late at night a whole bunch of drunkards getting involved." V&V opens up with DJing, then local groups perform. The crowd really likes dancing. Resident DJ Shakedown has a great collection that facilitates the booty-shaking.
Performers without enough of a draw to perform at the Launchpad or Sunshine are able to hit up Vinyl & Verses for a show, too. Even performers from the Def Jux label or Fat Beats have found a guaranteed audience and a home on Burt's accommodating stage. “It's turned into this essential crowd that everybody would love to have. They love hip-hop music. It's a Wednesday night. It's a hump night. But people come out, even if they have to work the next day."
Sometimes Torres feels stagnant. But something or someone always brings him back in. Everyone has ideas about what Wednesdays could become. He's kicking around the idea of hip-hop karaoke for 30 minutes at the beginning of the night or a dub/reggae hour from 9 to 10 p.m. After the birth of his daughter last month, Torres finds it difficult to break away and head out to the shows. He gets calls from the sound man or from friends helping him run the night. He doesn't have to explain anything to his girlfriend. "She knows I have to make the night perfect," he says. "If I have to be there, I'll be there."
Help V&V turn four at Burt's Tiki Lounge on Wednesday, July 4, with long-time supporters like: Cheops, 2bers, Durt E Sol, Kiddo Lumpz, Manchromatic, Mantis Fist, NTOX, OHM, SaintSinnerSuns, Shake, Speed and Zoology. Free. 21+. Go to www.myspace.com/vinylandverses for more info.