Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Not Quite Earth-Shattering - Michel Dehey at Studio 80

Studio 80 – Michel Dehey
A Glass-Breaking Performance

Thomissa Comellas
August 31, 2012

            Studio 80’s reputation preceded it twice to this visitor.  A cursory read of a college-age Amsterdam guidebook placed Studio 80 as “the nightlife in Amsterdam” and a friendly barista gushed that it was her favorite place to “chill with chill people.”  Studio 80 is tucked in between two bustling restaurants in Museumplein and on the night of this visit the exterior seemed far-flung from the former acclaims.  A black and white sign with thin lettering read ‘Studio 80’ and red velvet ropes lined a dingy red carpet leading to a darkened hallway secured by a friendly female bouncer.  She kept the line a few parties long apparently solely to increase panache, as at midnight the club was far from full but there were still eager visitors kept waiting outside.  The red carpet and dim lighting seemingly served the same purpose to hype the mood and were surprisingly successful as by the time this visitor reached the front she felt she was entering an exclusive club.  Outdoor restaurant seating to either side of the club entrance created audiences that made clubgoers feel somewhat like stars.  Additionally, money was collected inside, meaning that there was no visible fumbling with bills, giving waiting visitors no stimulus to reconsider their spending for the hefty 15-euro cover charge.
            A surprisingly thorough pat down and a money transfer to a tattooed cashier resulted in the end of the red carpet.  A .5-euro toilet and 1-euro coat check along the dark hallway appeared before one finally stumbled upon the dance floor at the end of a long hallway.
            DJ Michel Dehey controlled the stage from 12-2:30AM but the evening’s four-DJ set ran from 11PM-5AM.  The House-genre music featured repetitive synthetic beats, mid-level bass and light techno with a few English or Dutch phrases scattered among musical patterns.  DJ MD was fairly minimal for the genre, maintaining repetitive mid-range patterns without excessive bass beats or high percussion.  The DJ, dressed casually in a grey and white v-neck, was displayed prominently in the room’s corner.  His blonde hair bobbed along with the music, catching nearly as much light as the white in his shirt.  Large blue and red lights moved quickly about the room and complicated the musical appeal without detracting from the experience by inducing a headache. 
When DJ MD began his set visitors were still funneling in and when he finished his set the dance floor was comfortably full and the line outside was triple what it had been at 12AM.  The crowd was uniformly young, mostly local, and mostly traveling in groups of 3-6.  Although the club was 18+ there had been no ID check and there were noticeably younger faces in the crowd.  About 80% of the club’s guests were 16-28 years dressed in nice jeans and appropriate tops.  The House genre is still developing and so the younger following is unsurprising.  Additionally this particular DJ is on a tour and so it is likely that many of the visitors attended particularly to hear his performance.  The other strong showing was businessmen about 35 years, many bald and well dressed in slacks and collared shirts.  The men appeared to have no qualms against dancing with their friends of the same gender although it was ultimately not apparent how they felt about the club’s gender ratio, which was easily 3:1 men to women.
Set back from the dance floor was a smoking lounge in which visitors could take tobacco and marijuana breaks.  A long hallway and a flight of stairs separated the lounge from the dance floor, the result being that the music was dimly audible, distorted by distance and substance.  It created another exclusive, but unpretentious, component of the club, for those who wanted to leave the consistent beats for a quieter atmosphere.  In this music style there is never much pause between songs - except for poor DJ changes, which were thankfully not observed in this visit - and so to leave for a smoke was to miss part of the set.
The sets and the transitions between DJs were exceptionally smooth despite stylistic differences between more techno and more house styles.  The audience looked pleased and engaged, never booing and rarely on cell phones, cheering the new DJ and applauding the former.  DJ MD received a rousing welcome when he sauntered out to the stage and immediately began playing. 
The tonal consistency in this genre provides an easy avenue for continuous grooving as well as dance floor conversation because there are no dramatic volume changes to obscure voices.  Additionally the Studio 80 age group was homogeneous enough that conversations arose over silly dance moves or friends summiting the single elevated platform at the dance floor’s center.  This made the dance floor more interactive and friendly, maintaining the movement benefits of a dance space while bringing in the attractive conversational elements of a bar.
Studio 80 successfully incorporated elements of exclusivity and relaxation while showcasing a specific musical genre with talented artists.  Its single detractor was the bar service.  The bar alongside the dance floor provided the performance with an all-in-one feel, in which one could step away from the dance floor for a drink without leaving the music behind, however the execution left a lot to be desired.  All drinks were served in glasses that continually slipped out of intoxicated or clumsy hands, shattering and exploding across the dance floor.  Glass shards were unavoidable anywhere in the room.  It seemed an inconceivable oversight but perhaps this was part of the club appeal: classy because of fancy glasses but cavalier and non-materialistic.
It remains to be seen whether this club truly represents “the nightlife” of Amsterdam but it certainly achieved a “chill” experience, successfully offering an unusual genre in an appropriate setting, at least above foot-level.

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