This month kicks off a new column called Wavelengths, which will explore various music scenes in the Capital and greater Hudson Valley Region.
Aside from new dance floor territories forged by Mostly Girls, there is a deeper legacy right here in Albany. The first iteration of rave culture in the 90s had its day in the Capital Region. Below, we hear from two O.G. DJs — Jennifer Haley (artist and musician Jennifer Maher Coleman) and Todd Skillz (artist Todd Amato) — who “were there when,” and are still kicking! Jen will be DJing at Frostbite 3, a rave-reunion of many originals from the Albany scene.
SVB: You’ve been a part of the Albany dance music scene for a long time. How did you get started?
JMC: My teenage years were spent in Chicago in the ‘80s exactly when house music was emerging, and I was passionate about it. When I ultimately landed in Albany for grad school in the early ‘90s, there happened to be a vibrant community of DJs centered around the record store Audio Underground on Lark Street. I lived with someone who had turntables, and once I got my hands on them I found that I had a natural affinity for it.
The scene here at the time was very active and exciting, with a close community of enthusiastic dancers, promoters and DJs. People would travel from all over the state and New England to attend the larger scale parties (as we did to raves in other cities). There was a healthy network of promoters booking DJs and we were able to build familiarity, and even fanbases, at great distances well before widespread internet presence was a thing.
TA: I was 18 in 1995 and my friend’s roommate put on Plastikman – Sheet One one day. As soon as I heard it I was in love, I had never heard sounds transform like that and to me it sounded like the future. I went to Coconuts and bought the CD that week, I still knew nothing of the rave scene. A couple of months after that, my friend Jessica was passing out flyers for a party at a bowling alley in Troy. I went and I loved it, the music was loud and hard, it was raw and underground. Right around that same time a friend and I discovered City Limits in the back of a small local hotel, The Northway Inn. I remember seeing all of these hot people dressed in fly raver clothes and really getting down on the dance floor. Some of them became my friends and still are.
Jessica was dating DJ Dames, who owned Audio Underground, and introduced me to Dames and other AU regulars, who were all DJs. The whole thing really resonated with me, it felt like a new community and it was fresh and diverse and nothing like I had ever experienced. I bought two cheap belt drive turntables and started playing records.
SVB: What was the scene like back then?
TA: There were lots of parties, a lot of different weeklies and random bigger raves every few months. Dave Space opened the Abyss (probably the first Albany techno venue, around ‘93-’94), then later the Launchpad (the first place I DJed, probably ‘96). The SUNY kids started EDMS (Electronic Dance Music Society) and threw some raves at different big venues. Toby (Double Impact Crew) and Stacy (Somegirl) were both throwing parties. Later on Vance and the Y2K guys were throwing some big parties too.
JMC: One of the promoters behind the Frostbite parties, Toby Silverman aka DJ Swerve (now Mack Bango), later moved away to Atlanta and started Hi Reaction, a house music record label. He’s recently moved back to the area and is putting on Frostbite 3.
SVB: Why do you think there’s been less going on in the area in the recent past? And what made it come back?
JMC: Audio Underground caught fire in 2000 and its demise seemed to set the stage for a slow-motion decomposition of the whole scene. The music became commercialized, found an audience among drunken college kids, and many of us became disgusted. A lot of first wave ravers just outgrew it… got real jobs, had kids, moved on. “EDM” confused the genres and it all became sort of distasteful.
Over the past few years, a pretty wholesome reemergence has happened here. A handful of promoters from “back in the day” are back, throwing successful events. Nicole Bleichart of Dreamy Productions now throws sold-out dance party boat cruises with some of the best old guard DJs. The Wack Pack, featuring some of the original Audio Underground crew, throw events at Lost + Found. The fantastic POLLY parties happen in a huge repurposed church, filled with flamboyant creative types who dance with rare abandon. There’s a great monthly event at the Fuze Box called Body Shine. My cohort Goldee Dust and I throw a party featuring an all-female line-up of DJs at least once a year.
TA: I have to mention Exhumanity at Fuze Box. They get really impressive crowds and full dance floors consistently every month and it is always lit.
SVB: What do you think of the new surge of interest in underground electronic music and dance scenes, especially in the USA? Are you into the new heads?
TA: I feel like the younger generation is less genre-bound. In my opinion the internet has blended cultures together and everything is kind of homogenized now. I kind of like this thought, and I like the difference in the way the younger generation operates as opposed to the way we did 20 years ago. But I wonder if along with that comes less of a strong core of supporters for one specific genre. Bringing it back is what all of us aging ravers want to do, isn’t it? It was a special time for those that were involved, and the memories are priceless.
JMC: It used to be super novel and thrilling to hear a snippet of techno in a TV commercial, and now electronic music is ubiquitous. I love that it’s everywhere…to me it’s beautiful and inevitable, as it can express such a range of emotion and provoke strong physical response to move. This is why I’m not surprised that it’s back in such a pervasive way. It’s the modern expression of an insistent human need for transcendence.
Frostbite 3 will be held on Sat., Feb 22 at Lost + Found in Albany.