- Walter Novak
- Tik Tak: "Cleveland can support a drum 'n' bass weekly."
It's easy to see why most local club owners would be skeptical about the merits of hosting an all-jungle night on a weekly basis. Once described as "dance music that you can't dance to," jungle isn't as accessible as other forms of club music. As evidence, the atmosphere at Spy, the Warehouse District club where local DJ and rave promoter Alex Virasayachack hosts a weekly jungle night, gives little hint of what's to come when the doors open and the DJs start working. The staff's music selection (which includes little else but top-40 club hits from Madonna and the like) and general appearance (casually sophisticated, at the least) are in sharp contrast to the transformation that will take place, once the weekly "Jungle Lounge" that Virasayachack has been promoting for the past month and a half takes over.
The fact that a weekly jungle night like this one has yet to successfully take root in Cleveland (unlike Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, or even Pittsburgh) suggests that this might be, financially speaking, a risky proposition. But clearly, Virasayachack doesn't see it that way. "I've had club owners tell me that the jungle thing was not going to work in their clubs," he admits. "And, a couple weekends later, I've seen about 800 people up in their club, having a good time and drinking liquor from their bar."
Virasayachack, who is better known to the local club and rave scene by his DJ moniker, Tik Tak, has taken his fair share of financial beatings promoting jungle events in Cleveland. And yet he's optimistic about both his fledgling jungle night at Spy and the overall popularity of this type of dance music, which is also commonly referred to as drum 'n' bass.
"You know, sometimes it doesn't work, but the majority of the time it does," he says. "There's a lot of people out there with the same passion for the music as me."
Drum 'n' bass hasn't always been such a big part of Virasayachack's life, though. He started out listening to staples of the mid- to late-'80s electronic and industrial scene -- acts such as Depeche Mode, Nitzer Ebb, and Skinny Puppy. After tiring of that, he gravitated toward the gritty breakbeats of hip-hop, and once he was exposed to the hardcore breakbeat techno coming out of England in '91, he was hooked.
"I fell in love with that music when I was going to Smart Bar, hearing Mike Filly, Kevin Bumpers, and Rob Sherwood spin [those records]," he recalls.
It wasn't long before Virasayachack felt the urge to spread the musical message to others. He pleaded with his father to buy him a pair of turntables, and when he finally agreed (it didn't hurt that his father saw it as a great way to keep him "in the house and out of trouble"), Virasayachack began building his mixing skills right away.
"I learned how to start matching beats, and the passion just grows every day," he says. "I'm like a vinyl junkie."
In the early part of 1993, inspired by local DJs such as Filly, he started throwing small raves around the Cleveland area.
"I started trying to do my own events, so that I could DJ and get the music out there," he says.
He regularly enlisted the help of other Cleveland DJs, such as Steve "Sleepy C" Cinch, as well as friends from around the Midwest, such as Pittsburgh native Dieselboy, who has since become one of the most successful drum 'n' bass DJs in America.
In the fall of '93, Virasayachack decided to move to San Francisco.
"I wanted to experience another scene and how they were doing their music -- how the scene was, in different areas," he explains.
Although he didn't find exactly what he was looking for in San Francisco's house-dominated scene, his time on the West Coast did have a fundamental impact on his DJ career. "Let me tell you, the first time I ever saw Q-bert spin, it changed my life, man," he says. "He was doing crazy stuff, doing doubles on the records, creating his own beats, scratching, and doing weird stuff with the mixer and the turntables. My whole life was changed. I had to learn how to scratch."
Virasayachack returned to Cleveland in 1995 and picked up where he had left off, promoting raves as part of the Baseheads crew -- which also includes DJs Kevin Cunningham, Still Life, and Release -- and on his own, under the 216Base production flag.
"I'm concentrating on Cleveland, because I feel that Cleveland needs to be educated on drum 'n' bass," he says. "I really love my hometown, and I want a lot for Cleveland, drum 'n' bass-wise."
Educating the listener can be a difficult task, though, and while charting some sort of musical curriculum might seem to be in order, Virasayachack is betting that simply putting good music out through the speakers every week will do the trick. A quick glance around the plush interior of Spy on a recent Wednesday night would suggest that Virasayachack's theory is right on the money. As Dieselboy, his longtime compatriot and friend, makes his latest appearance in Cleveland, the air is flooded with basswaves, and with each new track that Dieselboy drops into the mix, the crowd raises its hands a little higher, bouncing up and down to the beat in a tribal syncopation that makes the floor sway up and down.
It's almost hard to believe that it's not a Saturday night; the club is filled nearly to capacity with an incredibly diverse crowd. Ravers, wearing their stereotypically baggy pants, are rubbing elbows with breakdancers, punkers in Minor Threat shirts, midriff-baring hippies, and even the too-hip Warehouse District crowd. Not that that's any surprise to Virasayachack. "Cleveland can support a drum 'n' bass weekly," he says. "I've seen it come from where nobody's coming out to all-drum 'n' bass raves, to where last year we did an all-drum 'n' bass event with DJ Krust, Mystical Influence, Sniper, UFO!, and MC L Natural, and there were 1,500 people there. It was phenomenal. It's like waking up and finding out that your dreams are real."