Arts & EventsDouble Barrel of Babylon Soul

Double Barrel of Babylon Soul

Double Barrel of Babylon Soul

Photos by Andre Gagne

A wise philosopher named James Blunt once sang about how he’d always be in a club in 1973, a nostalgic look back at a year that gave us Dark Side of the Moon, the debut release from Queen and the opening of a little club in Manhattan’s East Village called CBGBs. Probably not the joint the lovelorn singer was pining for given the blossoming seeds of disco and a groovey locomotive called the Soul Train pulling into the national airwaves two years before.

Though Blunt was inspired by Ibiza, I say he should have looked a lot closer to home. By ’73 England’s Wigan Casino was the hard pumping heart of northern soul, the immaculately danceable music that was birthed by the Brit mod scene and shined in the gloss of black American beats. The roots were in the fertile soil of Motown and the up-tempo crop that sprouted grew on the British looking for smoother sounds not topping the American charts. By ‘73 the place started hosting soul all-nighters and became one of the most happening places in the UK well on its way to being voted the number one discotheque by Billboard in ‘78.

Zip ahead into a rainy night reality four decades later and I’m watching shades of that past from a couch at the back of a Bank Street club. There he is, as though coached in another era, this lone torch bearer movin’ to the groovin’ on the dance floor of Babylon. Watching him sway slowly in his happily populated universe of one is hypnotizing. He is alone with only four blue spotlights keeping pace with his motions but he is not affected by his solitude. He has the music. What else does he need. The tunes are currently sweet soul spins by DJ Walker and Magnificent, and perhaps in both their minds they are picturing, like me, a time in another where, in another when, on a floor filled shoulder to elbow tight back when they danced in their slick stripped jackets, their paisley shirts. They danced in their Oxford Bags and Circle Skirts. But, damn, like the lone Babylon groover, oh how they danced.

The floor at Babylon will fill eventually, slow trickles as the clock ticks towards midnight and though the modern styles don’t quite match the fashion of the scenes Wigan Casino peak, the late night Ottawa crowd, when they eventually showed up, would evoke at least a little of that spirit of the 70’s. Dropping another beat and a snippet of smile from behind his turntables, that sampling of bygone soul is exactly what DJ Magnificent was hoping to deliver.

By 2009, Alex “DJ Magnificent” Edwards was noticing two things missing in his city. One was a club night of music that played strictly vintage funk and Motown style soul and the second being the showcasing of this music on the format upon which it gained popularity: vinyl 45s.

Edwards had the turntables, now he just needed the seven inch spins. He amassed his collection flipping through crates at second hand stores, garage sales, anywhere he could to find those rare gems he envisioned playing out over a pulsating dance floor. He called it Double Barrel and his vinyl only groove nights were really just that; no flashy lights, laptop mixes and video screen. He just dropped the needle and the music did the work. It started in the basement of the Mercury Lounge and moved to the now defunct Mugshots. With an outdoor space and a shift to running the night on a Fridays, Edwards started seeing more people show up ready to boogie.

“This was a huge turning point in the night as suddenly there was room for 200+ people to dance in the open air during the spring/summer season. No one could complain about not being to come out on a Thursday night because of work or school Friday morning!” he tells Ottawa Life. “I was really encouraged by the response monthly at a new venue as I was a bit nervous about the move.”

He didn’t have long to get comfortable. Mugshots stopped putting on loud summer dance parties in 2013 and Magnificent was back at the Mercury. Shortly afterwards he was approached by Babylon to bring Double Barrel there. The club and DJ ironed out a plan to not only continue the popular vinyl parties but also start bringing in live bands that fit the format. The nights would now features beats plus bites with patrons able to take breaks to snack on chicken ‘n waffles, mac ‘n cheese and chocolate deep fried Oreos all cooked up by Leroy from Detroit Soul Food. Edwards also knew as well that it was time to step it up and stop flying solo by bringing on a second DJ.

“Trevor (Walker) is a legend in Ottawa and someone who mentored me as a DJ when I was starting out. His record collection and DJ skills and passion for soul and funk made him a logical choice as someone who should be sharing the decks with me every month,” says Edwards.

The bands started working into the mix in March with newcomers to the local music scene, Slack Bridges. Edwards says he knew the format change was going to work when the band filled the floor and kept people dancing.

“Babylon has the stage and the sound to host DJ's and bands on the same night seamlessly. I would like our patrons to be as comfortable dancing to a live band as they have trusted the DJs for the past 8 years.”

Despite the slow start to the evening, the featured band of the night would have no problem packing the front of the stage with a slew of people that were apparently slammed into the backrooms like they were a clown car. Seriously, where did they all come from?

Yeah, the Soul Motivators are going to attract a crowd.

“You’re going to want to start filling up that dance floor now,” shouted lead singer Shahi Teruko not just appearing on stage after the band’s intro but utterly owning it within seconds as the 8-piece backing her cracked the night open with a merciless bombardment of music. The horn section could have been laced with TnT with the amount of explosiveness coming from the corner of the stage while “Jimmy Keys” hammered out cuts that could have been lifted right off the records by Magnificent and Walker’s turntable.

This was the modern embodiment of soul and, just like their name, they motivated. Those, like this writer, not blessed with the ability to tear up the dance floor were still bopping to the rhythm that captured you with the want to move and maybe take a year of dance lessons.

Though they’d have fit in perfectly in any Detroit soul club, the Soul Motivators blast of unbridled exuberance hails from across the border in Toronto. The band cuts deep into the marrow of the music and mines only the best of its shimmering gems while finding inspiration in the classic cuts for their original material. Their website decrees that they are “here to restore your faith in funk” and if you were one of the wayward followers that lingered away from the flock or an unbeliever you only need spend five minutes with this band to want all the sweet salvation you can take. While this is music you could certainly blast from your car radio or sway to under some headphones you really have to be there live to get the full kick in the guts. Each song just rose higher and higher. The tempo was so uplifting we could have all been a foot or two off the ground.

Like moths to the soul flame, people peaked around corners, quickly fled anywhere designed for sitting and became the flood of motion that lone groover was feeling an hour before. Now he was lost in the crowd, Teruko’s crowd. Glistening and groovy, she was going to shake them until the life was gone, her movements so unhinged, wild and frenetic you can picture her pacing in her dressing room like a caged animal just waiting for the right time to pounce.

That time was now.

“Babylon we are here!”

Yes they were.

“This is a celebration of life!”

Yes it was.

“There is no shame in being sweaty!”

No there wasn’t.

“We could get lost be we’re going to find ourselves tonight!”

Yes we did and between you, me, that crowd and James Blunt, if the Soul Motivators are there the sounds of the 70’s are always going to be the party’s guests of honour.

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