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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Jake Rudh's United States of TRANSMISSION

Taking a short break from movies, how about we talk about dancing for a quick second? And not formal dancing, which is coordinated and spectacular in its own precise calibration with the music. No. I'm talking about crazed and hazed, messy and bumpy, sweaty and frenzied movement with a host of strangers doing the same thing, sometimes with euphoria, other times maybe with irritation. This is a ritual repeated week after week with little interruption. At first it's a part of being young, and then maybe later on it's a physical test of attempting to justify sagging vitality that must necessarily sap out with time. Just keep telling yourself, Mick Jagger is about 70 and he still does this for hours at a time. Keep rocking it.

This Friday, local DJ Jake Rudh is celebrating his 10th anniversary as the host of a weekly event called Transmission, a dance night that gets its name, I'm assuming above all else, from a popular Joy Division song ("Dance, dance, dance, dance to the radio!"). Transmission regularly showcases post-punk bands like Joy Division, and their New Wave crossovers, like the new Joy Division incarnation following Ian Curtis' 1980 suicide, New Order, in addition to Depeche Mode, The Cure, The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen, Blondie, Generation X, Jesus and the Mary Chain, Gang of Four, and so on. But one of Transmission's many virtues is that there is no definite thematic boundary. This is much more than an alternative '80s night, spending as much time with 1970s David Bowie (with the Let's Dance-era Bowie making an appearance also), Roxy Music, Marc Bolan, and other 1970s glam icons; 1960s mod faves; 1990s Brit Pop; current indie favorites; and of course, the 1:30-2:00 a.m. segment featuring a plethora of guilty pleasures, sewing Def Leppard, Hall & Oates, Toto, and George Michael into the fabric of a perfect evening. There are goth sets with the Sisters of Mercy and Siouxsie Sioux; punkier sets with The Clash and Ramones; and lately, Jake has even allowed early popular 1990s alternative to make an appearance, with the glorious bombast of Smashing Pumpkins and Foo Fighters back-to-back.

In retrospect, these last 10 years could be seen as fertile terrain for Jake's nostalgic dance floor beats to garner a receptive audience. When I was at college, synthesizers and androgyny were anathema for a lot of music buffs, whatever virtues held in the 1980s being obscured by the gloss and big hair. Then there were The Strokes, Bright Eyes, Death Cab for Cutie, Interpol, Hot Hot Heat, Grandaddy, The Killers, Franz Ferdinand, Ladytron, Arcade Fire, Bloc Party, Editors, TV on the Radio, Elefant, Goldfrapp, The Gossip, Metric, MGMT, Postal Service, The Bravery, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Phoenix, The Rapture, and what have you. Retro was Now. In 2004, The Cure had their own little festival, "Curiosa," supported by Interpol, The Rapture, and Mogwai. In 2000, When I saw him perform life at the Quest nightclub in downtown Minneapolis (the sales for Roy Wilkins were weak, so the show was moved to a smaller venue), Smiths front-man Morrissey was kind of a joke, his solo albums held is disdain when set against the four consecutive masterpieces of his band (The Smiths, Meat is Murder, The Queen is Dead, Strangeways Here We Come). Yet slowly with the aught decade he kind of became the alternative Elvis. When I saw him again in 2008, at the Historic State Theatre, he could have played any number of his ill-received songs – album track or B-side – from the 1990s; most everyone would know and sing the lyrics, dancing along ecstatically. As for Jake Rudh, he was able to use his own growing clout to secure the 7th St. Entry next to First Ave for a spectacular after-party celebrating the amazing Wizard of Moz.

Transmission then has its own icons who appear as the honored spectacles of theme nights: Bowie, Morrissey, the Hall & Oates Yacht Rock Night, the Goth Halloween Week Night, etc. It's in this context that I was first lured into Transmission when it was at the Imperial Room downtown, a place that may have been too fancy for Jake's ambitions. Lacking a dancing area, it was Transmission as a musical leisure lounge. Attractive waitresses waited on patrons, the music played with some videos projected on the back wall, and in the corner was Jake with his set-up, still a mystery man to me. In January 2004, David Bowie night – in accordance with his tour appearance – brought me there, though the period is so cloudy for me that I cannot be sure who I was with or how the night went. I know that I was there April for the release party of Morrissey's long awaited You Are the Quarry, his first original album in about seven years, and probably his best solo work period (even the songs that first struck me as mediocre are incredibly sing-alongable). I think that's when I really first found myself feeling at home during Transmission, meeting like-minded enthusiasts. Transmission was then a recurring part of my decadent early-20s lifestyle: Hard Mondays at the Saloon, Stupid Tuesdays at the Triple Rock, Transmission on Wednesdays, whatever the hell on Fridays, and Ground Zero on Saturdays. The Imperial Room experience peaked for me on Thanksgiving of that year, when Jake, who had learned that I was an avid Peter Gabriel fan, sent me home with a DVD package of the "Growing Up" tour. It was a rigged contest, and I don't think, six and a half years later, that he would mind if I disclosed the truth.

Transmission moved to the Hexagon Bar on the south side, where Jake finally had his dance floor, neatly divided from the main bar and lounging area. The dancing was nice, but in terms of attendance the whole experience was hit or miss. Jake would admit to me at times that he was discouraged, wondering if all the work he was putting into his gig was worth it. His emails were sent out like clockwork, and he was just beginning to barrage people on Myspace. But turn-out was unpredictable. The reason was pretty transparent: maybe not the Hexagon itself (though it's not necessarily receptive to Pet Shop Boys or Duran Duran), but its location on a weeknight. A good bulk of the Transmission crowd was probably from Uptown, and driving could be kind of an irritant: 35W to Hwy 55 to the 26th St. exit…too exhaustive and risky for people going home after a drink too many.

At times, given Jake's discouragement, it would seem that maybe Transmission was on its last legs. There were glimmers of hope, such as when the guys from Hot Hot Heat would show up and hang out, their girlfriends shaking up the dance floor. Jake also tried having local bands open up the evening with live sets. But the outcome would depend on who had the best handle on "what's cool in Minneapolis tonight." People usually didn't go to Transmission on their own, but in tag-along groups.

But this is a success story, isn't it? In a gig secured by the honorably dubbed "Mr. Transmission," Alan Kleckner, Jake moved again, this time to Club Jager in the warehouse district. All of the elements oddly came together. It was easier access and parking than either the Imperial Room or the Hexagon, more stylish than the Hex, and not too elegantly posh, like the Imperial Room. There was an adequate dance area, a spacious patio, and personable help, like manager Angie and bartenders extraordinaire Paul and Missy, along with the fruity original drink concoction, the Transmission Fluid.

Transmission has since become probably the biggest little dance ritual in the Twin Cities. It's little only in terms of its dance floor when compared to a bigger venue like First Ave or Ground Zero, but Jake fulfills a craving for people looking for dancing to something besides trippy club beats and stompy noise. Melodies and energy meld beautifully here, on what is best described as a richly rewarding alternative pop night. These past two years have been relentless in Transmission's prosperity. In the last few months, Bowie Night, Morrissey Night, and Thanksgiving all had reached capacity around 11:00 p.m., leaving a line of eager folks patiently freezing outside. If there's then a complaint some may have about Transmission, it's probably that it's too good. On some nights there's little arm or leg space, forcing people to vigorously bounce. The challenge for me is to execute my patented "Atomic High-Kick of Doom" (stolen from time to time by esteemed regular Caroline Royce) without taking someone's face off. I've been completely successful over the years; only my some-time dance partner Hilary Davis has been a casualty, her hand getting foolishly in the way (my foot refuses to take responsibility). She should be honored. (And appropriately, Hilary has taken Transmission with her to New York City, setting up her own dance night, "Transmission NYC").

I'm not really that adept at conversation, though plenty of those go on at Transmission. I like to dance. It's a counter-offensive to a terrible day or week, an attempt to retain some physical robustness while erosion mercilessly sets in with age. I like to disappear into the crowd of other dancers, allowing my wisdom-body to take over in its response to the music, the goal being to eradicate conscious maneuvering. If everyone else is moving, there is no problem (woe to people who just stand and talk; I'm sorry my foot slammed into your shin, but for Christ's sake, go outside). I also sweat a lot. I mean a lot. Seriously. I'm a soaking mess, showered in perspiration. By the time I'm home, my clothes are about five pounds heavier in moisture accumulated from my body. I suppose this little perk of mine has its detractors (I've caught editor Simon Peter grimacing in disgust after a few collisions), and it has possibly assured that Transmission will never be much of a hook-up night for me.

But the visceral work-out of Transmission is integral to its collective euphoria into which its fans disappear. When New Order's "Temptation" (the best song of all time), Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence", Bowie's "Suffragette City", Pulp's "Common People", Blur's "Boys + Girls", or Morrissey's "Suedehead" starts, the body is elevated to a new tier of response and social performance. Everyone – or the best people – gets a little Ian Curtis-like, and I can't help but think of the Joy Division lyrics from "Disorder": "I've got the spirit, lose the feeling, let it out somehow." I'm not a music critic (I recommend going to Wallace Wylie's Dissonant Notes for the best music writing in town; even if our tastes don't entirely line up, his scorpion-tail tongue and wit is superb criticism with a hammer), limiting my ultimate evaluation to whether something either provokes me to make a movie in my head, or can make my body move to it; this is why Pavement, even after buying all of their albums and listening repeatedly, never really hooked me. That Transmission has done this service for me several years now is my evidence for its greatness.

Part of Transmission's legacy will surely be owed to the good woman at Jake's side, his wife Mercedes. I'll never forget the night of the bridge collapse in July of 2007. I was able to watch the wreckage in the distance from my work building. Eager to burn off my own steam from what was kind of a rough week, I entered Jager and saw that it was almost completely empty. Mercedes was driving on the bridge when it fell and suffered several severe injuries to her legs. It's the one night when Transmission was called off (Jake had always gotten replacement DJs - Melissa Maerz, Soviet Panda, Mark Mallman - for his vacations). Jake stuck with Mercedes through a recovery that included numerous surgeries and medications, until finally she too was able to dance again. I like to think that Mercedes' recovery over her debilitating leg injuries beautifully relates to Transmission's own spirit finding its legs after long periods of questionable success.

The conflagration of Transmission's once-small flame has led to different "scenes" colliding. Different cultures, ages, and fashions are all found there. That's not to say there aren't some acute tribal attitudes remaining. I admit that I'm annoyed by the virulent animus against "hipsters" by some, which is understandable, but "hipsters" are almost like "douchebags" and have elusive definitions, at times amounting to nothing more than a t-shirt and jeans. As for me, I would love to wear skinny jeans and grow facial hair (I can do neither, thanks to my Jacobian smoothness and meaty legs), being snarky and aloof, preferring Jim Jarmusch to Michael Mann, Bukowski to Thomas Mann, and The Strokes to The Killers. But that's not in my DNA (maybe aside from the aloof thing, from time to time). Even so, I think we're all hipsters now, in the same way Newsweek magazine said we're all socialists. I wonder if it all boils down to resenting the group that seems to be having more fun…or perhaps it's because they all have such hot girlfriends. I don't know...

There was the infamous Rockers vs. Mods clash about three years ago, a rather sour chapter in Transmission's history where tables went tumbling, glasses went flying, and bodies came to blows. Though, honestly, sitting comfortably in a booth when it happened, I thought it was kind of cool. A "No Fight" policy went into effect and has held up steadily ever since. In any event, I seriously doubt anything quite as physical or Quadrophenian will occur between the Goths and the Rockers, who are content to let disputes simmer consistently in gossip or Facebook posts. I maintain that Transmission's diversity has been integral to its success these last two years. The Pixies, Ramones, Duran Duran and The Smiths kind of belong to everybody. Even more oddly, so does George Michael and Rick Springfield. Transmission hence becomes a persistently interesting melting pot: The United States of Transmission, with Jake Rudh as DJ and chief.

This Friday, the 18th of March, 2011, Jake and his horde of Transmissionites get a kind of fantasy fulfilled, as their increasingly dense dance floor is extended to the Cinemascope Aspect Ratio of First Ave, not on a weeknight but on weekend. It's also the eve of the 19th's "Super Moon," which is apparently a portent of bad things happening, continuing the planet Earth's – or its media personnel's – recent tendency to shrug and say "Last call" before everything ends in 2012. I can feel my own body growing more tired with an increasingly unsteady equilibrium. Dancing is my communal sacrament while youth goes away. Maybe on Friday it will be a collective experience of flicking off the coming apocalypse and a planet's imminent doom, while we dance, dance, dance, dance, dance to the radio: "Bolts from above hit the people down below, people in this world we have no place to go / Oh it's the last time, oh it's the last time, oh it's the last time."

In the meantime, thank you Jake, and I hope you keep on rocking out for another 10 years.


  1. Really enjoyed this posting--glad Jake posted it on FB. What was your shirt count last night?

  2. Four shirts. White long-sleeve dress shirt; Morrissey t-shirt; Mogwai t-shirt; and finally a Bowie. The Mogwai, favorite of all my dancing shirts, had been starting to rip and wither the last year. I put it out of its misery last night during "Suffragette City".

  3. RIP Mogwai shirt. If it had to go, at least it went in honor and service.