A History of DJ Tony Schwa's Legendary Party The Cool Out, Which is Back at Crown and Harp
You could hear it from the sidewalk, salsa, disco and funk seeping through the Cavern's grimy walls, wrapping itself around your legs and jarring your equilibrium out of its drunken stupor and back to it's natural positioning.
This was The Cool Out in the mid 2000's, when a night out in Dallas was like a scene from a Bret Easton Ellis novel, and probably serves as the setting for your best drunken hook-up memory. After a two-year hiatus and venue change, The Cool Out has returned on Mondays at The Crown and Harp.
Who would have guessed that those tropical sounds, curated from the fingertips of DJ Tony Schwa and Big J, traveled in Biblical fashion from a small record store in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
In the mid to late '70s Schwa's father operated Sid's Records, specializing in salsa, disco and funk. And how did a small record store with a emphasis on coastal and European grooves end up in a blue-collar Pennsylvanian town?
"He's Puerto Rican, it's in our blood," he says with a laugh.
There's no escaping the music, not they would even try.
"Some of my earliest memories are of him DJing breakdancing competitions at parties and places like Showbiz Pizza way back in the early '80s," says Schwa.
The sounds of his father's record store influence his sets today.
"I was probably a nuisance, running around touching shit that I shouldn't be," he says. "But that's how it was, at weekly family functions with uncles, my brother and I would breakdance while they played records. My dad played a major role in who I am today." For Sid Schwa, music was part of his children's rearing, as integral as how to throw a football or change a flat tire.
"My father always had music playing in the house, he took my family to see the Jackson's Victory Tour in '84 when I was like seven-years-old and it blew my mind."
Once Schwa became older, there was no other choice but to pursue music. He first got into DJing in '97 from a roommate, who eventually gave it up. He cut his teeth as a house DJ until he moved to Dallas in 2005 when he decided to focus on learning as much as possible about the sounds that his favorite producers were sampling. Fellow Dallas DJ legend, Big J of The Clever Monkeys heard Schwa play at a party once and approached him about forming a weekly residency.
"I was eager to get my name out in Dallas" he says. "We looked at a few places and decided on Upstairs at the Cavern. We had the format and the venue, now we just needed a name. I racked my brain for about a week and it just hit me, Cool Out! The rest is history."
Unfortunately that history is a bit clouded. The initial Cool Out team suffered a messy break-up in 2011 when Schwa moved The Cool Out to Bar Celine and Big J remained at (the former Cavern) Crown and Harp for Upstairs Monday's. Schwa declined to comment on Big J, hinting that there has been no reconciliation between the two former friends.
In an interview with the Observer in 2011, Schwa cited during construction over the venue's name-change Crown and Harp bar managers "continually switched venues on Schwa and his partners in DJing, sometimes forcing them out of their upstairs home and into the downstairs portion of the venue -- and often at the last minute. It was kind of the nail in the coffin."
But Crown and Harp has rededicated itself to live music lately, and Schwa's ready to come back. He credits Moody Fuqua, manager at the Crown & Harp as a pivotal reason for the return. "I'd been wanting to resurrect Cool Out for a while and was scouting for venues when he reached out to me. He's a great dude and his timing was impeccable."
Schwa feels like The Cool Night is part of Dallas' night life history, hitting it's peak at the apex of the mid-2000's party scene which also featured The Party (DJ's Sober Select and Nature) and wild nights at Zubar and Fallout Lounge.
"Oh man, the first and second anniversaries were insane." He says. "I mean we had lines out the door and around the building! The Monday after Michael Jackson passed was crazy too. We had people smoking in the bathrooms because they didn't want to leave. They knew that if they went outside there was no getting back in!"
While at Bar Celine, The Cool Out went on hiatus two years ago when Schwa's son, Gnaius was born. It wasn't until the party stopped that he realized the impact that his Monday night sets had on people. He said people would stop him in the street and ask when it was coming back, even going as far as demanding it.
"I needed some time away after playing every Monday night for four years straight," he says. "Also I really wanted to dedicate as much time as possible to my family. They're my heart and the reason I do what I do."
Many people who have now returned to The Crown and Harp on Monday nights are trying to capture past memories, to a pre-recession time when all that mattered was the music.
"People that come out on Mondays are thrown for a loop when they walk up those steps," he says. "It's hard to explain unless you've experienced it firsthand. There's something about getting down to funk, soul and disco in a super dark room that's jam packed full of other like-minded people. Inhibitions are definitely thrown out the window."
Schwa describes The Cool Out as a lesson in dance music history. The records he spins come from a deep history of crate digging and collecting, culminating in a unique sound that harkens back to his days dancing in his father record's store.
'The Cool Out is basically the stuff I listened to growing up back in Pennsylvania," he says. "All the Funk, Soul, Disco, Boogie and anything else that grooves. I really love French boogie, a la Yellow Hand, or mid 70's Funk bands like BT Express & Mass Production. So much music nowadays is heavily sample based; people really get a kick out of hearing something familiar that they may not have heard before, but they recognize."
Schwa said he wanted to separate himself from other local DJs who spin primarily Hip-Hop, by creating an experience unlike any other in Dallas, one that took you back to the sounds of seasons ago.
"I love Hip-Hop but there're just too many Hip-Hop DJs out there," he says with a grin. "You can't throw a rock without hitting one."
It's kind of funny to hear that Schwa only recently bought his first set of Technics last year. Up until that point he would borrow friend's equipment or use the house set. But it didn't take long for him to get used to tables of his own.
"It seemed to work out ok," he says. "It's like riding a bike,"
Not a bad analogy considering how easy it was for people to hop right back on to the Monday night party. But that's how it is, The Cool Out experience happens long before you grab your first drink. The coastal grooves hit you the moment you approach the two-story Crown and Harp. As you walk up the stairs, the walls pulsating around you, your hips began to shake. And once you hear the first few bars of Francois Feldman's "C'est toi qui m'a fait," you know you've arrived.
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