Q&A With The Smoke
Celebrating seven years as a night to dance to mod, R&B, soul, and reggae from the '60s, The Smoke is the closest thing to a Northern Soul all-nighter in Dallas. Once housed at Avenue Arts in Fair Park, its DJs have called Sons of Hermann Hall their home for the past few years. With its massive wooden dance floor, people from all walks of life (whether dressed up like somebody from Quadrophenia or not) come to have a good time.
Essentially the roots for rave culture in England, the Northern Soul all-nighter was always a chance to hear music that you couldn't hear anywhere else in the '70s. Obscure sides from small record labels might have filled up the playlist, but as long as the songs had a steady, driving beat that was easy to dance to, people didn't mind. More often than not, there was an instant likeability factor to these songs, given their sped-up, Motown-like sound.
Inspired by the stories and fashions of those dances, the Smoke's founders Jason Harris and Marcos Prado have held their own version as a monthly gig after all these years. And thankfully, they don't plan on stopping any time soon.
So, seven years of the Smoke. Basically, how did it begin for you guys?
Jason Harris: Basically it began over pints of beer with myself and Jason Meyer, who was one of the other original DJs. He was recently divorced and wanting to get back into the swing of things as far as the stuff he loved before he got married. So he and I would hang out at the pub quite a bit and Marcos would meet up with us. Through the course of talking about music and how Dallas was sort of barren not in only terms of overall music scenes and subcultures, but also with the stuff that we particularly liked, which was more kind of mod-focused type music.
So we were like, "We should try to get a night together and just play some records for friends, people that we know, and maybe get some other people in." I had some connections with the Cavern, so I got with Neil the owner and asked if we could have a night and he said sure. We got a Thursday night there. The first night, we had people come up from Austin -- it was just strange. I wasn't expecting this sort of reaction that we did, but we got a really good reaction.
How had you been aware of what Northern Soul all-nighters were? Did you just read about them or see them?
Marcos Prado: I heard about them through Jason Meyer. Like, the mod all-nighters, the mod scene, the parties they had back in the day. Once you start getting into the subculture thing you start reading up on it and you find out about it through this and that.
Jason Harris: The two of us are a bit older to where we had to deal with a lot of pre-Internet. At first, the information would kind of trickle in. You'd hear about certain stuff. "What's Northern Soul?" That was a question I asked for a good while and nobody seemed to have a definitive answer. It wasn't until later when I found out what it was.
Marcos Prado: Back when zines were the way to go.
Jason Harris: You had to pass information on or maybe a guy from England came into town. He'd visit or live here temporarily and then we'd talk to him about fashion, music, stuff that went on, attitude, and whatnot. You just picked it up bit by bit. That's how it went.
How would you characterize what is Northern Soul and what maybe necessarily isn't Northern Soul?
Marcos Prado: Northern Soul [was] the soul that they listened to in the north of England back in the '70s. Another term for it was "deleted soul" or stuff that never got radio play, and these rarities that just fit this certain sound. The weird thing, there's some of it that isn't exactly soul, moreso pop. There's a particular sound to this style of music that gets really a dance floor [going].
The regulars to the Smoke look forward to it every month, would you agree?
Marcos Prado: I definitely think so. The Smoke is just about having people come out and dance. Especially when we do the soul part, people are out there on the floor. You can see them go into -- I don't want to say a trance -- but they really get into it. They really feel the music.
You guys either play CDs or vinyl records instead of MP3s. Is that a conscious decision?
Jason Harris: Marcos is more of the vinyl purist. Me, I honestly don't have the time to crate-dig so I'll use the CDs. I think there's some practical reasons behind CDs. I'm not against vinyl. As far as iPods and MP3s, most people will say that's taking the easy way out and in some aspects I have to agree. But, I think when it really comes to DJs, it doesn't matter what format you have, it's all about working the crowd. It's all about throwing that bait out. If you're playing a bunch of stuff that no one's ever heard, you gotta throw out that familiar tune every once in a while and then bait them with stuff that might be more obscure.
Where do you see the Smoke going from here?
Marcos Prado: Hopefully we'll continue to do things at Sons of Hermann Hall. We're trying to get more international DJs to come through. We've had some international and national DJs come through and they really like our night because it's just a straight dance night.
Jason Harris: I've been pretty happy with things. Why necessarily reinvent the wheel? It's been seven years; I didn't expect it to last seven months. But here I am still doing it.
The Smoke is Friday, July 23 at Sons of Hermann Hall.
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