Seeing a Ghost
The drinks are overpriced, the people are overdressed and the wait to get into the place is...well, it's a little bit longer than the usual lines to get into shows around the area.
But here, at this venue, on Friday night, not surprisingly, no one seems to care.
This is the 33rd floor of the W Hotel in Victory Park. This is Ghostbar. And, again, perhaps not surprisingly, this is the start of a very weird evening.
Granted, it's early.
As such, there's no sign just yet of the man scheduled to work the decks at the popular nightclub this evening, Grandmaster Flash, the progenitor of turntablism and, in part, the entire genre of hip-hop. (Well, OK, that's not altogether true: There are signs; the flat-screen televisions littered throughout the space intermittently flash an artistic representation of the man and his name, but the man himself is nowhere to be seen.)
In his place, the house DJ at Ghostbar is working the club's booth, spinning fairly standard Top 40 and hip-hop tracks for an empty 12-foot-by-16-foot dance floor awkwardly placed among couches. The crowds, at this point, are scattered throughout the other, outer reaches of the room—in the VIP sections, at the reserved tables, at the bar or out on the deck, taking in the impressive view and a few cigarettes. As the night stretches on and the alcohol begins to take effect, a few of the people close to the dance floor begin swaying tentatively to the sound of the music.
That's the thing about Ghostbar: The people here do seem to be enjoying themselves, but ultimately, they appear more concerned with how they're being perceived by those around them.
Image, after all, is everything.
N9ne Group, the company behind Ghostbar, surely knows this. Aesthetically, this space—aside from the fact that it's 33 floors above ground level—isn't necessarily any more impressive than the other ultra-lounges that make up the Dallas nightlife scene. But Ghostbar is inarguably portrayed as a more impressive space than the other, "pretender" chic spots elsewhere about town. The fact that this space books big-name celebrities—yes, even ones like Paris Hilton—as party hosts goes a long way toward this public perception.
But how much of the club's reputation as a hotspot can be credited to the fact that big-name musical acts like Flash often enter the club as guest DJs?
That's tough to say.
In recent months, Public Enemy, Biz Markie, ?uestlove and DJ Jazzy Jeff, among others, have graced this nightclub with their presence. That's an impressive lineup. But does anyone really think of these names when they think of Ghostbar? Of course not. People think of the fact that this club is viewed as an exclusive space and that being able to say that you've spent a night here carries a certain cachet (whatever that cachet may be). They most definitely do not think "Oh, yeah! Ghostbar! Grandmaster Flash played there this weekend, right?"
Not in the slightest.
So it's not altogether surprising that, at around 11:30 p.m., when Flash—the first DJ to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the man who invented the cutting technique when he first toyed with his father's record player in the '70s—suddenly appears in place of the club's house DJ behind the booth near the dance floor and begins hyping up the dance area of the club with repeated cries "I wanna see those hands! I wanna see those hands!" a substantial portion of the venue's remaining crowd doesn't even acknowledge his presence. They're clueless to the fact that the 50-year-old Flash is anything more than an in-house DJ. They're oblivious to the fact that they're in the presence of a living legend.
"Oh, really?" a patron named Mahesh remarks when I tell him who's DJing this evening. Then a pause. "Who's that?"
Obviously, these people are not here to see Flash.
"I don't think any of those people know who he is," a girl on the dance floor responds when I point out the rest of the bar and ask her how many of them she figures are actually familiar with Flash's name. "Maybe 10 percent?"
It's quite a shame. Because, even though Flash isn't cutting on an old-fashioned turntable, and even though he's using essentially the same computer software that every ultra-lounge DJ in Dallas uses, his gift, in a live setting, can still be appreciated. His taste in tunes is refreshing—especially in Dallas' DJ scene, which otherwise too often settles for the easy road in playlist selections. (The go-to track at the moment, by the way, has to be Estelle and Kanye West's "American Boy" collaboration—it's everywhere these days, almost annoyingly so.) Instead, Flash is sticking true to the roots and the songs you'd expect from him—you know, the reputation that allows him to book a gig like this (and, I imagine, command quite the appearance fee). His opening track selections come from artists like Naughty by Nature, Rob Base, LL Cool J and other artists who helped popularize the genre beyond its initial urban market.
The dance floor crowd, the people who seem to know Flash, is responsive. They giddily thrust their hands in the air as Flash asks the crowd to show its appreciation for old-school hip-hop. For a moment, you forget that you're in Ghostbar. For a moment, you feel like you're witnessing something special.
Unfortunately, though—and, retrospectively, maybe this should have been expected—that feeling soon fades. With the selection of a single song—Lil Wayne's "Lollipop"—Flash's luster is gone. The next few minutes of his set signal further demise. His interaction with the crowd dwindles. His shared appreciation for old-school hip-hop with his audience seems forgotten. For the remainder of the evening, Flash's song selection isn't really all that different from what Ghostbar's own in-house DJ would surely be playing on this night. He even cuts and scratches on his digital turntable with less frequency.
Worse, he loses the crowd's attention. The once-crowded dance floor begins thinning out.
It's sad more than anything else. There's nothing necessarily memorable about the remainder of his two-hour performance. Sure, the crowds leaving Ghostbar at the end of this night may go home and—if they were among those who understood the historical significance of the guest of honor—brag to their friends that they got to see Grandmaster Flash perform live. But, in a way, they didn't get anything more out of the night than the ones who didn't pay attention to Flash's set got.
They, like those other unappreciative members of the audience, got a story. And that's it, really.
Yet there weren't any disgruntled parties sulking about and complaining about that fact. Again, that's quite unfortunate. In exchange for a story, no one minded that the performance they'd just seen was underwhelming at best. The crowds seemed content that, at the end of this night, they'd be able to tell their friends that, not only did they spend the night at Ghostbar, but they also spent the night seeing Grandmaster Flash.
Maybe that's the only reason people came to Ghostbar on this night: For the impression of a once-in-a-lifetime event, rather than the actual experience of one.
Oh well. After all, image is everything. And, keenly enough, the people behind Ghostbar know this.
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