With just three hours to go before one of the most anticipated dance nights of the month, RAMIRO GUTIÉRREZ is already running half an hour behind schedule. Nonetheless, he's determined to drop by an anniversary party at a friend's Second Avenue condo. Falling behind schedule is a trait typical of party promoters; with the steady stream of cell phone calls requesting guest-list spots and the never-ending errands, social engagements understandably get bumped. But Gutiérrez handles both the hurry and the social call with the laid-back cool of one who's made it from dusty warehouse parties to clubland's hotly contested weekend bookings. As cars circle the Belltown streets looking for parking spots, Gutiérrez stealthily pulls into a space directly across from his friend's door. It's going to be a good night.
A co-founder of Uniting Souls, a collective of West Coast DJs and promoters, Gutiérrez is an inextinguishable accelerant of Seattle's house scene. He currently holds three Saturday monthly dance nights with partners Jon Lemmon and Bill Smith: Life, going strong for two years at the Baltic Room (1207 Pine St., 206-625-4444); Sweetwhich replaced Minty magazine's nightat Re-bar (1114 Howell St., 206-233-9873); and the party currently pressing him for time, Casa del Ritmo at Chop Suey (1325 E. Madison St., 206-324-8000), which tonight will feature San Francisco-by-way-of- Chicago house-music hotshot Mark Farina, a DJ who easily sells out the club every time he comes to town. Toss on top of this the weekly Conscious Beats at Merchant Café (109 Yesler Way, 206-624-1515), Gutiérrez's co- promotions in San Francisco and L.A., his own soulful DJ sets, frequent but irregular party nights he co-promotes with local nonprofit record label Iamedia, and the Uniting Souls Music label he's launching with Lemmonall in addition to his day job at Seattle Cancer Care Allianceand it's clear that Gutiérrez is committed to his cause.
Born in the Caribbean town of Bluefields, Nicaragua, Gutiérrez moved with his family to New Orleans when he was 12. A straight-A student from kindergarten through college, he headed to San Francisco in 1992 and was pulled into the dance world through DJ Garth and the Wicked crew's legendary full-moon partiesspontaneous, ritualistic events held at Northern California beaches and parks between 1991 and 1996. Wicked initiated thousands of partyers with their tribal affairs and announced that the West Coast's house scene had arrived.
"That's where I got introduced to the dance movement," Gutiérrez says. "The community vibeit was almost like the audience was part of the show." He jokes that he jumped up to Seattle in 2000 "because I could park my car here," but the fact is that as San Francisco became more like L.A., Gutiérrez saw that sense of tribal connectedness slipping away. Seattle's relaxed lifestyle and tight-knit community fit with his initial glimpse of what the dance culture was supposed to be aboutmusic and people, not venues or scenes.
A couple hours after leaving his friend's condo, Chop Suey is set up, sound-checked, and ready for Farina. Gutiérrez grabs a slice at Piecora's (1401 E. Madison St., 206-322-9411) and heads to KEXP, where the visiting DJ is scheduled to sit in with Seattle's own DJ Riz on the stations' weekend Expansions show. On the way back to the club, Gutiérrez smokes out a line about his goal to "bring back the family vibe" and his interest in the music's "healing power"words that sound washed-out and tie-dyed coming from some folks, but from Gutiérrez they ring true. No doubt Uniting Souls runs like a business, interns and all. And like most promoters, he often spends much of the day of a show shuttling DJs between the airport and hotel, and maybe taking them out for sushi at Wasabi Bistro (2311 Second Ave., 206-441-6044), or to the Globe (1531 14th Ave., 206-324-8815) if they're vegan, but tonight proves the exception as Farina prefers to cab his way around town and keep his own schedule. Still, Gutiérrez is on top of itand feeling the flow, too.
By 1 a.m. at the Chop, it's plain to see why Uniting Souls events have earned their reputation. Beading sweat, Gutiérrez is throwing down in the middle of the overflowing dance floor rather than kicking back in the green room or flanking Farina onstage. It's a snapshot of the theory that's guided Uniting Souls since Gutiérrez and founding partner Michael Tello booked Mushroom Jazz-man Farina at their first party back in '97: There's no point working to build a scene if you're not going to want to take part.
Find out about upcoming Uniting Souls events at www.unitingsouls.com.