Minutes before midnight on a Monday in August, more than 100 people are getting down at the 500-person capacity Capitol Hill club Chop Suey. Two girls gyrate listlessly on a raised platform while a party photographer wanders the crowd. Onstage, Josh Saenz—aka DJ Tigerbeat—is doing what he’s been doing every Monday for the past five years: getting a party started on one of the week’s least likely nights.
Down the street at his old haunt Neumos, though, the scene is even crazier. For at least an hour, a lively line has been stretching down the block to get into the venue’s side-bar Moe Bar and its basement venue, Barboza (combined capacity: 300), and cars blasting hip-hop are circling the street in search of parking.
“It’s been like this for the past year,” says Dave Hughes, Neumos’ head of security. From Moe Bar’s earliest days in 2007 until last month, this was Tigerbeat’s gig—and his crowd. But Hughes says there hasn’t been any slowdown since he left. “It’d be nice if there was,” Hughes adds.
Monday nights aren’t typically busy at nightclubs. Along with Sundays, they’re often promoted as “industry nights,” with discounts for service employees on reprieve from work. But at Moe Bar and Barboza, and now at Chop Suey, Mondays have become a lucrative prize.
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“If you don’t have to get up at the crack o’ dawn, it’s the place to be on Monday,” says Neumos co-owner Steven Severin. “[There’s] a bunch of sexy-looking people all wanting to dance and have a good time. We got a ton of ballplayers. Felix Hernandez was in there two nights before he threw his perfect game.”
So with such a successful, long-running night, why did Neumos and Tigerbeat part ways?
On August 3, Tigerbeat announced via Facebook that his Moe Bar/Barboza residency was moving to Chop Suey following a week off. One of Tigerbeat’s partners, hypeman Mikey McClarron, posted a statement claiming that “Barboza doesn’t like the crowd or the music on Tigerbeat Monday . . . they didn’t want us to play ‘trap music’ ” anymore because “the crowd was too dangerous.” He went on to say that he’d never witnessed a fight on Mondays, that there was a “TINY bit of stereotyping” at play, and that Tigerbeat’s fans should “not support a place like Barboza that doesn’t respect diversity.”
Trap music refers to a strain of mostly Southern hip-hop marked by slurred tempos, stark 808-drum-machine beats, and pitched-down samples. Lyrically, trap focuses on the drug trade and slums (“the trap”), and has been popularized by the likes of UGK, Gucci Mane, Waka Flocka Flame, and (Academy Award winners) Three 6 Mafia, and in crossover hits like Nicki Minaj’s “Beez in the Trap.”
Severin concedes that Neumos asked Tigerbeat to tone down the music temporarily. “No matter what I say about this, it’s going to make me sound like the man,” says Severin. “We asked them to chill on the trap music a bit for a couple of weeks, as the crowd was getting a bit rougher since they started playing way more trap. We wanted it to continue to stay fun and make sure everybody was cool and safe—nothing like fights to ruin a night.”
But Severin insists that wasn’t what killed the night. “They quit, simple as that,” he says. “Basically, they wanted more money than was possible. They were already our best-paid DJs of any night, and they said we had to more than double it or they were walking. I don’t think they’re getting that at Chop, but what do I know? I’m not there. But, yeah, it was about money.”
“I’ve never played just rap or trap music on Mondays,” says Tigerbeat. “But I always want to be able to play everything I’m feeling and to express myself to the crowd. I was being dictated to as to what I could and couldn’t play. With the lack of pay for such a successful night combined with the lack of appreciation and respect, that’s when I decided it was time to go.”
Tigerbeat’s replacement at Moe and Barboza is Ben Sheffield—along with DJ partners Swervewon and 100proof—who DJs under the name Blue Eyed Soul and also books nights at nearby club The Woods. Blond, blue-eyed, and clean-cut, Sheffield looks like the opposite of Tigerbeat, whose sprawling tattoos—including an oversized gun-in-holster on his torso—can usually be seen spilling out of his tank top.
“When we sat down with Steven [Severin], he never told us to change the format of music or what to play,” says Sheffield. “We never got any of that. The only message was to keep the party going. I think it’s funny that people were saying they were discriminating against trap music, and yet Neumos booked [Three 6 Mafia rapper] Juicy J very recently. I think of Neumos as a place that’s pretty diverse, musically speaking.
“We want it to be a cool neighborhood thing,” he adds. “The crowd has changed a little bit each week. The first week, I walked in here and, as someone who’s lived on Capitol Hill for five years, didn’t recognize anybody. Last week, I saw a ton of people I knew.”
One constant, though, is that the venue is consistently filled to capacity. “It’s steady packed, without fail,” says Sheffield. “I mean, a lot of work was put in in the last five years to building up Monday nights here, and I would be a liar if I said that everything that’s happening now is because of us. But what I do believe is that it will continue to happen and stay here because of the efforts of our combined group.”
Has he sensed any tension since taking over the night? “I think it was definitely a sensitive subject for people who were involved in building this night before,” Sheffield says. “I would feel the same way. To me, it’s blown over now.”
Back at Chop Suey, Tigerbeat seems to be in equally magnanimous spirits, both on the decks and greeting friends in front of the club.
He offers another reason for taking his show up the road: “So many people would come to [Barboza] and wait in line for so long to get in that the parking lot was turning into a party. That’s a big reason why we moved to Chop Suey: We had just outgrown the venue. Now it’s a bigger dance floor and no line.”
“So far our nights with Tigerbeat have been solid,” says Chop Suey talent buyer Devin Floyd. “It’s hard to book a show on Mondays and have a high turnout, but Josh has established a really strong night in Seattle. We’re still in a transition stage, working on getting the word out that Tigerbeat has moved up the hill to Chop Suey. But as of now we’re really happy with what we’ve seen, and we look forward to seeing how it grows. Neumos still has a great Monday night, and now we do as well.”
And what does Tigerbeat think of the new Monday crew at Barboza? “No comment.”