Jesse Shuman on the closing of Baltimore’s Paradox nightclub
For many, a night at the Paradox nightclub in downtown Baltimore, tucked away under the Russell Street overpass, in the shadow of M&T stadium, was a spiritual release. In a city that is increasingly divided along racial and economic faultlines, the Dox has always been a portal to a world of Communitas – of social harmony, escapism, and catharsis through dance and music.
Opened in 1991, The Paradox is an institution; it was instrumental in helping bring the singular Baltimore club music scene – with its eclectic fusion of house fluidity and hip-hop drumkick – to prominence in a country that often sidelines Charm City into the periphery. But Baltimore has aligned itself with other cities like Detroit: each has their own set of complex issues, yet each has provided significant cultural clout to the development of house and techno music globally. With its closing, which was announced by owner Wayne Davis and is slated for early May after a final good-bye party April 29th, comes the End of an Era. “The moments, relationships and lasting friendships created within its walls, [sic] will sustain the spirit and memories for the next generation and beyond,” Davis’ letter said. “Until the last dance, we would like to invite everyone to share in the energy, the music and the dance for the final months of this Baltimore treasure.”
Lisa Moody, on WEAA (“The Voice of the Community” – and how fitting), says that her Deep Sugar event, and by extension the Dox, have allowed members of the Baltimore community to look beyond their own parameters and neighborhoods – people have recognized that they are a part of something larger. When one attends, by the end of the night, one cannot help but feel like they have spoken with and, in a sense, befriended, a myriad of characters with whom they would never have interacted with otherwise; there is a true sense of it being okay to facilitate interaction within the walls of the Dox, and in that sense, it seems to behold a certain power.
Some nights by midnight, a line is out the door to gain entrance; but it seems well worth it. Some stay until the wee-hours of the morning. Night and day are no longer two discernable things, where you go to sleep in one and wake up in the other; here, they fade into one another, with clubgoers witness to both. In a city with limited options for the night, the Dox’s presence will surely be felt palpably. What was beautiful for the Deep Sugar pair was the sense of a safe space for those who would have been unwelcome or uncomfortable otherwise; to them, that is what is truly beautiful. “No one cares who you are or what you are, as long as you come in peace,” says Nate Baltimore, Moody’s musical partner. In Baltimore, where violence is a recurring headline and sound bite, the paradisiacal Deep Sugar event is pushed to the wayside in favor of the perpetuation of the city’s image as teetering on the edge of ripping itself apart from the inside out. “The only thing kids are throwing on the dance floor is baby powder,” says Baltimore.
As more and more rifts appear in the city of Baltimore, – between government and people, between citizens – the closing of the Dox cannot come at a more inconvenient, yet somehow fitting, time. It was a social glue: a place where people of all backgrounds, ages, races, orientations, religions, and status could come together and enjoy each other for what they fundamentally are – human citizens of the same city. At the same time, as one who frequents the Deep Sugar event, this sense of community, no matter how pure its intentions, still struggles to overcome the racial tensions of the city. Imagine there is a dinner table. Deep Sugar prides itself on being family style – where the diners partake from the same dish, sharing the experience; but the reality is a bit farther from this truth. While these people are at the same table, each person gets their own dish. It’s a community in the sense of coexistence, but little interaction. Yet at the same time, the last time I was at the Dox, my friend (a “shorty” from Short Hills, New Jersey) shared a joint with a local named John. They chatted for a while, and went their separate ways.
Lisa Moody and Nate Baltimore admit that that there is a level of uncertainty in the next steps, but they trust in the endurance of a musical scene that is twenty-five years old and very much alive. She trusts in the folks, who, over the years, have aligned themselves with the vibe and party: “There were some people who didn’t know what house music was, but they discover this scene and situation and use it as a vehicle to present this music and lifestyle positively, moving [it] forward and [allowing it] to proliferate beyond the microcosm of downtown Baltimore.” After thirteen years, the two have seen this situation before, and been in a similar place. But this isn’t the end of the rainbow – and they are not throwing in the towel. A new situation is around the corner, as well as a new chapter.
Jesse Shuman is a Baltimore-based writer originally from New York.