Rx: Dance at Oslo

What makes a Detroit dance club really rock? Is it the people, the place, the sound, or a combination of all three? Well, of course, it is. But then there are the intangibles, something rare that is not easily put into words.

Those rare intangibles are what made Oslo the premier spot for dancing the night away (not to mention supping on miso soup, asparagus-cucumber rolls and drinking sake at the sushi bar on the main level) the minute it opened in spring 2004. Back then, events at the basement club at Woodward and John R were promoted by Detroit-based Soft Curls (one of the promoters re-located to Warsaw, Poland), which parlayed its connections to Motor City techno titans Underground Resistance and Submerge Recordings, and the growing minimal scene in Berlin and Cologne, Germany, into sweaty, overflowing oh-so-much-fun dancefloor mayhem. European stars Michael Mayer, Superpitcher, Miss Kittin, Ellen Allien and former Windsorite Richie Hawtin all had memorable dates during Oslo's first life, which lasted for nearly three years (trust us, an eternity in the crazy, hazy world of techno).

But in late 2007, the club was reborn under new ownership. The kitchen soon followed suit and the menu was tweaked to include a greater variety of Asian foodie delights. The new co-owners are wifey-husband team Kat and Roberto Lemos, along with her parents, owners of Royal Oak's Royal Thai Café.

'Techno cheers'

So great, you say, Oslo has re-opened and back serving up food and cutting edge electronic music, but is it still the best place in town to dance way the wintertime (or anytime) blues?

Well, "hell yes!" says promoter Adriel Fantastique, who has put on Detroit dance parties for a decade-and-a-half, beginning with post-industrial raves in the old Packard Plant on Grand Blvd, moving on to Hamtramck's Motor in the late 1990s and now still scoring late night points for his Family and Republik events.

Why is it so, Mr. Fantastique? "The space is special because of its intimate vibe, as well as the subtle yet interesting decor," he says. "Oslo has a feel of a 'Techno Cheers,' very familiar and welcoming."

Ah, there's the dancefloor rub: a space that is "intimate" and "welcoming," made even warmer and fuzzier by comparing it to one of our favorite TV shows from the 1980s. Hey, look, is that Ted Danson busting a move over by the speakers next to the DJ booth? Could be, you never know.

Here's why Oslo is the clear winner in the dancing the mid-winter night away sweepstakes: You enter from Woodward Avenue, pay $5 for Republik parties or most events promoted by Paxahau (the Ferndale-based company that organizes the Detroit Electronic Music Festival in May), walk straight through the dining area and upstairs bar (you can come back up later to order food or to take a break from dancing) and to the back staircase, which leads you into the club's sonic subterranean playground.

But the journey is only halfway done. At the bottom of the stairs you now have a choice: go left and come upon another bar, veer right and you squeeze through a small room and then into the main dance area, which opens up wider as you move closer to the source of the sound. What Fantastique describes as "intimate" and "welcoming" has much to do with the design of this room, which is roughly the shape of a horizontal pyramid, and the soft wood walls and pillars, which enhance the acoustics and add texture to the waves of rhythm and sound surrounding your body as it begins involuntarily moving to the beats.

Work it

No other club experience in Detroit comes close to matching it, one reason Fantastique says he's moving his monthly Republik events to Olso on a permanent basis and will do the same with his Family residency  — now going on a dozen years of bringing an eclectic electronic dance program that includes techno, house, electro, hip hop and other styles to local clubbers — beginning in March.

Detroit vet producer-DJ Stacey Pullen now has a monthly residency at Oslo on the second Saturday of the month, another promotions group called the Arsenal of Democracy (AOD, for short) recently welcomed Ann Arbor-based Ghostly International/Spectral Sounds DJ Ryan Elliott to the club and Paxahau is throwing a Winter Blast after-party Feb. 8 featuring talented locals Keith Kemp, Kage and Josh Dahlberg. And international techno dance fans can look forward to March 1, when winter will be only three weeks away from its annual departure, when ProperlModulation celebrates the production group's one-year anniversary by bringing Sweden's Mikael Stavostrand to Oslo for his first-ever Detroit appearance.

But why wait? Jump up and get down there asap. Work those blues out by bouncing to the beats of your choice. C'mon, now: get downtown and work it, people, work it out. You can do it.

Walter Wasacz
is editor of Filter D and always knows the best places to work it.

Oslo and Dance Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger

Read more articles by Walter Wasacz.

Walter Wasacz is a writer and the former managing editor of Model D. You can find more of his writings here.
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