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All photos: Dakota Fine

I didn’t know anything about Deep House until DJ Chris Burns whisked me away to a magical place called The Paradox in Baltimore for a night called Deep Sugar run by Lisa Moody, Ultra Nate (pronounced Nah-tay), and a host of their closest friends. It’s a night run on the premise of loud music and acceptance- the freedom to loose yourself, whoever that may be, in the music. On the eve of Deep Sugar’s 7th Year Anniversary, Dakota and I met up with the ladies of Deep Sugar to talk about their lives in the deep house scene while eating fish tacos, shopping for handbags and rolling some duck pin. Basically, we wanted to eat, sleep and breathe Deep Sugar.

Stop 1: The Paradox

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Libby: Tell me about the history of Deep Sugar, it’s the seventh year anniversary.

Ultra: We started the party at a time, in my opinion, when the house music scene was starting to suffer a lot in Baltimore, the venues had started shrinking, basically disappearing. A lot of parties were forced to go into halls where you had to bring in the whole sound system and lights; it was really labor intensive, or you go to venues that are more restaurant oriented and not conducive for deep house, which is really built from a lifestyle and a culture that started in the late seventies and through the eighties with disco and then became house music through the Chicago scene once the technology enabled producers and DJs to make tracks without the massive production undertaking of twelve, thirteen musicians.

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The music started out when the majors were paying attention to it, and it was this new cool sound–and this was in the late eighties, early nineties–we started signing a lot of underground house music, so we had a lot of radio support as a genre. The Baltimore scene has always had a very long relationship with that scene from the beginning with producers like myself and Basement Boys, Crystal Waters also came out of our camp with Basement Boys , Mass Order, there was a really large scene that was happening from here–DJ Charisma, Spin–a lot of people were making records that were getting a lot of global attention, but here at home, it was still just our little microcosm, and it was family- our little crew. Wayne Davis who owns the Paradox was also very instrumental in that in always having clubs that were geared toward the presentation of the sound and the culture in the correct way.

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Stop 2: Captain Larry’s for delicious Fish Tacos

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How do you present deep house culture in the correct way? What is the correct way?

By the correct way, I mean with a proper sound system is job number one. This music is meant to be heard in a very specific way with the right kind of sound system in a club environment. It’s also important that the club embrace the mixed culture. When hip hop came along, there was a backlash towards gay people and house music came out of the gay scene with the days of disco. So there was a large integration of different kinds of people when house music first started in Chicago and New York. Thats what was happening in those particular places and baltimore was creating its own specific sound and culture here as well. As the nineties got a little deeper, the dancing started to die in the us, and radio stopped supporting it so heavily, and then you had just Joe Regular guy no longer listened to house music, only the heads, who lived and breathed it, only the heads were keeping it alive. So over time we had this situation where the house parties started to shrink and we’re not really being represented in the way that we grew up on it. Which is a shame, because that was a really large part of how i ended up in the music business, it wasn’t by design to be in the dance scene or to be a singer or house music or any of that. It happened organically from going to the clubs and being a part of the culture.

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Music kind of derailed the plan that i had for myself, so seeing that decline in the scene happen here In my hometown, I wanted to try give something back to the community that helped foster my career, and do it organically, where the central focus is on the music. Not necessarily making loads of money, people would love to make money, but i think you start to devalue what organically the music’s about if that is the only thing you care about. Also a lot of things that happened with clubs when super clubs came, the attitude of the club and the people in it were kind of like, they were doing the patrons an honor to let them come in and be a part of their club, with the whole exclusivity and VIP, you wanna pay 100 dollars to get in, to be bumped up in the line, or to get into VIP, or to have a bottle of whatever and look like you’re in a Puffy video. Well, thats not what our scene was about, our scene was always built on with people having more spiritual aspect to it and looking forward to going out and dancing all night and relieving themselves of their cares and their dramas and stresses of everyday life, and that was their escape, that was their getaway. This was their social network, where they went to dance. It was about the music, it was about being taken out of your normal everyday life and being elevated and sharing that experience with 50 million people around you that you may not have ever seen before but there’s a one unifying bond, and that’s that emotion and the vibe that’s happening at that moment, and that’s really what it was about. We decided to start, what was them called Sugar, I told Lisa (Moody, who was the right hand gal), i wanna start a party… This is what we’re gonna do… And she said, okay (laughs)

Stop 3: Handbags in The City

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How did you and your DJ Lisa Moody get together?

Lisa Moody: I met Ultra, I’ve always know Ultra, as far as music is concerned, but her husband and I are good friends. When they started dating, we started hanging out, and when they got married we got closer and started driving around Baltimore city looking for a place- a venue.

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Tell me about the first time you two got together to DJ
Ultra: I’m very impulsive, its just my nature, and you know what, it was because the scene was getting really crazy. Someone that was one of our favorite DJs, who’s also down with Sugar, who was very instrumental in the early days of like building the party, he was doing a night at one of the regular venues here, and his night was taken from him. That was kinda the night that was like the last bastion of hope for the deep house community, and when his night was taken we just decided one night, “you know what i wanna hear some music, but i don’t wanna go to any of the clubs that are available to us right now, so lets just get some records together.”

Lisa had some vinyl records, i had some vinyl records and a very good friend of mine named Bassie, who’s an artist as well, had turntables and had them for a while so we were like, “lets just go to Bassie’s house and play some records, listen to music, and just hear the music we wanna hear” We didn’t know how to mix it, but we had content, and for me, growing up in the dance music scene and house music in particular, that’s what all the top DJs that were my good friends have said, content is the first order of business, the technical part, that comes after. We started playing records, and we just got addicted, like at that moment we were so type a about learning how to beat blend. Like, “okay, content is cool, but we need to learn how to beat blend, cause that is the only way to get respect!”

Stop 4: Mustang Alley’s

Lisa: The blends in the mixes were like shoes in the dryer, they were crazy. But at that time i was like, “oh we’re getting it, we’re getting it” but we really weren’t.

Ultra: But it didn’t matter, the important thing was we’re making the effort, and we’re learning, and then six months later at that time we were going over everybody’s house or studio that had turntables that would let us play and practice.

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Lisa: That was in the days when they had record stores so we would go to the record stores, we would go to all of our friends that had set ups in their house, wherever we could get on, we were there. During work, i would go during lunch, I would go to the record store and be playing for like half an hour, forty-five min.

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Ultra: We were like crack heads. Six months from that point when were still mixing, I came up with the grand scheme, “we’re gonna start our own party, we’re gonna call it Sugar”. Our first gig was a happy hour on Friday at Sonar. We would open, and practice, and really trial by fire in front of people, but everyone knew we were new at it, so they forgave us, a lot. And we got a lot of great supporters because they were happy that there was another opportunity to hear music and dance, we had our guest DJ and friends who were definitely qualified to carry the night (laughs) and we kinda grew really quickly exponentially in six months.

Eventually we moved to another venue in Baltimore, Club 1722- four and a half years. It was a small club, but the important thing was it was after hours, which is always the best way to represent the music, this kind of music for some
reason, it has to be late.

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Was there one moment when Deep Sugar really came together, when you really felt you were accomplishing what you had set out to achieve with the night?

Lisa: I would say the night of Jocelyn Brown. I don’t know, we’ve had a lot of good nights, its just sometimes when i look out on the dance floor and see the whole floor bouncing around, I get a little emotional, I’m getting emotional now. After all the hard work we put into it behind the scenes, and to see those people having good time, and someone that comes for the first time says “oh my god, this is awesome, i love it!” whether we are at the Paradox, 1722′ or Sonar, just to have someone say they had such a good time, is such an amazing feeling. That’s my ‘a ha’ moment.

SERIOUSLY, If you want to have the best night of your life come to Deep Sugar’s 7 Year Anniversary Party on Saturday night.

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