I had a long think piece written to accompany these photos, but I'm afraid no one wants to know my journey to Selector Dub Narcotic in 4000 words. Just know that I was introduced to Calvin Johnson's music in the mid '90s by a girlfriend who was much more punk rock than I was, though she'd have waved off that notion in an instant. Beat Happening brought me to the realization that punk was bigger than I ever imagined by being smaller than I thought possible. Since then I've seen Johnson a dozen times, and my love for him is unflappable. Come at me.
The Replay doesn't do all ages shows often. Was this done on the request of Selector Dub Narcotic's Calvin Johnson? Still putting on shows for the kids? I'm not sure, but the point was moot as surely there was no one under 21 in the Replay that night. In fact, there was barely anyone at all.
The "early matinee" advertised on the website turned out to be a bit of a misnomer. Sussing that out quickly, Lena and I ducked out for dinner, and returned nearly an hour later, still catching over two hours of a local DJ spinning records, mixing ably, and deftly avoiding anything that was recognizable. Good, but no one danced, and I spent the hours talking to Nick about record collecting and idly munching the free Replay popcorn. While the show was purported to run from 6pm-9pm, 9pm came and went before Johnson ever took the stage.
Selector Dub Narcotic used to be the name Calvin Johnson reserved for his DJ sets and his work as remix producer for bands both on his influential K Records imprint and off. A few years ago, Johnson began working with other producers, and the solo project (apart from the similarly unfocused full band Dub Narcotic Sound System) was born. Now, the unfortunate result is that no one is exactly sure what each Selector Dub Narcotic performance may entail. Even the other paying patrons I ran into thought they might only see a DJ set. I shared what Johnson's publicist told me, still studying the stage as it was handed over to the headliner. I saw sequencers (and other do-hickeys that I'm ignorant of), not turntables. Good, I wasn't misled.
What followed was a low-key set build from 2016's This Party is Just Getting Started (K Records). Just Calvin Johnson, his microphone (with an exceptionally long cord to facilitate movement), his backing tracks, a truckload of awesome and awkward dance moves, and a few monologues spoken directly to the small assemblage. Backing tracks ranged from classic hip hop, to house, to soul, to calypso, to flute-inflected jazz — all of it danceable, all of it serving as a bed for Johnson's vocals. Infectious single "Hotter than Hott" was delivered with the same quirky gusto as found on the album, while Johnson mixed things up during "All for the Sake of Rhymin'." That track was stopped almost immediately to allow for a long introduction spoken to the audience without need for microphone. Upon completion, Johnson reminded the twenty attendees of the beat that he let drop earlier, asked everyone to keep it in mind, and then he returned to deliver the entire track's silly-to-surrealist rap acapella. "I Need Sum" and "Let's Spend Some Time Together" were delightful parts of the set, while "Every Woman" curious and flat. I lost track after that.
Throughout the night Johnson's repetitive, sinuous dance moves were hypnotizing, leaving most of the audience entranced by the motion of his long limbs, while inspiring a few dancers. Just not enough. Where are all the twee and indie pop kids in their cardigans and Mary Janes? Where are the crowds that used to fill the dance floor when Dub Narcotic Sound System would pack the Bottleneck in the '90s? Where is Vanessa with her life-changing collection of K Records LPs? If you see her, tell her that she has another round of evangelizing to do before Selector Dub Narcotic comes back through — it's just not as much fun to dance on an empty floor.