Just bringing up the subject of violence at hip-hop shows immediately gets you into a mess of generalizations, doesn't it? After all, for every incident like the fight last Tuesday at the High Noon Saloon, during which a gun reportedly went off, there are plenty of positive examples to choose from.
Who else fondly remembers breakdance competitions at the Goodman Community Center, Brother Ali filling up the Barrymore, or DJ Kool Herc playing side-by-side with Clyde Stubblefield at the Terrace? Or just gradually discovering what the students and visiting artists of UW-Madison's OMAI and First Wave program have to offer?
Nonetheless, it seems we're doomed to keep talking about the shows that do end in battery and police calls, if only because they threaten local hip-hop artists' ability to work with venues.
The Capital Times reported that a fight broke out early Tuesday, Jan. 17., during a freestyle battle at the High Noon. During the fight, one patron was said to pistol whip another, and a gun went off inside the men's restroom.
DJ Pain 1, real name Pacal Bayley, was one of the DJs at the event, and he is a prominent force in local hip-hop. He says about 110 people showed up. Since he was there and involved in setting up the show, I sought his comments, in hopes of following up the incident without quite getting us into the same old hand-wringing.
Bayley's replies strike a somewhat pessimistic note.
"In the past, I would gladly counter the myth that hip-hop and violence go hand in hand, but the actions of several locals who have zero regard and zero investment in the livelihood of the hip-hop community have given the anti-hip-hop forces all the ammunition (excuse the metaphor) they need to shut us down for good," he writes. "I can't complain, because I don't want to put innocent lives at risk, either, and I understand venues...closing their doors to local hip-hop shows, as much as it hurts me to say."
The High Noon still has some hip-hop shows coming up, including tonight's XV show. Owner Cathy Dethmers is quick to point out that she blames "neither hip-hop music nor the hip-hop audience. It is just a handful of people that are attracted to those shows and like to cause trouble." Still, Dethmers admits that this handful causes local venues to avoid booking local hip-hop.
"It is up to the venue to maintain a safe environment, but maybe promoters could assist by communicating a 'no tolerance for violence' policy to the audience," Dethmers says. "I also think it would be helpful to have a list of names of people who have caused problems at past shows, and make sure the venue staff has it so they can keep troublemakers out of the club." Easier said than done, though: The Madison Police Department's report makes no mention of any arrests or the gun-toter's name.
In a blog post, concert promoter Tag Evers writes that at tonight's XV show, "Everyone who comes in the door will be wanded with a metal detector and bags will be checked for weapons."
Bayley says he has "not been treated fairly by certain venues," and indeed, you sometimes hear of a venue shunning hip-hop. Bayley doesn't count the High Noon among them, calling Dethmers "extremely fair and willing to plan and form strategies with promoters of hip-hop events."
This isn't to say that Bayley is demoralized. But if one of the busiest locals in the genre perceives a chilling effect, it's hard to argue. Music fans in Madison should vigilantly look for new and creative ways to keep local hip-hop in the light. A minority of violent imbeciles have the power to screw up shows and make businesses and police wary. But local artists and audiences still have plenty of ways to demonstrate that that isn't us.