Soul music has deep roots in some Midwestern cities - especially Detroit and Chicago - yet not so much in Madison. But two local record spinners, DJ GA and Record Jammer Slayron, think Madison's got what it takes to be a soul center in the future.
The DJ pair are known to friends as UW-Madison grad student Greg Hudalla and Good Style Shop co-owner (and Peaking Lights member) Aaron Coyes. They didn't know one another until recently, when a mutual friend and a mutual love of old soul records brought them together. About three months ago, they joined forces to launch "Northern Lights - MadCity Soul Club," a free, biweekly dance party that explores the genre's regional roots.
For Hudalla, the event's a tribute to the soul tradition he discovered while growing up in Chicago.
"I was looking back at the history of the city and found out there was this well-organized, well-known soul community from the late '60s through the mid-'70s, right where I grew up," he says.
Meanwhile, soul songs remind Coyes of the people who raised him - his blues-musician dad and record-loving mom - as well as the Oakland, Calif., record store where he used to work.
"One time, back in 2001 or so, the store did a really huge buy, a couple hundred thousand records, and my job was just to listen to it, price it and categorize it into different genres. I'd be opening boxes filled with handwritten notes from James Brown and these other crazy pieces of [soul] history."
In other words, it was impossible not to get hooked on soul. The Northern Lights DJs' stellar selections have had a similar effect on Madison, too: The event's grown from a small, informal listening party to a packed-to-the-gills event in a matter of weeks.
In fact, it seems Hudalla and Coyes may be a little too good at spreading the gospel of soul. While their original venue, the Up North Bar, provided a friendly, kitsch-filled spot for the event, complete with microbrews and mounted muskies, the wood-paneled walls weren't thick enough to shield nearby hotel guests from the noise.
So soul night morphed into wandering soul night this month, with Hudalla and Coyes on the lookout for a groovy new venue. Meanwhile, they're keeping their vinyl in rotation at other local events, such as Hudalla's Record Store Day gig at Strictly Discs and Coyes' "Legalize It!" night with DJ Tolerance, which features all sorts of soul, funk and psychedelic treats at Mickey's Tavern.
While the move presents a roadblock, the DJs are keeping the faith by imagining local folks shaking their moneymakers.
"I love seeing people dance," says Coyes. "It's this kind of pure thing, and [as a DJ] you...are able to watch what people are digging and figure out how to keep that going, and how to keep them dancing."
Hudalla says the chance to expose the community to great songs such as "In My Body's House," written by Curtis Mayfield and recorded by Chicago soul icon Gene Chandler in the late '60s, keeps him going.
"I look at [the soul party] as an opportunity to come out and hear things you haven't heard before, and things you have heard before.... We play some of the Motown stuff people are familiar with and a lot of the backbone of hip-hop, which people will recognize bits and pieces of," he says.
And it's a chance for Hudalla and Coyes to make sure they remain record sharers, not just hoarders of vintage vinyl.
"We don't want to keep this stuff to ourselves anymore," says Hudalla. "It's just too good."
Hudalla and Coyes are accepting suggestions for a new venue via the Northern Lights Facebook page.