On a deliciously crisp fall Saturday at midnight in northeast Minneapolis, bodies glistened with perspiration as the funk, the heat and the soul emitted from The Front.
Attached to Ground Zero, an 11-year-old club, The Front offers a lighter, funkier experience than its neighbor. It focuses on the hip R&B, soul, and funk sounds of the ’60s, ’70s and today.
Mixing and spinning this eclectic mix is DJ Dirty Duke.
Duke is a carefully plotted character. On this night he wore black and red animal print polyester garb and bright red 5-inch platform shoes, giant rings, a big floppy hat and oversized, faded sunglasses. While spinning, he drinks out of an enormous snifter.
Duke said his style is influenced by the “black pimp scene of the 1970s.”
At the end of the night, (or the beginning of the morning) Duke unties his platforms and peels off his polyester and becomes Mark Wild, owner of The Front and Ground Zero.
The two personas, though, are separate. Wild, a University alumnus, speaks of Duke as though he is a separate person, which is very much the truth. Duke has his place in life and Wild has his – ne’er the two shall meet.
“Dirty is all about fun. He wants their night to be an emphatic exclamation point during their otherwise boring week,” Wild said.
At The Front, fun is facilitated via atmosphere – the club is lit with a red tint; classic international art, masks and advertisements hang from the wall. The centerpiece is a disco ball encased in a gargantuan gothic chandelier.
The TV plays a mix of music videos and clips from ’70s blaxploitation films. Meanwhile Duke makes refreshing musical transitions between Gwen Stefani and The Jackson 5. As he spins, he constantly shakes and dances in his DJ booth that is easily accessible to clubbers by two staircases. Even with the open booth, he still brings himself out to the dance floor to mingle.
“Most club DJs are cloistered away somewhere and they don’t take requests,” Wild said. “But Duke is out there and will play just about anything.”
Duke’s stress on spinning soul music is unique. Based on what Wild has seen locally, many Minneapolis clubs are “dabbling” in the R&B and funk style, but they “don’t seem to stay with it for very long.”
The dance floor at The Front has enough room for everyone, from the casual to ultra-glitzy. There’s room for 23- to 33-year-olds to shimmy without ramming into the next person, but quarters are close enough so bodily scents can be detected.
Unlike the downtown scene, dancers aren’t pressured to look like professionals. People move as they are moved, with an occasional dance-off breaking the crowd open so the talented – and not-so-talented – can show off their stuff.
University student Amy McNamara, 33, has been coming to The Front off and on for five years.
“I like it here. It’s not your typical, cheesy meat-market dance club, the music is good and the crowd is loose,” the dental hygiene student said.
Joe Warner, 23, a University grad student, was at The Front for the first time Saturday.
“I think it’s cool – there is a different vibe here, people seem to be having more fun,” Warner said. “Plus, you’ve got a DJ that’s dressed crazy and playing good music.”
Q&A With DJ Dirty Duke
The Daily: DJ Dirty Duke – that’s some nice alliteration. How did you come up with that name?
DJ Dirty Duke: A few years back I was banging my tunes at a club in Philly called “Dukes.” Sometimes (well, OK, always) in the heat of the night my vibe would get a little down and dirty and things would get hot and sweaty. One night a hot mama yells out “You sure is dirty at Dukes!” From then on my peeps have called me “Dirty Duke.”
What’s your favorite song?
I have a lot of favorite songs from different eras and genres but a few that stand out are “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” by the Godfather of Soul – James Brown, “Respect” by Aretha (Franklin) and “Son of a Preacher Man” by Dusty Springfield. Today I like Outkast’s vibe and I’m locally diggin’ on Atmosphere.
What’s your favorite color?
Who, in the era you hail from, is your biggest inspiration?
Baby, I get inspired by something from every era – Frank Sinatra, Elvis, James Brown, black Michael Jackson, A Tribe Called Quest, Outkast …
What are your passions in life? What are you crazy about?
I’m passionately crazy about the music I play and how it moves my people. I also dig a fly coordinated outfit.
Those clothes are crazy, man, where do you get them? Are they uncomfortable? Do you have a favorite outfit?
My threads and shoes are custom-made for me and since I was born to wear such fly outfits they are very comfortable – but damn I do get hot. My favorite outfit is always my latest outfit.
What’s in that giant fishbowl you drink out of?
My uniquely large snifter is filled with strictly medicinal measures of Christian Brothers brandy.
How many times during the night do you get propositioned?
Propositioned is such an ugly word. I prefer to say that I am frequently approached by “demonstratively appreciative” fans.