By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
Let's go clubbing.
Soma, a venue at 1915 Broadway in Boulder that debuted late last year, is a bold experiment. Hardy Kalisher, working with a group of investors (including his brother Lucas) who are all under the age of thirty, sees the project as an opportunity to bring to Colorado the hipness and sophistication of the so-called night lounges that currently have New York City buzzing. "People have described it as a fantasy space," he says. "It feels like a little club in Manhattan--and we're booking real quality acts to play in it. Whether it's jazz, funk or electronic music, we want people who are trying to take a sound and go forward with it. We're not really interested in booking music from the past."
A native of San Francisco who attended college in San Diego, Kalisher moved to the area on New Year's Eve five years ago, and he wasted no time getting involved in what he calls "the urban-contemporary scene." With Lucas, he formed Sol Productions, a dance-oriented promotions firm that spawned Sol Jazz Massive, a cool combo profiled in these pages ("Massive Attack, Boulder Style," January 26, 1996). Just over two years ago, Hardy and Lucas opened Club, a vinyl and DJ-gear specialty store at 1521 Pearl Street and followed it up with Club Records, a label dedicated to electronic and modern-dance music. Melt, a compilation disc issued under the Club banner, was one of the finest Colorado platters of 1997.
Given the focus of these projects, Kalisher says, "we felt like it was a natural step to run a nightclub, where we could put all the things we were working on under one roof." Neil Lubar, another area resident interested in all things dance, had much the same idea, and in mid-1997, he and the Kalisher brothers set out to make the concept a reality. They spent six months looking for a building before settling on a two-story structure from the Forties that had previously served as a bank, then remodeled and refurbished it over the course of last year. "It's a really plush setting filled with nice antique furniture," Kalisher notes. "We used a lot of rich red colors. It's kind of a joke that we opened a club and somehow managed not to use black."
Once the operation was ready to roll, Kalisher began lining up talent to perform there--and he's spared no expense. In addition to first-rate local spinners such as DJ Skunk, who's bringing his "Skunk Motel" night to Soma on Friday, January 15, he's convinced King Britt, a nationally known DJ signed to Columbia Records, to appear on a bi-weekly basis: His first night is Thursday, January 14. On tap down the line are performances by a staggering array of dance-universe superstars, including Josh Wink, Doc Martin, Vienna's Kruder & Dorfmeister and DJ Soul Slinger, who's credited with introducing jungle music to U.S. audiences.
This is an impressive lineup by any standards, and especially so when Soma's modest dimensions are taken into account: Its capacity is around 300. Furthermore, the admission prices are strikingly reasonable--$6 in advance for King Britt and less than $20 for the other national figures cited above. So how on earth does Kalisher expect to turn a profit? "I'm not trying to make a living off the tickets," he says. "I have a bar, which is why the tickets are going to be affordable. We're still taking a risk, but we're willing to do it--and if we lose a little money on a big show, that's okay, because there are other nights of the week where we can make up for that. This is my dream, and that makes it worth it."
Attracting big-name talent has been surprisingly easy, he insists. "Someone asked me the other day, 'Why would King Britt want to do a residency in Boulder?' Well, why wouldn't he? For years I've watched acts play New York and L.A. without ever stopping here, but it's mainly because local promoters haven't gone to the trouble of bringing them. So I sent out word that there's a place in Colorado now that has the proper setting and that really wants to book them, and everyone's been incredibly receptive. Now they're calling me."
Kalisher has big ambitions: He's already arranged with www.eclecticradio.com, a Boulder-based Internet radio station with a rapidly rising profile, to simulcast shows, and an agreement with Denver's Rule Modern & Contemporary Gallery has turned Soma's second floor into an art treasure trove. He's also looking to use Club Records as a way to cross-promote the venue. "This whole thing is a risk," he concedes, "but we're definitely willing to take it. It's up to the people of Colorado to support it, and if they don't, we'll be disappointed. But I think when they see what we've got here, they'll be really excited."
The Soiled Dove, at 1949 Market Street in lower downtown, isn't new (it opened in April 1997), but the club is taking a fresh approach, setting aside its dueling-piano format in favor of live music from a variety of local and national artists. Beginning this month, the venue will feature a cappella acts, singer-songwriters and comics on Wednesdays, jazz and blues on Thursdays, dance/party music on Fridays and Saturdays, and local band showcases (preceded by question-and-answer sessions with members of the area music-business community) on Sundays.