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Curtis Cartier makes his inaugural rounds as the new music columnist and finds big bad beats.

By Curtis Cartier

It's been two weeks since I puttered up the last few miles of Highway 1 in my U-Haul and parked it at the door of my new home and life in Santa Cruz. After unpacking the truck and confirming with Metro Santa Cruz that my full-time job as a music and news writer in paradise wasn't actually a wicked hoax, I hit the streets on a mission to find out what makes this city dance.

And in Disneylike form, the town seemed to turn out in song for my arrival. A brisk walk from my downtown apartment toured through a seemingly endless mob of street musicians. Folky guitars dominated the scene, but an occasional flute piped in, and even a lonely accordion sponged out a few Slavic notes. After leaving a few quarters with the more deserving buskers I ditched the streets in favor of a more "official" setting.

In my first real concert in S.C., I gained 40 experience and 25 manna points when my ear drums battled metal geeks A Band of Orcs at Caffe Pergolesi. Lead nerd of the rings Gogog Bloodthroat gurgled and growled about something unpleasant while the rest of the Orcs savagely thrashed the guitars and drums they had likely raided from rival clans.

The same night, Metamusic, a local record store/underground club, hosted a speakeasy-style club night featuring several local DJs spinning everything from dubstep to house. Although sparse, the crowd was friendly, well-lubricated and dance-happy.

The next day I started asking locals what the Santa Cruz music scene meant to them. My neighbor Chad Pittack summed up a common response. "There's a lot of good music in Santa Cruz," he said. "There's also a lot of really bad music." All I could think was--why not? A town that truly supports creative arts should have no shortage of artists. And simple math says the more music being made, the more of it will inevitably suck--and the more will undoubtedly rock.

Others, like Pergolesi barista Hiram Coffee, called the local music scene "oppressed" and blamed the city's noise ordinance for snuffing out creative output. "Bands used to come here all the time, now they just skip Santa Cruz," Coffee says. "Bands can't form because they're not allowed to practice. It's nothing like it used to be."

Still, I figured the best way to truly dig up the local vibe was to see it myself. So Saturday I checked out funk masters Breakestra at Moe's Alley--or, as several of the bar's patrons described it, Santa Cruz's best kept secret. Indeed, the venue accomplished a mix of class and hospitality quite well with friendly bartenders, a fantastic sound system and a stellar crowd.

Breakestra, a Los Angeles-based "rap orchestra," evoked new school funkadelic with live bass, guitar, keys and plenty of brass. Not a foot was left undancing by the time the group hit its stride, and with backup by the hip-hop heavy DJ Eko, there was indeed no rest for the weary.

"There is a lot of love for music not on the mainstream," Eko said in response to my query. "I think people in this town aren't afraid to try something new."

Later, tired and smiling in my bed, I asked myself if I had answered the original question of what makes Santa Cruz dance? The only answer I was able to come up with was: Everything.

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