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Under the Radar

Hip-hop, drum 'n' bass, graffiti thrive at Clandestine

By Jim Harrington

IMAGINE THE BAR scene in Star Wars and toss in equal parts Blade Runner and MTV's Pimp My Ride and you get an idea about Clandestine. DJ Fish spits out the rhymes like an overhead emergency sprinkler as DJ Influ3nz knocks out sharp, jagged jungle beats from the turntables. Upstairs, a small group of onlookers gather around Dee Jae Paíeste as he inks the last few lines on his latest drawing that melds a Silicon Valley aesthetic with a hip-hop vibe, in this case a robotic-looking ape with headphones. The crowd is split between two dance floors, either grooving to the combined girth of Fish and Influ3nz or funking it up to crunk-style hip-hop selected by a succession of guest and resident DJs. Everybody seems to know each other, except for maybe the two older dudes hanging back by the bar, elbows seemingly locked together as they tilt back their amber-hued microbrews in unison.

Rhymes, drum 'n' bass, hip-hop, dancing, flea market, drinking, robotic gorillas—it's all part of the Clandestine experience. In an area better known for cover bands and karaoke, the local drum 'n' bass-and-more collective Clandestine is working to change perceptions of the San Jose club scene. Since early 2003, the 11 MCs, DJs, turntablists, graphic artists and others in tune are definitely up to the task, boasting résumés that have spread Clandestine's reputation nationally.

"We are trying to do some big events in the South Bay because they don't happen here," says crew founder, MC and DJ Ax1om, a.k.a. SJSU student Ben Daniels. "There's such a viable urban and hip-hop community here. There are so many things to do with that culture and that's really where we want to push the envelope."

And it's clicking. Clandestine's weekly throw-downs held on Wednesdays at Johnny V's downtown club have become the ultimate South Bay hump-day party.

"It's probably our most consistent night," says Johnny Van Wyk, Johnny V's owner. "We know that every Wednesday is going to be good. If you walk around downtown San Jose on a Wednesday night, pretty much everyone else is dead—except us."

The Clandestine crew's roots stretch back to the Cactus Club, where Ax1om and others in a collective known as KillaSubz spun on Wednesday nights. The closing of the Cactus was like a torpedo to the heart of the KillaSubz, but the idea, to create a vibrant San Jose scene of DJs, was still alive. It was a bad time for DJs in the Bay Area—clubs were closing and the rave scene was just about kaput. But just like at the end of a cliché Hollywood movie—where the solution to every problem comes when someone cries out "Let's put on a show!"—the remains of the KillaSubz formed the San Jose Drum and Bass Collective. Although roughly 300 folks initially showed interest in the project, the Collective was whittled down to a core group of DJs and producers that would include such future Clandestine members as CK (Ivan Jakic), Yo Mama (Nick Guilford) and Influ3nz (Mark Anthony Gamab). At first, the boys were spinning drum 'n' bass in one room of Kleidon's, while the other side of the building was devoted to heavy metal, to often meager crowds.

"It could be playing for a room filled with two people, and that might be my roommate and my best friend. And sometimes there might be only one person because my roommate would be spinning also while my best friend was dancing," Ax1om recalled. "We had our ups and downs. We never made any money. We didn't charge at the door. We struggled for most of that time. And I ended up paying out of pocket to keep it going. I couldn't let something like this die."

A few months into the run, the crowds began to pick up and a scene was developing. The name, Clandestine, started to be recognized outside of the South Bay, as the DJs traveled to other Bay Area clubs. A turning point was when Clandestine added hip-hop and MCs to the mix. The audience grew more diverse as B-boys and B-girls from as far away as Oakland and San Francisco began to show up regularly. Unfortunately, like with the Cactus Club earlier, Kleidon's was shut down. Clandestine would find a new home at Johnny V's in January 2003. By this time, the crew had added many new members, including Fish (Matt Guilford), Aphelion (Rick Fish), Fenix (Daniel Nuno) and Proxy (Mitch Bacigalupi).

Today, Clandestine runs deep. Ax1om is the granddaddy of the crew, having been at the drum 'n' bass DJ game since 1992 playing such Bay Area parties as Phuturo, Compression and Flex. CK, Proxy and Fenix are other longtime d+b facilitators. Aphelion handles some of the outside talent booking but he can also work the magic as a junglist. Yo Mama adds record production to the mix. Influ3nz can do it all behind the turntable, equally cool cozying up to hip-hop or d+b, and is also a graphic designer. Fish spins a little hip-hop but his main skill is as a hip-hop/d+b microphonist. Other DJs/MCs in the crew include Rezz, Jest-One and Ravenous.

It took time for Clandestine to develop at Johnny V's, but by the time the warm weather months hit, the club night attracted a steady, diverse, mostly twentysomething crowd. The vibe is mellow and accepting, despite the hard-driving BPMs.

"We get a bit of both worlds," Influ3nz said. "It's cool that we have this venue where someone can go and just sit at the bar and drink and not feel like they have to get up and dance. And then there's this group of people that go out and don't even drink; they're just there to dance."

As the clock inches toward 1am, the downstairs dance floor at Johnny's is slammed as even the two older dudes stapled to the bar have kicked up their feet near two giggly college girls. It's hard to imagine that either these dudes or the girls could identify what they are dancing to. And, honestly, it probably doesn't matter one lick. What's important is that thickly pulsating sounds and slick wordplay is getting them off. This difference is important to the members of Clandestine. Despite the addition of hip-hop, this troupe seems committed, first and foremost, to drum 'n' bass. That's where the name might factor in. They are slowly, slyly, educating their listeners about d+b by utilizing hip-hop as a draw.

"We are trying to bridge the gap between the stuff that might feel like it's not accessible and hip-hop," Influ3nz says. "Maybe we will make a fan out of one or two people a night. And if we affect just one person we are happy."

Johnny V's hosts Clandestine every Wednesday night at 31 E. Santa Clara St. in downtown San Jose. (408.947.8470; www.clubclandestine.com)

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From the December 15-21, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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