Columbus, Ohio USA
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Culture 7 Records
Garden District Groovers
By Nick Wilson aka Poppa Hopp
A dance music junkie, owner Fred Dowdy cut his DJ teeth
in the disco days of 1978
Caught between the booming Short North and the decaying campus strip is the affectionately titled Garden District, an area long bearing a "seedy" nametag that is currently enjoying an economic rebirth. Businesses now populating this longtime "no-man's land" are largely a mixture of Campus Partner escapees and Short North wannabes. Huddled together, they have managed to create a "shopping destination" for many Columbus residents who may have never even unlocked their car doors in this area in years past. One such shop is Culture 7 Records, the essential place to go for dance music lovers looking for that special piece of DJ vinyl or compact disc party groover.
Based in Cincinnati, Culture 7 had long been "the" place to shop for hi-nrg and house music for DJ's all over the country, and Columbus was no exception. "I made trips to C7 once a month," says current employee and respected Columbus DJ Rob Engel. For 13 years, Culture 7 called Cincinnati home, relocating several times under the ownership of Andy Starr who chose to pursue his lucrative bridalwear business in lieu of dance music retail, eventually selling the store to Fred Dowdy.
Fred, a dance music junkie who cut his DJ teeth in the disco days of 1978, had been a C7 customer and was all too happy to get his hands on the thousands of records he had been pecking at for years previous. Being a close-to-lifelong resident of Columbus, he decided to move shop to Cowtown and opened his doors in July 1996.
Originally intending to locate the store in the Short North area, Fred was unable to secure a storefront anywhere close and found himself giving it a go at the Pier 1 plaza across from the Graceland Shopping Center. "We looked at this building and I was so afraid of the neighborhood I didn"t want it, which has changed of course," Fred said of his current home. "The Graceland location had easy access, but we couldn't get the walkthrough business we needed. We had enough people who wouldn't make the trek that we were losing business. Even now, I'd like to be further south."
To help take advantage of an already strong mail order business until he could move his store to a stronger locale, Fred set up a Web site for the shop to pick up the slack. The Web site has done so well, even in its somewhat limited format, that he now has his sights set on making it a true state-of-the-art buying center for dance music aficionados.
Culture 7 made the move to its current location in March of this year and is a massive shop dedicated solely to dance music in all of its many splintered genres and forms. Defining dance music is tricky, especially since the nineties have spawned such an overwhelming amount of tightly defined genres, separated at times by something as simple as a "drum sound." For that reason, Fred says that C7 employs dance music specialists to assist customers interested in any type of dance music. "You get different types of people with different levels of knowledge; our best resource is our staff, like Patrick who is a Billboard Magazine DJ and knows pop dance music, Rob who is a progressive house music specialist, and we have others who take care of other genres. We have sections for people who know what they want, but it can be a challenge sometimes to help people who don't know what they are looking for." Things certainly have become more difficult for the casual dance music buyer, "Remember," says Rob, "six or seven years ago you only really had house and techno," and now every dance magazine has about a dozen genres to choose from in the "reviews" sections alone!
Still can't tell hard house from techno or progressive house from trance, even after a tutoring session from the pros? Don't worry &endash; just buy what you like by taking advantage of Culture 7's listening posts for vinyl and CD releases. As Fred states, "We prefer you listen to what you take out because we want you to get what you want," adding that this type of service helps to ensure that every dollar spent is well spent and exposes customers to music that they normally could not afford to take a chance on elsewhere. "You don't get that opportunity at big stores like Media Play," he says. Customers like Brandon Jackson, who shopped as I talked to the staff, proved this point by spending close to $87 on jungle records, about half of which was spent on artists he had never heard of.
When you go to Culture 7 looking for a specific tune, there is a pretty good chance that C7 had a hand in catching your attention. Staffers are for the most part club DJ's at top Columbus clubs, with decades of working experience, and C7 sponsors the city's longest running dance music radio program, Michael Swaggerty's "All Mixed Up" Saturday nights from 10pm until Midnight on WCBE 90.5 FM.
Rob Engel, respected club CJ and C7 staff member, stands at a listening post in the store.
Rob Engel, for example, paid his dues with his legendary Wednesday night at Wall Street in the mid-90's and now shuffles feet at newly opened Glow on Fridays and Axis on Saturdays among other gigs. What worries Rob about the club scene in Columbus is "the emphasis placed on guest DJ's who might get paid $3000 for two hours work while resident DJ's might not even make $200." For those of you not familiar with the industry, DJ's are the new rock stars and can demand extraordinary amounts of money to perform. I asked Rob what length of time $200 worth of records cover. "100 minutes if you are working it," he deadpans, "200 minutes if you are lazy!"
Day-to-day operations, management, promotions and head buying responsibilities go to Patrick Finn. "When things are going good I am the manager, when they are going bad I am just an employee!" he jokes. He has spent 10 years as a club DJ in Columbus, including many a night at the Eagle, and currently spends his weekends spinning tunes at area Gay clubs Axis, Odyssey, and Trade Winds. Like most DJ's his set will change depending on the crowd. "I always want to know before I spin somewhere the demographics of the audience; age, gay, straight, male, female, drinking or drug-dealing crowd are all important factors." So what are you going to hear if you are part of a 50/50 heterosexual drug-dealing crowd? "I am going to play hard-driving stuff without a lot of vocals, nothing from mainstream radio because that is not cool!" And you thought a DJ just played records - it is science folks!
On the "future" front, look for Culture 7 to get into some one-off club sponsorship events, and make use of their lower level, possibly as a lounge. Any last words, Fred? "If you are remotely curious, invest the time, you can listen to anything in the store. Take a couple of minutes and let us recommend something. Who knows, you might find something really cool. That is what happened to me in the 70's and a whole new world opened up for me.
Poppa Hopp can be heard weekly on "Change Up The Groove" which airs Saturday nights from Midnight - 2am on WCBE 90.5 FM.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The store is no longer open at this location
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