- The club-as-church metaphor is a tired cliché, but when a DJ has been at the pulpit for 25 years, it's not a stretch to think of his followers as the faithful. On a late summer weekend in August, fans of Wayne Davis, one of Baltimore's oldest and most influential DJs, flocked from across the US for one final pilgrimage at Paradox, the legendary club that, after 25 years, was shutting its doors for good.
Paradox, an unassuming warehouse in an industrial area-turned entertainment district, has been a pillar of dance music in Baltimore since it opened in 1991. The afterhours spot nurtured the sound of The Basement Boys, birthed the frenetic club music of Unruly Records, and served as a techno and breaks outpost of '90s rave culture with the Fever and Sunday Mass parties. Its immersive and precise soundsystem was designed by New York audio engineers Richard Long and Dave Soto, the team behind Paradise Garage and Zanzibar.
For Davis, who came of age traveling to New York and New Jersey in the heyday of Paradise Garage and Zanzibar, house and disco have always been his first love. It made sense, then, that Paradox's last dance would centre on the music closest to his heart. (The club's other styles were given their chance to say goodbye earlier in the year.) Davis turned to the Deep Sugar crew, AKA Ultra Naté and Lisa Moody, whose underground house night helped revive Paradox and lure Davis back to the decks in the mid-'00s. They were supported by a cast of DJs from Baltimore's deep house scene, such as DJ Oji.
The party started at 11 PM but Davis didn't take over in the main room until 4:30 AM. A huge sign reading "Mothership" hung in front of the booth. Using a laptop on a night where CD-Rs were the weapon of choice, he fired an early warning shot with Boddhi Satva's "Xe Mana Bella." This hard cut of African house, released only weeks ago, reminded the crowd that however nostalgic things might get later on, there was always a place for current bangers.
That said, Davis spent most of his set dialling back the clock. Norman Connor's disco charmer “Stella”, Joey Negro's re-edit of Gladys Knight's "Taste Of The Bitter Love," and Roy Ayers' timeless "Running Away" all had the floor in a reverie. Many of the dancers were black folk in their '40s and 50s who had been dancing to Davis for many years, back when he owned two other clubs, Odell's and Fantasy, and nightlife was more segregated.
As the day wore on and morning crept into afternoon, emotions got raw. At one point in the courtyard outside, the club's sound engineer Mookie Wizzo, who fine-tuned Paradox's soundsystem by hand, dropped A Guy Called Gerald's "Voodoo Ray," sparking a wave of memories for those who first heard the record at the club. Inside, Ultra Naté wiped away tears as the chorus of Blaze's "Family" echoed through the room: "We are a family / Like a giant tree."
Davis played the official last record around 3 PM on Sunday, 16 hours after the party began. Some time around then, Masters At Work's Louie Vega, who had been watching events unfold from London via social media, posted a message. "A historical place for our music never forget!!!" (Vega once told me that Paradox sits among his top ten favourite clubs in the world.) To close the marathon, Davis chose Womack & Womack's slow jam, "Baby I'm Scared Of You." "Excellent choice," Vega wrote back.