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Balkan Dance Parties are back! (and the creative significance of residencies)

WPO is thrilled to be playing Ortlieb's (3rd and Poplar) every second Thursday of the month, staring Oct. 12th, 2023. We'll play a few sets between 9 and 12 and, weather permitting, it may begin with a parade around the neighborhood. We ask $10 and encourage you to visit the bar often. We encourage you to leave behind your worries, your phones, your 'constrained' ordinary selves and let something new happen: let your body go free, let another voice emerge from within, and discover different modes of connection.

WPO has had residencies before and it's so important to us. Not having one since the pandemic has been weird. The first one was at Tritone on 15th and South. We began with one Sunday per month and it grew and grew until our Sunday nights were always packed and wild. A scene developed, a community emerged. It became a gathering spot for friends and many friendships were forged. For us, it was a chance to try out new songs and rhythms. I (Gregg) wrote often wrote songs in the delirious haze of the mornings following the Tritone parties. I'd come home frustrated that we didn't have a song to extend the energy we had while playing, for example, Burkan Cocek, and knowing that we needed more songs that felt like that for next time. And so I'd either transcribe a song from a recording I loved or compose one of my own ("Out of the Fly Bottle" was written like this).

When Tritone closed, we moved to Thursdays at Underground Arts. Then we moved to playing weekly at Franky Bradley's, on Tuesdays This was fantastic for the band - playing every week made us so much better. But playing every week was a heavy commitment over time, and Tuesdays aren't for partying so audiences weren't always robust; we asked, but couldn't get the club to give us a party night. And then the pandemic...

Residencies are so important. They help create a community, and that's the most important thing. The evolutionary role of music, and why it exists in the first place, is to bring people together and create bonds within communities. It's not to make corporations rich, gain online followers as an 'influencer,' sell a million unaffordable concert tickets, game the streaming algorithms, or get your songs playlisted or even played on the radio. What capitalism has done to music culture in the last 75 years is so extreme and unprecedented. And there's some great aspects of it too (records, accessibility to music from all over, etc.), and we're never going back to what was nor should we want to. But if we only play one-off shows at different clubs in the city and then go out touring, we are not creating community in the way that a residency affords us.

WPO was not the first to discover this. In David Byrne's essay, "How to Make a Scene" from his book How Music Works, he reflects upon CBGB in the late 70s, which famously incubated groups like Talking Heads, Television, Blondie and The Ramones. Byrne lays out a series of principles based on his experience with CBGB that every band and club-owner should internalize. For example, he says that there must be a venue of the right size in the right location where bands can experiment and play new material. The bands that play at the venue should hang out at the venue and support the other bands on the scene (band members should always be let in for free, he says, and treated like family). Byrne says there must be a sense of 'alienation from the prevailing scene' and that rent and entrance fees must affordable.

So, when you come out to Ortlieb's on the second Thursdays, expect it to feel different. We hope to recreate the magic of Tritone, which is to say we're all along for the ride. It won't be a 'show' on a stage - we are not the spectacle. We prefer playing down in the middle of the audience, surrounded with folks circling, dancing and whirling about us. No third wall, as if the third wall never existed. What we create is an organic connection to an audience and site specific to the club. The dancing inspires us to choose the next song, to know where to go next, and we build something together. The drummers watch the audiences, bending and punctuating the rhythms in dialogue with people's movements. Your joy and your dancing leads us. So "where we gonna go?

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