After Hitting it Big Overseas, Soul Providers Want to Beam Some Continental Style on Charm City with Luv Shine
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As the Baltimore house DJ/production duo Soul Providers, Jason Papillon and Ian Carey have played at some of the best clubs in the Western world. At least, Papillon thinks so. He's spun at clubs in Amsterdam and Eindhoven in the Netherlands; Riccione and Ancona in Italy; Sheffield and Northampton in the United Kingdom. He's traveled to Sweden, Switzerland, and Latvia. He's even played at Rotterdam's Fast Forward Parade to a crowd of more than a million people. And he loves it.
In the clubs he's been to, it doesn't matter that Papillon is an African-American Catonsville native who likes Depeche Mode and Led Zeppelin as much as hip-hop and house, or that Carey is a young white guy from Hagerstown who prefers making music to talking about it. In these clubs, it doesn't matter who or what you are as long as you want to be there.
"I see all these things that happen all over the world, and it makes me think that Baltimore--and this is just my personal opinion--we don't have a proper nightlife," Papillon says.
So Papillon has decided to try to bring a bit of that continental brio to Charm City. This Sunday afternoon, Papillon stages Luv Shine, a stylish and entertaining mix of Baltimore's music and visual art, at Sonar Lounge's ample new downtown address. In one room, a downtempo mix of abstract jazz and underground hip-hop complements visual art from local artists Tracey Stevens, Timothy Johnston, Buddha, and Okocci. In another room, WWIN (95.9 FM) DJ Biskit spins underground house.
Papillon hopes Luv Shine can be the sort of event that's an antidote to Baltimore club's same old, same old. "The city's [clubs] are really formatted," he says. "I think the club owners have found a formula, and they don't want to change. It works, so they don't have to. I understand. They gotta eat. But it doesn't have to be that way all the time, every single night. The club doesn't have to have the same thing every time you go."
The thing is, Papillon doesn't think he's coming up some off-the-wall idea. A stylish, thorough approach to event planning is something that he sees at every club the Soul Providers play--from Club Five in Washington, D.C., to the Hotel Arena in Amsterdam, both places where the duo has monthly residencies. And he's had this itch to show his hometown what he's learned from his travels for some time.
"I've been wanting to do this party for two years," he says. "I've been waiting and waiting and waiting to do it in Baltimore. We do it all over the world, but we've never done it in the city. So I'm coming back now and doing it how I wanted to do it when we started."
Carey and Papillon teamed up in 1997 when Carey presided over a hip-hop night at Club Midnight, which occupied the space where the Ottobar is now. Papillon joined him, but soon they didn't like the way the nights were playing out.
"We had this really positive hip-hop element there, it was jam-packed," Papillon says. "We did a lot of open mics, rappers dueling it out. But it only takes a few people to ruin a whole club. And I tell you, one of the worst things to have in the world is a bunch of ol' teens, underage drinking, getting on in a hot club with a bunch of hoochies running around and getting upset because some other rapper is better than them. That's not a good combination at all. The vibe just shifted. So we just stopped it."
Already into house music, Papillon turned Carey onto it, and they started promoting a house night. Carey quickly fell in under the music's groove, and once they started establishing a small following, they decided to make their own music.
"We started to buy some gear and mix a few songs," Papillon recalls. "The Basement Boys, right here in Baltimore, put out one of our first records [2000's "Tango"]. It did OK. But our next record, [2000's] "Rise"--this record was the absolute number-one ticket to everything in my life at that time. It went gold in Canada, gold in the U.K. I don't know how well it did in the Netherlands, but that's how we got our monthly residence there. It did well in Germany and Switzerland, and did like copper and zinc here. And we didn't even know how well it was doing until we went to the  Winter Music Conference."
Miami's Winter Music Conference is the South by Southwest of dance and club music, a week-long event of DJs, producers, industry professionals, journalists, labels, and the beautiful fashionistas who fuel its late-night Wallpaper-magazine scenes around the world. Carey and Papillon attended because they were told it was a good place to network and plug their new 12-inch, "Rise." When they got there, they were stunned to find out people were already hip to their track.
"We were going around introducing ourselves, and people were like, 'So you're Soul Providers,'" Papillon says. "And I'm wondering how anybody had even heard of us. I remember I was sitting at this outdoor party, and I think Louie Vega was playing, and all of a sudden I hear our song. Here I was, I'm in Miami, I'm smoking on a cigar, I'm chilling and looking at people dancing to my record. We were broke as shit, but it was one of the best, best moments in my life."
Since, the Soul Providers have been riding a whirlwind powered by their own prolificacy. In the two and a half years since "Rise," they've started their own label, Élan Records, put out a Soul Providers album and numerous 12-inch singles and remixes (in addition to Élan's roster), all while globe-hopping to spin at clubs, festivals, and parties. It makes for a hectic schedule, but in that time they've gained a broader perspective about their music's niche in the industry. Not just how to make it, but how to market it and present it successfully. And in the process, Papillon has learned that there are more interesting ways to ply his skills than by getting a roomful of college-aged kids to boogie to radio hits.
"I just like the clubs over there way, way better than here in the States," Papillon says. "If you look at the people who listen to us, you have gay people, white folks, straight folks, black folks. It's just a clusterfuck of people. And I like that. I don't worry about who's white or who's black or whatever. If you want to come to the party, get on up."
Luv Shine takes place Sunday, Dec. 15, from 5 to 10 p.m. at Sonar Lounge. For info, visit www.luvshine.com or call (410) 405-4790.