Niche turns up the volume for the EDM community

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You would never guess what they keep on the second floor of the Uptown Arts Bar. It’s not office space or stock for the bar or old furniture. No, in the 600-square-foot room, there’s another venue: an electronic dance club called Niche.

The bar is small, but that’s fine because at Niche, drinks are a bonus — the real draw is the sound system: a state-of-the-art setup that’s the brainchild of DJs Ben Dorrell and Brandon Dremann. Dorrell and Dremann call it Meta Hi-Fi, and it’s a rectangular fortress, taking up a third of the room. Two pristine turntables sit on top of four subwoofers — loudspeakers — that Dorrell, a cabinetmaker by trade, and Dremann built themselves.

“We built them using these designs by a guy named Bill Fitzmaurice,” Dremann says, arms crossed, gazing at his work. “His plans recommended two of them for a 200-person venue, and obviously we used four of them in this room, which probably fits 50 at most.”

“I wanted a small space,” Dorrell adds. “That was always the intention. I wanted to focus on quality over quantity, and I felt like a smaller room would give me that.”

Dorrell is referring to sound quality, which is crucial for anyone with a modicum of interest in electronic and house music. The Meta Hi-Fi speakers, Dremann adds, are designed to hit as low and hard as possible.

“It’s deeper sounds that we play here,” Dremann says, “and they require a sound system that is the second half of music. It’s very ear-opening to hear music that you make on this system. You don’t get that anywhere else, not even the Midland. There’s a lot of pressure — like, literal pressure — with the brick walls and smallness of this room. Your whole body is included in the feeling.”

If the upstairs of the Uptown Arts Bar sounds like an unlikely place for an EDM club, you’d best keep your skepticism to yourself. The Uptown Arts Bar’s general manager, Jeanette Powers, sees Niche as an obvious fit within the greater purpose of the bar.

“Part of our mission statement is fulfilling the needs of an underrepresented portion of the artistic community,” she says. “At Niche, we want to give emerging artists a platform to put on shows with top-of-the-line equipment. That’s something that can be next to impossible for an unestablished artist. It would take them years to play at Sandstone [Cricket Wireless Amphitheater] or a place like that. But here, they’ve got the equipment — and a home.”

Dremann and Dorrell, it should be noted, are a far cry from Skrillex-variety EDM DJs. Niche isn’t a rave scene, they insist; it’s a venue designed specifically for up-and-coming DJs and electronic-music fans who have a more cerebral interest in the genre.

“The way I try to describe it to people is this: The lead instrument is the bass, whether it’s a kick drum or bass line, and if you don’t have that impact, then you’re just missing it,” Dorrell says. “There was nowhere in town for us to play that kind of music — bass music — and it just had to be done. I couldn’t afford to just buy a good system, so my only option was to do it myself.”

Dorrell began working on the speakers in November 2012; nearly a year and a half later, in April 2014, Niche officially became a venue, with weekly DJ nights on most Saturdays. Dorrell, of course, was comfortable at his tables, but more often, he played host to the burgeoning community of up-and-coming electronic artists — and sometimes national and international DJs. And starting this month, Niche isex expanding its calendar: Dremann is booking the space on Thursdays and Fridays, as well as the occasional Wednesday.

“Having this space open five nights a month was not reaching all the community we could reach,” Powers says. “The launch party on October 17 is really about celebrating Niche and continuing to expand on what we do here.”

“It’s always about the community,” Dorrell adds. “The sound system is equally important to the people that show up, the bartenders, the DJs that come, the people that make the music for the DJs. All of that stuff is on an equal plane. The room, the vibe, everything should be cohesive — I want the experience to be the reason you go.”

Categories: Music