Hi MOM! The Motown on Mondays crew at 55 South. Photo by Brian Kirksey
A well-dressed yet casual crowd of varied age sips craft cocktails as they’re serenaded by the timeless voice of Marvin Gaye. While the legendary crooner’s delivery remains untouched, he’s supported by a hip-hop backdrop, complete with booming 808 kick. It seemed like the day’s rain may scare some away, but it’s 10:30pm on a Monday and 55 South is full.
Though just five weeks old, San Jose’s edition of the nationwide weekly dance party Motown On Mondays (MOM) has been a runaway success.
MOM has become a Monday institution in cities as varied as Austin, Oakland and Honolulu since first launching at Madrone Art Bar in San Francisco in 2009. Using the celebrated Motown label and its signature sound as a launch pad, the party re-examines a key period of American popular music by presenting originals alongside more contemporary remixes and close relatives of the sound.
“That’s the great thing about us: With all the MOMs, you have people from different walks of life giving their interpretation and their experience of what they think the music is,” says local DJ the CME, one of MOM SJ’s resident DJs.
San Jose’s eclectic roster of DJ covers all approaches, with some focusing on classics and others providing a more contemporary approach based around remixes.
Though Paolo “Cutso” Bello was the major force behind MOM’s expansion into San Jose, which he admits hit hyper-drive a month before its March 10 debut, the idea to pursue a Motown-related event had been bouncing around for close to two years.
Previously, Bello and fellow MOM SJ resident Tommy Aguilar (DJ Chatos1013) paired to present a string of successful one-off tribute parties at Pagoda Lounge. After nights dedicated to Prince, Michael Jackson and the Native Tongues crew, Motown was next on the list.
When Bello became a resident with MOM’s LA chapter, he was asked about the possibility of bringing the party to San Jose. At the time, the problem was finding the right venue.
Enter 55 South. When co-owner Paul Chun attended a MOM SF event two and a half months back, he was immediately inspired. He knew the party would fit the aesthetic of his spot.
“When I walked in, it just struck a chord,” he recalls. “I’ve been doing this for so long that you know when somebody’s doing something that’s unique and really catches people.”
Bello pitched him the MOM SJ idea shortly thereafter, and Chun was more than eager to make it happen. While 55 South wasn’t the only space Bello pitched, they were definitely the most enthusiastic.
“He was really putting everything on the table,” Bello says, remembering Chun’s enthusiasm for the idea. When MOM’s founders provide their blessing for the space, Bello rushed to finalize plans. Two weeks later, the party made its debut.
While Bello expected the night to be a “sure shot,” he didn’t expect its rise to be so meteoric. “What place in San Jose has a line going outside on a Monday night?” he says. “Not since Cactus Club have you seen something like that.”
San Jose’s connection to soul music may seem curious to some, but both Bello and Aguilar trace it back to the city’s ties to lowrider culture.
“Chicanos and that whole culture embraced soul music,” notes Bello. “Also, if you have a relationship with hip-hop, you have a relationship with Motown, whether you like it or not.”
Aguilar elaborates: “Mariachis and Motown—that sums it up right there. It was the main part of the soundtrack for that community. We embrace it as our own.”
Thanks to the fame of the MOM brand—and what all parties involved describe as a need for a format outside the typical club top 40—MOM SJ has found instant success.
“It’s a 50/50 thing: There’s definitely people that want to go out and hear this music, and there’s definitely DJs that want to play this music,” says MOM SJ resident SheaButter. “That’s where it’s a team effort.”
Cutso (The Bangerz)
DJ Dstrukt (BVMO)
Shea Butter (BVMO)
DJ Quantum (Headhunters)
The C.M.E. (Slapnasties)
Chatos 1013 (Ungramr)
Hosted by Dandiggity (PLSTK)
Mowtown on Mondays is every Monday at 55 South. More info.