Four beats of four quarter-notes equals 4/4 time. It’s a basic equation for anyone with a passing knowledge of music notation, but one with a huge impact, because that time signature underlies a whole range of electronic music from house to techno to disco. While some skeptics prefer that their dance music incorporate more complicated polyrhythms, the magic of that simple beat structure is what captivated the curatorial minds behind Studio 4/4, a weekly party at Q Nightclub that celebrated its fourth anniversary last night with a headline set by the Black Madonna.
The Thursday night soirée has been a staple on the Seattle scene for those looking to boogie down to some of the finest names on the international house and techno circuit in an intimate club setting as opposed to a shoehorned festival slot. Studio 4/4’s brain trust thus far has brought a bevy of talent to town: minimal-techno doyenne Ellen Allien, elder statesman Danny Tenaglia, cosmic controller Damian Lazarus, locally bred breakbeater DJ Dan, Mediterranean techno purveyor Guy Gerber, and leading ladies of house DJ Colette and DJ Heather.
But with an anniversary whose numeral coincides with their own treasured integer, props to Studio 4/4 for pulling out the stops to bring the Black Madonna, who hasn’t graced us with her presence since she played the last Decibel back in 2015. Since her most recent visit, the creative director of Chicago’s cutting-edge Smart Bar and vocal champion of electronic dance music’s downtrodden roots has seen her star skyrocket to landing coveted headline slots at taste-maker festivals like Amsterdam’s Dekmantel.
A more than healthy crowd packed Q last night for the occasion, with club culture’s true believers thankfully outnumbering the yahoos. For every two shirtless bros twirling their Oxfords above their heads like Chippendales and one woo girl splayed out on the floor, there was a much larger assortment of ravers, house heads, and Burners with still-playa-dusted fur coats. I spotted at least one “I <3 You But I’ve Chosen Flammable” T-shirt, the obligatory “I Love House Music” pictogram, and my new favorite: Lettuce Turnip The Beet.
Most importantly, there was a heartening quotient of talented dancers—one of Seattle nightlife’s great Achilles heels—who wasted no time digging into early sets by D’Jessique and Derek Pavone. Of particular note was the undercard by Julie Herrera, a veteran local DJ, whose dirty deep house lubed up the joints for the Black Madonna’s sermon. I was in early bliss when she dropped a house remix of Max Romeo’s 1976 reggae classic “Chase the Devil” (aka “Iron Shirt”). The booming bass on Q’s Funktion One sound system—the city’s finest—had my pant legs vibrating and my nostril hairs tingling. It was a refreshing reminder that listening can also be an intensely physical experience.
Cheers erupted when the Black Madonna took to the booth. I pre-gamed at home to her 2015 Boiler Room mix, a veritable lesson in dance-music history, but at Q she pulled mostly recent tracks—including one Italian cut less than a week old—that nevertheless had a retro feel. The screaming sax on a new Louise Vega remix of a disco classic set the tone for a night that hovered in the realm of uplifting vocal house and off-beat disco. A wonky Italo disco number thinned the crowd for a bit, but “Funk That,” a fabulous, politically charged tune by Turntables on the Hudson maestro Nickodemus with vocals from the Illustrious Blacks reset the dancefloor ablaze with some locally resonant lyrics like “Question: Why is it that my rent keeps going up but my paycheck still stays the same?”
While techno has become the dominant paradigm in underground electronic music, the Black Madonna provided a stirring rejoinder that house music born in Chicago’s black gay community remains vital and potent, perhaps all the more so in an era of ascendant white supremacy.
On the eve of the anniversary, Studio 4/4 announced it will be switching from the weekly format to more occasional special bookings. That change will be all the more reason not to miss future editions. Already my next two Thursdays are booked for techno titan Richie Hawtin and Tensnake’s slinky disco-house. Yours should be, too.