Kahlon: The Cut Up Series - Baltimore’s Most Diverse Dance Party
How does one begin to sum up an experience such as Kahlon? Or maybe it’s best to leave it as that - “an experience”. Of all the parties and concerts I have been to - and believe me, there have been many - Kahlon has and continues to be the best and the brightest.
Born out of a need to unite yet highlight different artistic spaces within the city, its curators, Baltimore icons in their own right - Abdu Ali, DJ Genie, and Lawrence Burney - have been regularly holding this mini music festival at the The Crown - a popular venue for the city’s underground music scene - since November 2013 until it was announced that it would be ending in April of 2016. However, back both by popular demand and a fervent need for diverse artistic spaces Kahlon continues to persist. You have to understand, in a city that is as socio-economically and musically segregated as Baltimore, Kahlon is a beacon of hope aiming to unify people from all walks of life. It’s performative art functioning to uplift even in the midst of a year that has seen a disastrous election period that has had to bear witness to the apocalyptic rise of an orange demagogue that’s been able to get close to winning the presidency through promoting hatred. Kahlon exists as a “fuck you” to boundaries, both literal and figurative.
My first Kahlon has been one of the most standout experiences and I am pleased to say that their follow-up “The Cut Up Series” did not disappoint. As always, its curators pull from an eclectic mix of all genres that could be anything from rap to acid house to punk. Kahlon isn’t just a concert or an event, it’s an experience. This stage, is where many young independent artists both local and out of town have gotten their start. Past Kahlon’s have boasted a cache of talent from the likes of Princess Nokia, Junglepussy, and Dan Deacon, just to name a few.
In a nutshell, The Cut Up Series was sensory overload. DJ’s such as Logicoma and DJ Angel Baby played their sets amidst a dystopian backdrop depicting a fiery Baltimore in revolt. The chaos seen in those visuals matched the frenetic beats and energy of the musicians (check NeroScream and Nigel Frank) and dj’s that played sets reminiscent of the classic Bmore 90’s acid house that was once heard at the now closed yet iconic Paradox nightclub. Even if you weren’t old enough to be apart of the club scene you can still appreciate and be moved by the music. And besides, there are some things that just don’t go out of style.
Now, contrast that energy with something more quiet and intimate. In a smaller, darker room - also known as the Blue Room - attendees were treated to the spoken word stylings of poet D. Watkins. The whole room was quiet with the exception of the thumping bass pounding in the background from the Red Room just across the hall. If there’s one thing that Kahlon’s creators understand is creating intimacy between artist and attendee, drawing energy forth to create shows that are interactive and stimulating for everyone in the room. I saw this at the last Kahlon when Abdu Ali performed and invited guests on stage with him as he performed in the middle of the crowd as the audience clapped and chanted in unison with him (I can’t recall a more synchronized crowd in all my concert-going experience).
Last, but certainly not least, The Cut Up Series’ own headliner Leiomy Maldonado. At the beginning of the event I glimpsed this statuesque woman enter in and take in the space with an air of royalty and prestige. If you don’t know who Leiomy Maldonado is then I suggest you get on youtube.com right now and educate yourself. Leiomy is a seasoned dancer and professional voguer who is internationally known in the ballroom scene. How Kahlon was able to book her I don’t know but she certainly drew a crowd. As Beyoncé played in the background the crowd formed a circle around her to give her space as she death dropped and whipped her mane in perfect time.
Kahlon is an ode to the cultural misfits and fringe inhabitants - people of color, queer and trans people, women, and every existence in between. After attending a few past Kahlon’s already, the best way I can describe it is akin to an experiment in putting theoretical intersectionality into practiced reality. Looking at the bigger picture, Kahlon is an ideal as well as a hopeful indicator of what the future of art and Baltimore can be. And as the saying goes, “life imitates art”. However, if that’s not your thing then Kahlon definitely isn’t here to appease your fragility.
Update: For those cool kids that happen to be in the area, there will be a second installment to "The Cut Up Series" happening in February.
The Crowd: Art students, misfits, and miscreants.
Seen: Young man in full "art-nouveau-meets-Jidenna" gear. I may or may not be stalking his Instagram for styling tips.
Note: Never underestimate the power of a well-paced Beyoncé track and a glittery cat suit.