Gaia Eyes a New Age of D.C. Club Life
"We're definitely profit-driven, so we're not hippies," says Nico Laget, a man who sees serious benefits in the blending of pulsing house music and real-life congas.
Laget, 37, is the chief agent of D.C.'s "Gaia" parties, which are essentially immersive, multimedia, New Age-y house-music nights. A Frenchman born and raised in Africa, he is a veteran of D.C. clubs like the defunct Red Lounge, operates an Annandale recording studio, and runs the local Asahra label, for which he records under the sobriquet Kolai and crafts downtempo songs occasionally suggestive of Sting's moon-gazing, mid-career world music. And he's hoping that whatever you call that combination of impulses—of Earth-child and club kid, of ashram and Ibiza—it can be spelled with dollar signs.
And so he wants to open a permanent Gaia venue in D.C.
Which is why he's taking the Gaia parties, which started last summer, for a bit of a test run, with a seven-night residency at the Fridge gallery on Barracks Row that begins tonight and stretches over the next three weekends. Look at the description of tonight's performers and you get a sense of Gaia's M.O.: DJs spinning house and soul, someone named D'Blend handling "visuals," Laget on flute and sax, MCs, a lighting artist, a percussionist. And Kim Reyes, responsible for "body paint."
Saturday's theme is "Rock Electro," and will involve a didgeridoo and something called contact juggling. Some recognizable local musicians will be appearing throughout the residency, like hip-hop group The Cornel West Theory and electro-poppers Alvin Risk.
"The philosophy of Gaia is that art is the most potent way for people to communicate," Laget says. "Language is terrible, even body language is bad, but emotions felt in common through the arts, that is very powerful."
The Fridge space is fairly traditional: Performers work from a stage, which faces an area for dancing. But Laget's vision requires a different set-up, he says. "The ultimate Gaia venue will be a multimedia-equipped space–we’re different artists of different media," he says. "Dancers would have an appropriate floor, lighting and sound would be good. Also, the ceiling would be tall enough so that you could suspend people on wires so you could have aerial dancing. It would be circular because that is the shape of earth and there is something human about cycles and sitting around the fire." The idea is to ring performers around the room, and place clubgoers in the center—imagine a rave on Avatar's Pandora moon, and you're probably not too far off.
Laget says he hasn't found the right space yet—he's also looking for investors. But he's confident he can make the club profitable, even while bucking the dominant nightlife model.
"You have a club and you use it and it's open from 6 to 2 in the morning, so you’re sitting on a piece of real estate that’s completely useless to anyone the rest of the time," he says. "Most people who have clubs or lounges that exist at night are not the same people who would use the space during the day." A Gaia space, he says, could be used for art or yoga or other activities during normal business hours.
He's not worried about a draw, either. Take your typical house-music set: "If you add one conga player, people go nuts," Laget says. "What effect could we achieve if we took a little time to build a pedestal for the conga player, give him a spotlight?”
Tonight's "Gaia" party takes place from 9 p.m to 1 a.m. at the Fridge, rear alley, 516 8th St. SE. $10.