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According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “archive” is defined as “a place for keeping records.” While the definition isn't referring to vinyl 45 rpm “records” specifically, this definition fits what the members of the Grand Rapids Soul Club do with 60's and 70's soul, funk and R & B records both figuratively and literally. By digging deep into record store vinyl like archeologists at a cultural dig, connecting with other like minded collectors, the Soul Club share the wealth of their findings with the rest of Grand Rapids.
Since January of this year, DJ's Andrew Christopoulos, Mike Saunders and Josh Breuer have been hosting raucous, revivalist and retro soul music dance parties primarily at the Pyramid Scheme (68 Commerce Ave SW). Armed with hard-shell boxes of 45s, the three have been spinning out of this world choice soul and funk records at the Soul Club events and in the process attracting a diverse and wide demographic of people who come to dance to the rare grooves that this unique dance night offers. As past Soulclub attendee Ryan Vandernee states “The coolest thing about Soul Club is the cross demographics, people in their mid 20s to their mid 40s.”
Christopoulos, Saunders and Breuer share that most important ingredient of music aficionados– an insatiable thirst for new and old sounds. While Breuer was a DJ at Founders Brewing Co (235 Grandville Ave. SW). Last Sunday spins, the three bonded over the deep grooves and wide emotional spectrum of joyous highs and crushing lows that soul music provides. “It is easy to hang out, party and play records,” Saunders says.
Christopoulos first began collecting rare soul 45s looking for original samples and beats for his own music as a producer. He describes his love of soul music as having a “stronger emotional connection” to the music. “I gravitated toward soul music. I felt a personal connection to the lyrics and the aesthetic,” he says.
Bringing it back home
One unique aspect of a Grand Rapids Soul Club event are the compilation cds that are only available at the events. The cds come packaged in tasteful hand screened jackets and each compilation features a unique playlist of songs, many of which are soul bands from the Grand Rapids area circa the late 60s and early 70s. Long forgotten Grand Rapids artists such as The Black Aces of Soul, Spot and the Blotters, The People's Choice, Jackie Beavers, Tommy McGee, and The US have been featured on the first three Soulclub compilations.
Saunders recounts a serendipitous story about playing a Spot and the Blotters song late one night at WYCE and a listener called familiar with the song, called in, beaming with excitement at having heard this song on the radio after so many years.
All three unanimously agreed the song “Destruction” by The People's Choice available on the first Soul Club compilation is a must listen for anyone living in Grand Rapids. “Everyone in Grand Rapids should know and be proud of the relevant context of that song and how dope and funky it is,” Saunders says.
“Soul” is defined as “the immaterial essence of an individual life.” and “a strong, positive feeling (as of intense sensitivity and emotional fervor).” Sadly, one of the founding members of the Grand Rapids Soul Club passed away before the first event at the Pyramid Scheme in January. Aaron Anderson, who was instrumental in getting the group started and assisted in making the first compilation, passed away from a brain tumor in September 2011.
Despite the loss, Christopoulos, Saunders and Breuer have forged on and hope to continue to build the audience in Grand Rapids. Perhaps by finding inspiration from the loss of a close friend who shared their love and enthusiasm for soul music. All three describe how soul music can bring people together across demographics. Breuer describes what could be the group’s manifesto, “We want to keep the music alive, throw a good party and its really good music to dance to.”
There are many themed dance nights in Grand Rapids, but none that offer the type of music the Grand Rapids Soul Club offers. It is a unique and special regional event that adds to the cultural flavor of the city. Or as the enthusiastic Soulclub fan Marcus Dengerink says, “If you haven't been to Soul Club, you should eat your liver. It's the best damn DJ show in town.”
The next Grand Rapids Soul Club event is 9:00 pm, Friday July 27th at the Pyramid Scheme.
Grand Rapids Soul Club DJ Mike Saunders will be on WYCE’s Local Resonance at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, July 27. Tune in (88.1 FM or WYCE.org) to hear some of the records they will be spinning on Friday's Grand Rapids Soulclub at the Pyramid Scheme.
Steven Davison was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Mi. He holds degrees in English, Environmental Studies and Geography.