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Man, how sweet would it be to work for Ubiquity Records? The Costa Mesa-based label is justly world-renowned for its excellent roster and killer catalog, of course. Many DJs and discerning heads love the Ubiquity aesthetic. But the company's much more than a source of drool-inspiring releases and cool merch. Its employees are supremely talented and dedicated music aficionados, DJs, musicians and record collectors, too. And they're not content to hide their lights under bushels.
Case in point: A handful of Ubiquity-ites are helming a new weekly showcase at Memphis Café in Costa Mesa called Soul Kitchen (the name aptly alludes to Memphis' Southern-comfort-food-laden menu). DJs Jason Pulaski and Kei Abe will be the constants of this Thursday-night "musical journey of the past, present and future," which began in mid-December. Talented co-workers and fellow ruthless crate-diggers Andrew Meza, Scotty Coats, John Basil, and Ubiquity co-founders Mike and Jody McFadin will figure heavily in the rotation. Also guesting on the decks will be Ubiquity artists rolling through OC. Think of Soul Kitchen as a family gathering at which your kin have the most impeccable collection of soul and funk records in Orange County. It's a sonic motherlode for ya.
The Soul Kitchen moniker pays tribute to a similarly named night started in 1987 by the married McFadins. The main motivation for it is "to give another outlet for us as employees of Ubiquity to showcase our talents and love of music," says the 28-year-old Pulaski, the company's radio-promotions guy. "And there's not much going on on Thursday nights that I know of in the area—at least not soul- and funk-oriented."
"I think soul and funk have dropped off the map lately around here," observes Coats, 31, head of domestic and international sales for Ubiquity. Aside from the monthly Good Foot at Que Sera, he has a point.
While the majority of crucial soul and funk originated in the '60s and '70s, Soul Kitchen's jocks will play said genres from all eras. If the music's excellent, release dates are irrelevant. To that end, Pulaski and Coats say, active artists such as Poets of Rhythm, Orgone, Connie Price, the Dap-Kings and Nicole Willis will receive turntable time.
Coats and Pulaski got into funk and soul via hip-hop; they'd read the credits for the samples, and then search for the original artists' releases. Pulaski now hosts Innamissions on KUCI-FM 88.9 on Monday nights, exploring hip-hop and its building blocks. Before Coats discovered hip-hop, though, he was introduced to soul and funk through his mother's record collection.
"When I was a kid," Coats recalls, "I remember my mom listening to the surface soul artists, like Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Jackie Wilson. Being into hip-hop in the late '80s and learning where samples came from-that was so exciting to me because I got to one-up my friends. It makes you dig deeper when you've got 10 people to one-up one another. You see that the bass player on [Mandrill's] 'Mango Meat' did these other side projects, and you dig into them, and it's never-ending."
Like most great DJs, Coats and Pulaski realize that the search for aural treasures is a lifelong pursuit and contentment equals stagnation. Luckily, stored in Ubiquity's HQ is the McFadins' legendary stash of wax, some of which will get exposed at Soul Kitchen. The collection, Coats states, is locked in a vault at Ubiquity, protected by Dobermans, surrounded by electric fences and a moat. Records can only be checked out by giving retina scans and thumbprints. He jests, but the way these cats talk about the vinyl therein, one would think this scenario true.
Soul Kitchen's goal is fairly straightforward: "We're just doing our thing and hoping people are interested," Coats says. "To me, a lot of the nights in town are becoming close to the same. When [Memphis Café] first opened, Danny Love did a soul night that was great."
"I envision a similar crowd on Fridays [at Memphis, Abstract Workshop's Versatile night]," Pulaski says, "even though Fridays are more hip-hop- and dance-oriented."
The DJs see Soul Kitchen's demo consisting largely of people in their mid-20s and early 30s. "The whole thing will be trying to keep the dinner crowd that's already here hanging out for a while longer," Coats says, "and slowly building the night, getting the right people here who enjoy what we're doing, not so much trying to make it a club dance party." The challenge will be finding a happy medium where both soul/funk connoisseurs and casual clubbers can get down.
It seems that with Ubiquity's reputation, it should draw people from outside the immediate area. "We're hoping that," Coats says. "We go out during the week and tell everybody about it. It's a lot of word-of-mouth stuff. I just want to trainspot my friends' record collections."
Ah: It's an ideal combo of selfish and altruistic. This county needs more nights like Soul Kitchen, fueled by people who truly know timeless music. The first track Kei drops on a recent night, the Isley Brothers' "Work to Do," neatly sums up Soul Kitchen's mission statement to bring rare gems to an area that mostly wants to hear "Billie Jean," "Umbrella" and "We Are Your Friends," ad infinitum.
Soul Kitchen at Memphis Café, 2920 Bristol Ave., Costa Mesa, (714) 432-7685; www.memphiscafe.com. Every Thurs., 10 p.m.-2 a.m. Free.