No one seems to care that the building next to the club is on fire. It’s about 11:30 p.m., and people in the line of twenty-somethings outside the warehouse in St. Louis’ Near North Riverfront neighborhood are much more preoccupied with the music thumping from the venue than the smoke billowing from what looks like an abandoned building across the street. Either that, or they’re busy snapping pictures of their fits, smoking cigs or peeing in the overgrown grass in front of the Cotton Belt Freight Depot.
The fire wasn’t what mattered anyway (and by the end of the night, the building seemed fine). Everyone was there for an experience — one they’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in St. Louis.
A rotating set of DJs — most from St. Louis, with guests from New York or Los Angeles — play anything from house music to trance. Bodies inside the giant converted warehouse move almost in unison as they dance. Lasers cast a multi-colored glow.
This is Materia. Call it a “rave,” call it a “party.” Whatever it is, the tight-knit collective of local DJs hosting these nights knew they were something St. Louis needed when they created the monthly event two years ago.
“While there was definitely no shortage of raves and electronic music, there was something missing in terms of a party that felt like how we wanted a party to feel,” says Billy Harned, a DJ and lighting artist who goes by the moniker Sweeet.
The group, consisting of Umami, Manapool, Nadir, Sweeet and Eric Donté, wanted to create a place where they could hear “good club music,” Nadir says. Before the rave had its name, he and Manapool hosted events in small basement venues. Manapool sought something other than the “sanitized” local club scene. Nadir wanted an outlet for something “emotive” and contemporary.
“There wasn’t anywhere we could go to be in the type of space we wanted to be in,” Nadir says. “We had to start with ourselves.”
Their collaboration began when Manapool, a.k.a. Alexandra Layton, arrived at a punk show in St. Louis about two years ago. She pulled up to a bar while blasting music by Russian artist Locked Club. When she turned off her car, she heard the song continuing to play. It was Nadir, playing the same song inside.
“I was like, ‘I gotta meet this guy right now,'” Layton says.
At that point, Layton says she was playing shows in Los Angeles and New York but struggled to get booked in her hometown. At the time, no one was playing the edgy, more raw music she was attached to. And as a trans woman embedded in gaming and anime culture, she felt her image didn’t jive with certain “normie EDM shows.”
“I think I was something that no one in St. Louis was ready to put on,” Layton says. “I’ve experienced that my whole life and I’m used to it, but what’s really sad about that is that there was no space for young trans people to go and just hang out and not worry about shit.”
Initially, Nadir and Layton threw parties under the name PS2 Desire (a call to Layton’s love of gaming) in venues such as the south city space Sorority House and Krutie’s Tavern, which has since closed. The audience soon overwhelmed the venues, to the point where it was almost a fire hazard, Layton says.
“We didn’t have any permits for anything,” Layton says. “It was one of those things that if the cops showed up, it was over.”
But they never did, and the parties continued to grow. Donté, Umami and Sweeet joined the team for the first Materia-branded rave in November 2021.
Each artist brought something different. Umami, a.k.a. Pajmon Porshahidy, played house music in the beginning. He’s more recently gravitated toward techno and jungle. Sweeet and Porshahidy also occasionally coordinate light shows to go along with the music — a collab called Lite Werk. And Donté, who was already headlining shows by 2021, brought his distinct, self-described “ghetto trance” genre.
“We all have a very distinctive sound to ourselves,” Donté says. “Before we decided to collide, people didn’t know where to place us.”
Collectively, the various styles merge into a cohesive experience that the DJs struggle to describe in words. There’s a Materia “vibe,” Sweeet says, even though he hates the word. Layton says she’s been complimented on the “Materia scene,” which surprises her. It’s as if Materia has a life of its own at this point, she says.
That life has brought new music to St. Louis. Chicago-based DJ Manny, a progenitor of the genre footwork, DJ MC, also based in Chicago and Los Angeles DJ Bianca Oblivion have all come to play a slot at Materia.
The growth has been exciting, Nadir says — and it may allow Materia to travel to other cities.
But success isn’t necessarily what the artists behind Materia set out to achieve. They wanted to fill a hole in a shape they didn’t yet know. They’ve since done that, and then some. But despite whatever success, the music still comes before anything.
“We’d be OK with just playing to our core group of friends in a basement,” Nadir says.
Materia has its two-year anniversary show on Saturday, November 25, with guest Chao Gardem, a digital label started by Layton and Dani Rev. See Materia’s Instagram for more details.