No Top 40. No dress code. No smoking. No glitz.
Aside from the PA and lights, an Old SOUL event is far from your typical dance club scene. You're more likely to find live bands, break dancers, eclectic recorded sounds - vintage funk and soul among the favorites - and a diverse crowd, either dancing or just digging it.
Or playing board games. Seriously.
"On the surface that can seem really corny," organizer Doug Morris admits with a broad smile, "but who really cares about 'corny' if you're having fun."
Morris is one of the ringleaders of Old SOUL Entertainment, a collective of promoters, technicians, DJs and like-minded friends who, since 2005, have put on countless music and art events around the city, sometimes in other cities, most notably in weekly "Soul Sessions" at the Jazz Kitchen on College Avenue.
Their mission is to provide good music and a relaxed social scene, with a minimum of pretense or pressure to get all fancy. Their acronym can stand for "Sounds Of Universal Love," if you like.
"In high school, we'd just get a bunch of people together and play music," says Morris, a 30-year-old Broad Ripple native. "We want you to walk in and feel comfortable, but we're constantly trying to challenge people's musical appetites."
Growing up, Morris and his friend Enoch DeMar were called "old souls" in reference to their tastes and personalities, and they've tried to retain that vibe despite the demands of mainstream adulthood. DeMar, who went on to play offensive line for IU and the Cleveland Browns, now focuses on real estate interests from here to Atlanta, Ga. Morris is a logistics specialist with Dow Agrosciences. But together with musician Robert Hornberger, they are the formal partners in the limited liability corporation at the heart of Old SOUL.
They make a little cash from the events, but that's not the point, Morris insists. Most profits are funneled back into the venture, and even on a slow night, the top priority is paying the DJs and musicians what they deserve.
"If that means Old SOUL takes a loss, then we take a loss," Morris says. "It's more important to respect the scene and respect the artist than to fight over $150. And in return, it fosters this network."
Part of that network is Nick Saligoe, aka DJ MetroGnome, a full-time spinner of music who is part of the broader Old SOUL collective and often plays Soul Sessions at the Kitchen. He's seen his share of clubs and parties, around the Midwest and coast to coast, but he likes the freedom of an Old SOUL gig.
"Nowadays, with everything being syndicated, the stuff you hear on the radio is the same whether you're in New York, Miami, D.C. or L.A.," Saligoe says. "With Old SOUL, there really aren't any boundaries. You'll hear James Brown and Kanye West. Earlier in the night, I might drop 'Tripping Out' by Curtis Mayfield."
At one point, Old SOUL was packing most of its punch into Wednesday nights at the Jazz Kitchen, collaborating with DJ Twin Peaks to produce an extended event called Root Movements. The evenings began with sets by local tenor sax hero Rob Dixon and proceeded to other live acts and then DJs to close out the night.
Currently, Old SOUL still hosts Root Movements with live music and DJs at the Kitchen on the first Wednesday of each month. Upcoming acts include Native Sun on July 1, Vincent Jordan on Aug. 5 and Blackberry Jam on Sept. 2.
The key weekly gathering has now moved to Fridays, however, with a one-two punch called Recess and Soul Sessions. The dance music plays into the wee hours, but the evening starts with the slower-paced Recess segment, which includes music and also those aforementioned board games: Boggle, Jenga, Catchphrase -- all the good stuff.
"The other night, every time the Jenga thing fell over, people were screaming," Morris says. "You could hear it over the music."
Jazz Kitchen owner David Allee says the events bring some fresh faces into his club in a way that fits well with his regular audience.
"There's kind of a trend lately with jazz and funk and hip-hop maybe colliding a little more than they have in the past, so it's kind of an extension of that," Allee says, adding that the relationship with Old SOUL has been good for both sides.
"They're good cats," he says. "They're really down to the earth. They bring in a nice crowd."
On the first Friday of each month, Recess/Soul Sessions features a local visual artist, with works on display at the club. Otherwise, Old SOUL also organizes occasional spoken-word gatherings known as Soul Speakeasy, and the group plans to extend its multimedia reach. Morris' personal goal is to start a not-for-profit branch that would introduce middle school students to arts and media technology.
"From the conception, we wanted this to be an all-inclusive thing," he says. "Ultimately, it's about fostering the scene."