For a decade, Old Soul has significantly enriched Indy's nightlife scene with creatively designed DJ dance parties, spoken word nights and live performances by major national acts including Bilal and Saul Williams.
To mark their tenth year, I caught up with Old Soul director and co-founder Doug Morris at the WFYI production studios. Catch my full interview with Morris on the radio edition of Cultural Manifesto this Wednesday evening at 9 on 90.1 WFYI Public Radio.
NUVO: I recently interviewed the great Indianapolis DJ Limelight, and he told me he got his start as a DJ spinning at house parties you were throwing while you were still in high school. Here we are nearly two decades later and you're still throwing parties. What is it about bringing people together around music that appeals to you?
Doug Morris: At some point I figured out that it's part of who I am. It's part of my purpose. I thrive on bringing people together around the arts. It's always been that way.
I guess it goes back to my childhood. I was raised around the area of 43rd Street and College. There were a lot of amazing people on the block where I grew up. There was a woman who taught African dance and hip-hop to all the kids in the neighborhood for free. There was a gentleman who taught all the boys in the community kung fu for free. My brother and a lot of my friends became black belts in kung fu because someone in the community decided to take an interest in the youth.
When people think about Indianapolis, they don't think about it in the same way as they do when they think about New York in the 1980s with the breakdancing, the boomboxes, and this beautiful heartbeat of culture happening everywhere. But believe it or not, my experience as a kid wasn't much different than that. It wasn't unusual for us to be out on the block breakdancing or throwing house parties.
I also grew up in the church. My mother was part of a church choir that toured the country and put out multiple albums. Music has always been around me. There's never been a time when music wasn't a focus in my life.
NUVO: Aside from the entertainment value It seems like the civic aspect of it really stuck with you in terms of giving back to the community and providing a point of direction for young people in the community.
Morris: Absolutely. In those same neighborhood organizations they also required us to walk around the neighborhood and pick up trash. They taught us take pride in and take ownership of our community.
NUVO: When Old Soul started ten years ago it seemed like you were trying to fill a vacancy in Indianapolis for alternative forms of soul and R&B music. Is that correct?
Morris: Yes, it was definitely planned and calculated. We were very strategic in what we wanted to accomplish. What happened was a lot of my friends started coming back to Indy after graduating college. We would look for entertainment and go out to places and we didn't really enjoy the music. You go out to be social, but the music is so bad you can't really enjoy the experience.
One of my friends growing up was Enoch DeMar, who played for the Cleveland Browns. When he moved back to Indy after being released from the Browns he said to me, "You're really good at hosting parties. We should think about this from a business level." I'd been throwing parties since I was a kid, but I hadn't thought about it from that perspective. I was just trying to get my friends together to have a good time in a safe space. That's kind of how Old Soul was birthed. Old was founded by Enoch DeMar, Robert Hornberger and myself.
We started an event called Soul Sessions ten years ago at Radio Radio in Fountain Square. Every time we hosted the event four or five-hundred people would show up. It was a really beautiful time.
NUVO: I know you have a big party with DJ Jazzy Jeff coming up at the Vogue on March 18 and a lot of the staple Old Soul events like Icon, Dilla Day, Dre Day and Localmotion are still going strong. Any new events you have planned for your tenth season of Old Soul programming
Morris: We're launching a new party series called Back To The Future which is happening every First Friday at The HI-FI. It's a free event and it's open format. We'll be playing '80s pop, disco, hip-hop - anything goes. We're also starting a new poetry night called the Renaissance hosted by Januarie York. That's happening the first and third Sunday every month at Georgia Reese's Downtown location. We have a new event called The Dojo. The cool thing about The Dojo is that it's for folks under 21. The Dojo is a hip-hop event hosted every fourth Friday at Kismet. There's too many things to run down. The best thing to do is go to oldsoulent.com and sign up for our weekly newsletter.