Sitting cross-legged on a black leather couch, her hand wrapped around a sweat-beaded double vodka Sprite, promoter Jen Kniss speaks with an intensity that thumps louder than Lush's resounding bass. A few years back, you might've heard Kniss' name thrown around in connection with the hip-hop and break-dancing event Project Om, but these days, she has her sights on a new scene. Starting with the edIT concert at Neurolux this past May and continuing with the upcoming Milanese show at Lush, Kniss has wound her way back into the underground.
"So I really wanted to focus on doing shows that are a little more edgy and progressive, stuff that's going on overseas that hasn't hit really hard here," explains Kniss.
Two of these more edgy types of dance music currently pulsing their way out of U.K. dance clubs and across the pond are grime and its cousin, dubstep. While grime consists of dark, bass-heavy beats with MCs who "spit" aggressively on the microphone, dubstep combines grime with the more house-influenced style 2-Step. Though these classifications might seem overwhelmingly niche to someone outside of the electronic dance community, they are differences best felt on the dance floor.
"So when I'm digging around looking for new music, whether it's BBC Radio 1 or something like that, I occasionally come across artists that just make your heart pound in a different way," says Kniss. "You get goosebumps when you hear a track."
And one night, while Kniss was listening to Mary Ann Hobbes' popular experimental radio show on BBC Radio 1, she found an artist that got her heart pounding in that certain way—a grime and dubstep musician from Birmingham, England, called Milanese.
"There's a term 'dropping bombs on the dance floor,' and that's certainly what he was doing. People were freaking out in the background," says Kniss.
But one thing that separates Kniss from her musically inclined peers is ambition. When Kniss hears an artist she likes, she sets out to bring him or her to Boise. After contacting Milanese's label, Planet Mu Records, Kniss hooked up with a promoter out of San Francisco and helped Milanese put together a West Coast tour. This will be 31-year-old Steve Milanese's first trip to the United States, and he couldn't be more thrilled. Though Milanese got his start DJing at squatter parties in the '90s, he's a talented multi-instrumentalist who has always had a penchant for music.
"I've always played an instrument, written music or been in a band since I was about 7 or 8," says Milanese. "So it feels natural to me now."
Though Milanese's sound has been described as "dark," "raw" or "gritty," his intense beats and unique sampling blend to form what Kniss calls "dirty, grimy, basey dance beats," or what Milanese simply refers to as "bass music."
"I really don't know what to call it other than that, it's kind of like dubstep and grime with lots of bass, but it's different, too," says Milanese.
One thing that sets Milanese's work apart from others' in the grime or dubstep scenes are the interesting samples he layers into his tracks. Whether it's recording natural sounds like twigs snapping, footsteps and clanging metal, or more familiar clips from his favorite movies, Milanese always tries to keep things fresh and stimulating.
"I love referencing films, always have sampled a lot of stuff from them," says Milanese. "Like the start of the track 'Dead Man Walking' is a sample from War of the Worlds pitched down."
Milanese released his debut EP 1 Up on dance-label Arcola and has since put out a full-length album on Planet Mu called Extend and an eight-track remix album called Adapt. Though songs like "Dead Man Walking," which include lyrics from MC's Virus Syndicate, are grimy, punch-you-in-the-face-and-steal-your-sandwich anthems, other songs like "Caramel Cognac" are more subdued and sound like eating Cap'n Crunch at a car-shredding compound while a woman with sexy voice plays the didgeridoo.
Not many artists who come through Boise could be described this way, which is something Kniss takes to heart. Though a couple of DJs in town experiment with grime and dubstep, it's rare for downtown clubs to book any DJs from outside the Northwest. Kniss says that this isn't due to a lack of interest but rather to a lack of exposure. She admits that people love dancing to music they're familiar with, but also has confidence that Boise is ready to embrace something new.
"Clear Channel [Radio] is doing the fast food of the music industry. Sometimes you really crave French fries and that's great, but you don't want to eat them all the time," explains Kniss. "And I feel the same way about music."
But in order for Lush to handle what Kniss describes as Milanese's "deep, deep, wall-rattling bass," she's been working with the club's management to supplement their sound system.
"Additional sound is something I always focus on. I don't feel like bars downtown really focus on their low-end. This music is so rich on all of the different frequencies that it really needs extra low-end to come in and beef up the bass," says Kniss. "That's the stuff that hits you deep in the chest, right in the stomach."
And to Kniss, that's what grime and dubstep are all about—that ribcage rattling, sucker-punch to the gut that keeps you coming back to the dance floor for more.
Milanese with Clobber and Captain Sweepstakes, Friday, Sept. 12, 9 p.m. $5. Lush, 760 W. Main St., 208-342-5874.