For most Western observers of popular music, the phrase "Club Tropicana" will recall a 1983 single by Wham! That same song was inspired not by a famous Cuban cabaret, but instead by the unwise enthusiasm of British tourists dreaming (endlessly) of cheap Mediterranean resorts. The term "tropicana," suitably enough, also had little to do with sunny beaches: it related to a sugary brand of UK fruit juice. All in all, the lyrics concerned various low-cost substitutes for genuine geography. Should anybody choose to invoke this career milestone of Messrs. Michael and Ridgeley today, it would surely be with a dash of irony.
A shelter for global bass junkies
Seemingly blessed with a good sense of humor, several Lithuanian producers have joined forces - and used that same Wham! title as their collective moniker. More specifically, these performers speak of their own Club Tropicana as a "movement that's based in Vilnius, but hopes to promote artists and music from around the world." It would appear that the project is already well respected at home, judging by the number of events that are listed on the CT website. Bringing some specificity to those general impressions, the CT staff claim to be "spreading their roots as a booking agency, weekly nightclub, label, and blog."
Once some professional facts and figures are established, the musicians are happy to toy with their organization's name once more. The distance between Lithuanian suburbs and Caribbean shorelines is addressed tongue-in-cheek: "Most importantly, we're an open community of tropical addicts. We've become a shelter for global bass junkies."
Here we focus upon three of CT's leading lights, in no particular order.
First up is the figure of Ophex, otherwise known as Karolis Rimkus. Looking to establish his reputation with a few bold statements, he claims to be the first Lithuanian producer producing "Brazilian ghetto sounds." Keener still to avoid the related risks of pigeonholing, he states his willingness and/or ability to operate within a much wider range of styles, namely baile funk and UK funky, not to mention a host of generic mashups and "even some '90s rave."
One of the main publishing venues for these efforts has been LeaveLate Records, a local enterprise formed five years ago, initially as a reflection of the burgeoning club scene. With the same kind of knowing irony that we see in the PR materials for Club Tropicana, the folks at LeaveLate declare themselves champions of Vilnius' "dancefloor heroes - the kind loved by screaming hipster girls."
Brazilian ghetto sounds in Lithuania
As with Karolis Rimkus' mocking references to '80s pop - and the "exotic" aims thereof - so LeaveLate also endorse both generic variety and cultural kitsch. "The label avoids focusing upon any one particular style. Instead it tries to stone[!] its listeners with all manner of musical cocktails. Together that leads to a wide spectrum [of options], all the way from dubstep, electro or techno to fidget and jackin' house. The main impression is of a musical laboratory, in which new and unexplored formulae are slowly revealed. That way, forthcoming releases always remain something of a mystery."
In the same scientific metaphor, together with the invocation of Brazil "ghetto sounds," there's an overriding sense that big plans are taking their inspiration from lowly origins. Meager ingredients and social outcasts are spoken of fondly. That might be for a couple of reasons: either our musicians feel a sense of kindred enterprise with a distant, warmer periphery of capitalist culture - or they're building a form of emotional insurance. In other words, the declaration of one's roots as "ghetto" will help to lessen the pain of failure - should it occur. Bold, forward-looking enterprise stresses its modest origins - to which it may, one day, have to return.
Penniless producers of the world, unite. Just in case.
Music not just for the club, but for life in general (Dave Nada)
Playing a similar game - with a markedly "callow" stage-name - is Boyfriend. That moniker makes no effort at self-aggrandizement; quite the opposite. This producer declares himself a proud exponent of (Lithuanian) Moombahton, a style whose Puerto Rican roots also recall the love of Ophex for financially challenged Brazilian dance music. The allure of joyous sounds from unhappy quarters is great.
Boyfriend himself has showcased his playlists in major venues around the Baltic and beyond - after invitations to perform at Polish, Danish, and British venues. Amid that activity, it's interesting to see that one of Moombahton's founders, Dave Nada, has spoken with much enthusiasm for this producer's work: "Boyfriend's unique music production has the ability to drive you - not just in the club, but in life in general. Full support!"
Understated materialism and increased volume make a winning combination.
A recent but brief discussion with a German music blog provides a little context. Here we learn that Boyfriend was actually trained as a graphic designer, but once he discovered bass music (after an early passion for house and electro), he abandoned that visual career - and opted for things sonic. His time is currently taken up with a range of simple, yet enduring activities: "Working, eating, drinking, gaming, and communicating." And when asked to extend that everyday practice into future dreams, he one again shies away from financial matters in favor of cheaper, loftier values.
"I'd like to collaborate with the stupidest people on Earth. I'd like to have fun, remix some trance tracks, and do a US tour. I'd also like to live by the sea - drinking, eating, and learning all kinds of secrets." None of which involve a bank account.
I'd like to collaborate with the stupidest people on Earth
This upbeat, devil-may-care worldview is extended by one of Club Tropicana's friends and colleagues - Genn Bo (sometimes known as Supergenn). Originally from Klaipeda but now based in Vilnius, this sound artist draws upon the underfunded heritage of Jamaican dance-halls, in that he credits his style to a "melange of beats, rhythms, electronica, synths, and dub/reggae elements." The result is deemed "subtle yet primitive" - emotionally rich and yet fiscally challenged.
Although Genn Bo himself remains silent in terms of self-promotion, various listeners have spoken with loud enthusiasm of his "8-bit Japanese style." Or, with a faux-Jamaican turn of phrase, another Soundcloud admirer declares: "Track irie!" Finally, with maximum gusto, a third fan shouts (in capitalized text): "F***ing crazy sh*t man!" Something tells us that the young men and women behind Club Tropicana have found a good-natured alternative to a prohibitively expensive art form.
Let me take you to the place/ Where membership's a smiling face
Initially stymied by the formidable obstacles of expensive hardware and the (serious) risks of local ticket sales, club bookings, and so forth, Ophex, Boyfriend, and Genn Bo all rework the central joke of 1983's "Club Tropicana." That Wham! single, mocking the sad desire of poor folks to blow their earnings on package tours, reminded listeners in its opening couplet of more cheerful and affordable options: "Let me take you to the place/ Where membership's a smiling face."
In fact, as this FFM text is being prepared, the most recent post on the Club Tropicana website involves a call to equally enthusiastic colleagues, all around Vilnius, to participate in this "open community of tropical addicts." More specifically, the label's staff is looking for a graphic designer, but an opportunity for employment is expressed more in terms of cheerful collaboration: "Are you an artist (perhaps in graffiti, [traditional] painting, etc)? Or maybe you operate a small clothing label? We've got a great opportunity for you..."
Twenty-nine years later, a well-intentioned, inclusive gesture is equally appealing. Wallets remain firmly shut, yet hearts start to open. The smiles are frequent - and genuinely friendly.