One evening early last winter, I walk through the back door of the Top Hat and I think, "Wow. That girl isn't wearing any clothes."
It isn't entirely true, but other than her small bikini bottom, the only coverage the smiling young woman has on is a thick layer of white and black paint, plus a cat nose and whiskers. She asks me a question, which I can't hear over the molasses-thick wobble of bass coming from the subwoofers at the stage. I politely decline whatever it is she's offering and wander onto the frenetic, sweaty dance floor, bathed in lasers and glowsticks.
This is all par for the course when it comes to shows spearheaded by the BassFace Kollective, a collaborative of local electronic musicians, visual artists and dancers that has raised the bar for Missoula's electronic music scene in just a few short years.
Last year, the BFK teamed up with other local electronic crews—including Dark Dreams and Synergy—to host a Halloween party that brought the beat-hungry rave bears out of the woodwork, complete with aerial gymnasts, live painters, dancers, light shows and music blasting through the speakers until the sun came up. They called it Disco Bloodbath, and it quickly sold out the 6,000-square-foot space in the old Pipestone Mountaineering space on Main St. and left a line of costumed would-be ravers wrapping around the building. This October, the event moved to the 17,000 square foot RC Cola plant on the Northside, added two additional stages and doubled the number of DJs and producers to 26. Over 3,000 people showed up to party all night.
BFK has become the torch-bearer for an electronic music scene in Missoula that traces its roots back to the early 1990s, when the Badlander—now a prominent venue in Missoula's downtown—was simply the name of a house in the lower Rattlesnake known for throwing some of the first rave parties in this sleepy mountain town. As word of the parties spread, they soon outgrew the space limitations of the house and were moved into warehouses, downtown locations and any other space that would accommodate them.
Electronic music enjoyed a brief heyday resulting from the hard work of early DJs and promoters like Chris Henry, but the momentum almost died completely by the end of the decade as the core group began to fracture. It wasn't until the Badlander re-emerged as a downtown venue in 2007 that a legitimate home was provided for local DJs and producers to build an audience again. Crews like the Zookeeperz kept the electronic scene relevant. When the BassFace Kollective took the wheel and added some promotional muscle, it lit the scene on fire.
BFK's founding members, Logan Foret and Tim Heitman, both entered the Missoula music arena as fresh-faced University of Montana students who quickly developed a friendship around their shared love for electronic music. They started collaborating onstage as an electronic act called Ebola Syndrome and soon began developing other projects and bigger ideas. One such idea was BassFace Thursdays, a series of electronic music events held at the Top Hat that provided a chance for electronic artists around town to team up and reach larger audiences, and that exposed those audiences to an up-and-coming south London sub-genre called "dubstep," noted for clipped samples and reverbrant drum patterns, which caught on like wildfire in Missoula.
"Tim and I were looking for a personal outlet for our music, but at the same time providing an artistic outlet and a qualtity of electronic music the town hadn't seen yet," Foret said. "It just kind of blew up from there."
Out of BassFace Thursdays evolved the BassFace Kollective, a collaborative effort between Heitman, Foret and additional music performers like Kid Traxiom and Sauce, as well as the visual artists, dancers and other entertainers who turned their shows into full-blown parties; a swirl of psychedelic colors and characters backed up by a soundtrack so bass-heavy it'll rearrange the cycle of your heartbeats. Recently, Heitman has taken a lesser role in BassFace productions due to conflicts of interest with his duties as promotions director for KBGA, and Tim Rathbun has transitioned from one of BFK's DJs to becoming Foret's "partner in crime" regarding the business aspects of their productions.
"Standing onstage in front of 3,000 people all screaming was something I'll never forget," says Rathbun. "They're all raging and their hands are up, and I see this energy flowing out of people that I can't explain."
Rather than sit on their Halloween success, however, BFK has turned right around with another event to satisfy the rumble junkies: Prostep, the Disco Bloodbath decompression party that will bring a number of national dubstep heavyweights—Sluggo, J. Rabbit, Mark Instinct—to the Wilma Theatre, spiced up with the characteristic variety of BFK entertainment. Foret claims this show will be "one of the dirtiest dubstep shows that's come through," though the gamble the Kollective is taking to bring such a production to the Wilma has displaced his standard confidence a bit.
"I'm scared," he says. "I'm extremely excited but it's a lot of overhead and a lot of pressure. But it's beauty in the making."
Prostep hits the Wilma Friday, Dec. 2, at 7 PM. $25/$20 advance at Ear Candy, Rockin Rudys and brownpapertickets.com. The Prostep after party follows at the Badlander with the BassFace Krew's Fishbowl Friday at 9 PM. Free.