Shake, Rattle, & Soul
The meteoric rise of Heatwave, the hottest dance party in town
By Chris GaittenPublished August 1, 2012
Time has an interesting effect on cultural trends – add a little and it’s passé and hardly worth more than a disdainful sideways glance. Add a couple decades or so, however, and the remnants of an era seem to grow exponentially in value, aged to sort of a timeless perfection.
There may be no better current proof of our cyclical pop culture than the rebirth of the Motown/soul/mod sensibility. From music to TV to fashion, a golden era has come flushing back in high definition.
You can’t go anywhere without hearing the modernized torch songs of Adele, and rising acts like Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and Charles Bradley rely heavily on the period’s influence.
Even cumbersome and inconvenient vinyl records have surged in sales. In a point-and-click, Spotify world, sales shot up to 3.9 million units last year, a 39-percent increase from 2010 and the highest number since Nielsen SoundScan began.
Columbus’ music scene has followed the recent trend with the rise of bands like Nick Tolford and Company and this year’s ComFest headliner The Regrettes.
But perhaps there’s no better case for the scene’s burgeoning presence than Heatwave – a wildly popular, all-vinyl ode to 1950-1970s-era Motown, oldies, mod, soul, and garage rock, spearheaded by local DJs Ann Glaviano, Chris Johnson, and Adam Scoppa.
Picture a sweaty mass of the young and hip, hair flying and limbs gyrating to the beat of a five-decades-old soundtrack, tearing up the dance floor at North Campus bar Ace of Cups on the first Saturday of each month. It’s evocative of the world’s best wedding reception, or better yet, the after-after-wedding party in the hotel that everyone desperately wants to attend.
During the blistering hot July event – the Heatwave inside a heat wave – Glaviano and Johnson gleefully weave past each other within the DJ booth, grabbing records and discussing the next spin, their rotation a dance in and of itself. Scoppa is at a wedding back home in New York, but his cohorts blast through smashes by The Mamas and The Papas, Baby Washington, and Mickey & Silvia.
People clap after the hits, and swarm the dance floor for their favorites. In a moment of gleeful irony that typifies his sense of humor, Johnson plays The Choir's “It’s Cold Outside” to the audience’s delight.
Moments like that have earned Heatwave a reputation – 500 to 600 people show up each month, and the bar is at max capacity for most of the night. Long lines at the door have become standard, stretching down High Street.
And it was a chance encounter only a year and a half ago that led the Heatwave trio to their current role as revivalist pied pipers.
“You look disgusting!” Glaviano exclaimed to Johnson as walked in the door of Travonna Coffee House for our interview. He approached our table dripping with sweat.
“This is how I look at Heatwave,” he said.
Minutes later, Scoppa followed suit, rushing inside overheated and damp.
“We’re the Heatwave DJs. We’re supposed to be sweaty,” he joked. As they attempted to cool down, Glaviano began their story.
Back in January 2011, Johnson hit on the pixie-like Glaviano in Stauf’s, complimenting her cardigan, which matched the color of his shoes. They became fast friends.
“I found out pretty quickly what kind of music he listened to, and I didn’t really have any friends in town … I’m from New Orleans,” recounted Glaviano.
Homesick, she especially longed for a New Orleans ’60s mod dance party held every month. She searched to no avail for a similar event in Columbus, but six months after the meeting in Stauf’s, she had an epiphany.
“I was like, you know what, I’m just gonna f*cking start my own dance party.” She had no experience as a DJ and a limited record collection so she contacted Johnson, owner of a vast library of vinyl, and they agreed to join forces while at a local show.
The very next day, Glaviano went to trivia night at Bodega and took the only seat left in the bar, next to Scoppa, whom she’d never met before. They began chatting, and he mentioned that he played in the Motown-inspired band Burglar.
“And I’m like, ‘No shit! I’m starting this Motown dance party!’” she recalled. “And he literally took me by the shoulders and was like, ‘You’re really freaking me out right now!’”
“It was completely serendipitous,” summed up Scoppa, who’d been looking to start something similar for two years.
He was welcomed into the fold, and immediately suggested the name “Heatwave,” which he swiped from a Martha and The Vandellas song.
On September 3rd, 2011, Heatwave put needle to vinyl, turned up the volume, and nearly 300 enthusiasts arrived, ready to dance. It was a success, but October’s Heatwave was the real tipping point.
“The second one was the one where we had a line, and the place was packed, and I was like, you must be f*cking joking,” Glaviano said.
“It was crazy when it was January and people were waiting in line,” Johnson continued.
The music ultimately drives that fervor, as the DJs scour record stores, friends’ collections, and the internet for hits and obscure deep cuts alike.
“I can go to a record shop and buy a 45 that makes me blush, and then be like, ‘I’m not listening to it again until the day of Heatwave,’ and people will like lose their minds to it,” said Glaviano.
In the booth, they improvise and play off each other’s choices. “I like to think of it as a sweet and sour. Like you have a really sweet soul song … Then you turn around and have a really sneering, snide, garage rock song,” Scoppa added.
The city has embraced Heatwave with the lust of a bawdy Motown track, and the relationship is mutual.
“I think we’ve hit upon a vibe that people know they can just come and have fun,” Scoppa said. “We know we wouldn’t be anything without people who come dance their asses off.”
And dance they do.
Sweatbands and shirts soak through; dresses twist to the relentless rhythm. Skin glistens and smiles spread like wildfire. Seemingly out of nowhere, a conga line materializes, serves its purpose, then dissolves back to a disorganized mob.
Everyone is laughing and smiling, giddy at the music’s nostalgic effects, though no one in the crowd was around for the original release.
Up in the booth, Glaviano and Johnson keep up with the fun, playing some of their favorite tracks – the up-tempo songs with a driving backbeat that they lovingly refer to as “stompers.” The stompers send them hopping about madly while choosing the next track.
The pinnacle comes when the two nod to the absurd weather by playing the party’s namesake song. When Martha Reeves hits the chorus, everyone raises their glasses, bottles, and cans, and yells “Heatwave!” in unison – not as a white flag to the temperature, but as a plea for more.
The next Heatwave will be held on August 4th at Ace of Cups, 2169 N High St., followed by the dance party’s one-year anniversary show the following month, on Sept. 1st. For more, visit www.facebook.com/heatwavecolumbus.
Editor’s note: Adam Scoppa is a frequent contributor to (614) Magazine.