By Matías Muñoz

Photos by Ming Wu

If you were to take a stroll down Ottawa’s Somerset Street late one Friday night, you might expect to see a few people wandering, or perhaps a few more enjoying the gastronomic delights of Chinatown.

But imagine approaching one dimly lit window, surrounded by a diverse crowd of young folks outside laughing, smoking, and being merry, all to the soundtrack of heavy bass from the hip hop jams exuding from the interior.

This is the experience you might have walking up to the renowned, if only by some, Shanghai Restaurant during A Night Called Best (ANCB). ANCB is the new hip hop and R&B dance party that goes down at Shanghai, and it’s the product of a collective desire to bring a different kind of experience to Ottawa’s nightlife.

“Shanghai is a longstanding, if underused, gem. It’s always had this intimate and unpretentious vibe, and makes you feel like you’ve stumbled on an unmarked after-hours bar in Barcelona or the Lower East Side,” explains co-organizer DJ Palm D’Or.

ANCB was conceived by DJs PJ and Palm D’Or, CHUO R&B host Nicky Jean, and hip hop artist manager David Sackey (KingsCollege). The crew wanted to create a downtown hip hop party, open to all ages, with a focus on music.

You might recognize DJs Palm D’Or and PJ from the 90sOrBust dance party at Babylon which had a longstanding run on the third Friday of each month. However, they’re trying something new this time around.

“PJ and I wanted an alternative to the liquor-fuelled dance parties that dominate the downtown,” Palm D’Or points out. “We absolutely love those parties, but having DJ’d a monthly hip hop party at Babylon for 4 years, we were yearning for something a little more intimate and music-focused.”

Palm D’Or grew up in subsidized housing projects in Ottawa’s South-East side, spending a lot of his time as an adolescent at all ages dance clubs near St. Laurent and learning how to DJ with friends. Growing up mixed race, he explained that he had a hard time processing the homogeneity of Ottawa’s downtown core, and this ultimately had a major impact on him as he got older.

ANCB follows a strong tradition of smaller, well-curated dance parties in Ottawa that buck the big-box clubs for a more intimate, inclusive kind of experience. There is an undeniable kinship between nights like TIMEKODE, Open Air Social Club, Ceremony, and FEELS—parties where the focus is more on the music and community rather than an emphasis on materialistic hip hop culture stereotypes that bigger clubs tend to exploit.

ANCB will also be a platform for live hip hop. Having David Sackey and Nicky Jean as part of the team is a major part of incorporating live hip hop into the concept. Their knowledge and ground-level experience with the local hip hop scene will be an indispensable resource for programming ANCB going forward.

“The party format really lends itself well to small shows,” Palm D’Or explains. “The idea is that we’ll be showcasing new hip hop and R&B artists or producers early in the night before the party gets going. Sets will be super short, and the room holds less than 100 people, so it’s low pressure for the artist, and gives the crowd a great way to ease into the night.”

The first edition of ANCB on February 24 was a huge success, as Shanghai hit capacity around midnight. The vibe was unpretentious and friendly. There was a mix of people from the punk and indie music scenes, the hip hop community, artists, kids from suburbia, students discovering Shanghai for the first time, total strangers, and everything in between. DJs Palm D’Or and PJ spun a wide spectrum of tracks, including new material from Anderson .Paak, Noname, and Chance, as well as many classic 90’s jams we all know and love.

“That was the goal,” Palm D’Or says. “We wanted to offer a space where everyone felt welcome. It felt like one big basement party.”

The next edition of ANCB will feature a live set from R&B/hip hop artist DREAM, and will take place March 31 at Shanghai Restaurant.