ODEM: the Colombian dance observatory that refuses to fall
Reggaetón, electro, beer and tacos: this was a night in one of Bogotá’s most incredible venues.
words by Cristian Herrera
When you visit Bogotá for the first time, the most likely thing that happens to you is that somebody mentions something related to the altitude, you get asked when you would like to visit Monserrate, or you get invited to a traditional dish of Ajiaco Santafereño.
Once your body assimilates the approximately 2,630 meters above sea level that the city has, plus you’ve managed to cross off from your wishlist all the tourist destinations that your backpacker friends recommended to you, the only pending debt that you have left with the Colombian capital can easily be summed up to a simple word made up of two syllables: party.
As much as Bogotá does not carry behind a wide musical showcase like the one that cities like Cali have always loaded with its salsa, Barranquilla with its vallenato, or Medellín and its reinvention of reggaetón, the capital has managed to combine and incorporate an endless number of genres to its nightlife. This, added to the large number of clubs, discos, and places in general to enjoy the so-called “rumba” or “Farra”, makes it one of the cities with the best and widest range of musical offers throughout Latin America.
In mid-July 2019, a new place arrived to enhance this Bogotá party experience. ODEM, whose acronym stands for Observatorio Distrital del Exilio Musical –Musical Exile District Observatory–, brought with it a new proposal for a space that, to date, was totally unrelated to the other options offered by the market of clubs and bars in the city.
Located on a corner of the emblematic Plaza de Lourdes, a small park in the heart of the Chapinero district, where a basilica built in 1875 stands as a watchtower, ODEM is made up of two spacious rooms, each with its own sonic currents. As usually happens in the area, distinguishing the correct entrance to the place always involves stopping for a couple of seconds to observe, to try to catch where the fat bass is coming from. There, in the middle of a grilled chicken fast food restaurant and a local cafeteria, the neon lights that cover a pair of giant buckets full of water can be seen through a small barred door.
– Welcome to ODEM –
Here there is no famous “main room”, as each space seeks to create particular experiences, different from each other, but related if viewed from a common perspective.
On the first floor, also known as ‘Bailadero’, reggaeton is law and order. From Daddy Yankee, Ivy Queen, and Tego Calderón classics, to the new expressions of neoperreo and futuristic dembow, there wasn’t a weekend in ODEM without this dance floor not being completely sweating and dancing thanks to the selections imparted by its impressive Funktion One sound system. Here, the perreos formed by in-house selectors such as DJ Pony, Chris Durán, or DJ Le Flem take place in the same space where hours before you can taste some of the most delicious sandwiches and burgers of all Chapinero.
Bondiola, chicken milanesa, chicharrón, portobello or falafel: the menu is extensive, varied and quite affordable in terms of prices. It also reminds people of ODEM’s main premise: beyond being a club, restaurant or brewery, ODEM is considered a “parchadero”, a term that refers to a place where any person or group of friends can spend the afternoon without any type of concern. So you can easily enter the afternoon for lunch, meet your post-office gang in the late afternoon, and leave at 2 AM after having vented everything on the packed dance floor.
Of course, this experience would not be complete without the other universe that the upper floor offers: an extensive terrace with one of the most welcoming views that this sector of the city can offer. Here, without a doubt, fresh beer becomes the main protagonist. Club Colombia, one of the most recognized beers in Colombia, produces together with ODEM an exclusive 100% fresh Lager drink, brought directly from the company’s tanks. Along with the pola –a popular term to refer to beer in Colombia–, the tacos of Caballero Rojo await in a corner in case the pre-party vibes deserve a spicy al pastor recharge.
Once the beer mug is in hand, La Casita becomes the host of the night. Between its four wooden walls, the always elegant Funktion One booths dictate the pace to follow. A small-scale version of Salon des Amateurs, some purist would say. If downstairs the perreo rules, here electronic music extends in its widest spectrum. In addition to having a stellar and well-diverse roster of resident DJs –Kruz, Leeon, Polinne Moth, Espitia, Casti, among others–, La Casita has also signed memorable nights with heavy names from the global electronic circuit such as Orpheu The Wizard, Max Abysmal or the recently deceased Detroit icon, Mike Huckaby. This little house was also about to be the shelter of the vast and fascinating vinyl selection of Discos Paradisco, a record store specializing in the “B side of electronics”, finely curated by Bogotá’s master selector, Javier Cruz. Unfortunately, the store had to settle for a small installation on one of the walls, due to the enormous heat caused by the weekend gigs.
Today, almost four months after its last party, ODEM’s landscape has completely changed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has not been unfamiliar at all to Colombia: 95,043 confirmed cases, 29,320 of them in Bogotá. With numbers that seem to increase dramatically with the passing of the days, the nightlife of the city appears to become a true utopia, increasingly distant from rejoining this so-called “new normal”.
Despite the fact that the Colombian Government has come out with an inflated chest to announce possible financial aid and credits for the bars and clubs union, according to Andrés Castiblanco, founding member of ODEM, such help has not been materialized anywhere.
“Having to dismiss our team has perhaps been the hardest thing. As well as the uncertainty of not knowing what will happen, of seeing the place empty and with so much time going by”, says Castiblanco, who along with the rest of the ODEM team yearns to be able to reopen doors at some point between September and October.
For now, they have tried to stay active by offering different promotions of beer and tacos through home delivery, as well as with a series of virtual parties called Quiero Bailar –I want to dance–, which through two editions has brought its audience closer to the airs of perreo and electronics that they will hardly feel again in a near future.
Despite the slight improvement expected in most Colombian cities, the alarming figures shown mainly by Bogotá, Barranquilla and Cartagena, indicate a need to be cautious in the face of any sign of optimism, even leading to rethinking platform dynamics different from those previously established. A clear example of this is Discos Paradisco: despite being known as the first online record store in the history of the country, for a couple of years it has focused on the physical sale of records. Following the mandatory quarantine, Javier Cruz decided to go back to his virtual foundations, transferring all his offer of paranormal sounds back to the website, even adding all kinds of merch and accessories to attract this new digital audience. “Surprisingly, regardless of being “weird” records with a taste towards a twisted B side, people have supported us much more. In our website they can listen to any record before buying it”, affirms Cruz, who has also decided to reactivate his emblematic online program Radio Paradisco.
But what will happen to the nightlife of one of the most prosperous scenes in Latin America? What should clubs like ODEM abide by to continue resisting despite the false promises made by their leaders and local authorities? The answer seems to have no concrete form. Just in the month of May, 4.9 million jobs were lost in Colombia. Therefore, small actions such as the simple fact of buying a beer and a taco, a vinyl or a T-shirt, can contribute to these numbers not multiplying in the coming months.
Castiblanco is aware of this. “We know that initially the party will not be allowed, so we are designing an ODEM experience under all the biosafety regulations that will govern the city. For a long time, it will be like this. Then, when everything is normalized, we will return to the usual ODEM”.
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