by Josh Feit
In order to gauge whether you live in a successful city, there are a few key questions to ask yourself. Is there: affordable housing and a strong job market, ubiquitous public transit, mixed use zoning, economic and cultural diversity, a local economy defined by successful independent businesses, a rich arts scene, and lots of parks, sidewalks, benches, greenways, and other human scale infrastructure?
An overlooked, but equally important question to ask is this: Is there anything to do in your town late at night? As with the other urbanist measures—affordable housing, please?—Seattle has an iffy record on the night-owl front. Before Amazon lures another early 20-something tech worker to town, they might want be honest and tell them there’s a dearth of food and drink options in South Lake Union after 10 pm.
Due to Seattle’s notably slim late-night pickings, this post-midnight litmus test inadvertently put the spotlight on one of Seattle’s new treasures in 2021: KEXP’s Overnight Afrobeats with DJ Lace Cadence, which comes on at 1:00 am every Saturday morning.
You could file Overnight Afrobeats, which debuted in August 2020, under the arts category, and more specifically, under the great local radio category—traditionally another astute metric for sizing up worthy cities; though not as much so in the internet age. But relegating Lace Cadence’s show to the arts scene misses the point.
Whether it’s explicitly understanding nighttime as a discrete ecosystem, or realizing that different times create different civic opportunities, our city planners need to start incorporating time of day into their analysis of what makes a city tick. This is why I like to think of Overnight Afrobeats as specifically part of Seattle’s after-hours environment. In 2021, Overnight Afrobeats, which features ridiculously catchy, contemporary African pop music, became valuable Seattle infrastructure. It also helped me fall just a little bit more in love with our emergent city.
Be prepared. When you tune in Overnight Afrobeats (you can also listen to it on KEXP’s archives), you’re not going to get the standard KEXP DJ mumbling like a teen wallflower or casually surprising you with a set list update and a few pearls of deep wisdom every 20 minutes. DJ Lace Cadence, real name Isaac Porter, is a mischievous presence, giggling, singing along with the jams, blaring sound effects like lasers, airhorns, and bombs, and even stopping records midstream because he wants to run the jam back from the top for you. “Oh my goodness!” he says in his giddy and infectious patter as he cues it back up, “I love this song.” Lace—the nickname comes from his teenage graffiti tag—also segues from song to song without playing the whole thing sometimes. He’s in a race, it seems, to share everything he can with you. “Let’s go!!” he hollers over the sound of an explosion. “You know the vibe.”
City planners need to start incorporating time of day into their analysis of what makes a city tick. In 2021, Overnight Afrobeats, which features ridiculously catchy, contemporary African pop music, became valuable Seattle infrastructure.
The first time I heard Lace Cadence on KEXP was a year ago. He was subbing on Positive Vibrations, KEXP’s regular Saturday morning dub and reggae show, gleefully defending himself to startled regulars who were emailing and texting to tell him to mellow out. With disarming grace, Lace schooled everybody, explaining that his style was actually in sync with the Jamaican turntable DJ clashes from the 1950s and early 1960s that created reggae and dub in the first place. And I’d add: his DJ persona falls in the tradition of DJs such as Jamaican-born DJ Kool Herc, who took the mic in the Bronx to invent hip-hop in the 1970s.
Asked about his style—unorthodox for KEXP—Cadence said: “I have to find the balance of doing my thing and respecting some of the guidelines that were in place long before my arrival. I’m never told how to host my show. But I do have reviews where things are pointed out that I should be aware of because I talk like 100 times more than other shows.” His mysterious, reticent sidekick Moh, who always seems to join the chaotic show late—and from another part of the country (D.C.) or the world (Côte d’Ivoire)—assists Lace with the track info that streams live. “[He] allows me to mix live, and focus on the music while he handles the playlist and comms,” Lace says, when asked who the heck Moh is. “He is one of my best friends and first people I met in the scene here.”
Cadence landed the show after Gabriel Teodros, a veteran Seattle hip-hop artist who recently (2020) started doing a morning show on KEXP, caught Lace’s all-African DJ set at a Hollis gig; Hollis Wong-Wear is a local pop success in her own right who has done four electronic R&B LPs with Lace over the years in their trio the Flavr Blue. According to Lace, his Afrobeats set “sparked a conversation with Gabe,” and Teodros “suggested I submit a demo to KEXP because he felt changes were needed and coming in programming.”
Lace and Overnight Afrobeats are now part of a small but growing roster of DJs and shows at KEXP that share an affinity for African diaspora music, electronic experimentation, globalism, hip-hop, and dub subculture. These shows include KEXP’s hip-hop mainstay Street Sounds and legendary DJ Riz’s long-running, danceable-electronic trance show, Expansions, as well as Midnight in a Perfect World, Mechanical Breakdown, El Sonido, Wo’ Pop, Pacific Notions, Sunday Soul, and the aforementioned Positive Vibrations.
However, because Overnight Afrobeats is the most pop infused of all those shows—and due to Lace’s goofball charisma—his weekly set sends the loudest local signal that there’s new energy and perhaps a new populist mission at Seattle’s flagship independent radio station. (By the way, quick shout out to C89.5, the left-of-the dial indie electronic dance station run out of Nathan Hale High school, which has some excellent electronica programming as well, including Electrobox and 30 Hz every Friday night and Café Chill every Sunday morning.)
DJ Lace Cadence’s show sends the loudest local signal that there’s new energy and perhaps a new populist mission at Seattle’s flagship independent radio station.
The Afrobeats genre, with its dance rhythm origins in the epic jams of 1970s Nigerian musician Fela Kuti (Lace starts every show with a Fela Kuti track), is a relatively recent innovation. It’s a 21st century globalist mashup that absorbs African styles such as highlife and amapiano, mixed with electronica, American soul, R&B, hip-hop, house, and even Caribbean soca sounds, if you ask me. Nigerian Afrobeats superstars WizKid and Burna Boy, with their cosmopolitan Lagos vibe, are perhaps the most well-known Afrobeats stars.
Lace, whose father is Senegalese and whose mother is white, graduated from Seattle’s Summit K-12 program in 2003 and promptly landed a hip-hop record deal with L.A.s now long-defunct DreamWorks records where he worked with West Coast hip-hop veteran DJ Quick. He got into Afrobeats in the early 2010s while he was making records with Hollis and the Flavr Blue. Now, he’s all in on Afrobeats. He produces Afrobeats records and does Afrobeats events with his company Palmwine at places like the Mint Lounge on Capitol Hill. Middle-aged me and my middle-aged girlfriend were the first ones through the door at 9pm at one of Lace’s live shows during the momentary post-pandemic bliss this past summer. We got a few dances in before leaving at 10:45 when the place started jamming up with young people.
And of course, to the sound of lasers and explosions, Lace Cadence is DJing Afrobeats late every Friday night on KEXP. If you want to get a bead on how this city is doing, you should tune in. “The time slot is not easy,” he said, “but I didn’t expect to come into a prime spot off the bat and am pretty honored to have the opportunity at all.”
Seattle has an opportunity too. It’s called night. Throughout 2021, our city’s best DJ turned us on to the possibilities.