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UP ALL NIGHT / MARK EHRMAN

'A Whole Different Vibe'

April 18, 1993|MARK EHRMAN

Something happens every Tuesday night when Sweetback's, a dance club, takes over Cosmo in Hollywood.

It's called a groove. It's hard to describe, but you know it when you hear it. Or rather, feel it. It snakes through house-band Groovin' High's rendition of War's "Low Rider."

The deejays dish it out in tunes by Sly Stone, Parliament, Freddie Hubbard, Gary Bartz, Brass Construction and countless artists from the early '70s who are so obscure you'd have to hunt the used record bins to find them.

"You go to 1970s, that's a whole different vibe," explains Octavio Camacho, Sweetback's 24-year-old promoter and Groovin' High's horn player. "They're playing the things that were real popular in the '70s. We're playing the albums that were hard to find. Even if nobody ever heard of it, if it grooves hard, we play it. That's what it's all about."

Despite the dearth of recognizable hits, grooving has its loyal adherents. Each week, throngs of young regulars, decked out in fashions ranging from hippie to homeboy, shake it on the tightly packed dance floor.

They're here solely through word of mouth; Sweetback's distributes no flyers and doesn't run ads. In fact, most of the people here still call the club Peace Pipe, the name Camacho used six months earlier when he occupied Rudolpho's in Silver Lake.

Although Sweetback's employs its own spin doctor, as many as 10 other deejays also show up, dragging their record collections with them, all clamoring to do unpaid stints at the turntables.

"It's a chance to play the funkiest records," says Charlie Bean, who on other nights is a paid deejay at King King, Cosmo and many after-hours clubs.

"You don't have to play the hits. We play, like, the deepest, rawest, rarest grooves and people still dig it. It's stuff you never get to play at other clubs because nobody will dance to it."

In addition to sets by Groovin' High, Sweetback's holds jam sessions that have attracted musicians including Lenny Kravitz and members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Fishbone.

One trademark of the club is its seamless segue between the records and the live music. "I tell them, look, start jamming along with the record. We'll take the record off and you got it in your hands and you take it wherever you want," Camacho says. "We come off the record and people don't even realize the band is playing until they look up and see people strumming the guitars and the deejay with his hands crossed behind his back."

And how does all this grooving affect the groovers? "It puts everybody in the same space," says Tabala Thomas, a Tuesday night regular.

"It's where diversity blends. Everybody can feel it. Everybody can relate. I mean, what can I say? It just grooves. "

* Name: Sweetback's.

* When: Tuesday nights at Cosmo (formerly the Gaslight).

* Where: 1608 Cosmo St., Hollywood; (213) 466-7800.

* Admission: Free.

* Drinks: Beer, $3-$4. Other drinks, $4-$5.

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