DJs Gabriel Sandler (left) and Hyperactive
Step into Jolly Bob's at 8 p.m. on a Saturday, and you'll see well-dressed twentysomethings drinking Caribbean cocktails. There will be a waiting list for the Willy Street restaurant's packed dining room. There won't be any indication that just behind the fish tank, a dance floor will soon appear for a house music show.
This small space is where DJs Wyatt Agard and Lovecraft (aka Tim Thompson) throw a party called House of Love every Saturday. Since starting up in the spring, the event has featured prominent DJs like Jesse Saunders, who performed a tribute to late house legend Frankie Knuckles, and hosted a world record-setting performance by Gabriel Sandler. A growing audience fills the tiny bar with an energy Agard and Thompson call pure magic.
Agard has had a Tuesday-night gig at Jolly Bob's for seven years. When Jolly Bob's owner Tim Erickson expressed interest in adding a Saturday event, Agard jumped at the opportunity.
"It started with me reaching out to some of my out-of-town friends," he explains.
At first House of Love was just Agard and Thompson performing. But before long, house legends began attending -- and spinning.
Agard doesn't often publicize guest DJ appearances in advance, preferring for fans to come out and enjoy House of Love no matter who's manning the decks. He notes that whether the guest DJ is a big name like Chicago's Hyperactive, who visited last weekend, or a talented up-and-comer like Milwaukee's Estelle Fox, who performed in April, "there will be a fantastic night, every week, guaranteed."
Lovecraft and Agard bounce ideas off each other as freely in conversation as they do in their sets, gushing over everything from equipment to what they love about house.
Thompson came to Madison for a rave and decided to move here from Chicago, becoming a household name among local electronic music fans by the late '90s. Agard, a Madison native, booked Thompson for a show at UW Union South a few years ago. They've been friends ever since.
"If it wasn't for Wyatt, I wouldn't doing [shows] as actively as I am right now," Thompson says.
Building House of Love
Isthmus caught up with DJs Lovecraft (Tim Thompson) and Wyatt Agard last Saturday and asked how they pull off turning Jolly Bob's into a prime destination for electronic music fans each week.
Isthmus: What's it like performing together at House of Love?
Tim Thompson: One of things that's been successful about this event is that it's not about current trends. We're digging deep and regularly playing tracks that are 20 years old. It's about a couple DJs who have been doing this a long time bringing in other people and expressing the depth of what house music can offer.
I have no idea what we're going to spin tonight.... We just dive in. Typically it's Wyatt and me [alternating] for the first couple hours and just enjoying the ride.... When you're doing it with someone you meld with well, it can be really fun. It pushes you as a DJ; it forces you to be more creative.
Wyatt Agard: We didn't have much experience playing music as a combined force before this night. It just worked out really, really well. It was an exercise in synchronicity.
What makes Jolly Bob's a good venue for this event?
WA: Intimacy. It's the right size venue. I remember one night back when I was playing those big shows, doing the EDM thing, I was about to play a remix of a Madonna song, and I realized...I wanted something more minimalistic, to get back into smaller venues like this.
It's easier to build a family with the entire crowd. We have enough of a neighborhood presence that I see friendships being formed here every week, and I'm part of it. [Spatially] we're at the same level as the dance floor...and there's one of the best sound systems in Madison.
Electronic music isn't full of interesting chord progressions or jazz riffs or solos; it's about a groove and a rhythm.... To be able to feel as well as hear the sound matters a lot. This is the size of place where house music started in Chicago.
TT: I've had moments here that have absolutely smoked anything I've experienced at giant festivals. I go home every Saturday night and my cheeks hurt from smiling.
How long will the series continue?
WA: I can't imagine wanting it to end. We're booked through October.
TT: You'll have to pry it from our cold, dead hands.