Every Friday, house music fits naturally under the casual red glow at 1201 SW 12th, illuminating murals which reek of garage-sale surrealism. Though truly a lounge, replete with booths and tables, the 1201 still has an ample dance floor and adequate sound system. Local DJs, such as Ronnie, Ainzlynn, and Dorian are meticulously chosen from Portland's enormous pool of house-jocks, and typically keep it moving with a mix of deep, West-Coast house and tech-house. Often a halfway house for rave ex-pats seeking absolution from cheesy warehouse beats, the crowd knows what it likes, which keeps the DJs in check.
As electronic sub-genres often go, drum-n-bass has retained a throng of underground devotees in light of its commercialization. The ideals of "proper" drum-n-bass can be heard emanating from the over-worked bass bins at the Ohm (31 NW 1st) every Sunday, for Crush. The Ohm is extremely good at being what it's intended to be: a nightclub (burly speakers, video projections, and full-on disco lighting). DJ Rico can be heard at Crush, alongside other local exponents of the rolling snares and sub-bass that originated from Bristol, as well as a selection of touring DJs that is without peer.
The 2-step sound has exploded in England, combing slick, R&B-tinged grooves and the frenzied mash of drum-n-bass. Replacing hiphop and booty-bass as the bump du jour of British bass cars (sayonara, Miami ), it has held such a low profile here in the States that it's hard to even catch it played here at all. BSI Records are ahead of the curve, hosting a monthly two-step night, called Bassism, at the plush Fez Ballroom (316 SW 11th). With a bar staff that is uncommonly friendly (especially in comparison to similarly sized venues), an ample amount of (non-skanky) couches and pillows, and vaguely Middle Eastern décor, the Fez surpasses the generic nightclub blueprint. Residents S-Dub and E-3 hold host to a crowd of reggae/dub enthusiasts, club kids, and those otherwise in the know. Steadily gaining momentum, Bassism is now the place to be on first Friday.
Also throwing events with less frequency to preserve a distinctive vibe, Saucebox (214 SW Broadway) has been clearing out the dining area on occasion for intimate dance parties. While dinner is understandably low-key as per usual, things can get a touch rowdy once the proceeding are in full swing, giving boisterous individuals opportunities to climb onto the bar and bust a move. DJs Mr. Mumu and Bobby Bossa from 360 Vinyl, as well as special guests, drop everything new and funky, including house, downtempo, and Brazilian.
In the vein of New York's Twilo and Limelight, weekends at Level are the closest thing Portland has to a "superclub" to call its own. Adjoining Lush Restaurant at the corner of NW 6th and Couch, where DJ Atom 13 holds residence on the weekends, this new addition to Portland nightlife is a renovated theatre with a cavernous ceiling and a massive sound and lighting system. Expect appropriately "big-room" house and techno, characterized by walloping kick-drums and driving synths, from the likes of DJ combos Ben & Ravi, Derrick Fischer & Taki, and DJ B & Mr. Mumu. Also be prepared for the unavoidable downsides of partying in a club of this magnitude--namely, muscling through hordes of suburban yahoos to join a seemingly eternal wait for a cocktail.
If you're looking to avoid the downtown scene, it's truly all about the music every Tuesday at Virus, inside of the unlikely Conan's Pub (3862 SE Hawthorne). Resident DJs Smokeshell and Electrokid host this night with an air of casual camaraderie and an emphasis on accelerated breakbeats that falls into the gray area between club and rave. While the tunes aren't as suave and polished as what you might find on the other side of the river, it's nice to see folks wear something besides black for a change.