On the Couch 

King Kooba and the Trout kick back with breakbeats -- on our side of the bay.

Nod your head if you've heard this one before: You feel like getting your groove on to some shakin' tunes, but you don't necessarily want to see a live band play. So you decide to go to a DJ bar: If you're an East Bay person, this usually entails a mission out to SOMA, the Haight, or some other hipster-approved spot in Frisco, because, dammit, there just aren't that many DJ bars -- or even DJ nights -- on this side of the Bay Bridge. After securing a parking spot, which in itself can be an adventure, you arrive at the club, show the doorman your ID, and enter. But before you can even approach the dance floor or cozy up to the bar for a gulp of courage juice, you feel the icy stares of the see-and-be-seen crowd checking you out, deciding if you're cool enough to strike up a conversation with. Flashbacks of unfortunate incidents involving prom nights, Kmart dresses, and/or JC Penney suits appear before your teary eyes. Suddenly, all you wanna do is go home. Besides, nonstop German techno can get über-monotonous.

Why should the combination of high-profile dance floors, tacky music, and embarrassingly long waits at the bar to get your Cosmo force you to find solace in DVD rentals and Conan O'Brien when a DJ could be saving your life? Cheer up, sunshine. You're in luck, or you could be, at Kingman's Lucky Lounge (3332 Grand Ave., Oakland), one of the Lake Merritt area's plushest drinking environments. Slow Gin, the venue's new Thursday night weekly, offers all the benefits of a DJ bar -- without the tired aspects of the DJ bar scene.

Laid-back attitude prevails at Slow Gin, the brainchild of King Kooba (who's released two albums on the influential indie Om Records), and his cohort the Trout. The DJs aren't situated in a remote pulpit-like booth in the back, but on a comfortable couch located right by the door. It's just like chillin' in your own living room -- if your crib had turntables, a full bar, red walls, and mood lighting. "I think there's cosmic energy running through the couch," deadpans Kooba, a 6'8" Englishman who moved from London to Oakland about six months ago. The Trout, a native Floridian who's been calling the Bay Area home for about two years, emphasizes that the couch is "essential" to Slow Gin's relaxed vibe.

Crate-diggers to the bone, Kooba and the Trout only spin records they love. Their style leans mostly toward old-school jazz, funk, and soul records, with a twist of downtempo toward the end of the night. They often alternate back and forth, switching off after every record, sort of like dueling breakbeats. It goes a little something like this: Lonnie Liston Smith, followed by Roy Ayers, followed by the JB's, followed by the Headhunters, followed by some obscure cat from the '70s who put out one awesome Latin-tinged fusion record then dropped off the face of the earth. You get the idea: it's all gravy.

"Funk, soul, and jazz -- they all come from the same place," Kooba explains, in the midst of quaffing Sapporos and debating the musical merits of Jimmy Smith. Just then, a satisfied patron passes them on his way out. "You guys did a good job," the man says. "The real deal," he adds, almost to himself. The funky, undulating groove of Barry White's "Never Gonna Give You Up" follows him out the door and down the street.


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