Baltimore’s Newest Hair Salon and the DJ Duo Behind It by Nicole Clark
The first time I met Katie and Danny Elder, it was at Baltimore’s now-retired Paradox nightclub during an underground house music event known as Deep Sugar. The DJ-duo had just finished playing a set that was so dope, even the reclusive club-goers were on the dance floor bobbing to the beat. After the set, I tried to shake the Elders’ hands to thank them for their mix. They insisted on hugs and offered me a seat near their friends.
The second time I met the Elders, I was sitting in a styling chair in the couple’s new salon in Roland Park, Soul Love, getting my hair colored and trimmed. An exquisite piece of DJ machinery aka “the booth” sat near the salon’s entry way. The booth consisted of a Technics SL1200 MK5 turntable, two Pioneer CDJ 2000 Nexus 2’s, an Allen+Heath rotary XONE 92 mixer, and a special mount to display the LP album cover of the record playing through the sound system. Their turntables had followed them in their new venture – from dance halls to the salon – as had I.
“This salon is a dream turned into a realty, against all odds,” Katie said. “We’re just a couple of Baltimore natives with a lifelong passion for music and hair, whose dream is to make people feel good and lift them up. You know, the kind of stuff that happens on the dance floor.”
The Elders opened Soul Love in October 2017 in the heart of Baltimore’s Roland Park neighborhood. The opening required a sustained effort to manage the precarious logistics (and odds) of opening their own brick and mortar business. It included the selling of their home in Patterson Park, all the while hunting for a new house to rent that was near their shop and with an owner that didn’t mind their bully-breed dogs and cat.
Just six months in, their nouveaux salon concept – hair + art + music – is turning heads, earning them a spot in the Charmed Life section of Baltimore Magazine’s March 2018 issue. Their team includes the two of them, as well as previous Crafted Hair Studio stylist Vanessa Vale and upcoming stylist Emily Walsch. Katie and Daniel have mentored all Soul Love stylists.
“Soul Love is a stimulating and creative environment, full of love, laughter, friendship, and of course, fabulous hair,” Vale said.
The unisex salon specializes in all forms of hair design, style and make-up; precision to avante-garde cuts, short-long, multidimensional color, natural to fantasy.
“When your hairstyle reflects who you are, and where you’re at in life, it’s like the same sensory experience of when a song mirrors your soul,” Katie said.
More than a well-developed brand, Soul Love is both the physical and metaphysical manifestation of the Elders’ dream – a place and a feeling. Soul Love “the place” is a salon, for all intents and purposes, and is located at 409 W. Cold Spring Lane. It replaced Balance Salon, which moved to Remington. It is a place that platforms the Elders’ and crew’s hair wizardry and passion for music. Soul Love “the feeling” is what you leave with after an encounter with the salon team, the kind of community love that hugs you from the inside and reminds you of your humanity.
One day, if their dream continues to unfurl itself, it will host open deck DJ nights and artist mixers, building on their seasonal pop-up party – also called Soul Love – which they debuted at Ten Tigers Parlour in D.C., and plan to host at other venues in the coming year.
“When you come into Soul Love you are our most special guest,” Danny said. “This is our home, and at home I’d have our turntables.”
“We want to broaden our community by sharing it, by giving others access to it, and by connecting people with each other,” Katie said. “It goes back to our beginnings in the underground music and rave scene – it was all about connection and community.”
The Elders go way back – both as a couple, and as hair stylists. Married since 2001, Katie and Danny have more than 20 years of professional experience under their belts in the hair industry. Katie said she’s enjoyed doing hair and makeup since she was a young girl, but she dismissed it as a viable career for many years. A car accident left her with carpal tunnel in her wrists when she was sixteen years old. She put off doing what she loved until she met Danny, and he offered a pragmatic approach.
“I told her, ‘Just do it, until you can’t do it any longer,’” Danny said. And so, she did.
They both earned their chops at Canton’s Grapevine Hair Studio, working for 14 years under the direction and mentoring of owner/stylist Jennifer Chodnicki.
“Working with Jennifer, we learned the importance of having someone who appreciated you,” Katie said. “She pushed us to find a hobby outside of hair to help cultivate and nurture the artist’s soul.”
The story of the Elders’ meeting and their entwined journey through hair and music, is something of an allegory for Baltimore’s underground house music scene from the early 90s to present. There are ups and downs, changes, searches for a place to call home, and soul discovery.
The two met in the music scene in 1999. Katie, a Jane of all trades, worked a classic office gig by day and moonlit as a bartender and cigarette girl handing out promotional packs to Baltimore night owls on her assigned nightclub and bar circuit.
Danny, who grew-up shampooing hair with his hairdresser mother, parted ways from the craft at the age of 18 to join the Marine Corps but returned to hair after he received an honorable discharge due to a knee injury. He’d made his way through hair school and was a year into his profession when he and Katie’s paths crossed at The Depot, a local bar a couple doors down from Club 1722 in Baltimore’s Station North neighborhood.
Danny started as a music collector and basement DJ in the early 90s, carefully curating music and mixes for his friends. His journey into the rave scene, and later Katie’s, became a way of life.
“The early rave scene was before social networking and thrived off a committed community of people from all over the country using underground communication. Flyers and word of mouth created a snowball effect. You’d go to one party and get literature for the next party,” Danny said. “It was simple. Eventually you made friends, would meet new people and exchanged phone numbers.”
The Elders were nightlife personalities and supporters, early on, but both took their time falling into the role of DJ, wanting to be true to themselves, to the art and to their musical friends.
“There are waves of people that come and go, and there will always be people who will jump on something when it’s hot. I didn’t want to be that,” Danny said. “The music defined me. It was more than a scene, it was a movement.”
By the early 2000s, Danny was playing out, meeting event promoters and developed a following. Over time he says he saw the DJ spark in Katie. Katie says she remembers moments on the dance floor when music measures and transitions began to make sense for her. “I could hear the math in the music,” she said. But like, Danny, she waited to get behind the turntable until the right moment.
“There were very few female DJs, back then, and I knew if I started spinning, it could change the dynamics between Danny and me. He’d been playing for a while and he needed to shine on his own.” Eventually, Katie played out a few gigs, an experience she describes as “scary beautiful.”
It was a good time for the underground house music scene in Baltimore, with options like Shorties, which was owned by DJ FeelGood, Lisa Suit and host to Open Decks Night. By 2008, the Elders were part of a core team backing Deep Sugar party events at the Paradox.
Up until early 2000s, there was Good Love, Sonar, Club Midnight, The Belvedere’s Kobe Lounge and 13th Floor, Club Hippo, Club 1722, DVerse, Red Maple, The Spot, Spy Club, along with promoters like Sonic Soul, Catastrophic, Ultraworld, Family Productions and Family Tree throwing underground parties. But the core of the scene was the Paradox and its owner, Wayne Davis, hosting many of these promoters and others from Baltimore and beyond.
“The Paradox was key to Baltimore’s scene,” Danny said.
Davis kept the spacious warehouse open with the sound system booming for 25 years, and notoriously so because he did it without a liquor license. Alcohol sales didn’t keep the lights on at the Dox, the people coming to dance did.
“If you’re under 40, Wayne Davis has had a hand in keeping the party going in Baltimore for the entirety of your life,” Bret McCabe, wrote in the City Paper article “Man of House” in June 2016.
Baltimore’s scene took a blow with the closing of the Paradox in February 2017, the long-time hub for deep house music collectives like Deep Sugar, host to some of the genre’s biggest voices like the late K-Swift and Rod Lee, and the place where DJs Scott Henry and Charles Feelgood built their Thursday night Fever parties into one of the Mid-Atlantic’s biggest raves in the 1990s.
The Darkroom, Diskobar, The Eagle, 1722 and any number of friends’ living rooms and basements represent current landmarks in Baltimore’s landscape of underground music venues. But, it’s not what it once was, say the Elders.
“I used to be able to tell you five parties to hit on a Thursday, all with great DJs,” Danny said.
“There are still people pushing this movement forward and doing well. Some of the OG players are sharing their history of the music and their progression. Some are mixing with younger DJs, and upcoming crews. They’re all working hard to keep the scene alive,” Katie said.
But there are bigger things at work, which in sum, have contributed to the changes in the scene, the Elders say. Big things like gentrification, stigmas of nightlife, the proliferation and subsequent watering down of the underground culture and shifts in music styles (read: EDM).
“It’s this addiction to immediate gratification,“ Danny said. “Everything we want is at our fingertips, and we stopped investing time to cultivate something real. Can you fall in love with something that you can have immediately? Before, there was build up, and the feeling that there wasn’t anything anywhere else.”
And of course, there’s the inevitable changes that happen as one generation moves into the spotlight, and the seminal generation follows new passions – like a hair salon.
“I suppose even if I could tell you about five hot parties on a Thursday night, we wouldn’t be at them,” Danny said, smile beaming. “We’re business owners now.”
Despite the closure of Paradox in 2017, Deep Sugar has remained strong, taking up residency at D.C.’s U Street Music Hall, with occasional after hour parties at 1722. The collective is made up of international dance music recording artist Ultra Naté, DJ Lisa Moody, Wayne Davis and key friends, DJs and artists from Baltimore like the Elders who made a commitment to give something back to the scene and keep it thriving.
“Meaning it goes beyond being just another party but more of a cultural and spiritual experience. A safe space to tune the stress and cares of the world out and let your soul soar,” Ultra Naté said in a post on Deep Sugar’s Facebook page.
“It’s about the movement,” Katie said.
The Paradox may have closed, but the disco ball that hung famously from its ceiling, now hangs in Soul Love, an homage to the club relic, and a vote of credibility to the Elders’ place in the history of Baltimore’s house music scene.
Now and days, local underground music heavyweights like Matmos, Dan Deacon, Rye Rye, Animal Collective, and TT The Artist are often the go-tos for media coverage of the scene, and were the featured names when Vice’s music channel Noisey took their “Made in America” series to Baltimore in 2014.
The episode played up our city’s reputation for “eccentric” artistry, a certain willpower that’s required to hunt and find our pockets of “vibrant DIY culture,” and the racially-charged third rail that Baltimore’s art and music remains hitched to with an electrifying current that pulses through our song lyrics, visual art, and literature leaving people shocked and (hopefully) woke. Eccentric, DIY and racially-charged – descriptors that are attached to Baltimore so often, they’ve become a baseline identity rarely investigated.
When you hear The Elders’ tell their story, the story of Soul Love, you’re getting more than a chronological detailing of a mom and pop business launch. At the risk of reaching for an obvious metaphor, The Elders, young as they are, are seniors in Baltimore’s modern day underground music scene who embody a certain wisdom and history of this city’s efforts to build a movement, and one they are continuing in a new form – a hair salon with a disco ball.
“It’s not about ‘doing it yourself,’” Katie said. “It’s a community thing. It’s people who commit time, money and soul-love to create an experience and community, just for the sake of the experience and community.”