July 28, 2022
THE THUNDERING BEAT from inside 24 Oxford echoes out beyond the club’s entrance. It's 9:30 on a Tuesday night at the Virgin Hotel, and the slot machines and hotel lobby are desolate, except for a handful of guests passing by and some gamblers hoping to strike it rich. The DJ’s energy slowly draws people inside the club, where colorful lights pulse to the music. The crowd is just beginning to gather, but within an hour, kinetic dancers will fill the stage and the floor, moving to the rhythms of 1996, a hip-hop dance group. Two hosts enter the stage and urge people to come closer with friendly — albeit potty-mouthed — banter.
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“The crowd tonight feels a little different than usual,” says Tnes Madolora, one of the two organizers of the event, called Tuesday Blend.
“And also very fashionable,” chimes in Jayar Tolentino, the other organizer. Madolora and Tolentino — along with Christian Pacquing and Hazel Jaurado — cofounded Tuesday Blend, a variety showcase that’s been giving local artists a performance platform for 11 years. Their creative entertainment company Worldwide KNXN runs it. Combining fashion, dance, and music into a variety show for an 18+ audience, it centers local DJs, rappers, singers, dancers, and other performers. Normally, Tuesday Blend happens the first Tuesday of every month, but due to the pandemic, the July event is only the second one this year.
It's also special because it’s celebrating both Tolentino’s birthday and the one-year anniversary of his recovery from COVID-19. And it’s a slightly different format than usual in that, this time, Madolora and Tolentino took a step back in the production. The headliner, rapper Toxsikk, invited many of the performers for the night, making it a rap- and dance-focused show. The crowd also understood the assignment, their collective urban and streetwear fashion underlining the theme.
Still, Madolora and Tolentino keep busy, running around all evening. One moment, Madolora photographs performers on stage while Tolentino helps operate the sound board at the back. The next, they’re nodding along to the music and taking selfies with friends and attendees.
It’s an ongoing dance party for five hours, including intermission. That’s when the crowd steps in. One guy head-bops to the beat, slowly at first, then more aggressively as the music turns up; his shoulders jerk and arms strike the air around him, clearing the space, and people back away to form a circle. An impromptu dance battle and breakdancing jamboree break out, now part of the night’s program.
Going to Tuesday Blend is like being transported into a Step Up movie, where you have to assume that everyone around you can dance or rap. The performances start rolling one after another as the hosts, with a drink in one hand and a microphone in the other, invite them on stage, and the crowd congregates towards the center. This blurred line between performer and crowd, “talent” and “spectator,” is part of Tuesday Blend’s magic. It’s also part of its history.
It started as a variety showcase with a focus on rap, as well as Madolora and Tolentino's clothing line, HippoEsthetics. It became more popular within the dance community as more groups joined the stage. “Dance has a lot of influence because of the timing with the Jabbawockeez’ rising popularity around 2010-11,” Madolora says. “Everyone wanted to be in on that, so soon we got a lot of talented dance groups.”
“The first time it was produced as a showcase, Tuesday was the night that was given to us,” Tolentino adds. Hence, the name. They turned a night with usually low turnouts into one of the popular nights at the venue.
Over the past decade, the show’s been all over town. It started at a small lounge in Chinatown back in 2011 and soon got picked up by the House of Blues. Before settling in at 24 Oxford, it was produced at a number of venues, including the Hard Rock Café, Sake Rok, downtown’s CMXX, and Junxion Complex in Boulevard Mall.
Maldora and Tolentino built their lineup by connecting with other arts and culture promoters in the valley. As singers and dancers themselves, they knew people from events such as dance competitions and First Friday. Tuesday Blend now offers everyone involved a chance for community building. New and upcoming performers network and collaborate with established performers to create new art and performances.
The event has also maintained an enticing, underground feel. It started by word-of-mouth, and as it formed its own niche with local artists, continued to expand into fringe creative spaces. Performers like Fred the Gemini, Cyn City, Presto One, and Toxsikk are mainly heard of by avid fans or people who frequent Tuesday Blend. “Expect the unexpected,” is the phrase that gets newcomers to check it out. In this sense, it’s like Mondays Dark, a regular event at The Space, minus the fundraising aspect, and with the addition of a dance party.
Tolentino likens it to Chinatown parties. While Tuesday Blend adheres to its name, a mix of people, art, talent, and culture, you can’t help but notice the strong Asian American and Pacific Islander presence. Tolentino says there’s a mix of the AAPI community within the show, from the artists to the attendees, to Tolentino and Madolora themselves.
Both are first generation Filipino-American. They grew up with both American and AAPI cultures, yet felt like they never quite fully fit in either culture. They found ways to express themselves through their talents, and a lot of their inspiration is from where their families originate. Tuesday Blend’s opening act, local DJ Presto One, was born in the Philippines and has been making music since 1994. Friends with Madolora and Tolentino, he’s been involved in Tuesday Blend since the beginning.
“It’s the community ... the different generations of Asian Americans you see that influence the space,” he says. “There are kids who grew up watching their titas and titos perform when it first started, and now these kids are on stage themselves.”
Past midnight, after a slower tempo middle act, the crowd is hyped from the final performances by Presto One and Toxsikk. There’s a contagious excitement in the air. In a city that thrives on entertainment, Madolora and Tolentino have created an underground talent incubator that encourages inclusivity. Leaving, you can’t help but hope the energy lasts.
The Next Tuesday Blend will be August 2 featuring Filipino-Canadian R&B duo Manila Grey.
AS WITH MANY other ideas, the Seoul of Spain came out of a late-night dining and drinking dash. Some beers, some soju, and some Korean barbecue — what more does one need for inspiration? “I love the flavors of Korean food. I love kimchi fried rice,” says Jeffrey Weiss, chef of Valencian Gold, whose specialty is paella. “Bibimbap is one of the things we've talked about as a Korean cousin to paella. We thought, ‘How do we take these flavors and turn them into a paella?’”
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Bibimbap is a Korean staple, featuring sizzling rice in a hot stone pot topped with vegetables, kimchi, gochujang, doenjang, a raw egg, and meat. It’s easy to see how this dish could translate to a paella.
The rice takes on whatever flavors are infused in it, kimchi in the case of The Seoul of Spain. Gochujang, the eponymous Korean condiment, is a sweet and spicy complement to the decadent smoked brisket. Alone, this rice could be a perfect rainy day comfort food.
But Weiss takes the dish to another level with two bone-in short ribs — which are smoked for nine hours, then glazed with gochujang — served on top of the rice, unlike the tradition of mixing protein in. Shishito peppers and stewed tomatoes add body to the dish, but the vegetable that really shines is the cucumbers, pickled hard with rice vinegar, sugar, and gochujang. Crunchy and acidic, they cut through the dish’s fattiness, acting as a pallet cleanser between main event bites.
The chef further honors his love of Korean barbecue with rotating side salads (bonchon) but usually including kimchee, pickled turnips, and Pimenton vinegar bean sprouts. While beverage options at Valencian Gold remain true to the Spanish restaurant’s roots, it wouldn’t be a surprise if soju or Kloud lager showed up on the menu sometime.
The real trick of this dish is this: Fusion food can often get in its own way — too many components, flavor profiles that don’t make sense, a loss of any real point of view from trying to do too much. This dish avoids those pitfalls.
The Seoul of Spain is a model representation of Valencian Gold. Weiss has already established his ability to knock out top-rate traditional tapas and paella. With this dish, he is pushing a boundary. It’s an exciting concept, well-executed inside a tiny shop in a strip mall on Las Vegas’ outskirts. And perhaps most importantly, the dish is designed to draw maximum flavor out of, and create a harmony between, the two cultures that inspired it.
TO KNOW a place truly is to know it in all seasons. I remind myself of this maxim as I blink sweat out of my eyes, hunched over a PVC pipe jutting out of the grooves of a vast salt flat, coaxing an electrode below the earth’s surface. The sun floats high over rippling ranges of black rock. The mass of dry air filling the Amargosa Valley shimmers. I’m checking shallow monitoring wells to understand flow trends in a wetland near Death Valley Junction. It’s lonely, exposed work — work that ensures the endangered plants that call this place home will have the water they need to withstand the extreme summer.
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Summer in the Mojave Desert reminds human beings that this landscape, for all its beauty and allure, is not known for its softness. The heat and aridity are real, as heavy and constant as gravity. Summer is the great bottleneck that dictates who stays and who goes in these lands: which species have the cleverness, frugality, and downright toughness to make it to autumn, and which do not. Millenia of seasonally extreme heat and aridity have shaped the ecology of the Mojave into its contemporary form. It’s an ecology of thrift, in which the greatest currencies are shade and water.
In these terms, the Amargosa River is a treasure trove for many species that depend on surface water and vegetative cover. The river flows from the mountains of western Nevada south into the Mojave Desert, running 186 miles above and below the surface before coming to rest in Badwater Basin of Death Valley National Park. The Amargosa River supports a network of oases that act as bastions against the raw heat of the desert for birds, mammals, fish, and amphibians, many of whom have evolved into distinct species as a result of prolonged isolation from their nearest relatives. In a very real sense, the incredible biodiversity of the Amargosa Basin is a direct result of the bottleneck’s severity.
But the bottleneck is constricting. Anthropogenic climate change is attenuating the range of many species’ survivability by pushing the summer seasons into a higher gear. Heatwaves in the Southwest are occurring earlier in the year and lasting longer than historical patterns reflect. The 20-year drought has stretched so far that many suggest we stop using the term “drought” altogether. Drought is the new “normal.” Phasing out the use of the term drought, really, is accepting the reality that climate change is pushing landscapes into a new state of being and that a return to the previous state of being is improbable given the trends of warming and emissions. In the Mojave, this means recognizing the narrowing bottleneck.
Researchers have recently reported increased mortality rates of species found both in Death Valley’s highest ecological zones and its lowest. An article in the LA Times documented the death of bristlecone pines on the shoulders of the White Mountains, marking the end of lives that have weathered more than 1,000 years of extreme heat and cold. Drought and warming conditions have led to a steady rearranging of the alpine forests in many parts of the U.S., as they’ve allowed upslope migration of tree species historically unable to survive the cold of higher elevations. As the trees climb, they transport pine beetles into populations that are traditionally preserved from and thus vulnerable to them by the buffer zone of non-beetle carrying pines. It’s resulted in the slow death of bristlecones, some of the oldest and most resilient lifeforms on planet Earth.
In the lower reaches of the Death Valley region, scientists have observed mortality of creosote, a species well-known for its resilience: in years where little else blooms or shows signs of vitality, creosote often finds a way. This is unsurprising, given that creosote was one of the early species to populate the Mojave after the last ice age, when the lakes receded, and the climate changed. But every species, no matter how frugal and tenacious, has a breaking point. And we’re starting to see the early signs of impending ecological collapse, as the bottleneck tightens, pushing species into a fight for their lives.
There are signs of hope. In June, I went to a leadership training in Las Vegas hosted by the Climate Reality Project, an organization dedicated to giving people the knowledge and tools they need to fight for a sustainable future. Around 400 people attended, joining a community of artists, advocates, scientists, business leaders, teachers, students, and representatives from virtually every walk of life in the fight to reign in the climate chaos created by industrial societies. Most striking was the proportion of BIPOC and Gen Z people, two demographic groups that will be the most impacted by the negative effects of climate change. While conversations about Tribal relations, environmental racism, water scarcity, and the responsible transition to renewable energy were being held in every corner of the conference room, a record-breaking heat wave raged across the Southwest just outside the walls.
It can be traumatizing to witness the casualties caused by humans pinching the bottleneck, and in truth we are still in the early days of what will be an awful and protracted degradation of the natural world by anthropogenic climate change. But despite that, there was a vein of contagious optimism running through the Climate Reality Project gathering. The name itself provokes us to accept that climate change is indeed our new reality. To accept this is to accept that using terms like “drought” or “abnormal heatwave” is to irrationally cling to a past chapter of the planet on which the page has been irrevocably turned. A realist’s perspective is one that accepts the situation we find ourselves in and challenges us to do whatever we can, as quickly as we can, to change the course of human history in a direction more aligned with the limits imposed by the landscapes we inhabit.
This is what I ponder as I move slowly across a lonesome stretch of the Mojave, wilting a little under the summer sun. If shelter and water are the greatest currencies here, how will we conserve them? How can we invest our resources to support the species that depend on the steady presence of water and shade? How can we fortify these desert bastions that human and non-human communities call home against increasingly ferocious heat and aridity? And how can we ensure that this new age of conservation is guided by the communities that have historically lost the most and stand to lose still more? These are the questions that push back against the narrowing of the bottleneck.
I’m beginning to know this place truly, I remind myself, shielding my eyes against the sun in my search for another lonesome PVC pipe monitoring well. I walk on, endangered species underfoot, heat working on me like a hammer. I hope that I, too, can make it through the bottleneck.
Mason Voehl is executive director of the Amargosa Conservancy .
Photos and art: Tuesday Blend by Lourdes Trimidal (headline) and courtesy Tuesday Blend; Seoul of Spain by Lourdes Trimidal; Amargosa River Remo Nonaz/Shutterstock
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