R.I.P. Norman Mayers: A Tribute From Strictly Social's Aaron Paar
Brothers in beats: Strictly Social's Aaron "DJ Destroyer" Paar (left) and Norman Mayers
Courtesy of Aaron Paar
On January 12, 2016, Norman Mayers passed away from pneumonia at the age of 37. As the founder of Nu-Soul magazine and co-presenter of the Strictly Social music night, Norman was an important figure in L.A.’s progressive soul, dance and electronic music communities. He was also my friend.
Norman was born in the Bronx, N.Y., in 1978. As a young boy, I’m told, he was very sweet and very kind. He went to Barbados for about eight years as a teenager and finished his high school and community college there, then moved to Atlanta to finish up more school, eventually earning degrees in English literature, history and film. His next stop was Miami, where he fervently became a raver. That was his roots. He was very much into Florida breaks. He didn’t DJ that much, but when he did, that was his sound.
He was a brilliant writer and that was his passion: to write about what at the time was called neo-soul. Remember Jointz magazine? It was a little, local raver zine he wrote for. I wish there was a way to get ahold of some of those, because I think that’s really where he developed his writing style. He also wrote for Urb, BPM and Jive, to name a few.
In 2006, he started Nu-Soul magazine, which was his main outlet for expressing his admiration for new artists coming up. He loved so many different kinds of music; he wasn’t pigeonholed into just soul. Even though his magazine was called Nu-Soul, he was also into electronica, and recently started getting into future bass and future dancehall. He wasn’t like, “I’m just a nu-soul/R&B guy.” If he felt passionately about it, he would put it out there, no matter what kind of music it was. And it was never about the “hot” artist. It was always somebody who’s not really been talked about much. I think a lot of artists were very appreciative of that.
In 2007, he reached out to me on MySpace – yeah, that was still during the MySpace days — because he saw I was doing this night called Strictly Social at Skinny’s in North Hollywood. I was doing what was called soul beats and progressive soul; his thing was more nu-soul, but we just gelled. He met me there and right off the bat, he was like, “Do you want to work together? I’ve got all these groups and artists who need a place to play, and it would be great to do some live stuff.” And I was totally into it, because I was just doing DJ stuff. So he was the catalyst in us coming together and really building the Strictly Social brand as something we co-presented, through Nu-Soul (him) and Soul Union (me).
Ninety percent of the Strictly Social booking was all him. I was handling the DJs and the sound. We ran for about eight years. We started at Skinny’s, then we went to Little Temple, where the Virgil is now. It was a great period.
Promoting shows is a thankless job. People appreciate what you do, but they don’t really thank you directly. They’re just there to see the artists. But Norman was never one to seek that approval or any accolades. He just kept doing it. He was a workhorse. He inspired me and motivated me to keep going in those early days when sometimes we were like, “Well, maybe we’ll get 10 people tonight.”
Norman was just a beautiful spirit. He was always laughing, always smiling. He lit up the room. He’d buzz around and talk to everyone, make sure everyone was having a good time. He was just a very vibrant personality. I was more moody, maybe, but we hit it off as a good team. We worked together really well. We had conflicts of interest sometimes, but the goal was always the same: to promote the artists we loved.
He was one of the first guys to book the Soulection crew, as well as other local artists like Jimetta Rose, Sy Smith, Mark de Clive-Lowe, Thavius Beck, Sa-Ra, Shafiq Husayn, Anderson .Paak, back when he was called Breezy Lovejoy. We also brought in people nobody had ever heard of in Los Angeles, from all over the country. Sometimes we would have somebody doing beats, then someone more traditional R&B with a band, then someone doing house or drum ‘n’ bass. There was always a really eclectic feel. We ended up taking our brand to San Francisco and doing a Strictly Social up there; we also did one in Atlanta, for the Soul Summit, and one in New York. People in New York still talk about that show because the energy was insane.
Mayers and Paar together at Strictly Social
Courtesy of Aaron Paar
Norman’s main focus was always championing the next. The unsung. Not up-and-coming, exactly, but just people that didn’t have an outlet. He gave them a chance to get onstage and be creative. That was really the most important aspect of what he did for the L.A. soul community.
We took a break from Strictly Social a couple years ago. I got burnt out on promoting; I wanted to focus on DJing more, and my 7-inch record label. But he kept going with doing shows, and stayed on that path. He did another recurring event called Art & Soul, and a bass and breaks night called Broke as Fuck.
The last time I saw him in person was at an event he did called Sangria Sundays at the Bonaventure with In the Mix LA. Jarell Perry, who actually just sang at Norman’s memorial, was performing. Norman was in great spirits. We were even talking about doing something in 2016.
After that, we did a little bit of texting here and there. I texted him on Christmas Day to wish him a happy Christmas, and I didn’t get a return text. I thought maybe he was out of town or something, but I thought it was odd, because usually he was really responsive. I found later he was feeling sick then and had checked himself into the hospital. I think he checked himself out, then checked back in, and that’s when it got really bad.
Nobody really knew how sick he was. It took everybody by surprise. We found out later he had been planning to go back to New York to have his family look after him until he got better, but it didn’t happen. The funny thing is, he was a total fitness freak. So no one saw this coming.
A couple weeks before he passed, I was thinking we needed to do another Strictly Social. It’s unfortunate we didn’t get to do one last one together.
We’re doing a tribute at the Complex in Glendale on Jan. 31 – a memorial with DJs, for friends and family. And this year would have been the 10-year anniversary of Nu-Soul magazine, so we’re looking at doing a Nu-Soul/Strictly Social tribute on his birthday, which is in April, commemorating him and his magazine, having all the artists he supported over the years come out and do something.
What else can I tell you about Norman? He was a beautiful soul. He was a gym rat. He loved Thai food. He touched a lot of people’s lives and brought a lot of people together, especially judging by the outpouring of love for him online and how many people came out for his memorial service last Wednesday. He was a catalyst for a lot of things in the progressive music community, and I think it’s important that he be remembered for that. He never made a big deal out of it, but he quietly built a community of artists and musicians around him, and I think people now will recognize that.
As told to L.A. Weekly music editor Andy Hermann.
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