DJ Twisted Dee
DEE’S DANCE TWIST… Denise Gurney, who goes by DJ Twisted Dee, is making a name for herself by going against the grain. She spins warm, fun, funky, sexy house with clear roots in disco, but she does it in a gay circuit scene known mostly of late for its tribal, dark, often oppressive vibe. Instead of just loading up on beats with a little melody and a little vocal shouting for color, Twisted Dee focuses on astutely mixing actual songs and true vocal anthems. Obviously then she has her work cut out for her in gaining recognition, but, as she shows on her appealing debut compilation, Addiction, that’s not even the beginning of her trouble. Six minutes into the hour-plus set, she plays the Pussy Dub Foundation’s rising "Stand Up," which calls on "Mr. DJ" to play the groove. Several songs later comes Robbie Rivera & Axwell, who repeat the conceit on the lovely "Burning," with singer Suzan Brittan telling "Mr. DJ" she’s ready for the beat. Twisted Dee, you see, is a woman — and a lesbian at that — in a man’s world: the DJ booth. Women are far and away the voice of dance music — there’s not a male vocalist on this or most other compilations, for example — and ironically we have men largely to blame for that monopoly.
None of that should deter you from this set, or from checking out Twisted Dee, a "Cherry Grove" Fire Island favorite, when she spins again this Friday, August 27, at Apex. In fact, it should compel you to go, as much to support womanhood as to support fetching house. Addiction is a sweet, slight set — slight in the best sense of the word. With her frequent calls to love and be loved — and less about love gone wrong for a change — Twisted Dee reminds us that the dance floor isn’t strictly for dancing.
We must take issue though with her lack of providing many details about the mostly unfamiliar songs here. As well as for including in the set "Superstar" by Love Corporation — a dance hit originally made famous by Love Inc. featuring Simone Denny. If it was too burdensome to get permission to use the original, she should have gone with something other than this completely photocopied coverÂ…
CHICAGO’S LASTING DANCE INFLUENCE… This Saturday, August 28, the city of Chicago has officially decreed Frankie Knuckles Day. Knuckles, the first recipient of the Remixer of the Year Grammy, back in 1997, was such a pioneer in creating the post-disco house sound, which sprung from his then-base — and hence, house music’s base — of Chicago, the city has even named a street after him. (He now lives in his hometown of New York.) House music in Chicago started in the city’s gay clubs, which first introduced the raw, gritty, stripped down track-heavy sound that still characterizes most house, and nearly all the dance music played in the gay club scene today, from deep house to tribal to dance-pop.
Since the spring, the leading early Chicago house music label Trax Records has released one anniversary collection after another, to celebrate its 20 years of house happiness. But the earliest house hasn’t aged very well. It was the electronic baroque soundtrack of the early 80s, when every DJ tried to outdo the next by experimenting with how many sound effects they could pile on their tracks. Sirens blared and discombobulated voices — usually male, proving things do change — stuttered and repeated inconsequential phrases like "jack the bass" and "house nation." Some of it had lasting appeal for sure, especially that most taken with updating the best sounds of disco. One of the more recent Trax retrospective releases, Queer Trax, proves this better than the others. Queer Trax was mixed by relatively new Chicago DJ and producer King D, too young to remember the earlier days, but still "a member of the church, natch," the press release points out — the church being the gay house scene. King D has thrown in several new house tracks from the rechristened Casablanca Trax label alongside the Trax classics. For example, you’ll want to hear the galloping beat, campy rap-talk and double-entendre lyrics of "Fix My Sink" by The Platinum Orchestra again and again on the dancefloor. And Jere McAllister’s "A Perfect Love" proves that some house remains timeless.
As for the classics, Knuckles’ "Bad Boy" shines as the cream of the crop, with its explicit gay sensibility; "Well you might call me a queer, well you might call me a freak/But when you’re looking for pleasure, it’s me you want to meet."Â Not to mention its explicit ode to Donna Summer and "Bad Girls," right down to its "beep-beep" heartÂ…Â
XTINA & MISSSY’S DISCO WASHÂ… Three years after they made sweet marmalade together, Christina Aguilera and Missy Elliott are back. This time, they’ll cover the disco great “Car Wash.” Of course, Elliott was mostly behind the scenes last time, on the all-star remake of the Labelle disco hit “Lady Marmalade,” as featured on the “Moulin Rouge” soundtrack. This time out, Aguilera and Elliott have freed their ladies Pink, Lil’ Kim and Maya to remake, just the two of them, one-hit-wonder Rose Royce‘s 1977 No. 1 hit for the animated film Shark Tale. Based on an early preview, the remake doesn’t sound very promising. Aguilera plows her vocal vehicle throw the wash, stripping it of much camp value and then polishing it with too much earnest wax. Who taught Aguilera to buff and shine?
Other covers will appear on the soundtrack, due Sept. 28, a couple days before the movie, including Mary J. Blige, covering the soaring “To Be Real” disco classic, originally sung by Cheryl Lynn; and Ziggy Marley and Sean Paul, collaborating on a cover of Ziggy’s father Bob’s “3 Little Birds”Â…
WILL & GRACE & CARLY, TOOÂ… A cover or two will also factor in another soundtrack set for an upcoming release. But the main focus of Will & Grace: Let the Music Out! will be on the stars, both regulars and guests, of NBC’s most-popular sitcom. Eric McCormack, who plays Will, joins Barry Manilow on the song “Living with Grace,” which in fact was co-written by McCormack and Manilow for the compilation. Megan Mullally will team with Carly Simon on Simon’s past hit “The Right Thing to Do.” Sean Hayes and Debra Messing will be featured with the other two on “He’s Hot!,” a specially prepared club mix of memorable lines taken from the show. And then there are songs from notable guest stars, including Cher (“Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves”), Elton John (“The Bitch is Back”) and Jennifer Lopez (“Waiting for Tonight”). Madonna appears to be a no-show, however. The press release touts a “special edition” of “Footloose,” recorded by “the Bacon Brothers.” (Kevin, is that you?) The compilation will be in stores September 14, two days before the seventh season premiere of the showÂ…
COVER ME, SMOTHER MEÂ… As you’ll notice, we’re smothered in covers right now. Of the worst kind: tepid patchworks of songs from the ’80s. They mar several recent dance compilations. The practice for years has been DJ Julian Marsh‘s stock in spin, and now his m.o. seems to be spreading across Centaur Records’ ever-growing circuit DJ roster. Obviously there’s a market for this. Marsh’s Pride 04 is his first such compilation in several years that’s at least tolerable — at least its first half — but it’s still a bit much to take, with hardly any thought given to actually mixing tracks, and as little thought given to the tracks themselves, more than half of which are uninspiring covers of decades-old hits. This includes White Spaces featuring Jim Kerr‘s “Alive & Kickin.” It’s a strange piece of work, a nearly note-for-note, beat-for-beat reworking — complete with unfortunate, showy electric guitar — of the appealing Simple Minds‘ hit of yore, sung by former Minds lead singer Kerr. Not quite a cover then, but certainly not the original. And why not the original, if that’s all you got?
Centaur’s GayDays 2004 compilation, mixed by new Centaurian Randy Bettis, is better, in no small part because Bettis doesn’t overdo the cover craze. I’d venture to guess that, as the newbie, he was asked to include a couple covers. To one-up that request, he ingeniously includes a couple unobjectionable covers of songs made popular by giants like Donna Summer and Elton John. Then, a song or two later, he adds recently released songs from those same artists, which sound better.
And then there’s David Knapp‘s Soakin’ Wet. It’s the best compilation I can remember from veteran DJ Knapp, and that’s saying something: Knapp is an always-reliable compilation mixer. He features one newly christened Billboard Club Play Top 10 hit after another — notably Debby Holiday‘s “Drive” and Jahkey B‘s “Heart Attack.” But just when you’re ready to proclaim it the best compilation from Centaur so far in 2004, and maybe even one of the best from any label this year, Knapp somersaults right out of bounds, ending his set with not one but two awful covers. The worst is “Chains of Love.” That Erasure hit, in true fashion, was dramatically over the top, and every cover of it should be over the top. But not Up With People over the top. Few songs should be Up With People over the top. Liquid 360 is so happy, singing what should be a last-gasp tribute to dying love, that they don’t even seem to sense the weight of the lyrics. (“We used to talk about the weather/Making plans together/Days would last forever.”) So, sing it with me, back to them: don’t give up, don’t give up nowÂ…
POP’S SWINGING POLITICSÂ… As recently as April, it seemed that save for a couple hip-hop impresarios it would be the usual four-year counterculture rumbling: an indie-pop band like Le Tigre here, an alt-country folkie like Steve Earle there, and of course Yoko Ono. Otherwise, political agitation among pop musicians seemed as if it would be fleeting at most. Once Nightline entered the picture though, with an entire episode last week devoted to pop culture politics and lead agitator Bruce Springsteen, it seemed I sorely underestimated the beat Bush brigades’ bona fides. Here’s an accounting:
Making his first real move into partisan politics, Springsteen is the lead performer on the Vote for Change Tour, put on by the liberal MoveOn.org and America Coming Together. The tour will visit 28 cities in nine presidential election battleground states. Pennsylvania is the closest they’ll get to us, and six separate concerts are scheduled on the same day, Oct. 1, around the state. Springsteen and his E Street Band will perform in Philadelphia alongside R.E.M., John Fogerty and Bright Eyes.Â Pearl Jam and Death Cab for Cutie will perform together that day in Reading, Pa.Â Among those performing further afield: Dave Matthews Band in State College, Pa.; John Mellencamp and Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.; Dixie Chicks and James Taylor in Pittsburgh; and Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt in Williamsport, Pa. Tickets go on sale Aug. 21. Visit http://www.moveonpac.org/vfc/ on the web.
Springsteen may be getting most of the press at the moment, but R.E.M. is gearing up to be the loudest voice for change. In addition to participating in the Vote for Change Tour, R.E.M. will release its next album Around the Sun on Oct. 5, and it will tour all that month in support of the album in a get-out-the-vote way. This includes a stop at DAR Constitution Hall Nov. 1 — Election 2004 Eve, certainly no coincidence. In addition, R.E.M. contributed a song to the compilation Future Soundtrack of America, due out next Tuesday, Aug. 17. The CD benefits MoveOn.org and Music for America, among other groups. R.E.M.’s offering is a "MoveOn Mix" of its new anti-war song "Final Straw." Other artists contributing to the compilation include Blink-182, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fountains of Wayne, Sleater-Kinney, will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas and OK Go. The compilation — visit http://www.barsuk.com/web.cgi?fsfa — was organized by They Might Be Giants principal John Flansburgh.
Until we can confirm that Le Tigre will release its next politically motivated album and tour this fall, as previously announced, Ani DiFranco will serve as our indie-music political princess. DiFranco has announced details of her swing-state Vote Dammit tour, in conjunction with the Feminist Majority Foundation’s "Get Out Her Vote." Comedian Margaret Cho will join DiFranco on her stops in Minneapolis and Madison, Wis., though not on her Sept. 11 stop in Baltimore or her Sept. 12 stop in Richmond, Va. No, Maryland and Virginia are not generally considered swing states. But keep it quiet, will ya? It’s a good excuse for DiFranco to get close to what must be some of her best fans: she is expected to release a concert DVD this fall from her two D.C. stops last May.
This year’s dance-music-oriented United Beats for Peace tour will stop in "Waynesboro, D.C." — I think they mean our town — over Labor Day. D.C.-native BT will headline this Earthdance Foundation concert with Dan "The Automator" Nakamura and Particle. Clearly inspired by last decade’s rave culture, the concert aims for a community feel, with speakers, a voter registration drive, and information on "green edge" companies and local nonprofits. The event will be at Nation on Sunday, Sept. 5. More information is available at http://www.earthdance.org/. Maybe drop organizers an email while you’re there, to let them know our town’s real name.
Finally, a weekly email newsletter has just been launched to keep track of all the arts-related political events happening this year. The Involver newsletter is focused on events in New York (where it’s based) as well as what it calls this year’s 20 swing states, Pennsylvania and West Virginia being the two closest to us. Visit http://www.involver04.org/ on the web.
Will all this fire in the pop belly be no more than just, as Ted Koppel put it, preaching to the choir, those already planning to vote Democratic? Or will it do much more and backfire, earning the Prez some sympathy votes — incomprehensible as that sounds — from swing-state political fence-sitters with much disdain for Hollywood do-gooders? It’s cause for pause, and for hope that organizers of these events will work to limit damaging media sound bitesÂ…
SHINY HAPPY IRONYÂ… "I went with a group of friends and they all jumped up and screamed, ‘Oh my god, you’re in the movie!’" That’s Kate Pierson of the B-52′s, telling Soundwaves about her thoughts on Michael Moore’s use of the R.E.M. song "Shiny Happy People" in his anti-Bush documentary Fahrenheit 911. Pierson, who shared vocals with R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe on the 1991 song, had no idea going into the theater that the song would be featured, since R.E.M. owns the copyright. But she wholeheartedly approved of its use. Turns out she’s voting for change, too. "The song was meant to be sort of ironic,” she says. “And it was perfectly used.” The song is played over shots of smiling Bush Administration leaders as they lead up to war in IraqÂ…
THE CURE AND MODERN-DAY REMEDIESÂ… The Cure may be the headliner — the chief reason most people would consider going, and more to the point the chief reason why all the other opening bands exist. But when the eight-band Curiosa Festival stops by Columbia’s Merriweather Post Pavilion this Friday, Aug. 6, I’ll be paying closest attention to several of those sharing the bill: Interpol, The Rapture and Mogwai. The tour is basically a vanity project, demonstrating The Cure’s three-decades-long influence on many of today’s best and brightest retro-rock revivalists. It’s too easy to dismiss Interpol and the Rapture for plying the tried and true, offering little in the way of the truly new. But these two bands earn their contemporary relevance for the manner in which they cull from their forebears.
And in fact, both bands, to my biased ears, hark back to the tightly wound nervous energy of early U2 as much as, if not more than, The Cure’s unraveling heartbreak. I can only take so much of the heartbreak. Which is why The Rapture’s dance-rock debut, Echoes, was so hard to warm to last fall: it opens with clear Cure-inspired murkiness, the ex’s lament "Olio." It’s an underdeveloped tune with few notes and one phrase, "over and over again," repeated over and over again — in lead singer Luke Jenner‘s yelping, shrill voice. It’s an acquired taste of a voice, and it works better on some tracks than others, especially those where he keeps it from shattering. "I Need Your Love," the band’s second single, is a magical dance-rock gem, with a Prince-worthy funk bass line. The best argument for the band, though, is bassist and sometime keyboardist, Mattie Safer. Originally from D.C., Safer does the town proud as one of rock’s best bassists.
The four smarties in Joy Division-loving Interpol — formed while attending New York University — run a tight musical ship of methodically swelling guitars: three of them, strumming in magnificent harmony. Their strong, conceptual debut, Turn on the Bright Lights, featured several masterful songs, including the enigmatic "Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Going Down," and one song after another making a case for rock composition as a high art form. Their sophomore album, Antics, is due next month, and it is said to be lighter and more dance-oriented. It might not work: Daniel Kessler‘s anxiety-wracked voice was wholly unsuited to their most sunny-sounding song to date, the guitar stomper "Say Hello to the Angels." They’ll reportedly play a couple of the new tracks on the Curiosa stage, so we can get an early glimpse to see if they’ve improved on this.
Mogwai is said to be captivating live, though you don’t sense that from the Scottish instrumental rock group’s most recent album, the sarcastically named Happy Songs for Happy People. The most interesting thing about the album is the song titles — most tracks come and go before you even notice them, and those that do display passion display too much of it, in blustery heavy-metal style. Here’s hoping the band finds a live-performance middle ground along the lines of the crescendo-laden, cinematic tune "I Know You Are But What Am I"Â…
ERASURE’S BELL TOLLSÂ… Speaking of ’80s Britpop, Erasure‘s fey frontman Andy Bell is currently putting together his first solo album. Billboard reports that Bell is working with London DJs Philip Larsen, who co-produced Kylie Minogue‘s Grammy-winning dance-popper "Come Into My World," and Chris Smith. The two, as Manhattan Clique, remixed several songs from Erasure’s last album, Other People’s Songs. Billboard quoted Larsen saying Bell’s debut is an electic mix that will "encompass styles that people may not have heard Andy sing before." The album will drop early next year, but it doesn’t mark the end of Erasure; the duo of Bell and Vince Clark will release a next set prior to Bell’s soloÂ…
MTV’S NON-TOXIC DANCE VIDEOSÂ… They’re almost inconsequential, the awards given out at the MTV Video Music Awards, which this year will air live Aug. 29 from Miami. The VMAs are all about spectacle. And anyway the nominees are always drawn from the same small pool of artists — hip hop and R&B, almost exclusively — who could get video exposure on MTV (if, you know, MTV played videos). We feel the need to draw your attention to the half-assed nominees for Best Dance Video. Half-assed not because the videos or the artists themselves are half-assed, though Usher ("Yeah") and the Black Eyed Peas ("Hey Mama") are seriously overexposed these days. Half-assed, we say, because every video here (also including Missy Elliott‘s "I’m Really Hot, Beyonce‘s "Naughty Girl" and Britney Spears‘ "Toxic") is nominated in at least one other of the nineteen categories.
You could argue that this means MTV only primarily plays dance videos (or they would if they played videos). But what it really means is that MTV’s a little clueless about dance music today, only considering those videos with choreography as dance videos. The obvious intent of the award is to honor dance music, but four of the five nominees are also nominated in the best choreography category. And the only one nominated for best dance video and not best choreography? The only one that comes closest to what I thought was a commonly held conception of dance music, "Toxic." Obviously it’s the one that should winÂ…