JUNIOR’S JUNIOR, ED BAILEY… Did you know our own Ed Bailey, the promoter of (and sometime DJ at) VelvetNation, will open New Year’s Eve for Junior Vasquez at New York’s Roxy? It turns out, it’s Bailey’s second time as the opening DJ for Junior. Bailey has no plans to leave town, he tells us, though he does expect that the Roxy turn — where he, not Junior, will actually help the crowd usher in 2005 — will help him land other gigs in New York and elsewhere, with or without Junior….
SPEEDO-SPINNING SCOTTY T… The night after Bailey spins, Saturday, Jan. 1, Velvet will bring back gay budding New York DJ Scotty Thomson. You probably won’t be able to see, but there’s a chance Thomson will be nearly naked behind the booth. "I sometimes spin in a Speedo, even when no one can see me," he says in his official press bio, "because it makes me feel like I’m having a good time…and when I’m having fun, so is the crowd.”
Besides being prurient, the notion of Thomson spinning in a Speedo is a fitting image. A 30-year-old DJ who works for Gucci by day, Thomson’s main approach to DJing is to strip down songs both old and new, removing all but a thin layer of familiarity, and then fusing the pieces together to take you places you likely didn’t expect to go. You might hear, for example, the familiar four-and-a-half beat bed of Janet Jackson’s "All Nite (Don’t Stop)," but then almost as soon as you recognize it Thomson will switch course and lay on the a cappella chorus from, say, David Morales’ "How Would You Feel." His approach, which he calls "fun," is in many respects the way of DJs of glory-days-passed — mixing and matching tracks on the fly, not just playing full-length remixes front to back. Thomson hopes it’s also the way of the future. Musically, his sound is very much of the present, with mainly polyrhythmic Latin tribal beats that stomp and billow in the manner of all tribal house DJs, who rule today’s gay clubland….
ALL AGREE-A… Lest you doubt tribal’s hold on gay clubland in 2004, one word is all it takes to convince you: Alegria. Abel Aguilera is the resident DJ at Ric Sena‘s special-Sunday night bash in New York with that name. It’s the most popular gay clubbing outing since the advent of the circuit party. Essentially, Alegria is itself a mere one-night-only circuit party, but, at least with DJ Abel at the helm, the music is better than you’ll find at most any other circuit party. A frequent visiting DJ to D.C., Abel is a master at tribal house, neglecting neither half of that genre’s moniker: His tribal beats are some of the most invigorating and promiscuous snake-rattle charms around, drawn from the sounds of the jungle in Africa and Latin America, as well as the desert in the Middle East. And he always incorporates house melodies and vocals. Even when these are little more than shouts and tired diva wailings, they’re still compelling.
Abel’s Alegria compilation was not the year’s best — well actually, "Peak Hour," or Disc 1, would be, but coupled with the largely colorless monotony of "After Hour" Disc 2, it’s only one of the year’s best. So what’s the best then? That depends on what you’re looking for….
BEST PARTY/RADIO COMPILATIONÂ… We’ve got a tie here, and both compilations derive from singer/songwriters who as DJs aim to stir up the genre, as well as, of course, your next party. Erlend Oye, part of the rather cheeky Norwegian pop duo Kings of Convenience, sings on half of the 18 tracks on DJ Kicks, through original compositions and reworkings of popular tunes like "Venus" and "Always on My Mind." But his surprising blend of house, techno, disco-punk and electro is what really sells the compilation, as well as his playful, highly entertaining approach to the whole affair.
Armand Van Helden is responsible for our pick of the year’s best dance single, "My My My," and that forms the peak of his New York: A Mix Odyssey compilation — a nostalgic trip through rocked-out dance music from the ’80s to today. The compilation also includes another big dance hit, and another of his own: "Hear My Name," featuring the dance-punk female duo Spalding Rockwell. Though we love his remix work, too — this year alone he graced us with marvelous remixes of Britney Spears‘ "Toxic" and Nelly Furtado‘s "Forca," to name but two — we beg of Van Helden to hurry up and put out a full-length artist album…
BEST CHILLOUT/JAZZ DANCE COMPILATIONÂ… D.C.’s own Thievery Corporation turns out an especially jump-and-jivin’ set, The Outernational Sound, that works to expands the parameters of chillout music, which desperately needed to be rejuvenated. And who better to do the deed than the originators of the genre in the first place? Chillout dance doesn’t get any funkier than it does here, with the set’s focus on jam-band jazz and blues gems that have a genuine multicultural, multinational air about them. The world lives as one, at least in a Thievery-drawn musical utopia….
BEST CLUB COMPILATIONÂ… As much as we loved David Knapp‘s Soakin Wet, a circuit party compilation, and Jay-J‘s Loveslapped 3, a to-the-rafters soul-house affair, neither approached the sophisticated level of Gabriel & Dresden‘s Bloom, which merges trance, house, dance-rock and dance-pop in a surprisingly coherent fashion, from beginning to end, or from Disc 1 to Disc 2. This is the sound of club music’s future, folks…
THE GRAMMY DANCEÂ… In a typical year, we’d be crowing about Green Day‘s six Grammy nominations, Gwen Stefani‘s sole one-year-early nod, and Basement Jaxx‘s sweep of the dance categories. And we’d be crying about everything else. But there’s nothing typical about 2004 — it was the best year in pop music this century, and one of the best in at least a decade.
And for a change the 47th Annual Grammy nominees, announced last week, reflect reality. The Grammys rarely reflect the very best, just the very best of the very popular. But this year’s nomination slate is exhaustively strong, particularly in the rock, alternative and country categories. And what of the dance categories? This year there are three. Yes, three — one for song, one for remix, and a new one for best artist album. The competition is fierce, though as you might expect it’s at its most uneven in the newest category. Basement Jaxx should easily take the Best Electronic/Dance Album honor for its Kish Kash, unless name recognition alone hands it to the Prodigy or Paul Van Dyk, whose Reflections is the second-best of the lot. Strange, isn’t it, that Van Dyk got nominated while his arch-rival (and the arguably more popular) Tiesto didn’t, for his equally remarkable Just Be? Strange, too, that Paul Oakenfold‘s Creamfields is here, given that it is, at base, a compilation, not an artist album. Actually that’s a mistake, and one that could come back to haunt the dance community, especially should Oakenfold carry the dayÂ…
GRAMMY REMIX N.E.R.D.SÂ… And what about Felix da Housecat? Well, his Devin Dazzle and the Neon Fever wasn’t nominated for best album, but he is, for Best Remixed Recording honoring "Motor Inn" by Iggy Pop featuring Peaches. We haven’t been able to track that one down, much less hear anything about it. Da Housecat produced the music for another remixer nominee, Sasha, but his work on "Watching Cars Go By" is as slight as the original was lackluster. Not so with Basement Jaxx’s remix of N.E.R.D.‘s "She Wants to Move." Jaxx took a deliriously funky track and — as only they could do — made it somehow funkier. Jacques Lu Cont, a.k.a. the Thin White Duke, is nominated too, but let’s try to forget his cheesy remix of No Doubt‘s lifeless "It’s My Life." That leaves Full Intention’s Michael Gray and Jon Pearn as the most serious threat to the Jaxx, with their full-on house remix of George Michael‘s "Amazing." Their work features a thoroughly predictable bass line, but it works to make you nostalgic for Michael’s glory days, during his mostly uptempo Faith eraÂ…
GEORGE MICHAEL’S BOUDOIR DANCINGÂ… George Michael managed to garner his own nomination at this year’s Grammy — and for one of his few modern-day uptempo tracks too. (Though it’s not actually a dance nominee.) Who cares if he’s only halfway responsible for the giddy delight of "Flawless (Go to the City)," originally performed by The Ones? He’s even less directly responsible for the video, which is the odd-man-out nominee in Best Short Form Music Video. It’s a strong if unrepresentative field of white rockers, and Michael. Though U2, Franz Ferdinand and Green Day all face better prospects for winning, Michael’s is our favorite. "Flawless" is an inspired video of folks engaging in private boudoir dancing as they prep for a night on the townÂ…
THREE TIMES A KYLIEÂ… So will Basement Jaxx sweep all three dance awards? The odds are favorable, though the group’s "Good Luck" does face serious competition in the most prestigious category, that of Best Dance Recording. Kylie Minogue‘s "Slow" is the one to beat here. This marks her third consecutive year as a nominee in the category, and it could be her second consecutive win, after last year’s "Come Into My World." It should be: "Slow" is our pick, even over Britney Spears‘ fun but taxing "Toxic" — and anyway, why wasn’t Armand Van Helden nominated for his tax-free remix of the tune?
Still, Spears has the leg up, given that hers was the more popular dance hit — and given that this marks her only nomination this year. And while we’re on the subject of dissed divas, notice the absence of Janet Jackson? Well, she did manage to rack up two nods, both confined to the R&B categories — none in her usual pop, and just as surprisingly none in dance, not even by association. Where’s Sander Kleinenberg‘s remix nod for "All Nite (Don’t Stop)" for example?
And by the way, notice anything about gender here? Yes, it’s true men dominate dance music. But nowhere near as much as they do at the Grammys this year. Among 15 nominees, women only specifically account for two, and play a mere supporting role in just three others. What gives?Â…
SCISSOR SISTERS KEEP CUTTINGÂ… Kylie’s latest hit in the U.K. is her collaboration with the Scissor Sisters, "I Believe In You," taken from her greatest-hits set Ultimate Kylie. The set will see a U.S. release Feb. 1. And for her second Grammy, Kylie will actually compete against Jake Shears, Babydaddy, Ana Matronic and co. That’s right, the Scissor Sisters’ tripped-out reworking of Pink Floyd‘s "Comfortably Numb" snagged a Grammy notice. Can you believe it? And that’s not all: the quintet will stop yet again in our fair town, where they’ll open yet another leg of a U.S. tour Jan. 12 at the 9:30 Club. Do they love us or what? The day before, the Sisters will release their first DVD, featuring scenes from a U.K. concert, a short documentary and much, much more, they promiseÂ…
MCLACHLAN’S CALLINGÂ… Some videos are worth celebrating because they’re so good. Gwen Stefani‘s "What You Waiting For?" for example. And some videos are worth celebrating because they’re do-good. Have you seen "World on Fire?" Sarah McLachlan‘s latest song is world-weary: "I watch the heavens but I find no calling, something I can do to change what’s coming," McLachlan sings. McLachlan has found her calling in philanthropy. "The more we take, the less we become/The fortune of one man means less for some.” And to that end, McLachlan has donated $150,000 — or the amount the video would have cost, had all services not been donated — to charities, particularly those serving the developing world, from CARE to Heifer International to Engineers Without Borders. You can watch the video at www.sarahmclachlan.com.
It may be her newest hit, but two remixes of "World on Fire" have already come and gone on the Billboard Dance/Club Play Chart. It peaked at No. 2. Oddly enough, remix work for McLachlan has never reached the chart’s pinnacle — Tiesto‘s "Sweet Surrender" didn’t do it, nor did Rabbit in the Moon‘s "Possession." Not even her featured guest vocal on the amazing "Silence" by Delerium could sway DJs enough to feature her voice more than any other for even one week.
Gabriel and Dresden
And it’s not easy for fans to show support. Except for the superb Remix collection released a couple years back, it’s been difficult to track down some popular remixes of McLachlan’s songs. "World on Fire," for example, is available only as a pricey import — and it’s not worth it. It doesn’t even include Marius de Vries‘ remix, for starters. For that, you’ll have to pony up for Nettwerk Records’ Chillout 05/Ultimate Chillout compilation. But you’ll never feel moved by it, not literally. And not figuratively either, as was the case with the original. To literally move to McLachlan’s latest, Junkie XL‘s got your poison. The import-only single includes a truncated version of Junkie XL’s imaginative reworking of the song. For the full version, better to go with Gabriel & Dresden‘s two-disc compilation BloomÂ…
BEAUTIFUL ‘BLOOM’Â… We repeat: Go with Gabriel & Dresden’s two-disc compilation Bloom — even if you could care less about McLachlan and Junkie XL’s remix. Well, give that remix a couple spins before declaring your verdict. I thought it too drawn out and it seemed too stretched through too many bars. It’s still a lot to take, but conceptually, it’s brilliant, musically acting out the song’s lyrics and its alternating mood, from despairing to eternally optimistic. The remix sparks from a lonely guitar chord that slowly ignites every musical equipment — and electronic sound effect — causing them to burn over and over until they’ve run their course, ending in an ember.
But Bloom is far more than one 10-minute remix. It’s actually 22 songs over two discs and two-and-a-half hours, with, amazingly, nary a dud and many a masterpiece to be had. It’s certainly one of a handful of the best compilations released all year. And sixteen of the productions are original. Not only is that unusual, it’s also very welcome. San Francisco-based G&D are among the very best producers and DJs working in dance music today, creating dazzling rhythms both supercharged and restrained, and songs rooted in both pop and rock, both trance and house, with strong melodies at every turnÂ…
NATE KEEPS HOPE ALIVEÂ… If you can make your way up to New York this Saturday, you can hear Junior Vasquez, Peter Rauhofer and Danny Tenaglia, among others, at "Move Against AIDS — Return of the Dance-A-Thon." Another way to support the cause is through the purchase of Keep Hope Alive, a soulful house music compilation benefiting LIFEbeat, the music industry’s AIDS charity. A whole host of house heads benefited their time, recording fees and publishing royalties, coming together as The Underground Dance Artists United for Life to record for the set. They sing as a group a "We Are the World"-style anthem, and individually seven other songs, all written by Blaze. Ultra Nate returns to form, turning out the best song, "A Wonderful Place." She sounds as good as ever. Oh, and if you’re a fan of Barbara Tucker, well, her "Most Precious Thing" is a nice romp through her God-fearing soul. And Byron Stingily produces a Sylvester discofied track, "Spread Love”Â…