During the extremely short-lived Time of Napster, Jesse Houk was one music lover among millions downloading whatever songs struck his fancy, with nary a glance at his wallet. As the Scumfrog though, Houk was looking for more than just remixes of Madonna's "Music" to play at his next house party. He was shopping for melodies and inspiration for his own song productions and remixes -- for eventual sale.
More than two years later, Houk has become the music industry's go-to guy when they seek creative, dark, ear-catching dance-pop remixes. Since then, he's also increased the output of his own productions, based on his own melodies. And he's an increasingly hot commodity as a DJ worldwide. He credits Napster -- and Napster's creator, Shawn Fanning -- for inspiring him to achieve.
"I am a strong believer that [free] file sharing helps the artist, because the amount of records that you miss out on selling is compensated by the exposure you get from all those downloads," Houk says, adding that it also increases demand for live performances -- as well as live performance fees. Earlier this year, as an example, more than five thousand people downloaded his brooding house track "Music Revolution" from TheScumfrog.com. The downloaders' buzz about the track convinced djs around the world to play it and propelled the song to the top of the billboard dance chart, based on club play -- all before it was commercially released.
"The music revolution that is underway is all about the music reclaiming control over the business," he says. "Technology made it possible to record music and exploit it, but right now that same technology is slowly making it impossible to control the exploitation of recordings.
"We're entering an era where recorded music will simply be one aspect of overall ‘Entertainment with a capital E' and no longer a business in and of itself," he continues.
No longer can an artist just sit at home and make money by making records, says Houk. They have to develop a public personality. For his part, Houk always brings a percussion pad and a microphone when he spins at a club, banging along to the music and singing or talking as if he were in a jam band. But only if the mood is right. "I treat it like I would a record," he says. "It might not be appropriate to sing over a certain track if the crowd doesn't seem into it, or if it would feel forced."
Houk was born to an American father and a Dutch mother in Amsterdam more than 30 years ago. He moved to New York in 1997, and spent two years peddling his soul to the "seedy temptations of cheesy pop music, writing for corporate production companies and praying that my uninspired sing-along hooks would find their way to some Teen Idol's album." Nothing came of that, so he recommitted himself to underground dance music and soon began work with Roger Sanchez, this year's Grammy-winning remixer, among other notable house music producers.
Buzz about the Scumfrog only recently broke into the broader dance music scene. His distinctive and ribbiting moniker, a hastily chosen name for an early Houk record, stuck. From his remixes of Kylie Minogue, David Bowie and Monica, to his own production work, Houk has yet to create a song that fails to sizzle, to make you want to dance.
Houk is increasingly recording under the moniker Dutch, which will be the name given to his first full-length album of original songs. Expected for February release on his own label, Effin Records, it will include his current dance hit, "My Time," a winsome sugary confection featuring Crystal Waters.
As Dutch, Houk offers a lighter, more pop-oriented sound as opposed to the hard-edged, darker funk of the Scumfrog. But his love of strong melody and his familiarity and comfort sampling from all styles of dance music imbues everything he does.
Houk's days of late are packed as he pushes to finish his Dutch album, a second Scumfrog compilation album, other artist releases on his label, and weekend tour stops in Europe and South America through the remainder of the year. He'll also soon start a monthly gig at a new club in New York.
And he continues with his remix work, including the latest from Dido, No Doubt and Enrique Iglesias. Houk would be the first to encourage you to fire up KaZaa and download his hard house "Re-hash" of Jewel's latest song, "Stand."
"I'm not afraid of progress," he says. "File sharing is simply technological progress that we all have to learn to live with."
Houk as the Scumfrog will perform as the headline DJ this Friday, October 24 at Cubik at Nation, 1015 Half Street SE. $15 after 11 p.m. Visit www.buzzlife.com for more information.