NOW IT CAN BE TOLDÂ… In our long wait as the Oscar jury deliberated about pronouncing Chicago last year’s best movie, practically every news outlet gorged itself, Mary Sunshine-style, on recreating step by step the show trial of the 20th Century. First Martin Scorsese declined to direct the movie based on the 1975 musical, followed by Baz Luhrmann. Robert De Niro, Kevin Kline and Kevin Spacey were among those declining to play Billy Flynn, Goldie Hawn and Toni Collette were passed over for Roxy, Kathy Bates and Rosie O’Donnell were dropped as Mama Morton, Madonna and Barbra Streisand declined to star as Velma, Britney Spears was resolutely rejected for even a tiny role, and so on and so forth. But none of the reporting marionettes could explain where Janet Jackson, who had been asked to write a song for the soundtrack, was when the curtain went up — or more precisely when the curtain went down, since her song was to run during the closing credits. Well, now we know: Like so many of the artists mentioned above, Jackson was approached by hands-on Miramax Films co-chair Harvey Weinstein over the vehement objections of those more intimately involved in the movie’s production. While Weinstein won out, thankfully, on the choice of Queen Latifah as Mama Morton, he lost Jackson because the musical co-writers John Kander and Fred Ebb — and other "Broadway purists" in the production — reached for the gun against Jackson, the New York Times reports. Inexplicably, they found Anastacia more to their liking with her non-Broadway, hip-hop-fashioned "Love Is A Crime."
DANCE MOVES MAINSTREAM?Â… Could 2003 be the year that dance music moves into the mainstream? Fiercely devoted danceheads, at least those who desire such a thing, have made such grandiose statements for many years now, only to be beaten back to reality. No one has really made that claim — yet — this year, and for good reason, since a distressed U.S. economy and geo-political instabilities don’t invite much optimistic prognosticating. But just look at what could bubble up in the next few months. Alaskan siren (diamond-in-the-rough?) Jewel will release her fifth album in June, for which Rolling Stone reports she’s added "some psychedelic sounds and dance beats" to her usual guitar folk. She was inspired by last year’s dance remix of her single “Serve the Ego,” she says. "I like the hypnotic nature of dance music; there is something very primordial about it." First up is her said-to-be danceable single, "Intuition," set to hit radio this week. Yoko Ono is working with a slew of popular DJs on a remix album from Mind Train records to come out later this year. And one single to appear on the album, the 22-year-old "Walking on Thin Ice," will be released next week as a maxi-single with remixes from Danny Tenaglia, Pet Shop Boys, Felix da Housecat, Peter Rauhofer and others. Billboard said the song, originally recorded just prior to John Lennon‘s death, was one of Lennon’s personal favorites, a "provocative metaphor for the couple’s pro-choice/anti-war beliefs."
Felix is keeping himself plenty busy, as he’s also remixed Madonna‘s long-overdue "American Life" single (bowing this week), and he’s worked on a certain other artist’s next album, said artist’s foray into dance music. Of the aforementioned chances for dance music to move mainstream, the odds are greatest here. Have I piqued your curiosity yet? You may be as lukewarm about it as I, but I’m referring to none other than hip-hop Presario P. Diddy, whose full-length album of dance music will be out on his Bad Boy label later this year. Besides Felix, who has produced four tracks on the album, Sean "P. Do-Wa-Ditty" Combs has worked with Nellie Hooper (No Doubt) and D.C. duo Deep Dish, who’ve mixed Combs’ first single, "Let’s Get Ill." Combs premiered the song last week in a Miami performance with vocalist Kelis. Why did he, Diddy, do dance? Billboard reports that he was inspired by summer visits to Ibiza.
DANCE MOVES II: A SISTAH, A SISSYÂ… Also coming soon to a dancefloor near you is a cover of the Pretenders classic "Brass in Pocket." I know what you’re thinking: dance covers are a dime a dozen these days, giving us danceheads a headache at how bad most are, as well as a bad name among the general population. But our hopes are high for this Pretenders’ cover not just because it’s unlikely but because it’s from huggable, lovable, danceable, Baltimoriole Ultra Nate. Expect to hear other singles (and hopefully an album) from her in the coming months. So sistahs are doin’ it for themselves, while sissies do it for their self-proclaimed enemies: Britney Spears seems to have been bitten by the Anti-Britney bug, as Rolling Stone reports she’s working with Avril "Anti-Smile" Lavigne’s producers on her forthcoming album. No word on whether this means Brit has speared her plans to work with William Orbit (Madonna) or Daft Punk, as previously reported.
Email Doug Rule at email@example.com.
QUEER AS PITT… Pittsburgh — or what passes for it on Showtime — wants to teach D.C. a thing or two about nightlife. Plans are for the premium cable channel to bring “Queer As Folk — The Babylon Tour” here in May as part of a 12-city DJ tour. The idea is to recreate the extremely fictitious Pittsburgh nightclub Babylon, as featured in Showtime’s queer series, in one of our own clubs, through “elaborate productions that feature world renowned DJs, creative sets and lighting displays, live visuals and extensive sound elements,” according to www.sho.com/queer. Information on the exact date and entertainment lineup for the D.C. stop was to be posted on the Web site Thursday. The show isn’t really set in Pittsburgh, as anyone who’s ever been there well knows. Still, you’d think the 12-city tour would include a stop in the Pitt. It doesn’t, based on the current schedule. Ouch.
RELIGHT RICKY’S FIRE… Is Showtime lining up Ricky Martin for its queer tour? Billboard reports that Martin is putting finishing touches on his forthcoming album for Columbia Records. He’s ready to end his nearly three-year absence from the public spotlight, and it seems as though he may be ready to put a rest to the rampant rumors about his sexuality, too: He has teamed with DJ/remixer/producer extraordinaire Hex Hector and singer Anastacia to cover the Dan Hartman disco classic “Relight My Fire.” Hmm, working with a gay dance music legend, a gay-popular diva-esque dance singer, on a cover of a disco classic? Sounds like he’s coming out, and he wants the world to know.
MASHUPS WASH UP TO THE MASSES… The word has been out since last summer, but getting a hold of 2 Many DJ’s! was nearly impossible until this month, when Washington’s own Tower Records store wisely began featuring a good stock of 2 Many DJ’s!: As Heard on Radio Soulwax Part 2 ([Pias] Recordings). The other three editions are strictly underground since the copyrights haven’t been cleared (it took three years to get Part 2 cleared). But musical mashups are said to be the new trend. What are mashups? Like dance remixes, mashups generally involve taking the vocals-only version of one pop song and laying it over the instrumental track of another. You’re unlikely to know every song used here, which shows the two DJs (the Belgian brothers Stephen and David Dewaele) have the widest conceivable taste in pop music. Not every song they wanted was allowed, and they take those rejecting artists (Daft Punk, George Michael, Missy Elliott) to task on www.2manydjs.org. And not every mashup you may have heard is included either — the insanely inventive meld of Destiny’s Child‘s “Bootylicious” set to the music of Nirvana‘s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to become “Smells Like Booty” isn’t (Nirvana’s agents wouldn’t allow it). We do get a wonderfully, incongruously restrained “Independent Woman” on Part 2, as the vocals by themselves meet a subdued, soul groove. But not everything is so completely, imaginatively blended — Dolly Parton’s cubicle anthem “9 to 5” is included for a minute without editing, after which the song becomes the weird sonics of Royskopp‘s “Eple”– the two songs apparently act as oil and water, not cranberry and vodka. Still, the entire CD is a potent concoction that you couldn’t, and shouldn’t, refuse.
GENIE OUT A BOTTLE… “The song ‘Beautiful’ is about being or feeling unaccepted for merely being yourself, yet knowing through any hardships, we are all beautiful despite the differences or insecurities,” says Christina Aguilera. “My video captures the reality that gay and transgender people are beautiful, even though prejudice and discrimination against them still exists.” The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) announced that it will honor Aguilera next month for her mega-popular video featuring a kissing gay couple and a man dressing up as a woman that was directed by the mega-popular Jonas Akerlund (Madonna, Robbie Williams). The song itself was produced by lesbian Linda Perry (4 Non Blondes, Pink).
I JUST WANNAÂ… The Deep Dish remix of Justin Timberlake‘s “Like I Love You” is finally here, on the British import Cry Me A River (Zomba) and the harder-to-find domestic Cry Me A River [Remixes Included] (Jive). Johnny Fiasco remixes the title track surprisingly well, given his surname, and it’s on par with Basement Jaxx’s convoluted but compelling reworking of “Like I Love You.” But the Grammy-winning, D.C. duo Deep Dish blows all other remixers away with a faithful rendition of the original song’s stylish pairing of electronic blips with acoustic guitar chords. Deep Dish has added a jarringly dark synth-stab, and right after it is introduced, the duo overlays Justin’s whisper, “Don’t be scared now.” Naw, I ain’t. A skill to thrill: no wonder Deep Dish’s forthcoming album is highly anticipated.
FOLLOW ME DOWN, DEEP DOWN… Alison Limerick‘s Where Love Lives 2003 (Logic Records/BMG) is a song in need of a remix not because it’s too slow. The Northstarr Radio Edit is actually too fast. So star remixers were enlisted to slooooow it down, but only so much can be done with a mediocre song whose three-chord titular chorus is the only thing of note. Too much cosmetic surgery — Frankie Knuckles and David Morales’s approach — damages more than just Michael Jackson’s nose. And too little doesn’t work either (see trance pioneer Paul Oakenfold’s half-assed, trance-less remix). Sultry-voiced Limerick even fails to follow through on the promise of her last name with her not-funny, four-part verses here.
Doug Rule can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MIAMI WINTER MADNESS…Maybe you’re just back from Miami and the 2003 Winter Party. Lucky bitch. Or maybe you’re just about to leave for Miami and the 2003 Winter Music Conference (WMC), dance music’s biggest event of the year. Luckier bitch. Not only had you better take full advantage of your visit to see nearly every famous DJ and dance music performer under the sun. You also better report back to us on the award winners at both WMC and the competing event, DanceStarUSA‘s American Dance Awards. Unlike the Grammys, the WMC gets the nominees about right in every category. Though DanceStarUSA doesn’t (thrice-nominated DJ Sammy?), at least it features creative categories such as Best Celebrity DJ — as in, ‘I’m not a DJ, but I played one on film’ — or Best Use of Music in a Commercial. Any guesses on who’ll win this? See all nominees at www.wintermusicconference.com and www.dancestar.com/usa.
DIRTY DEEDS…Speaking of Dirty Vegas, who dominate both Miami dance events, the U.K. trio sent out a long-distance dedication to house music’s roots after winning the Grammy for its Mitsubishi "Days Go By" hit. The foreign lads said they hope their win helps dance music emerge from its underground status in America. The group’s month-old debut mixed compilation, A Night at the Tables (Ultra), could help do the deed, too, considering that it starts off stronger and more fetchingly than any other we’ve heard in a long while. Kylie Minogue’s "Love at First Sight" is stripped of all melody but her vocals in Scumfrog Beauty & The Beast’s fierce remix; the song has never sounded better. The weaving and organic percussion that dominates the first half of the CD is a musically exceptional blast of fresh air. Too bad the air grows stale by the CD’s halfway point. As we move along, we’re exhorted — and don’t you hate being exhorted by a dance song? — to "Be Yourself (And No One Else)" by Celeda, and we’re tempted to sleep by Vibe Residents’ "Temptation."
TELL ME WHY…"Paul Van Dyk is sometimes billed as ‘the world’s biggest D.J.,’ and it’s true, or close enough, even if one is not exactly sure why."Â The inestimable New York Times‘s Kalefa Sanneh got to the heart of the matter a few weeks ago. Only the other Paul (Oakenfold) and Fatboy Slim match Van Dyk’s hold on dance music everywhere but here. America tends to prefer its DJs less mellifluous, less cushiony, less…effete (see Tenaglia below, or think Junior Vasquez). Berlin’s Van Dyk may protest being classified as a producer of trance music (or Hi-NRG or Euro), but whatever you call it, his is not the sound of most American dance floors. His latest, a first decade retrospective compilation, Global (Mute Records), provides the reasons why. While the DVD celebrates Van Dyk’s jet-setter lifestyle, too many of his songs go nowhere but up and down keyboard scales. It’s sumptuous music, pretty music, happy music, and why not — Van Dyk is impossibly pretty himself and he surrounds himself with beautiful people. His videos even come with a velvet rope, and neither you nor I nor any dog other than a Kerry Blue Terrier will get past it. None of this is to suggest that Van Dyk doesn’t deserve more of your attention. Though they are practically interchangeable, "We Are Alive" and "Tell Me Why" dazzle the senses and make you as happy as when you first set foot in a nightclub. To Van Dyk virgins, Global is the perfect introduction: The DVD alone includes a "movie" of all 13 album tracks, five music videos, a couple movie trailers, a DJ interview and random street chatter about how god-like Van Dyk is.
HOUSE ARREST…Danny Tenaglia reveals his age on his latest CD (he’s 42), a critical fact considering the purpose of Choices: A Collection of Classics (Ultra). But this two-disc set aims to reveal more than aging turntable know-how. It features the house dance songs that inspired Tenaglia to continue as the much-vaunted DJ that he is — and its liner notes, heavy on emoticons, celebrates his DJ mentors. Who cares? :-0 I know we’re supposed to love Tenaglia, and certainly many do. But on Choices, Tengalia completely bypassed the big, and the best, dance hits of the past several decades, choosing mostly obscure B-sides. Nothing wrong with that, since Tenaglia is a verifiable underground-house DJ: his disposition towards oppressively dark, garage-house tracks light on melody, heavy on mechanics, is an acquired taste. This compilation simply goes to show that the good old days of house, though good, weren’t better than the now. And the now is becoming great, as languorous, soulful house music shows signs of reemergence, reviving the warmth of layered R&B that disco curled up in. :-) Tenaglia inadvertently proves this by including two recent tracks here, "Make It Right" and "Elevation," that are far greater than the sum total of the others.
NORAH REMIXED?… Last summer Norah Jones‘s record label commissioned a dance remix of her hit "Don’t Know Why." According to a New York Times profile, Jones was unhappy with the remix, so her label agreed to shelve it. The Times said the remix "sounded silly. A computer-generated drumbeat churned behind Ms. Jones; her voice was swathed in reverb, and she had suddenly developed a house music diva’s stutter: ‘Don’t know why-why-why.’"Â Though the article doesn’t say who remixed it, I have little doubt it sounded as "absurd" as Jones is quoted as calling it. Still, I wish we danceheads could make that call for ourselves, you know? Maybe another remixer could take a stab at the song?
FROM NORAH TO NORWAY… We didn’t expect much from Erlend Oye‘s debut, Unrest (Astralwerks), considering his affiliation with Royksopp, the Norwegian outfit who gave us the merely passable Melody A.M. (Astralwerks). And sure enough, I didn’t like Oye’s album — at first. Oye gained fame as a pop-folk singer in his native Norway, and his melancholic vocals made Royksopp’s "Poor Leno" and "Remind Me" the standout tracks on Melody A.M. they were. Unrest is, mostly, not jump-out-of-your-seat-and-dance dance music. It’s slow-simmering mid- and barely up-tempo songs, what has become known as chillout dance. Oye is actually a blend of chillout and ’80s-revived electro, poising him as THE dance artist of the moment. We’ve proclaimed before our predilection for electro, though we had thought it a passing fancy, last year’s fad, this year’s folly. The truth is, electro is just reaching its zenith, and the current pacesetters are mostly French and Norwegian, as improbable as that may sound. Oye creates a delicate, sumptuous atmosphere on most songs on Unrest, including the haunting lead track "Ghost Trains." Oye is a stunning poetic lyricist, whether he’s talking about the politics of social parties, musical composition as sport or a romantic breakup. The classic house sound of "The Talk" keeps it jumping, while the lyrics pop: "No better way, no other time/No other call, no better line/As soon as now, within your room/It can’t go on, I’m not in love with you."
SCANDI UNDIE LOVE… Oye has emerged stateside amongst a crew of fellow Scandinavians with an electro bent. Jay Jay Johanson is another that will soon join the parade, intent on celebrating the musical style of his Swedish forebears ABBA. Sounds good, right? No. Johanson, a cross between last-decade’s Pet Shop Boys and Portishead as well as ’80s-era Erasure and The Cure, sounds great. Johanson’s debut, Antenna (E-Magine), won’t be out until late April, so we’ll save our full review for later. But a teaser of this sensational artist can be had in 2(X)ist underwear’s first TV commercial, currently airing exclusively on MTV. "Automatic Lover," the first song to come from the album, provides the commercial soundtrack. The song is Very-era Pet Shop Boys through and through, with the moody verses giving way to the bright chorus like a summer downpour gives way to a sun-kissed rainbow. Sublime.
KAADA, JAZZ TERRORIST… And now for something completely different than, well — as presumptuous as it is — anything you’ve ever heard before. Every artist strives to be original, unclassifiable. To be noticed. You can’t help but notice Kaada and his debut, Thank You for Giving Me Your Valuable Time (Ipecac Recordings). John Erik Kaada was formerly known for his role in a pioneering jazz band; one Norwegian newspaper called him a "jazz terrorist." Though as a solo artist he’s moved on to electronic instruments, you can hear his avant-garde jazz influence, as well as his classical music training. Thank You is a little bit Moby-gone-do-wop-and-Motown, minus the techno. It’s a little bit mod-rock of the 50s a la "Hairspray," a little bit modern-day drum ‘n’ bass. It’s a little bit of everything over the past century. The song "Burden" features a vocalist screeching the song title in falsetto, but it sounds like he’s singing "I doodle." Which is, musically, what Kaada does. Kaada works with no apparent organizing theme, other than serving us a pop pastiche of styles from yesterday, today and — maybe — tomorrow. It shouldn’t work, but it does. His tongue-in-check title track is a throwback to an earlier era or two when civility was more common, if superficial. The best song here, "Honk," parodies in Stuart Smiley-style the self-affirming vibe of the past decade, with its call, "You’re a good person," and response, "I am a good person." The song is shockingly fresh, with its free-style jazz percussion, R&B vocals and rock ‘n’ roll intensity. Kaada’s whimsical, no-stone-unturned approach to pop music-making is noisy and reckless on occasion, but even then the sound is fun and exciting. You’ll be listening to this CD over and over again, not because you like it — you’ll listen because you like it and you can’t figure out just why.