WHO’S IN ”CONTROL,” JANET?… It’s less than two weeks until the new year and less than two months until Super Bowl XL. And who may return just in time for the game? No, Janet Jackson will not perform at the Super Bowl. Unofficially she’s likely banned for life. But Billboard reports a new single from Jackson should also touch down in February, to be followed by a new album later in the spring. Her longtime collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis have helped Jackson create a small tribute for the album that honors her exuberant breakthrough, Control — next year will mark the 20th anniversary of that album’s release.
But has Jackson learned her lesson after Damita Jo became the artist’s first non-chart-topper on Billboard, and her first non-platinum-seller — with sales just shy of one million copies — since before Control? It’s an open question, and no, the lesson isn’t just that she shouldn’t appear at the Super Bowl or ”accidentally” reveal too much of her body. Sales for Damita Jo were seriously hampered by that controversy, certainly. But sales were hurt even more by too few alluring songs and the album’s lackluster energy. It was also her first album in a long while for which Jam and Lewis did not serve as executive producers alongside Jackson, or co-produce every track. I’m not saying the fault lies with Jackson’s boyfriend, Virgin Urban president Jermaine Dupri, who took the reins as executive producer on Damita Jo. But that is an obvious possibility. And since Jackson has brought him back as the producer for the new set, we’ll soon see if it happens again. Let’s hope not….
BLOWOFF BLOWS UPSTAIRS… The coming new year will also bring new digs for Bob Mould and Rich Morel‘s indie-poptacular Blowoff event. Beginning Saturday, Jan. 14, Blowoff will move from the basement bar at the 9:30 Club to upstairs in the celebrated concert venue’s main stage, the site of two previous special-edition Blowoffs. In addition to holding more people, the move also allows Mould and Morel to perform indie-dance songs they’ve created together in between their usual energetic, eclectic sets. The bigger, better Blowoff will now happen every month on strategic Saturdays at least until June, when a Pride Blowoff will occur on the 10th.
Meanwhile, both Mould and Morel have been hard at work on another of their side jobs, making dance remixes — the latest of which they usually play at Blowoff. And both have contributed the only remixes worth listening to from two different artists. Mould has recently turned in a thumping, bass-heavy Loud Bomb Mix of VHS or Beta‘s instrumental ”Solid Gold,” which appears on the otherwise forgettable funkster-band’s new EP Le Funk. And Morel has remixed twice Le Tigre‘s latest single, ”After Dark.” Appearing on This Island Remixes with other versions of the song as well as two others drawn from the feminist dance-pop band’s major-label debut, Morel’s Pink Noise Dub is superior to all the rest, including his predictable Vocal Mix. He includes more vocals here than in a usual ”dub,” and it throbs with an intense sexual hunger that suits the pleading lyrics and any dance floor, after dark….
DANCE LIKE A KING, QUEENS… Issuing dance compilations that honor and create a marketable identity for popular clubs or events seems to be a growing trend in the business, though except for circuit party compilations it hasn’t really been acted on — in the states, that is — outside of New York or New York South, otherwise known as Miami. Maybe that will change soon with, say, a Blowoff or a Lizard Lounge set. But the latest to arrive honors Pacha, the celebrated Spanish-based dance entertainment chain. (Pacha loosely translates as ”the king’s life.”) And it comes just in time: Pacha NYC, co-owned by DJ Erick Morillo, just opened in the historic space formerly occupied by Sound Factory. It is said to feature one of the best sound systems in the world, and it will be put to its first gay test Jan. 1. Saint-At-Large will host its annual New Year’s Day Night event featuring DJs David Knapp and Chris Cox taking turns spinning in the ”floating DJ booth” that is based in the exact center of the dance floor (for more information, visit www.saintatlarge.com).
Pure Pacha 2005 features a disc mixed by one of dance music’s most popular DJs, Pete Tong, and another by Pacha Ibiza resident DJ Sarah Main. It’s a solid compilation, with an emphasis on melodies that get ”stuck in my mind,” as goes a line in Main’s opening track, ”Fiesta” by Kerri Chandler. Both discs are equally great, launching with casual sun-splashed disco grooves before getting darker, stronger and faster as they go. Included are some of the year’s best dance tracks, several of which you may not know yet. There’s Chab‘s brooding Depeche Mode-worthy ”Closer to Me,” and DJ Remo‘s hardcore beauty ”Empire,” with tour-de-force Prince-flavored vocals from Chelonis R. Jones. And there’s also Murk‘s remix of Lee Coombs‘ ”Shiver.” Murk, the Miami duo of Oscar G. and Ralph Falcon, draw out the shivers that Katherine Ellis sings about through constantly repeating, pulsating keystrokes and several windy swooshes. ”I’m living on the edge of your love, someone should taunt me down,” Ellis sings. And Murk does the job….
IT’S A MAN’S GRAMMY WORLD… This time next year, the dance community will almost assuredly be abuzz about Madonna. Since neither Confessions on a Dance Floor nor its first single, ”Hung Up,” were released in time, both aren’t up for consideration at the 48th Annual Grammys (the cut-off was September 30), which will be held February 8, 2006.
You’ve surely already heard the 48th Grammy ceremony is essentially dedicated to the comeback of Mariah Carey. Carey picked up eight nominations, though Peter Rauhofer didn’t get the nod he should have for his remix of her mega-hit ”We Belong Together,” certainly clubland’s most popular remix this year as well as one of its best. Moreover, Gwen Stefani isn’t represented in any of the three dance categories — Best Dance Recording, which recognizes a dance song, Best Electronic/Dance Album and Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical. Stefani did score five total nominations, however, including Record of the Year for the gleefully giddy and great ”Hollaback Girl” and Album of the Year for the gleefully giddy and great Love.Angel.Music.Baby. You can see the full nominations list at www.grammy.com.
But it’s not just Carey and Stefani missing in action in the dance category. (The aptly named hipster favorite M.I.A. is too.) Despite a predominance of female vocalists in the dance genre, you wouldn’t know it from the Grammys. Women are responsible or associated with only four out of 16 nominations this year. One of the four is Kylie Minogue. With ”I Believe In You,” Minogue has now been nominated for four consecutive years in the dance song category, winning once, with 2003’s ”Come Into My World.” Anousheh Khalili accounts for another two female nominations, though you won’t find her name anywhere in the Grammy list, and you’ve surely never heard of her. She gives voice, literally, to the two nominations that DC’s own Deep Dish racked up, including ”Say Hello,” a beautifully tart, guitar-driven song that should beat Minogue’s weak song and could beat New Order’s classic-sounding ”Guilt Is A Useless Emotion” to take the dance song award. If Deep Dish were to win here, it would mark Ali Shirazinia and Sharam Tayebi‘s second Grammy, after the 2001 statuette for the duo’s remix of Dido’s ”Thank You”….
GRAMMY’S ”MR. BRIGHTSIDE” REMIX… Deep Dish — and, ahem, Khalili, who gets slighted even on the duo’s releases, buried in the fine-print credits — got a second nod on account of David Guetta and Joachim Garraud‘s F*** Me I’m Famous Remix of the song ”Flashdance.” Three other dance remix nominees are drawn from separate remixed collections of R&B and jazz classics, including the fourth female nomination, courtesy of Adam Freeland and his remix of Sarah Vaughan‘s classic rendition of ”Fever.” None of them represent the best of that sub-genre, and in any case they’ll probably cancel each other out among Grammy voters who favor the style. So Guetta and Garraud’s ”Flashdance” faces its biggest threat for the award from last year’s winning remixer, Jacques Lu Cont. (Last year he won for No Doubt‘s ”It’s My Life.”) If Lu Cont, now just as well known by his birth name Stuart Price, were to win for his ravishing remix of The Killers‘ ”Mr Brightside,” he would be two for two as he crashes into the 49th edition, at which he should rack up multiple nominations for his work with Madonna, not to mention other remix projects….
KRAFTWERK FAVORED FOR DANCE ALBUM… Even with men given clear preference among Grammy dance nominations, nominators could have done better than to turn twice each to the Chemical Brothers and to Fatboy Slim — both in the dance song and dance album categories. Both acts’ glory days passed years ago. Meanwhile, it is indeed an oversight that the German group Kraftwerk only now receives its first Grammy nomination after 35 pioneering years of electronica. But it wouldn’t right that wrong to honor the only intermittently good Minimum/Maximum as 2005’s best dance album, though the two-disc set of mostly Kraftwerk classics performed live seems likely to get the nod. Even worse would be to give the award to the clearly Kraftwerk-inspired Daft Punk, whose latest album, the agitating Human After All, shows the once-clever French duo losing its touch. In an ideal world, then, it would be a cinch for LCD Soundsystem to clinch the dance album award with its fresh-sounding, entertaining and assured eponymous debut of dance-rock….
HEAR ‘EM FOR YOURSELF… Okay, enough complaining. One positive thing about the Grammys, circa 2005: every recording nominated in the three dance categories, including all five remixes, is commercially available. It’s a clear sign that dance music is finally becoming as much of a consumer-friendly genre — and not just a DJ-friendly one — as all the others. Why, just a few years ago you’d be lucky if you could find for sale a non-vinyl copy of even one nominated remix anywhere. Now, they are all only an Internet-connected computer and a dollar or two away….
GET INTO THE GROOVE… She’s back! Well, Madonna was never really missing in gay clubland of course — no other contemporary singer has even half as much unalloyed power over the gays. How to explain it? But Madonna has her first bona fide hit in clubland (and everywhere pop music gets play) in half a decade with her ABBA-sampling ”Hung Up.” Not since ”Music” in 2000 made the bourgeoisie and the rebel come together has pop culture been so — what’s the phrase? — hung up on her. With ”Hung Up” at No. 7, she’s snared her highest-charting Top Ten hit on the main Billboard Hot 100 Chart in four years, since 2001’s No. 4 peak of ”Don’t Tell Me.” And she dominates all three Billboard dance singles charts, with ”Hung Up” atop the constantly shifting Club Play Chart for a month now.
Madonna also hasn’t experienced in years the kind of commercial and critical success that her new album, Confessions on a Dance Floor, has registered. And you can see the results all over her face. In promoting the album she hasn’t looked or sounded happier and more in her element in ages. Which is why a tour in support of the album next summer seems exceedingly likely, and exceedingly like a can’t-miss proposition. Even more so given her thoughts on how she’d approach a new tour. ”It would be all out disco, with lots of disco balls. I would focus on dance music and the new record,” she told Billboard….
ON THE MOVE… While Madonna has a lock on the top spot, other dance heavyweights are congregating around her on the Billboard Club Play Chart, for old times’ sake. The Eurythmics, Simply Red, even Donna Summer are all in the current Top 5. That just makes it all the harder for newer dance singers to break through, although Rachel Panay did just fine for herself with her second chart hit, ”I Still Believe.” Earlier this year ”Back to Love” spent two weeks at No. 2. Though a better song, ”I Still Believe” just peaked at No. 7. Panay wrote the lyrics about her ”one true love,” whom she had broken up with years earlier. ”I still believe we were meant to be together, stay together till the end of time,” goes the main lyric. Panay tells us that she’s since adjusted her ”philosophy on true love” to ”believe in soul mates. I say that in plural, not singular, otherwise I would be doomed, right?” she tells us. ”Something about the writing of ”I Still Believe” and expressing the sentiments behind it to others kind of dislodged the very last remnants of sadness and grief about the end of the relationship that inspired it.”
Now that she’s moved on and ready to love again, so to speak, she’s also moving on from her hometown and current residence of D.C. Next month she’ll move to the Big Apple, as she aims to give her career a bigger boost. Once she moves to Manhattan, she’ll start work on putting together her third single, again as with the last two in production with Josh Harris — though next time the goal is ”to surprise people and explore a somewhat different sound in production and subject matter.” You’ll have plenty of opportunities to see her before she moves, since like Cher on a smaller scale, she’s planning a farewell tour of DC’s gay club haunts during the first week in the new year….
WYNONNA DANCES… While Donna Summer seems to be an eternal fixture in clubland, charting now with new song ”I Got Your Love,” there are plenty of other dance upstarts who would gladly take over from her. Including, obviously, Rachel Panay. But also, not so obviously, Wynonna Judd. Yes, the same country singer who first gained fame decades ago as the daughter-half of The Judds and who is now as famous in her own right as she is in being the sister of actor Ashley. While in Manhattan for the Country Music Association Awards, Judd told Billboard that she wants to make more dance music, inspired as she was by the recent club remixes of her cover of Foreigner‘s mega-hit in the ’80s, ”I Want to Know What Love Is.” ”Just call me Wynonna ‘Donna Summer’ Judd,” she told Billboard….
REINA, A NEW QUEEN… Speaking of the improbable intersection of dance and country, you might have mistaken a current song, ”Forgive,” by relative newcomer Reina as a new song from LeAnn Rimes. Featuring bright vocals and a slight twang in her singing voice even though she was born in the Bronx, Reina has had some difficulty distinguishing herself from her contemporaries, especially since she’s not a dance crossover artist. She’s not a country or pop star dabbling in dance, but a dance singer through and through, who’s had at least one other song you’ve likely heard before, 2003’s ”No One’s Gonna Change You.” You thought that was Rimes, too? Oops. Like Tiffany two decades before her — to whom she also sounds similar — Reina is preparing for a national mall tour to promote her year-old album, This Is Reina, and her latest single, ”Forgive.” In the song, her man is asking her to forgive him, but she’s not sure she can. As she amusingly puts it, ”That’s a mighty big word for such a small man”….