October 27, 2006
Back to the music
Posted by: Chris
And now for something completely different… After all, life is about more than politics — even for a junkie like me. In fact, one of the great discoveries about myself that I credit entirely with accepting my sexual orientation is, drum roll please, that I love to dance.
Not exactly profound, you say? Then my guess is you don't share my passion for the dance floor. I've always loved all kinds of music, but the disco years weren't kind to my adolescence. I still remember with a mental grimace trying out my best John Travolta moves in 7th grade, only to earn stares from my classmates in Germantown, Tenn. I guess a gawky blond couldn't channel a suave Italian-American, though he and I apparently do have some things in common.
Fast-forward almost a quarter-century, and I've come to see the club scene — done right — as a treasured cathartic, tribal and just plain enjoyable way to spend an evening. "I take my problems to the dance floor," and when I hear Inaya Day belt out lines like that, I just can't help following her from the sidelines and into the action.
Unfortunately, the scourge of crystal methamphetamine (a.k.a. "Tina") has almost ruined the party scene in the U.S. We saw it happen close up in Washington, D.C., where the big weekly gay dance party, Velvet Nation, fell victim first to a changing scene and second to the construction of a new Major League Baseball stadium.
DJ Ed Bailey — who went to Vanderbilt University the same time I did — was the music man behind Velvet Nation's success, and he described the downward spiral much more eloquently than I can, in an interview with MetroWeekly:
It was always about the music and everyone coming together to be inspired by the music. There's something about that that's kind of tribal. That was intoxicating to me. … [Then] in the middle of this run at Nation, it got a little stale where I wasn't feeling it for a few years, where I thought the music became too dark. A lot of things have happened in our industry that have, I think, aided in [dance music's] decline — and the drug use is a big part of it. Whether the music is a reflection of the drug use or whether it's just a trend, the music just seems to be darker and deeper and scarier. It sounds meaner. It's not the happy, ''put your hands in the air'' kind of music of the '90s. …
By the time a song gets to a club, the music has been chopped up, sectioned off and partitioned into this or that, so that a lot of the musical quality has been lost. And that's unfortunate. I think it detracts from the overall spiritual experience. I know it sounds corny for me to say that, but I really believe it. When all you hear is thump, thump, thump all night where you used to hear a lot of vocals and pianos and happiness, it changes the environment.
Amen, Brother Ed! Fortunately, crystal meth hasn't infiltrated everywhere, and dance music that sounds like music still survives and thrives in Europe and Latin America. It's been a major upside to my self-imposed semi-exile in Brazil that I've been able to enjoy the scene there (actually here, as I write this). And no club I've been anywhere — in the U.S., Europe or anywhere else — can showcase the dance scene better than The Week in São Paulo, as I described in a feature article for the Washington Blade.
Follow the jump for photos and video from last week at The Week:
Last Saturday was not only no exception, as MadeInBrazil, my favorite gay Brazilian blogger, shared with his fans. In fact, it was probably the best night I've ever spent at The Week. DJ Offer Nissim from Tel Aviv was the superstar guest DJ, though resident DJs João Neto and Renato Cecin (pictured) were in top form as usual.
Offer Nissim is credited with producing (not just remixing) some of the best dance music of the last five years, including "I Want More" by Amuka, as well as "First Time," "Perfect Love" and my current fave "On My Own" featuring Maya.
On stage, which is where club promoter Andre Almada puts the DJs at The Week, Offer Nissim doesn't look the part of his American (and Brazilian) counterparts, who are usually as built and buff as the crowd below. But Offer Nissim isn't just spinning, he's performing, and his enthusiasm for the music — and that's what he spins, for hours on end — is completely infectious. I'm not the greatest videographer, but you can get a good sense of what I'm talking about from the vid clip below, which shows him conducting the crowd to a remix of the Red Hot Chili Peppers'
I haven't given up just yet on the scene back in my other home, D.C. The death of Velvet Nation, and the untimely demise of Mark Lee's Lizard Lounge and Atlas events, has given birth to Calor, co-produced by Brazilian Lorenzo DeAlmeida as it turns out. It's got a great space (Fur nightclub), a great production and the right crowd, but the music isn't there yet.
Debut night for Calor over Labor Day featured Argentinian-born DJ De León, whose set was as dark and hard and devoid of musicality as any I've ever heard. Three hours (that I was there) without a single lyric or recognizable melody is no way to win back those turned off by the "thump, thump, thump," as Ed Bailey put it.
The second go-round, over Columbus Day, had DJ Eddie X behind the turntables. I'd enjoyed him at The Week some months before, but at Calor he was very hit-and-miss. And when he decided to crank up the volume to ear-splitting levels — usually a sign the DJ is desperate to energize a sagging crowd — I'd had enough. One party-goer even worked the room with a petition, signing up other dance floor refugees who could manage to stop holding their ears long enough to put pen in hand.
There's a reason that gay guys in D.C. and across the U.S. have turned away from circuit parties and the club scene. Here's hoping that DeAlmeida and other promoters back home in the States will take a cue from their brethren (way) down south and let the music play.
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