Saturday, January 09, 2010
Midtown 120 Intro
House isn't so much a sound as a situation.
There must be a hundred records with voice-overs asking, "What is house?" The answer is always some greeting card bullshit about "life, love, happiiness...." The House Nation likes to pretend clubs are an oasis from suffering, but suffering is in here with us. (If you can get in, that is. I think of one time in New York when they wouldn't let me into the Loft, and I could hear they were actually playing one of my records on the dance floor at that very moment. I shit you not.)
Let's keep sight of the things you're trying to momentarily escape from. After all, it's that larger context that created the house movement and brought you here. House is not universal. House is hyper-specific: East Jersey, Loisaida, West Village, Brooklyn - places that conjure specific beats and sounds. As for the sounds of New York dance floors themselves, today's house classics might have gotten worked into a set once in a while, but the majority of music at every club was major label vocal shit. I don't care what anybody tells you. Besides, New York Deep House may have started out as minimal, mid-tempo instrumentals, but when distributors began demanding easy selling vocal tracks, even the label "Strictly Rhythm" betrayed the promise of it's own name by churning out strictly vocal after strictly vocal. Most Europeans still think "Deep House" means shitty, high energy vocal house.
So what was the New York house sound? House wasn't so much a sound as a situation. The majority of DJ's - DJ's like myself - were nobody's in nowhere clubs: unheard and unpaid. In the words of Sylvester: reality was less "everybody is a star," and more "I who have nothing."
Twenty years later, major distribution gives us Classic House, the same way soundtracks in Vietnam war films gave us Classic Rock. The contexts from which the Deep House sound emerged are forgotten: sexual and gender crises, transgendered sex work, black market hormones, drug and alcohol addiction, loneliness, racism, HIV, ACT-UP, Thompkins Sq. Park, police brutality, queer-bashing, underpayment, unemployment and censorship - all at 120 beats per minute.
These are the Midtown 120 Blues.
Ball'r (Madonna-Free Zone)
When Madonna came out with her hit "Vogue" you knew it was over. She had taken a very specifically queer, transgendered, Latino and African-American phenomenon and totally erased that context with her lyrics, "It makes no difference if you're black or white, if you're a boy or a girl." Madonna was taking in tons of money, while the Queen who actually taught her how to vogue sat before me in the club, strung out, depressed and broke. So if anybody requested "Vogue" or any other Madonna track, I told them, "No, this is a Madonna-free zone! And as long as I'm DJ-ing, you will not be allowed to vogue to the decontextualized, reified, corporatized, liberalized, neutralized, asexualized, re-genderized pop reflection of this dance floor's reality!"
In 1986, at age 18, I left Missouri by train, pulling into Midtown Manhattan's Grand Central Station some 72 hours later. Until that point life had, quite frankly, been miserable, each and every day facing verbal and physical harassment as a queer-fag-pussy-AIDS bait. The climate in New York wasn't really so different. But from within my isolation I saw others isolated like myself. One of the places we met, in our self-containment, was on the dance floor. The nastiest and seediest clubs were located in Midtown. That's mostly where I DJ'ed, at tragic places like Sally's II and Club 59. In the early 1990's, Disney bought 42nd Street, closing the places around which transgendered life revolved for many of us. That "community of isolation" was scattered to other cities, other states, other countries. Isolated, still....