BOOTSY FUN AND SOME BLUES : GREEN VELVET @ BIJOU 08.09.13

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Green Velvet, whose given name is Curtis Jones — who also makes house music as Cajmere — dropped an almost two hour set at Bijou in Boston last night. For this writer it was first time seeing him here, and, as far as I could learn, it was his first Boston gig. Why that is, for a DJ and track maker as original as any in the genre — and for more than 20 years– is hard to say. Velvet has made more recognizable house music hits than almost anyone.The list begins with “Flash,’ as ubiquitous a DJ drop as any, and continues : “La La land,” “Preacherman,” “Shake and Pop,” “Answering Machine,”and “Harmageddon.” All of which Velvet included in his set — though, curiously, not his new one, “Bigger than Prince,” a side just as popular, and edgy,, and as his venerables.

Still, here he was, lime green hair and shades, a jazz cat gone punk, in current Boston’s top house music club, using an old-school two CD players and mix board only. No PC program, and only two channels did Velvet need to show his grin. Listened to as recorded, his tracks rest palpably in the Bootsy Collins, “Ah the name is Bootsy, Baby” zone, a joke-funk sound now 30 years old and older, and in the even more clownish, Newcleus “Jam On It” vein — a track also 30 years gone. At Bijou, Velvet’s funk talk and joke beat of thirty years ago were enjoyably on offer, but so was something much older: a growly, gravelly groove as blues-true as the bottoms Robert Nighthawk, Jack johnson, or T-Model Ford could have made, had these bluesmen worked in house music shape. Velvet’s stride and slide felt like late 1950s Nola stuff, his grumpy rattle and hum like a Jay Miller Shreveport session — all of it encased in house music progressions, of course.

Though just barely. Velvet pushed the house music envelope as far toward old funk and older blues as any house music this writer has ever heard live. Much of his set was vocal, story-telling stuff — think Bo Diddley. When he wasn’t tooling in his joke talk (“Answering Machine”), or offering advisory no-no’s (“La La land,” “Flash”), he featured giddy girls cooing over twangy guitar (as in Bo Diddley’s “Gunslinger” !) and show-off guys wise-cracking. There was a long line of goofy conversation, such as jazzmen of the bebop era used to spit out on stage : “Mozzarella…I need ketchup…beanstalk a beanstalk…thanks for fuckin’; it….my house, you won’t get in.’ And such like, all in bawdy absurdist fun. Below it all there was plenty of rumble and jump, marching music strut, shaggy shuffle, and much more for Velvet’s fans to dance on and cheer about. They did both.

House music DJ-ing is all about getting the fans to give it up, to lose control. there was no way that Velvet’s Bijou crowd could stand up long against his attack of absurdism, shaggies, growl, grumble, and stride and slide, rhythms and effects that pushed the dancers every which way from head to shoulders and knees to toes. His quick cuts gave no quarter, his drop-ins no out, his twisted noise bridges no break. From start to close Velvet dominated his sound, aimed it, hit the bullseye of both funny bone and step reflex. At night’s end the dancers were chanting and Velvet was sweet talking. A fitting summation of as strong a roots set as any that this writer has seen an acknowledged house master drop.

Tamer Malki, a Boston DJ master of deep house, set an extremely tasty and sympatico carpet for Velvet to ride. Malki even played the groove track of “Answering Machine,” an applaudable tribute and preface to the book of beats that Velvet’s set recited.

—– Deedee Freedberg / Feelin the Music

DJ MUSIC AND THE “SELFIE” SOCIETY

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^ selfie music

—- —- —-

We have watched house music and techno develop, as pop music genres must, over the past 27 years or so since these genres first grew a name. Of everything that house and techno first came to me, however, nothing remains except for one aspect : it’s solo stuff. Yes, there are DJ duets, a few of them superb. They are exceptions. To probably everyone who imagines a DJ, the image is of one person, earphones on, commanding equipment that sends out good vibrations, good rhythms.

It was not that way in rock and roll, nor, for the most part, in jazz. Rock and roll was played by bands — mostly three or four musicians, sometimes five or more. If a rock band featured a soloist — and many did — he or she was always, always of that band, never by him or herself. In jazz, the small combo and the big band were the rules. Solo performance arose from ensemble performance and took place within it.

As ensemble genres, rock and roll and jazz signified community, demonstrated common interests, rose above the glitter of self, its smell, its gimme’s. Yet of course the urge to spotlight rumbled within the music and often burst through it. Stars arose aplenty and took over, nailed the fans, made their names immortal — backing band or no backing band. Yet even then, even with Elvis or James Brown, as elephantine as any egos that have ever walloped an audience, the music needed several players to build its arc, give context, outline the star’s temper and contours.

With DJ music there’s none of that. the audience is the context the setting the temper. There is one music maker and one only; he or she does it all. No previous pop music, except maybe the blues, has ever presented so singly. Yet the blues is best played within four walls, or on a front porch. It is also music of pain — maybe joy and pain (in the immortal phrase of a great song by Maze) — and of one person and nobody else. Blues is as personal as a toothbrush. DJ music, on the other hand, though almost always solo, is hardly ever singular, and though much house music cries pain as often as not, the pain it cries is the fans’ pain. (It may also be the the DJ’s pain, but only as he or she is of the audience as much as at the mix-board.

The art forms closest to what DJ music does are painting and photography. Here the presentation is exclusively the artist’s — hermetically so. If it speaks to those who look, it speaks to them all, equally; or to none. Paintings and photographs do not — cannot — send a message only to one fan, or a few. For how can the photographer or painter know who will look ? The most popular DJ music does the same. It sends the DJ’s message — and his or hers only — to everyone everywhere. There is no locality in big-arena DJ music, no observable bounds, no contour or temper. It contains no private messages, no communal come-ye’s.

If the most popular DJ music has no definitions, why does anyone like it ? Yet a lot do. All over the world millions love big, beachy, smiley DJ music. Why ? There is, of course,. never a simple answer to why anyone likes a work of art, expression, entertainment. Some like them because their friends do. Some are snagged by the rhythm, the squiggles, the giddy glee. This writer is tempted, however, to conclude that people who like big-name DJ music do so because the music is its own mirror, its own photograph; a “selfie” sound track.

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^ selfie at work

The “selfie” — a smartphone snapshot, usually, of the person taking the snapshot, usually holding the smartphone up to her or his face — is as much the watermark of DJ society as the hot rod was of rock and roll, the two dancer twirl and leaps of jazz, the packed-tight dance floor of disco. At the disco, no one thought of being just a self; one melded into a crowd, sweat to sweat, thigh on thigh. People went to jazz dances in pairs, foursomes, whole busloads. Rock and roll was rebel music, but a soften as not, the rebel of it was an entire generation of young people. At huge DJ gigs, however, the fans exult the music by taking “selfie” of themselves — all of them the same “selfie,” but who’s counting ? The only number that matters in DJ music is ONE. Sound familiar ? it’s the politics we live in, the music we live by.

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^ the selfie icon ?

This is not to say that there are no DJs who play to contours and communities. What today is called the “underground” features plenty of masterful DJs who play joy and pain, message and aspiration, struggle and stride, and a vast dome of images frightful, mechanistic, bellowed and screeched. It’s solo music, but solo is not the message. Friends, competitors, alliances, imagination — these are the messages often carved by “underground’ DJs. Still, the “underground” gathers a fan base maybe one-fiftieth as big as the solos who populate big DJ gigs by the tens of thousands. Is it surprising that one encounters hardly any “selfie” snap-shooters at “underground” DJ sets ? When you are one of 20,000, it is you and only you swimming in a sea of bodies. You’re very, VERY much alone, and you know it; and the “selfie” is an icon of aloneness as lonesome as any such this writer has ever seen.

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^ a selfie = alone = lonely

On the other hand, when you’re on a dance floor with less than 200, every shoulder next to you and leg on the other side of you become real people who matter. There the self has allies warmer than a selfie pic.

—– Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BLUES TALK : JOHN TEJADA @ ARC NIGHT CLUB 07.12.13

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When this writer arrived at Arc, a new room for Boston house music, at about 12.15 AM, John Tejada was already hard at it. Working his own mix board, rich with shape-shifting knobs and beat-breaking buttons, Tejada put the bluest house music this writer has heard recently into talk and walk shape. Blues is a music of talk and walk — of move and monologue — and in house music there are plenty of move and monologue tracks. Tejada dropped a couple of those — glitch vocal tool ins — but his talk works sounded most prickly and seductive when he made instrumentals do the talking.

Born in Vienna, Austria, to an Austrian, orcherstra-conducting Dad and a Mexican Mom, Tejada, who will be forty years old next year, has been workling his uniquely bluesy sound for almost fifteen years — but rareky in boton. His last vist that we know of happened four yrears ago. The rarity of his performing in Boston assured a full dance floor at Arc, and full it was, and entirely committed to Tejada’s mix work. Guys danced to the front; cameras flashed on all sides; and on and on Tejada moved his music, never coasting, not taking a bathroom break (something no DJ should ever have to do in a two hour set), no acceding to a fan greeting. (Why fans feel they have the OK to interrupt DJs, this writer will never understand. People at a rock or jazz concert wouldn’t think to come up on stage like that.) With Tejada, fans evidently felt they owed him the space not to play “hey good-buddy ! hi-ya !” with. He was able thus to concentrate all attention upon forty or so mix board edit buttons of which he made constant use.

He describes his sound as techno — but of the Detroit, not the German version. Detroit, at Arc, it was ; a sound almost entirely blues based from which ticklish, twisty, wire-thin strands of upper register noise arose, seductive to the body as to one’s ear. His sound had family resemblance to that of Carl Craig : choppy but soulful, airy as well as blues. Tejada, however, dropped a sound much more walk and talk than Craig’s glide and sublime.

Playing his best-liked “Elsewhere,’ “Somewhere,’ and “Here” — the titles felt appropriate to the sonic displacements Tejada made — as well as “Wanna,” “Seven X Seven” and several others similar, Tejada played stomp and tickle, rumble and fumble; and his fans loved every move.

There was, however, less dancing than appreciating. Most of the approximately 225 fans stood to watch Tejada do his mixes and to snap photos of it. This was not a mistake. Tejada played the mix board as if it were a piano. Almost every knob and button made its mark, as Tejada jumped from track to track and shattered, repeated, stuttered, undertoned, fade-knobbed, flatted and sharped his sound. He kept his head down, his hands on the music, making it a throat, lips, and belly of burp, squeak, and irresistibly lush blues walk-offs.

Curiously, Tejada’s set ended not at Arc’s closing time but at 1.25 A.M. he was followed by Matt Mcneil, a local DJ who dropped a plush, loud, embracing sound. Mcneil has the deep house chops needed to take over from a headline master, and he did not lose Tejada’s ground. This writer will be very disappointed if Mcneil does not get invited, and soon, to open at Bijou, Boston’s most important house music venue, and, quickly thereafter, to headline.

— Deedee Freedberg / Feeling the Music