Archive for March 28, 2015


March 28, 2015


00:23 EST

The Break Up

Sojourn down a flight of stairs into the mouth of the cavernous. Welcome to a basement that wipes grime off its brow. Dark, dingy, and dank. The space has charisma and it speaks with charm. No selfies. No photobombs. No videography. Washington D.C.’s U Street Music Hall forbids.

A golden haze hangs across the smoke-free room. LEDs emit lights of magenta turned emerald that play cat and mice over shadows of ball caps and mops of hair that bop up and down in slow motion. Behind the postured mass are the bodies whose feet spin in circles and feet sway left to right. Missing are the breakers with their cropped circles as they fall to the floor to showoff hand stands with their legs spinning in the air ready to take out a limb. The only danger present is the bar destined inebriated slamming into bodies in motion. “Excuse you?”

A dancer’s jazz shoes stick to the ground. The wooden floor is already covered with libations. Within seconds a hooded figure bent over scurries by as a rat in daylight. He is a savior. In his hand, he holds a bottle of baby powder. The floor candy spills across the wooden titles in a snake formation. Thank you Jesus!!!

“Wheeeweeee!!!” A swarm of approval erupts from the mouths of many. A thump and percussions introduces “The Break Up” before a lo-fi punch kicks the drum. In the background the crowd sings, “You stole my love” in repeated refrain. In the foreground the sonics sound muffled. A move closer to the hanging speaker cabinet reveals a low hum. To swindle is to cheat by fraud or deceit and tonight Detroit Swindle is being robbed of a superior sound system.

 A fuzzy recollect

Detroit is a musical nucleus. The Motor City’s influence stretches from Leeds to Amsterdam to Stuttgart. Its grip ignites lads to monogram the “D” into their stage moniker. Detroit Swindle’s Lars Dales and Maarten Smeets is such. It is tempting to label the awesome twosome as studio producers first, label owners second and touring DJs third. After all, the Amsterdam natives met in a club, one Deejaying and the other manning the acoustics. Thereafter, their rise to fame is a fuzzy recollect. “I don’t know,” a release on this label and that label placed them on DJs radars. “Maybe,” it was their debut “Boxed Out” that won critical acclaims with its cross-genre pollination. The question begs, is their any originality to this duo or is it all a formula calculated by a sharking music executive to keep pace with EDM trends?

In a relatively short time, 2012 to be exact, Lars and Maarten have swindled their way into the hearts of the underground house music market. They too have built a solid following of house enthusiasts. As evidenced by the panoply of bomber jackets, graphic Tees, joggers and skinny denim bottled in 1200 square feet between two performances stages in the music hall. Onstage behind the music decks, Detroit Swindle are unrecognizable, no hipster hair or pornstache. Their appearance is cloned; both are dressed in black tees and trucker caps, a far cry from their leopard print costumes. In the nation’s capital their dress is conservative but not their playlist. Maarten, who plays less, plays the best songs. When he appears center stage, which he rarely does throughout the party, he packs a more soulful punch to Lars’ funky tech. He even elicits the speakers to emit a fuller sound as a groovy bass line plays. Under Lars helm the mixing missteps, cold cuts and beat slamming, that later evens out to a steady flow.

Tonight, Derrick Carter should feel cheated more than Moodymann. The soul of Chicago’s Southside disco mixed with Chicago’s North side’s hi-energy represents. Layered beats that stick to the bones and disco loops that uplift outstretch hours of pleasure. Take, KHLHI “Percussions (Four Tet).” The music crescendos and drops but does not annoy. Beats sound interchangeable. This is track music for track heads. Dubbed vocals from soul giants that should play out into full versus with sing-along hooks never materialize. Robbing the crowd of hearing First Choice fully sing “Double Cross” is a punishable offense.             

 02:00 EST

The Magic Hour

When “Ccccc’monnn’ (s)” and “Wwwwill yooou leave with me(s)?” are stretched into long drawls from future politicians who stand several inches shorter than their blonde-haired counterparts, their departing time has arrived that makes way for the experienced dancers to play.   The magic hour begins.

There dances the good ole’ buddy, a former dance instructor, retired night-lifer, who throws his arms into the air and wobbles his legs as if paying homage to Janet Jackson, to his left a house dancer dressed in all black, sticks her derriere out and twerks before she sidesteps to the right as her friend shakes hands with an out-of-town stranger and says,” You’ve got dancing skills.”

Their bodies groove to Chicago’s K-Alexi’s “The Dancer” where the Ian Pooley Remix drops to 124 beats per minute of minimal thumps and spacey grooves. Gwen McCrae’s “Keep This Fire Burning” (The Revenge Need II Edit) emerges as the party’s hell yeah! The feel good slow burner lifts dancing feet off the floor but only as far as the inferior sound quality allows. Detroit Swindle continues their pilferage on Heist Recordings, their label imprint, with its latest release from Barme & Hamo’s “The Parish Rumors.” Finally, Lars pays homage to his group’s namesake, Detroit’s Terrance Parker on “Love’s Got Me High.” A song and sight most appropriately illustrated by the guy in his wheelchair swaying his torso around in circles, flapping his arms and hands in the air with his head cocked towards the ceiling. His visage says it all. “This is the power of house music.” A fact that will attest Detroit Swindle’s staying power for years to come.

Detroit Swindle

words: aj dance

illustration: aj art


March 1, 2015


Derrick Carter & His Flock of Retired Ravers

2300 CST 

I’m A House Gangsta

Playing a game of “excuse me(s)” while trying not to step on sneakers takes balance and observation. Brushing shoulders and bumping against tatted biceps is the only way to maneuver through T-shirts that read, “I’m A House Gangsta” and “Nashville.” Watch out! Dance circle front and center. A group of six bodies stands in a circumference as if they are mother hens protecting their offspring from outsiders. Within their love nest, a dancer sporting a red Mohawk performs an asymmetric handstand. Into view, a six-foot frame slides three feet as people jump to avoid the whirlwind. Positioned left stage is a hand raver, with one limb, showing off his skills like it’s a badge of honor. As additional b-boys and one b-girl arrive the circle grows and snakes towards the room’s epicenter. Burly hugs, smooches on the cheeks, and handshakes fill the void. As one out-of-towner eloquently explains, “Brown. White. Old. Young. Tall. Short. Fat. Skinny. Beautiful. Ugly. Look at the diversity in this place.”

 Nash Vegas

“They say Nashville has a house music scene. But this is not our deep house,” discovers another out-of-town dancer.

How correct! This is not NYC. Not even Atlanta. To make such assumptions would be gravely ill. This is Nash Vegas! Its electronic soul pumps funky house music through its veins. And tonight, the music speaks its funky sermon into a microphone as it shows off its swag underneath the spotlight.

“How many people traveled from Florida? Ohio? Memphis? Atlanta?” The Back to the Basics M.C. yells into the house microphone. The crowd of old friends, old frenemies, and old associates roars with every location announced. The faces of fine lines and focused stares are retired ravers, house junkies of the 1990’s; the last great decade, a time when wide-legged pants, tongue-piercings and dyed roots ruled the world.

 If Back To The Basics has its say then tonight is underground house music’s rebirth, dancing towards the edge of a revival. What better conductors than Nashville’s DJ Sammie tagging with Kentucky’s Trevor Lamont to reignite a movement? A slim Lamont, showing a salt and pepper goatee, works the room as he plays Derrick May’s “Strings of Life.” The Detroit techno anthem sets dancing feet ablaze. Dressed in a white tee and white cap is Sammie who follows with Black Science Orchestra’s “New Jersey Deep.” The Funkanova’s “Wood, Brass & Steel” sample is immediately recognizable and continues to elevate the party’s status. While Sammie takes the more funky approach, Trevor stirs the pot with laden soul as both pave the way for their successor.    

 24:00 CST

Liquid Spirit

If DJ Sammie and Trevor Lamont are disciples then Derrick Carter is Derrick Christ. And the club on 2nd Avenue is church. The place of worship does lack advertised amenities like valet parking, a VIP bar, and why must bottled water take thirty minutes to receive at the bar? DC’s followers, they affectionately call him, do care but they are too consumed with god worship that straddles the atmosphere. As the evangelist of house music appears on stage, he takes his place. At his altar, a pentagon shaped performance stage is where dozens of gathered parishioners clap their hands. Their blinding smiles replace the flashes of electronic devices; their outstretched hands replace fist pumps. This is the face of Generation X. And tonight, “Babysitters are making money.”

DC rolls up his sleeves. A revelation of tats travels down both forearms to his wrists. His ten fingers steadily grip the controls of knobs and buttons. His visage reads he is about to let his flock have it!

Hailing from suburbia Chicago, WESTSIDE! The tale of Derrick Carter sings an all too familiar verse, at age nine plays music at a family reunion, gets a job at a record store, produces music, starts a recording label, plays Europe and becomes a celebrated DJ who tours the world. The DC sound scribbles a unique signature that leaves dance floors satiated: faster BPMs, heart-pulsating four-on-the-floors, and looped vocals. All key ingredients of fun music.

After all, Derrick puts the fun in funky house. Derrick does not bring the party: Derrick is the party. He is all too willing to serenade his followers with the best. White labels of Eryka Badu’s “On and On” and Faith Evans “You Gets No Love” ring the alarm. Both divas belt over repurposed thumps in Derrick’s musical sermon. A sermon that includes secular visuals. Don’t hate on the dancing dominatrix dressed in head to toe black; a head wrap, dress, fishnets and stilettos, or she will take her whip and pleasure you with pain.

DC does not play safe. He will offend. Just #derphouse. All the while, he tells the truth by playing the music people never imagined they ever wanted to experience. Take, Gregory Porter’s “Liquid Spirit.” In a move unprecedented in Carter’s sermons, the tempo slows to a mid-crawl of Sunday morning handclaps with a soulful bump. “Clap Your Hands Now” Porter commands: happy hands follows suit.       

While sipping a liquid spirit, a damsel in distress stands nearby. She has “The Blues” and not because the AFTC (DJ Spen American Poetic Remix) instrumental blasts into the soundsphere. “He bought me here on a date and he knows everyone in here. I just want to dance, but he is too busy talking to everyone.”

After all, this is a family reunion, a den of retired ravers, and the wrong place to bring your first and probably last date.

Then the young siren turns around, throws her drink up in the air, and does a funky kick with her legs as Whitney Houston sings, “Love Will Save The Day.”

“FWEEEEEEEEEEET!” The dancing Dominatrix blows her whistle to the music that time travels back to the late 1980’s. Derrick shows love to his hometown house heroes Ralphi Rosario featuring Xavier’s “You Used to Hold Me,” and Cajmere featuring DaJae’s “Brighter Days” (Underground Goodies Mix). By the time Robert Owen proclaims “Bring Down The Walls,” the sound becomes a muddied hodgepodge.  

DC does not play straight: mixing in one track and riding out the melody on another track. Much is said in a DC sermon. Beats scurry over here. Melodies scatter over there. A bit of madness pursues. His is a narrative conceptually focused with woven textures and erupting elements. If not distributed through the proper sound channels, the mix can sound discomforting and discombobulating. When dancing behind a speaker that muffles the mids, Beyonce raps, “Chocked on a bone when the bone slid deeper.” How sad because HNNY’s “Sneeze” is actually a game changer.

At the intersection where French vanilla, from E-Cigarettes, and sweat scent the air, several dancers have gathered in front of the speaker cabinets for greater sound clarity. It works. Don Armando’s “Deputy of Love” (2nd Avenue Remix) sounds intelligent and at the moment “dynamite!” Too bad dancing feet hesitate to glide over the corn-syrup surface that sticks to the rubber soles like glue. However, the goo does not hinder the red Mohawk dancer who is still dancing in the cropped circle. His arm movement’s pop, and his chest locks to the late Loleatta Holloway’s “Hit & Run” vocal a cappella as his crew watches from the sidelines.  


Nicest Club in America

“Nashville!” Let’s give it up for Derrick Carter.” The Back to Basics MC shouts to perhaps the nicest club in America. As Nashville’s DJ Mindub and Terry Grant assume musical directives, Derrick head nods and waves to the packed house. For the past two hours he never verbally acknowledges the crowd beyond means of playing music. An address that is most comforting for die-hard house heads. After all, in Derrick’s kingdom the music is the message that speaks a million words.



The next morning, sitting at the dinning table with a best friend and her parents over breakfast, their friend asks? “So, where do you go to church?”

I softly mutter, “Last night we were at church.”

words: aj dance

illustration: aj art