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Midtown 120 Blues

August 16, 2013

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So I’ve decided I’m going to try and write this blog on a weekly basis. It’s not something I relish announcing publicly, what with my absolute aversion to routine… It used to drive my Dad nuts when I was growing up – I’d get excited about some new artistic/sporting/cultural pursuit for all of about 6 weeks, then get bored and sack it off, leaving a trail of unfulfilled dreams and unused equipment behind me. This blog’s been going for 5 weeks now and here I am committing in public to writing something weekly into the future. I feel a bit sick.

That said, acts of public expression often make me feel a bit sick. By the time I’ve read and re-read a post for the 40th time looking for errors, I barely know if I’m reading English any more. It’s the same when I DJ (not so regularly these days) – to expose your personal tastes and ability so nakedly, trying to emulate DJs (or writers) you admire, knowing that it is unlikely you will ever compare to them… Urgh – it’s a wonder anyone ever does anything!

Fortunately, it turns out people do appreciate your efforts even when your not giving Jeff Mills or Shakespeare a run for their money. Occasionally you’ll even do something that people really enjoy and better still, they’ll let you know about it. The best reaction you can get when DJing is people going nuts on the dancefloor. There’s no better feeling in the world. With the blog, the best thing for me so far has been people wanting to talk to me about it – sending me links to music I might not have heard or articles/blogs/forum posts that I should read. It doesn’t just help with confidence, it gives you new angles to look at things, new stuff to write about. Its like having a friend in the DJ box suggest a record that you instantly know is exactly what you wanted to play. So thanks to everyone who has contributed in that way so far, keep the clues coming!

I’ve been so blinkered in my hunt for classic NYC house over the past year I’ve barely paid any attention to anything more recent. Luckily for me, a friend wondered whether I was aware of this track from 2009 and decided to post a link for me on Facebook (thank you Andy!):

In the intro to Midtown 120 Blues, Terre Thaemlitz (DJ Sprinkles) describes deep house away from the “greeting card bullshit about ‘love, life and happiness'” that usually gets trotted out:

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, Tompkins Square Park, police brutality, queer-bashing, underpayment, unemployment, and censorship—all at 120 beats per minute.

These are the Midtown 120 Blues.

It’s an important point – the period after-the-Garage that I’ve been writing about began in pretty grim circumstances, when Michael Brody decided to close the Paradise Garage after contracting HIV. He died months later and he was not alone – as Francois Kevorkian says in the Maestro documentary, AIDS was devastating:

Sometimes I have to hold myself back when I’m talk to…people who haven’t lost 50 or 60 friends, people who they used to see every day or every week and hang out with… If you haven’t lost that many people around you in that short of a time you will not understand…and I think that at large what it did was it completely decimated a whole generation, out of some of the brightest and most creative talent they had. If you don’t think that is significant I don’t know what is.

The story of New York Deep House is no fairy tail. The music expresses much more than the multitudes of vacuous mainstream imitators would have you believe. As well as its musical influences like Disco, Italo and Dub, the NYC environment played an enormous influence; and 80s New York was not a great environment. It was corrupt, violent, racist, homophobic and suffering both AIDS and crack epidemics. Dance music is regularly dismissed as a being ‘lesser’ musical art form, usually by those who can’t be bothered to take a look beneath the surface. The music that became known as Garage in New York during the 70s and 80s had never shied away from painful emotion – was there ever a sadder vocal than Teddy Pendergrass’s on The Love I Lost? How angry was Bernard Edwards when he wrote “The clock keeps turning, why hesitate? You silly fool, you can’t change your fate.” And as Terre says in his album intro, “The House Nation likes to pretend clubs are an oasis from suffering, but suffering is in here with us.”

Between 1990 and 1991, Terre was DJing as DJ Sprinkles at a transgender sex worker club on 43rd Street at the Carter Hotel: Sally’s Hideaway. Unfortunately, as Terre says in this interview with Nerdy Frames, even Sally’s time as a Deep House hotspot was shortlived:

There were some great instrumental Deep House records coming out of Jersey and the Lower East Side, but I swear for the life of me I couldn’t find a club that played them, and like I said, I was fired for playing them.

…I got fired from Sally’s for refusing to play a Gloria Estefan record – just a month after they had awarded me a “Sally’s II Grammy Award” for Best DJ 1991, mind you…

Terre moved into production and the Ambient scene, setting up his own label Comatonse Records to release his first record Raw Through A Straw in 1993. Since then Terre has continued to release records to much acclaim, many of which are available via the Comatonse online shop including a limited run of 50 Sally’s tribute mixtapes! I’ll have one of those thank you, but in the meantime, I’ll wrap things up with this mix for RBMA:

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4 Comments
  1. Hurrah! After all I got a blog from where I can actually obtain useful data
    regarding my study and knowledge.

    • Thanks Geri – I’m glad you’re finding it useful! I’m just having to take a wee break due to moving house, but will have a few more things to share soon

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  1. The Crazy Frenchman and Kool Groove records | afterthegarage
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