Between 2000 and 2005 I watched House music take a series of erratic turns. For a moment it looked like we were about to become pop music, and the art of closed eyes, warehouse dancing, and giving up everything that was killing us into the smoke, and strobe lights of dive bars, beaches and fields would be lost forever without a history. Not that certain scenes, and noteworthy music journalists haven't made every effort to qualify and document House and it's journey from the basements of Chicago and New York outward into the laser beams of every city in the world, but so much has been said about popular DJ's and the abuse of compounds that in some ways this sort of archival work followed the mainstream mockery which American House heads, music lovers and even ravers had been held hostage by for so long. Just as the pop charts seemed to be dividing and slaughtering all of us, something curious happened. Local shops began to close, people stopped going out like they had been, politics, war, and economy took their toll on our lives and in what felt like the blink of an eye our landscape of North American grass roots musical revolution seemed to be gone. We tried. We did our very best. But what had moved us, and changed us, virtually shaped our lives for more than a decade was gone.
During that period of violent transition I lost my record label, I lost my band, I lost all of my savings, I lost my best friend, I lost my family, and I no longer understood what I had sacrificed my life for. Was it a passing fancy of the Clinton era? Were people just blown out, and now there was too much cocktail party for the heads, and not enough depth for the cocktail party? We always said that drinking and dancing didn't mix, but to end up relegated as the soundtrack of a strip club or a shampoo commercial seemed less like a revolution and more like a wasted creative life to someone as hard headed, and equally as sensitive as me. I didn't feel like rising to the occasion. I'd hung up my 1200's after the birth of my son, my family needed me, and betrayal after betrayal left me standing behind the decks of my own party, two hours into a five hour set wishing I was at home asleep. Dude, I'd lost the vibe and didn't know how to continue without my partner, or my revolution. So I retired from spinning, Dubtribe was done, so I retired from performance, and set about raising a child, and trying to make ends meet.
Trouble is they didn't meet. No matter how many times I wrote my resume, or learned new bits of code or web gimmicks, my heart wasn't in it. I am a House Head, and I want to sing, make music, mix records, and most of all dance with my people, my tribe, in the smallest little holes I can find where no one's hitting on you, and everyone's free to smoke, drink, trip, and travel wherever they need to go in order to shake off the filth of this world. 120 BPM is a revolutionary tempo, and depth no longer denotes revivalist theories of gospel, or R&B set to a four on the floor beat. From the electronic revolution of Berlin, to the back bedrooms of Seattle, House music is alive and now more than ever we have to ask ourselves, where is the bonfire? Who's got the bass bins? How far can you push it? How bad do you want it?
Being one to find himself standing on a soap box half way through a sermon before I'm even aware of what I'm doing, I felt that it was now or never for me. I was gonna break out of this contrasting despair of the past, and disdain for the future. I'd lived the 80's already, and frankly they weren't the pleated skirt neon party fun I seeing being recreated today. The 80's were downtown Beirut for me and the people I love. Everyone died of AIDS, and the only refuge we had was to get our asses to the Stud on Friday nights to dance to whatever Blackstone was playing and try to heal from the hurt of our crappy lives, and death all around us. San Francisco was a mess economically, and politically. House was born of desperation and a need for celebration here. It was, in many cases, all we had. So if moving forward, going with the flow meant that 80's samples, and cynical lyrics were what needed to be done, then I knew just what to do: Strip away all the samples, look away from the computer screen, sit down with my Juno 60, my TR-909, my TB-303 and compose music about myself, about the sadness and frustration, my hopes, dreams, and the last embers of a fire which was once a glorious bonfire set ablaze on the beaches of the Pacific coast of California. But How was I supposed to do that? There was nothing left.
After a reunion night at Simon's in Gainesville Florida where Dubtribe said goodbye to a man and a club which had fostered and nurtured our sound from the very start of it, I got home still soaking wet from the party after a 6 hour plane flight, to my weekly radio program (Sunday Soul) and laid down a marathon set which began at ten p.m. and lasted until well after sunrise. I was on fire with house music. I resolved that morning, publicly, to embark upon the creation of seven tracks in seven days. I had no idea what I was going to do, or if I could do it. Me? Not me. I'm the guy who spent a year nit picking over 'Do It Now' and took three entire years to write, perform, and finally record Equitorial. How was I going to find the sources, let alone leave the music alone enough to let go of a track after 24 hours?
The rules were simple: Each song must be created within a 24 hour period. No song, in whole or in part may contain sketches or phrases from any previous composition. All ideas must begin and end within the 24 hour period. No song may include more than four pieces of equipment. When the time's up, it's up, and I promised to post the results on the imperial DUB message board for all to listen to and critique. I cheated a little here and there by adding overdubs, or using a fifth piece of equipment, but the process, for me, was a complete success.
Day One: Anywhere you are
I began sitting at my juno trying to oppose the kick drum of the 909 by triggering the arpeggiator from the side stick output to set the tempo. I got so lost in the minutia of time and trigger that by 6 a.m. I was exhausted and fed up. I went to bed for a few hours and woke up to listen to the mess I'd made. What I discovered was that my head was completely telling me "no." Defeatist head, like a unconditioned runner, I retied my shoes and let go. Everything else just came together naturally and by 3 p.m. the track was posted.
Roland TR-909, Roland Juno-60, Roland TB-303, MXR Flanger
Day Two: If you wouldn't mind
I started this song at 3:30 after posting the first track. I've been embracing the sound of the early 1990's in tempo, technique, and intensity lately, as well as playing and revisiting b-sides and dubs from that era lately so the rhythm track came easily. By midnight I had a rhythm arrangement with some airy sampled textures humming away. I was happy, but I spent the next four hours pulling my hair out. I was at a total loss for what to do next. I went to sleep about 5 a.m. disgusted with myself, feeling totally defeated, as if this process was not going to happen. I woke up at about 11 a.m. and gave the track a listen. Before getting through it even once I began to add fader rides on the various bus groupings and looking to build emotional tension by pushing and pulling. I replayed the bassline with the 303, simplifying it, and sort of looking to push the feeling of movement, and travel. For a moment I wanted to start over. I heard the roots of early Dubtribe tracks like 80 east, and other songs about driving for days on end and that embarrassed me. But then I remembered that if it embarrasses me, then it's usually because I'm seeking, or tapping into some kind of personal place which is as yet unguarded by my ego. That had to be a good thing. So I continued sculpting the mix until it was done.
Roland Juno-60, Roland TR-909, Akai S6000 Sampler, Boss Auto Wah
Day Three: Until then...
I cheated a little bit on this song. I started it immediately after posting day two's track, but it was originally based on a song I'd written called 'text message.' I was hurt and angry with a friend who bailed on my via text message, and hadn't had the courage to speak to me about what they were going through. So the drumming for this song was originally a part of a completely different piece. I'd forgiven my friend, and wanted to express some sort of feeling for them (as if they'd ever even heard the original composition written out of hurt, which they hadn't) This song came organically and fast. By dinner time I was done with the entire arrangement and none of the original source material from 'text message' was left in the track. So I wasn't really cheating anymore, and I felt great. So I took a break, hung out with my son, and thought I'd add some vocals later. Little did I know that at 3 p.m. the next day I'd still be laying on the floor of my studio moaning into the mic. I wanted to sing something intimate, personal, expressing something between my friend and I which only they, and anyone else who feels like we do, might be able to really receive. But all I was coming up with were these bleating sort of jazz vocals. At 5 p.m. I just gave in. I never gave up, but it was time to post this tune, and so I quickly added two of the scratch vocals together so that they phased and posted it. This was exhausting to reach so far down into myself, and to try an express something from the 40 year old man who's heart was raw, and burnished by boot heels which I felt "comfortable" with. Giving in, and just being brave turned out to be the only solution.
Roland Juno-60, Akai S6000, Gon Bop Congas, Roland JP-8000
Day Four: I Believe
I started this track as a tribute to Frankie. Baby wants to ride had been on my mind for weeks, and I wanted to draw a straight line between my new found love of the square wave and the truth about house music (political, sexual, spiritual music for all people.) So I sketched out the rhythm, and the 303 took care of the bassline. I sat for about 12 hours lost completely in a distant place, listening to these loops and recording my fader moves until I felt that it was raw, but perfectly expressing the kind of head travel which begins as a wrestling with fatigue, and approaches something like sexual abandon. I is relentless and overwhelming. To me, I was positive I'd made a terrible mess. But when I woke up the next afternoon and listened, I grinned as if this track had written and mixed itself, and I printed it and posted it "as is."
Roland TR-909, Roland TB-303, Roland Juno-60, Akai S6000
Day five: I Surrender
I'd only been sleeping a few hours a night, and by day five my ass was grass. I was beat, and didn't want to work. I played around with a number of ideas all day and kept starting over. I repeated this process until three in the morning, sweating, defeated, and seriously bummed, I went to sleep without an idea for the day. I woke up in the morning, after a series of vivid dreams about having intimate conversation with someone I love dearly who wasn't available to me, and another dream about making love to them and there and then, in my sleeping clothes sat down and wrote, performed and sang this song in three hours. I took a half hour break, and came back to it to check the mix. I wasn't completely happy with it, but I posted it anyway.
Akai S6000, Roland TR-909, Roland TB-303, Various hand percussion
Day six: Distant Vision
I woke up depressed from sad dreams. I spent the morning writing in my journal and looking out the window. I wanted the track today to express something more substantial than my work so far. I was discouraged by the lack of input from posting the music, and felt sort of uncomfortable, like maybe I'd been wrong to feel so energized and optimistic. I can think my way into the worst of all possibilities, but I usually know that this is only entertainment, and not reality. So I took it easy on myself and programmed a simply kick, and heady 303 line run through a delay and played congas and percussion along with it for a long time until I felt that the loops I was creating were taking me out beyond the perimeter of my doubts, and fears. I was happy, sweaty, and dancing. I don't know what it is about the alchemy of house music which has such amazing healing powers. I don't know why or how I ever felt arrogant enough to believe that I could contribute anything to the body of work, to the set of resources which can channel this energy through a DJ to a crowd of broken, disenfranchised people who just want to get together, and move, cheer, and travel emotionally together. By the time I was done I felt like someone else had written this song. I felt blessed and healed, and repaired entirely. So without even reviewing the mix, I posted it and went to sleep.
Roland TB-303, Roland SH-101, Roland Juno-60, Roland TR-909, Gon Bob Congas, Various hand percussion
Day Seven: We are free
I was ahead of schedule, and had about 32 hours to work on this song. I began with the vocals, and vocoded them into the texture synth which flows through the whole song. I added the drums and then set about filtering the vocoder for the duration of the arrangement. Then I went back and did bus volume automation, and musical embellishment. A typical Sunshine "soul mix" where it's long, and free, and asymmetrical, leaving the vocal to the middle eight section and only hinting that more may be coming. A matriculation sort of arrangement where people who feel it will love it and give the track room to stretch out in a set, and unfold until the vocals come rising up out of the music to revive you, and wrap their beautiful arms around you, almost whispering in your ear. This is my favorite song of the seven. Personally I think it's the most sophisticated arrangement, yet it also came the most easily. I love that it shines at the end of such a powerfully personal week of musical composition as the song of liberation and joy of having pulled my head out of my ass, and accomplished what I set out to do with courage, and with love. Free indeed.
Roland TR-909, Roland Juno-60, Akai S6000, Gon Bop Congas, Zilgian Ride Cymbal, Various hand percussion, Emagic Evoc 20 Vocoder
I want to thank everyone who has stuck with me and my music over the last four or five years. These have been terrible times for me. Your undying support, humor, attention and kindness have meant everything to me. I want to return your love with all the fire of my blazing bonfire of a heart. I want to resume my work with a grin, and without the sociopolitical persuasion of the past. I want to offer you the warmth of a waveform, and the thump of my very best kick drum, the words of my heart, fearlessly expressing my dreams, my hurt, my hopes, and more than anything else my devotion to you.
In every imaginable way, this archive of this life saving exercise is my love letter to you. You who settle for so little. You who reach for the stars. You who care so much in an era of horror we might never have suspected possible of the modern world. To the fearlessness of your heard, the truth in your mind, and the honor you bring to every moment of your life.