After hours

By MICHAEL FREEDBERG  |  January 17, 2007

Scene 4 | Club Therapy, 7 Dike St, Providence, Rhode Island | October 7 | 2 am | One of house music’s biggest names, Danny Tenaglia, has just taken the decks from opening DJ Wil Trahan of Fall River. Trahan gave us a three-hour set of slammin’ beats that have a lot of Calderone in them. He’s gotten most of the crowd off the wall and onto the floor. Now it’s Tenaglia’s turn, and he opens with his own dance-club hit, “Dibiza,” which starts with one of those tape-delayed, deep-croaking, male frog voices that are so characteristic of house, saying, “Bring the drums back!” Oh yeah. Drums and more drums, exploding like artillery. What’s being blown up are your inhibitions — even the guys get on the floor. Hundreds of them. Kids who look hip-hop, arena-rock, dressed sports-bar style. Not a tranny in the bunch — hardly a core house crowd. I turn to Junior, the “dean of admissions” at Therapy, and say, “This place is packed!” He says, “You think so? It’s just starting. Wait till you see 4 am!”

As recently as 2002, house-music diva Joi Cardwell told me, “Every house fan I know is a gay male.” In the US, that was a fairly accurate observation. Yet so much has changed just four years later, in a city as low on the house scale as Boston has been. The established media’s coverage of DJs and dancing is almost always about hip-hop. Yet Wil Trahan, speaking about the opening of Therapy, says, “We didn’t want to do hip-hop because of the negative vibe. We wanted a positive flow.” And DJ Kares, a popular local breakbeat spinner, says, “Hip-hop is too slow for me; I’m a former cheerleader, I have a lot of energy. In addition, hip-hop is always the same. It doesn’t progress. House music is changing all the time!” She adds, “In the hip-hop rooms the boys are rubbing up against you all the time. I don’t want that, I want to dance.”

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RUMOR MAN: DJ Greg Pic had the crowd lined up Warrenton St.
Those sentiments are reflected in house tracks. James Mowbray’s “The Day the Hip-Hop Died” begins with the lines “No more R&B hip-hop records, kids do give a fuck what happens.” Lee Kalt’s “Nights like This featuring Octopus” opens with Octopus ranting about the club he’s coming to DJ at: “Every time I come in this club it’s the same fucking shit with the same fucking asshole . . . the same fucking five hip-hop songs in a row, the same bullshit every night.” To which he compares the house groove he’s “tapping” to: “Make you crazy . . . make you lose control! Hear that? Ready for the drop? Here it comes!” And does it ever come, the deep, big beat, loud and in your face.

Converts from hip-hop, curiosity seekers, veterans of the gay years — you name it, house is becoming a community. Of the insane and the flamboyant, the whacked and the beautiful, the dressed-up and the undressed. Rise is where it happens best. I’m thinking of a Sunday night back in October, about 4:15 am. Local DJ Craig Mitchell is spinning as I arrive and join him in the DJ booth. He leaves the booth and goes out onto the floor, microphone in hand, and sings, “In my house there is no man, no woman, no gay, no straight . . . we are all one people, united by the rhythm!” He is stripped to the waist as he sings, in a Stevie Wonder-ish quavery tenor, and he is surrounded by dancers also stripped to the waist. Naked bodies with arms upraised, sweating, shouting, spiritual. Holiness church to the core.

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