After hours

By MICHAEL FREEDBERG  |  January 17, 2007

The fans are doing house even as they try to figure it all out. That’s part of the excitement. Just what is this stuff? House DJ Eddie Amador says it just right: “House music . . . it’s a body thing; a spiritual thing; a soul thing!” And what is it about house that makes it a body, spiritual, and soul thing? House is made by producers using electronic instruments and mixboards, and by singers in the electronic environment; it’s brought to the fans by DJs who mix tracks improvisationally. The DJ stands in his booth (and it usually is a he, despite the presence of DJ Kares here in Boston and a few rising stars elsewhere), out of sight, mostly; the producers and singers remain out of view. There is no chance for fan and performer to meet eye to eye, as happens in rock. Instead, the connection is a conceptual one first, and second it’s between the music’s soul and spirit and the dancer’s soul, spirit, and body. Concept is central to house’s depth and to its transcendence of the moment. All of which has grown stronger and stronger during the 21 years since its first hit, Chip E & K.Joy’s “Like This.”

House’s rejection of rock goes deeper still. It incorporates styles — blues, gospel, soul, funk, and even jazz — that feel like 1956 but restated, in the tones and formats of the post-rock age of electronic mixboard sound effects and “WAV” software. House starts at 1956 and jumps over the entire rock-and-roll era directly into 2007; it has no guitars, no live bands, no teenage themes, and no politics — thus no Bob Dylans. House music rejects it all. It is rhythm for rhythm’s sake, rhythm to move your body and express your deepest self, celebrate it, rejoice in it. And yes, it has important roots in disco, whose sounds and fan base — “too gay, too black for Middle America,” as was said at the time by many — preceded house and gave a start to the DJs who conceived it. It is perhaps the most thorough-going rejectionist music genre to arise since the 1920s.

Still, house is not a rhythmic version of Rory Block. It is not interested in preserving the old. What it has is the soul and spirit of old, pre-rock rhythm music — almost without realizing it — as expressed in the technology, and with the sonic textures, of tomorrow. It is as futuristic as any genre, and consciously so. And this too is a rejection of rock’s sense of time. House is performed in the moment, but it is not about the moment. As with any music of improvisation, it is about adapting to the moment, making way from yesterday to tomorrow.

For many years, Boston could hear underground house music only at the Loft in the South End, an after-hours club where Boston’s own big-name star, Armand Van Helden, made his bones. The Loft closed, but Rise took over the late night.

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