FoHDiary Day 9: Higher & Higher
Epiphany while riding the elevator this morning. I was always under the impression that house's message had become diluted in the 90s. When you strip away the biblical references and lyrical iconography you were left with a version of house that was somehow less, somehow missing some essential element. After speaking with Vince yesterday I've completely changed my opinion. House without any god or bible quotation is stronger, more visceral, more universal! I thought all this talk of "reaching" and "believing" and "having faith" was a stripped down version. It's not. THAT is the real vision. It enables house to maintain it's spirituality, all it's pain and joy and celebration, without the need for a chap on a crucifix judging proceedings. Promised Land, Some Day, and the stuff the Absolute were putting out are all prime examples. Remove the deity and the dogma, and you get a stronger, more resilient message as a result.
I went to Stony Island Arts Bank today, and spent 2 hours ratching through the thousands of records hosted there as part of the Frankie Knuckles archive. His personal stuff, all the promo's he received, everything he played out, all up on shelves for anyone to go and explore. I've been trying to think of a parallel in terms of it's importance. The dead sea scrolls? The rosetta stone? They all feel obvious and none of them seem quite right. It's not a canon in the normal sense, this isn't every record that made house happen (although many of them are in there). It's more personal and more prolific than that. As you flick through the racks you see duplicates of records stacked together, not for alphabetical reasons, but rather because Knuckles was obviously gigging with them and juggling between the same record live. In other instances you go through several doubles until you hit one on it's own, and then it's twin appears further into the set; implying he either didn't juggle or brought back elements later into the narrative of the mix. You get runs of artists together in vague alphabetical order, and you get themed collections that were most likely special sets he'd put together. I stumbled across a segment clearly related to a Paradise Garage themed thing, and another one running the funkier side of motown and classic disco. His stickers, his marking system, and hundreds of promos with hand written notes to the God Father of House adorn the collection. As I went through I wish I'd recorded myself. Multiple audible gasps, laughing, confused "eh" sounds. It was a trip!
I saw DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist a few months ago on their "Renegades of Rhythm" tour. Afrika Bambaataa's record collection is now in situ in Cornell's university archive. Cornell! One of the worlds leading universities hosts Bam's record collection next to ancient babylonian tablets and documents pertaining to the slave trade. Why on earth does Knuckles' collection not hold that same level of importance? The guys at Stony Island are doing a great job, but it's a charity funded thing. It should be funded by government in an education setting. This collection holds in it the most important pieces of music that informed an entire genre! Punk is cool in academics, as is hip hop. When will house get it's time? And will it ever actually happen? At least when Gonnie Reitveld was working in the field it was current ethnographic research, now... I'm not sure.
I also met Thomos Oakes who runs the Let's Pet Puppies label (friend of Luke Solomon and Marea Stamper etc). Nice chap, even drier than me! But he made me doubt myself for the first time in this project (well not the first at all, maybe the first time since I made it to Chicago). He pointed out I'm looking at this experience from the position of production, not from the reception. What part do the dancers/heads/fans play in the experience? A huge one would be a good guess. Instead I'm looking at names, and the names that made it happen. I'm asking why something was made, not how something was perceived when it hit the dance floor. However, I'm hoping meeting Abra Johnson, going over the mapping project, and seeing this thing at Boleo tomorrow night will throw a little light into that dark corner of my research. How do you go about contacting the innumerable unnamed and unfamed dancers at house music nights for the past 30 years?! And can their experiences be useful to this project?
I still can't quite believe Mancuso has just died. The timing is so fortuitous and deeply unpleasant.
It's been a long 2 weeks so far.