Finding The Source - Thoughts On Alfredo
On the 3rd of August, 1858, John Hanning Speke became the first man to see the "Sea of Ujiji" for what it was, and to name it in honour of the monarch of the time "Lake Victoria". Apart from the outstanding beauty of the place Speke recognised it for what it was. It was no accident Speke was in Africa, he had been sent there by the Royal Geographical Society with a momentous purpose: to find the source of the Nile. Speke correctly identified Lake Victoria the source of the great river, but it wouldn't be until 1877 and an expedition by Stanley that the source was confirmed. Speke had died a decade earlier.
My conversation with Alfredo felt similar. The man is, in some ways, almost singlehandedly responsible for the face of electronic music and 'nightworld' (blame Anthony Haden-Guest for that phrase) as we think about it today. The now legendary expedition of Rampling, Holloway, Walker and Oakenfold to Ibiza in 1987 was entirely under the influence of Alfredo's musical selection and a little ecstasy. Had Alfredo not played certain tracks, or had the atmosphere he created been somehow less or different in some manner, the very fabric of clubbing and electronic music might be very different today.
I was expecting the conversation to feel stranger than it did, less personal, more nostalgic: like a high school aural history project with your grandmother's friend who worked in the munitions factory, or some far removed historical figure recounting events with the benefit of hindsight, layered with innumerable levels of critique and rehearsed answers. I was wrong. Alfredo, for all his years experience, is still a force to be reckoned with. I don't say that in a journalistic "promote the product" manner, rather in an intellectual sense. Alfredo is a man who knows his history, understand's his own relevance, but is almost unconcerned with curating his own legacy. His statements feel truthful and valid, given his wealth of experience, but he is the first one to say just how subjective his experiences were, and understands how lucky he was to part of the continuum of dance music history.
Alfredo Fioroti's place in the pantheon of great DJ's is pretty much secured. The simple fact he caused Shoom and Spectrum to happen solidifies his importance, placing him alongside Mancuso, Knuckles, Grasso and Levan as a legendary ‘hall of famer’. This is perhaps because of his attitudinal approach to the material and the act of DJing. Like his contemporaries (lest we forget Alfredo was already DJing before Chicago house existed and whilst Paradise Garage was still building to it's inexorable sensual peak) he embraced an aesthetic-free approach; he just wanted to make people dance. According to Fioroti we've all got it wrong: that balearic thing isn't about a flamenco guitar over a sampled break, or reverb-laden women moaning erotically over DX7 pads, according to Alfredo it's just about dancing. It's about community (isn't everything in this project?), it's about sensing time and nature around you, it's about being aware that you've danced all night and the sun is coming up, and it's embracing life in all it's shades. He's very adamant about that: Ibiza was a place for freedom from labels and an unprejudiced approach to people on all those divides that have become so important in this decade (colour, race, sexuality, gender, money). Instead, it was about whether you engaged with what was happening or not. As far as Alfredo is concerned, you either danced or you didn’t. That was his line. For him, it was the only one that mattered.
After our conversation, I realised something quite significant. As a musician or ethnomusicologist (I hate the latter label fractionally less), it's easy to focus on the moment, on the nature of the music, and just what that music means in that moment. History does inform that to some degree, but it's often a secondary thought rather than one that is wrapped up with the present. Musical genres, and especially ideas of genre progression/development, are often presented as a tree or a uni-directional concept. X splits and becomes Y and Z. The same is often presented as true for the nature of musical history and ideas. I disagree with this model.
Academics, theorists, and “ethnomusicologists” love a bit of critical theory. And these days who doesn't love a bit of post-modernism?! I myself have been guilty of throwing a hearty dollop of Baudrillard's simulacra at the odd problem as a beard stroking "get out of jail card". However, all this stuff with Alfredo actually feels like the reality of one particular post-modern idea in a true, live, living sense: that of the rhizome. Rather than presenting the concepts of freedom of expression, musical flexibility, and hedonism on a branch of a hierarchical tree, they're ideas that sit in a rabbit warren of connected concepts and noises. These ideas existed in Amnesia in 1986, they existed before that in Levan's Paradise Garage, and before that in Knuckles' Warehouse, and before that in Mancuso's Love Saves The Day parties. They sit to the side of the populist and reported accounts of musical engagement. They are the revolutionary outliers. But are they really connected? Did one give birth to the next? Is there a lineage that can be established?
In one sense yes; they are related. These idea's of freedom, acceptance, hedonism, liberalism, and individuality crop up time and time again. They must have commonality by the sheer fact of their existence in similar instances. Yet to draw direct lineage from one to another would be naive, and, if I'm honest, would probably be doing a diservice to each instantiation of the phenomena. Musically you can draw a line from The Loft to Amnesia (although it's certainly not a straight one, and it's somewhat vague at times, 1979-1984), and ideologically you can connect The Paradise Garage to the development of ecstasy culture in Ibiza; but to say that are related by blood would be incorrect. They are kindred spirits, not descendants. They understand one another, but their existence is not connected. What's that phrase? "Brother from another mother".
The narrative Alfredo represents is an important one. He represents a time before the watershed moment of ’88-’89 that, especially in the UK, we understand as the beginning of a new kind of dance/dancing culture. Speaking with Alfredo, one is keenly aware of how he connects then to now: someone who started something, and has continued with his vision, long after a new scene and style has developed as a result of his initial creation. He cuts the figure of the veteran, but in reality he's still creating, developing, and sharing his work with us. He's DJing the night I am composing this article alongside Nancy Noise, Terry Farley and Marshall Jefferson. All veterans. Between the classics the crowd demand will be visions of the new, of the revelatory, and of continuing innovation. He understands the old, yet still engages with the new. If we view him as an entrance/exit in our rhizomatic rabbit warren, he's the alpha and the omega. And yet, at the same time neither, being something more amorphous or intangible.
I'm not suggesting that one conversation with Alfredo answers every question I have in this project. Far from it. Indeed it probably opens up more questions than I started with. And he can only talk about those things in his experience—Alfredo isn't a Chicago house veteran, he wasn't at Paradise Garage, he never released on Strictly Rhythm. But he did participate and contribute to the wider field. Maybe it's like John Speke and Lake Victoria; simply finding the source of one great river does not map the globe, and it doesn't describe the path of a river across a continent. But maybe it can tell you something about how they move, change direction, mingle with other sources further down their trajectory. Maybe seeing one facet of the puzzle can shed light on those other areas that are still unknown.
Simply finding Lake Victoria didn't help John Hanning Speke understand the Mediterranean Sea where the river terminates. Simply speaking to Alfredo doesn't suddenly bring me an understanding of the overall nature of dance music. However, if we think of him as a static point in that rhizome, the aforementioned rabbit warren, we can use him as a point of orientation around which the world of dance music can be mapped. Alfredo might be a still point in a turning world.