These Things Inside My Soul - In Conversation with Vince Lawrence (FoH2017)
Vince Lawrence was kind enough to invite me into his studio for a chat. He was thoughtful, considered, and a pleasure to spend time with. For this interview snippet we get into the history of disco, Steve Dahl's Disco Demolition, religion in house music, great vocalists, and the odd dichotomies that exist in house music's history.
FOH: Loads of people have said that it was racist, and homophobic, and all this stuff. And then other people have just said they hated disco. Where do you stand on it?
VL: It's both. I think that Steve Dahl had a rallying cry for what was shitty about disco. There was shitty disco music, just like there's shitty any kind of music basically. And Steve called everybody out on that. Was calling those people out on that, and that was great. At the same time he was saying that if you were a certain way then you were disco, and disco sucked because of that. If you were wearing bellbottom pants and polyester shirts and platform and so on and so forth, then you were part of the disco group and you suck. And basically those descriptions were dog whistle descriptions of regular Black people, and regular Latin people, and then he'd mix it in with some rich people, and then that would be that. I can't speak for Steve. Steve says he just hated disco. But he was describing Black people and he was describing Latino people and kind of describing gay people, and his description of what made you a disco person — and he was against all things disco and disco related that's for sure — so that being the case I'd have to say "hey man, the shoe fits!".
FOH: There’s a bit of gospel in disco, but it seems that house music just took so much more gospel and put it into the melting pot of the music.
VL: We got so excited when people were screaming on records. Loleatta Holloway screaming on records. Teddy Pendergrass screaming on records. And those moments, and those special breakdowns people were doing. Acapella. Where they had these acapella versions and people were screaming on these records. And just really singing like that, that really got our crowds motivated. So we wanted to have the essence of that in every record that we could.
FOH: So this might be a push; did people go to clubs to get the same experience as people would get in a church?
VL: It's a similar experience yes. Yeah. Very similar. I found religion, I found my freedom in the club. I could express myself, be myself, dance the way I dance without being ridiculed, and that was what was great. Everybody had their own thing that was getting settled in the club.
FOH: Those really early, especially the early stuff, tracks that came out on Trax and DJ International. Rhythm Control, and then Mr Fingers took that vocal sample, You Got The Love... what else? Promised Land. All these tracks are really— they're not just gospel, they're really Christian. It seems like there is a bit of a disconnect between this idea of church and musicianship and that stuff drifting into the music, and then the gay or LGBT contingent that was part of house music. It seems like there's a bit of tension there that I don't understand.
VL: Well house music was finding its legs in the gay scene but early on for the most part the music was made by straight lower middle class Black kids from the South Side. And that's just what it was. You know I'm straight! But I love the energy at Coconuts and The Warehouse where people were just losing their minds over the music! Nothing else. It's just about the music, it's not about what you had on, or who you were rolling with any of that, it was really just about "man this beat gets me going! I'm just gonna get up and dance" and the innocence of youth, 16, 17, 18 year old kids experiencing people just wanting to dance... it really didn't have any boundaries. It didn't have any racial boundaries, didn't have any boundaries as far as sexual preference or religion for that matter. And you know? For the most part these kids all believe in God, and have Christianity as their baseline. And I don't think that God is judging something so small as what you do with that two or three hours a night if that (laughs) you know so we weren't thinking about that musically, we were just like "yo is that gonna make them do that fucking shit with their shoulders" (laughs) and that's really all it was about. So very different to Steve Dahl's rhetoric where he was drawling lines and creating boxes "if you wear this, or you do this, or you've got a gold chain on then you're an ass hole and you're somehow subhuman" next to this guy who hasn't had a haircut, who's wearing ripped up jeans. He was trying to elevate his people per say by pushing other people down or speaking badly of them or was like "these guys are bad, these guys are bad, these guys are bad" and pretty much soon he had alienated every group except for working class white guys who listened to guitar driven music made by other guys with long hair and makeup.