by Chanté LaGon
"Let there be House!"
Whatever sound set you claim, you know what time it is when those four words come blasting from the speakers. Even if they don't move you to dance, the respect is there.
Jesse Saunders deserves that kind of deference, not only for what he started, but for what he's doing now to supply promoters with responsible, quality DJs and to keep cops who bust parties in check.
Now, if you're not familiar with Saunders' name, don't be too hard on yourself and don't click that "Back" button. Understand. Without Saunders' contributions, the music you love progressive, breaks, drum and bass, house would not exist in its current form.
Although he stayed in the Windy City until he was 18, Saunders was quick to head west. He played with the University of Southern California's tennis team, kicking ass with game tighter than Venus Williams' bootie.
USC's refusal to grant Saunders a tennis scholarship is probably the only time discrimination ever was acceptable. The rejection pushed Saunders to master his original love.
Making the transfer from Cali's 90-degree temps to an unseasonably cold February day in Atlanta proved tough for the black tennis player that could. After complaining a bit about the weather, Saunders' talked about a real DJs duty.
First, don't be a punk about venues or turnout. "It's all good. Ten people or 10,000. I don't care. As long as they're there to hear good music. It's all that matters. You can educate one person as well as educate the masses."
Entertainment vs. education isn't the irreconcilable conflict some DJs make it, Saunders says. "Education doesn't necessarily mean that you have to play stuff that people don't know. I think that's where a lot of people get confused on the whole issue, especially young up-and-coming DJs," he says.
"It's pretty much their friends, 'Oh yeah yeah, that's dope!' The more underground, the better. The more you don't know it, the more obscure and the whole nine yards. So they get caught up in that whole thing. They really miss what the whole point of being a DJ is about. The whole point of being a DJ is to play for the crowd. Period."
With paid admission, it's only fair partiers hear some familiar tunes, Saunders says. But at the same time, DJs can teach without playing to the lowest common denominator.
"So how you do educate them is to play the things that they know, and you sneak the other things in," Saunders says. "And then when you see your floor spreading out a little bit, then you pull something back in that they know. Then you gradually take them back again, and so and and so forth, so they don't feel like they're being force-fed. It's about taking people on a musical journey."
Saunders takes partiers through "The History of House Music" more than just an "old-school set." It's a journey that reflects the influences that have shaped House into its current form, Saunders says.
That kind of understanding can't be delivered by simply sampling old disco records, Saunders says. It takes more than asking for the latest releases at your local record store. Sometimes even showing up on new inventory day doesn't help.
"In L.A., we have the worst record stores in the world, but anyway, I hadn't been in (this record store) in a while, on purpose, just to see what new stuff would come in. I get a call, 'Come on in, we've got all this great stuff.' He's pulling 75 records for me, stacks of them, right? I go through these records, and I found two records out of the entire thing that were playable.
"And that just basically goes to show you, there's so much stuff out there and you've got so many people producing tracks out there and they don't even know what they're doing. They're just making them," Saunders says.
Even more frustrating is that many DJs don't know the difference between an average record and one that's worth playing, Saunders says.
Being a quality DJ clearly is beyond making it through a set without jumping the tracks. So what should you look for when filing through the House section? "Groove. It always has to start with a groove. I love all styles of music, it doesn't matter to me what it is, as long as it's got a groove. The second thing is, it's got to have decent melody hooks in it. It doesn't even have to be vocal hooks, but it's gotta have something in there that makes you feel good about it."
Chicago: The Hometown of House
Saunders should have been a guest that day. "There is no debate, there is no debate! The debate comes from people not knowing, being ignorant, basically. It's really quite simple. The only people who really have a claim to being anywhere near it is the Detroit people. New York people had nothing to do with it," Saunders says.
Not even Derrick May's "contribution" of selling a 909 drum machine to Frankie Knuckles could allow Detroit to claim the music's origin House started long before the 909 ever existed, Saunders says.
"Look at the dates. 909s didn't come around until about '85-'86. If that's the case, then you're not even talking about a time when this whole thing even began. You've got to go back to the late '70s for that disco. But the term 'House' warehouse music came from that era. It didn't come from the '80s like people think.
"You also have to differentiate between what 'Warehouse' music is and 'House' music. Because they're two totally different things," Saunders says. " 'Warehouse' music is, obviously, the disco. Out of Philiadelphia, New York. 'Aint No Stopping Us Now,' D-Train, all that kind of stuff back in the day. 'House' music is the actual stripped down, raw element, groove track records that came out in the beginning of 1984. And that's what started the whole trend of what we have today."
Pushing the music forward and keeping it alive
Back before the MC took over as king of the stage and before electronic music pushed DJs back to the forefront they mainly played entire songs, vocals and all. A 12-inch "disco" mix was basically the instrumental part of the original with a longer intro and ending.
Although a few producers made tracks that had breakdowns, they'd only be a brief four bars, Saunders says. DJs would have to spin the record back and forth to extend it. Saunders asked, "Why not just make that a part all by itself?"
Seeing a need for more of the elements that really got people on the dance floor, Saunders got busy. "I want the elements that work for me in a club. I want the drum track, I want just the acapellas, I want just the groove in certain places, I want a breakdown. So what I would do is on the B side of the record, I would do individual tracks of each one. Almost like an LP."
Part of keeping the music alive is making sure there are quality DJs to spin it and parties where people can share the experience of good music.
In addition to being one of those top-notch DJs, Saunders new project, JustSayAgency.com, links promoters and DJs via the Web. There's no middle-man agent. JustSayAgency.com puts the responsibility on the DJ to keep his track list, bio and other key information current, and promoters can find out if the DJ they want is available right there on the site.
And what could be better than pulling rank on local police when they want to raid a party? With the help of an ambassador acquaintance, Saunders has started Rave Secure. For a reasonable fee, reputable promoters can rest assured their party won't be shut down. Since throwing parties is almost as risky as playing the stock market these days, Rave Secure seems to be a logical investment.
DJs and promoters can email Saunders at JustSayPro@aol.com for more information on JustSayAgency.com and Rave Secure.
Now that you've done your homework by reading this, reward yourself with a field trip to Karma. You can take the House journey with Saunders as your tour guide every third Friday starting soon.
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