And it never really got straightened back out again.
I was just reminiscing on how I really got into house music thanks to the homie Rick Wade posting about his first release on Harmonie Park over on Instagram. I’ve been kind of in this mindset for a little over a year and combined with my hiatus from going out, it feels almost like a loop in time. But in a good way.
Anyway, it was around 1998 when I first started hearing techno and house music that really captivated me. I’m not going to go fully into it, but it was at that time the more techno leaning stuff and broken beats that were my first real obsessions in the ~120 BPM range. Due to many of my people in Pittsburgh having some connection with Detroit techno, I knew that they were on some other level in that genre but I didn’t really know about house from Detroit. Most of those friends had gone to the first few DEMFs and I had wanted to go, but couldn’t because I was working weekends at the time.
It’s really hard to pinpoint the exact timing of this, but I’m going to guess it was in mid to late 2001 sometime. I was using slsk to download music online, and someone told me Jill Scott had put an album out in 2000 that I still hadn’t heard by this point (I saw her live with the Roots in early 99 I believe it was and she performed “You Got Me” and I took note of her name) so I searched on slsk for her. One of the results that came up with a remix by Theo Parrish, a name I remembered from seeing the first DEMF lineup. I figured that could be cool since I liked Detroit music, so I downloaded it.
I wish I could experience that first time listening to “Slowly Surely” again. I can’t recall what my initial reaction was, but it was definitely confusing to me. This was certainly not techno, but also nothing like what I would have expected to be considered house music either. The dubby repetitive nature of it ticked many boxes of the kinds of things I liked, so I figured maybe I should explore this Theo Parrish character a little more in-depth. I searched slsk for his name, and the first thing that came up was “Summertime Is Here”. Another slow, jazzy, weird record like only Theo could do, this one really tripped me out in a good way. I immediately began finding as much of his music as I could. I bought whatever I could on record, and downloaded whatever else was available.
I can’t remember which of his records I found first, but they were just sitting there in bins in various shops in the city. I couldn’t believe that these things weren’t more sought after nor could I understand why I didn’t hear more people playing them out. This was around the time of Naked Music and Wave Records kind of styles being very big in the US house scene, and while I dug some of that kind of shit it still felt very shallow to me in many ways. The difference in sound and attitude between Theo records and the dominant style of house music couldn’t have been more stark.
But that wasn’t even really the biggest mindbending moment. At some point, some dj mixes of Theo’s appeared on slsk so I grabbed those. Holy shit. To hear that kind of music he made mixed up with more standard house and also with disco and funk and soul, and touching on so many different rhythms and tempos…. it just wasn’t commonly done anywhere I had heard dance music. I had already been digging for old jazz, funk, and soul music since I was a hiphop fan, so this connection between that and house music was major for me. Suddenly all the different kinds of music I liked were tied directly together by this madman from Detroit.
So I went on collecting as much of his music as I could, and exploring any other related artists that I could find. Moodymann was one of them. Discovering that Recloose and Theo were in some way related through the song “I Can’t Take It” made a lot of sense. Guys like Rick Wade and Mike Huckaby entered the picture. Andrés and Ron Trent. Brett Dancer and Track Mode. It seemed so wild to me that there was this network of really deep, weird, funky, and experimental music and yet it was relegated to the extreme underground. Despite whatever connections these guys had to more mainstream house, it was obvious to me from moment one that there was something else here and that it was home for me.
In 2003, I was no longer working the job that ate up my weekends so I was able to go to DEMF for the first time. I caught a last minute ride with some friends and had like $150 total to my name. I crashed on the floor of a room at the Shorecrest Motor Inn (ewwwwww) just to be able to make it happen. There was pretty much nothing but amazing music throughout the entire festival and afterparties, but there was one thing that I had circled that was CAN’T MISS and that was 3 Chairs closing out the house tent on Sunday night. To this day I have not heard a better DJ set in my life. It’s hard to believe that was only fifteen years ago. It was one of those life changing moments.