The HOUSE Tour
In an epic journey taking in the country’s best clubs, Northern Soul Rave Patrol’s Chris Sweet dances across New York, Detroit and Chicago and finds out how the party’s unfolding in the Trump era.
I love America – the Land of the Free, and the home of house music. But I was worried about going back because the narcissistic pussy-grabbing, wall-building, muslim-banning Trump had become president. But a crowd of us decided to travel to the big cities like New York, the home of The Loft and Paradise Garage, and on Detroit, the home of soul and techno, and Chicago, the birthplace of house.
Between the trip and writing this piece came the Unite the Right march in Charlottesville. It featured the KKK and Nazis, emboldened by Trump in power, openly attacking and killing an anti-racist protestor by driving at the crowd. The times felt even more divided and bitter.
Trump seemed to be allowing it all, with his coarse jibes and populist rabble-rousing rallies. He has allowed poisonous extremist views into the mainstream. I wondered if ‘Love is the Message’ really could overcome ‘Making AmeriKKKa Hate Again’.
Arriving back in New York City actually felt great. It was good to see how the city supported Gay Pride. It gave us hope that despite Putin’s favourite being in the White House, and sinister alt-right standard bearer Steve ‘Breitbart’ Bannon whispering in his ear, New York and the people we met were motivated to fight this new threat to life and liberty.
Against this backdrop everything felt more poignant. Battles for equal rights already won needed to be defended. This was symbolised as we drove through Midtown. Trump Tower loomed up with its gaudy gold sign, but it was cordoned off with concrete blocks and security barriers – isolated and divorced from the multi-cultural, bustling, exciting, open city.
It also felt special to show solidarity with our friends during Gay Pride weekend in New York – the first since ‘Dump’ had taken control. The sad fact is that the Trump/Pence White House had already refused to continue the tradition (started by Obama) of Gay Pride month in June. The White House was lit up in rainbow colours in 2015, so this showed how quickly progress could be reversed by reactionary people. The shock of Trump and his cronies in power galvanised the city and the people we met. There was to be a renewed determination, an energy, and spirit of anger, resistance and defiant colourful rainbow coalition during the Pride Parade.
We had some amazing NYC pizza at Vezzo thin crust Pizza on East 31 & Lexington Ave, and also ate at Brother Jimmy’s Southern Style BBQ which was delicious. Down for drinks in East Village we met up with London DJ Severino and our friends Mike, Rebecca, Jessica and Daniel from Horse Meat Disco. We all headed over to Brooklyn and saw LCD Sound System playing live. James Murphy, Nancy Wang, Pat Murphy and friends played a really good set in their ‘comeback week’ of gigs at Brooklyn Steel.
The next day Severino arranged a joint birthday dinner for Jill and Jason Kincade at the Lower East Side Pepe Rosso Social Italian restaurant, at 174 Mott Street between Broome & Greene. It’s a cosy place run by a Gianfranco, who previously owned and ran the acclaimed La Mangiami. There he held secret, low profile lock-ins with the likes of Jason, Eric Duncan, DJ Harvey and friends – all part of the NY Disco party crew in a city that had been full of excessive rules and red tape in the era of mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Gianfranco had kindly kept the basement space just for our party of about 25 guests in a long winding set of tables, with a bar and delicious tasty classic Italian food. Lots of interesting people came, and it was lovely to see some of Faith Fanzine émigrés Dave Lennon and Rik Moran enjoying the NYC Lifestyle. Everyone we chatted to seemed sick of Trump’s idiotic but exhausting stream of attention seeking tweets and tantrums, that caused misery and worry to many people and groups. But they pointed out how he went on his many vacations to his expensive private golf clubs, and hadn’t been back to NYC as he was disliked by the city and its denizens.
It was also great to see promoter Joe Fiore again. Severino had DJ’d at his NY and Provincetown parties. We’d met at his Dance 208 Garage Classics party at the LGBT Centre in Greenwich Village back in 2007, and gone to his Garage and Grace Jones themed parties with lots of original Paradise Garage members, including a memorial party for Mel Cheren the owner of West End Records.
As the wine flowed, we heard Joe’s stories about the Paradise Garage and also The Saint, plus the difference in crowds and music: the rawness, sheer energy, eclectic taste and underground music of The Garage. Joe talked about the peak of the night at The Saint, and how disorientating the circular dance floor could be. He would often have to arrange to meet his friends “at the equivalent of two o’clock position to the DJ booth” to try and fine each other in the mass of people. He talked of the exciting build-up of the night, and the sea of bodies all dancing under the ceiling’s 'stars'. He told us about DJ Jim Burgess cutting the music, then playing a long intro featuring the ‘don’t lets ask for the moon, we have the stars' film sample from Bette Davis’ Now Voyager before mind-blowing planetarium lights would really kick things off, like a club version of 2001 – A Space Odyssey.
We did our own Greenwich Village garage/house tour, revisiting some of our fave places. Like the Carmine Street swimming pool in West Village, just round the corner from sadly now closed record shop Vinylmania, run by Charlie Grappone, that would sell all the records Larry Levan had been breaking each weekend. This is where Keith Haring painted his 170 foot long mural in 1987, and the pool is where they used to go swimming after dancing all night at the Garage a few blocks away on King Street – scene of the street party last year. We had a slice of classic pizza at Joe’s Pizza on Carmine Street, then up Bleecker Street and up to Stonewall Inn where a riot against police repression kick started the whole gay liberation movement. We saw the amazing, explicit Keith Haring toilet murals at the LGBT Centre in Greenwich village, which he had painted in 1988 to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Stonewall riots. We saw Keith Haring’s ‘Resist’ image on T shirts and placards during the Pride march, as relevant now as during the 80s AIDS crisis.
The Friday night of Gay Pride weekend featured a sold-out Horse Meat Disco Pride party at Brooklyn’s Output. The club is a bit like the New York equivalent of Fabric, but with big name house DJs playing there regularly including DJ Harvey, MAW, Tony Humphries and Danny Tenaglia.
After pre-drinks at the hip Wyhte Hotel bar next door, we found the club was good sized featuring an upstairs room and a main room with two large sweeping balconies on both sides of the dance floor plus great lights and sound system. After some initial problems with flooding and a queue down the street waiting to ‘let themselves go’ things got busy really quickly and Severino had a packed dance floor all night until 4am.
Scroll to the bottom of the page for Severino's NY Horse Meat Disco Pride Party top twenty, with links to the tracks – Ed.
Output had an outside roof top bar terrace and smoking area which was great to cool down and chat looking back over the skyline of Manhattan. Severino played classic house and disco, sounding great on a decent sound system. The pride weekend crowd were all pumped up creating a hot and steamy atmosphere – but most of the crowd were shirtless anyway. Luke Howard had told us to look out for his friend Darryl, another Paradise Garage regular, said to be so dedicated that he only missed two weekends in eight of the ten years the Garage was open. He was great fun: full of energy and saying he loved Horse Meat Disco for revisiting the music of his youth, but with a fresh twist. He danced non-stop all night singing his heart out (knowing all the lyrics) to the classics, including Karen Young’s Hot Shot. Severino mixed it up perfectly from starting with Brenda and the Tabulations’ Lets Go all the Way, to Found a Cure to Strings of Life, and all the disco royalty Diana, Donna, Loleatta Holloway and Sylvester. It was an evening of dancing together with positive message in the music of hedonism, freedom, love and happiness.
When Severino dropped Bad Girls by Donna Summer Darryl, laughing in between his hand claps and spins, told us how Larry Levan would play vocal snippets like “I’ll get you my pretty and I’m Melting” over the top of it – an intro from the ultimate bad girl, The Wicked Witch of the West. Larry himself would play the booming voice of the Wizard of Oz, telling people to “Go Away!” when he finally wanted to end the night and go home himself. The night ended with a sea of sweaty bodies finale of Sylvester, MacArthur Park, and Young Hearts Run Free sending people off into the unexpected date with a rain storm as the heavens had opened.
Post-Brexit and sterling's slump, we didn’t do much shopping. The era of ‘$2 equals £1’ was long gone. But we went to Monkey Bar up on 60 East 54th Street, a dark old-school New York restaurant with great murals of famous patrons including Truman Capote, Mae West and Louis Armstrong. It was still frequented by media big-wigs like Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, a Trump foe. We also checked out The MET museum to see the amazing, conceptual Comme Des Garcons exhibition, and the Irving Penn photography exhibition including his Vogue and Balenciaga images.
The Sunday was the actual day of Pride Parade and the whole of the city seemed to be getting involved supporting or watching the Gay Pride March. All the Manhattan shops, bars and restaurants had window displays. Fifth Avenue and adjoining streets were all blocked off to allow this colourful celebration, and march for LGBTQ rights, which seemed again under threat like real-life The Handmaid’s Tale.
The march was a seemingly never-ending procession of colourful, noisy, and celebratory floats including the New York Police Department and the Fire Department standing proudly and supporting this march for freedom and equality. Lots of other federal or local agencies and businesses were all flying the rainbow flag. Going down Fifth Avenue, within sight of The Empire State Building, it was a positive statement. And especially poignant, perhaps, as just a couple of weeks later Trump decided to tweet to say all transgender serving personnel would be expelled from America’s army, navy and airforce. These proud, brave people prepared to put their lives in danger serving their country were suddenly affected by Trump’s nasty and negative and incoherent agenda.
Inspired, but tired, we headed to the Pride after party at Soho House in the Meat Packing District. This offered great views and the chance to cool down in the rooftop. Later after sunset a we witnessed a great view over the city for the fireworks over Manhattan’s skyline, with drag queens and party-goers jumping in the pool. But the music was a bit like an MTV beach party, with an iPod shuffle-style mix of rap, R&B hits and chart EDM (this would surely be the music of Trump flash , obvious, soul-less and fake). But the beautiful people swimming and bombing into the pool, plus Aperol Spritz made up for that.
After the fireworks we walked across to the HOUSE place to be on that Sunday night – The Standard Hotel’s Le Bain bar, on the 18th top floor. It had panoramic views from the roof and two amazing bars at the top. We were amazed that even on the Pride weekend, when the city was heaving, entry was free to the Pride Party with DJs Kim Ann Foxman and Shaun J Wright.
The bars were really smart, but the music was uncompromising underground house and techno. In the dark main room we stumbled around the edge of the dance floor and almost fell into a neon brightly lit jacuzzi with some drag queens and people dancing in the tub. The music was full on gay acid house mayhem. The highlight for me was hearing the DJs play the Hardfloor remix of Robert Armani's Circus Bells, and people dancing away to house with views over Empire State Building lit up in rainbow colours – very H.O.U.S.E.
Next day we headed out to the mid-west and to the home of Tamla Motown, Underground Resistance, Red Planet, Carl Craig, and Moodymann – the Motor City, Detroit. The main reason was to to visit the hallowed ground of Motown It was a small but amazing place unassuming on West Grand Boulevard about ten minutes’ drive out of the central business district downtown.
The Motown Museum was amazing. We saw Berry Gordy’s small office on the first floor, and the couch that Marvin Gaye occasionally slept on if he was recording late into the night. And Studio A, AKA ‘The Snake Pit’ where The Funk Brothers played backing to all the stars of Motown in the converted garage. This was the place that created the phenomenal ‘Sound of Young America’ and became Hitsville USA. It’s an incredible collection of talent including Marvin Gaye Little Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross & The Supremes , Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight , The Temptations, Four Tops and so many more.
There was the sense of sadness and decline in the air across Detroit. Just down the street were some derelict and abandoned houses, and even the local pizza shop was all screened off behind Perspex. We didn’t manage to visit Submerge, UR’s shop and offices, but went to People Records a great shop packed with old memorabilia. We spent an afternoon scouring through soul 45s pluis great disco and dance sections. I got lots of cheap Motown, Tamla and soul records plus some great cheap disco 12”s but had to tear myself away.
We visited the Charles. H.Wright Museum of black history covering the slave trade, the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement, then the murder of Martin Luther King and the riots in ’67 that ripped the heart out of Detroit, with 14 square miles of the city burnt down. The collapse of the motor industry and white flight to the suburbs, and Berry Gordy moving Motown out to LA felt as if it had ripped the heart out of the city. Its residents were still valiantly trying to rebuild and recover. The museum showing the horrors of slavery, the repressive Jim Crow laws and the murderous KKK lynchings seemed to hang heavy over the history of America still. Trump’s discredited but oft-repeated racist ‘Birther Conspiracy’ to smear Obama, and his twisted bigoted populist chants of “taking the country back” seemed to make this dark history have a modern relevance, that it really shouldn’t have in the 21st century. The words of Gregory Porter’s 1960 What? rang around our heads.
We left Detroit feeling a little melancholy. But the road trip from Detroit to Chicago Interstate I-94 took about five hours with stops for brunch. We drove through a flash rainstorm that cleared the air.
We found a local radio station FM102.3 R&B Throwbacks, with Kenny ‘Jamming’ Jason from Hot Mix 5 playing. He played Promised Land just as the clouds cleared and we headed towards the Windy City. As we got closer it was exciting to see the amazing view of a skyline familiar to us only from many Trax record sleeves.
We timed our holiday with the annual House Music Festival, at Jackson Park on the shore of Lake Michigan to the south of Chicago. The Chosen Few 27th Anniversary House Music Festival was on for the weekend before 4th July. For this collective of original house music DJs the annual BBQ Picnic is their biggest two day event. It featured an array of their DJ friends with the core being Andre and Terry Hatchett, Wayne Williams, Alan King, Terry Hunter, Mike Dunn and Jesse Saunders. Guests included Ron Trent and Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley, DJ Spinna and Gene Ferris.
Jesse Saunders, producer of On & On one of the first House records, played Love Cant Turn Around spliced up in the frenetic mix Chicago style under the bright hot summer sunshine. The crowd was super-friendly and very welcoming to a UK white couple. We got lots of handshakes and nods of approval as we were wearing Rob Dos Xenesise’s designed ‘Werk’ T-shirts featuring house music images of Chicago greats Frankie Knuckles, Ron Hardy, Jesse Saunders, plus Mr Fingers, and New York’s David Mancuso and Larry Levan. People told us “Yeah man, I used to DJ or hang out with Frankie/Ron/Larry…”
The people were settled into a serious Chi-town BBQ session of ribs, pulled pork, burgers, steak and some eye-watering hot sauce. There were lots of stalls serving up the freshest and most delicious meat all along one side of the park. Dessert was a speciality called a Funnel Cake – a lattice of deep-fried donut dough covered in cream, ice cream, fruit and chocolate. Drink stalls sold boozy cocktails, slushies and punch.
The crowd knew every word of most of the records. They were singing and reacting to classic records in an interesting way, learned from many visits to Chicago’s hottest House clubs back in the day. So when Loose Joints Is It All Over my Face played, the crowd and the bar staff would holler back “hell yeah!” each time the question was asked. Seeing the crowd respond to Small Black Church by Moodymann and so many other favourites records was wonderful. Old tunes were energised by hearing them played in this special atmosphere.
The live PAs included a spine-tingling rendition of the vocal intro from Mr Fingers classic Can you Feel It? by Chuck ‘The Voice’ Roberts, one of the most recognised and sampled lyrics ever – “In the Beginning there was House …Our House”. That most recognisable voice still sounding positive, inclusive and fresh.
There were various awards for contribution to House Music in the afternoon. Steve Silk Hurley played, and also compered for his old vocal partner CeCe Peniston. She came bouncing out on stage, ribbed the crowd, and did a few rewinds to get them singing along under the scorching hot weather. Also Dajae the voice of Cajmere’s Brighter Days was another special moment, showing the real people behind the records we have long loved and danced to.
Under the trees, by the bars and food stalls, there was fabulous people-watching to be had. We saw a mixed group of friends in their 40s having their own party. They created their own micro-atmosphere, and got everyone passing to show their moves. When various classics, like Ralphi Rosario’s You Used to Hold Me and even Basement Jaxx’s Fly Life came on they got to their feet swaying with the spirit (and iced Margheritas or Daiquiris) shouting “Bang the box!” and “Jack it!” in encouragement.
In the crowd dancing to all the records in front of the big stage, lots of the men smoked Schwarzenegger-sized cigars. Formation House dancing drew impromptu crowds. The black police and security flirted with the hot girls. It felt very special to see and experience the music we loved but in this authentic and home town atmosphere. To avoid being too jealous we had to tell ourselves “It can’t be like this every weekend!”
After a disco nap we went to the weekly Sunday nighter Queen!, Derrick Carter’s night – and realised perhaps it is… even if not on that scale.
The venue Smart Bar was in Boys-Town, the gay area of Chicago. Everyone said it was the best House club in Chicago with Derrick Carter and Black Madonna the regular DJs. There was a mass of people outside, and a very long line going to the end of the next block. Drag queens patrolled, walking and werking the line chatting, smoking and looking fabulous. Many had red white and blue themed outfits for the 4th July weekend. Several looked like original ‘San Frandisco’ drag troupe the Cockettes, with a twisted drag look, and were walking the back bar like a runway.
The crowd was a real mix with some Klub Kids Michael Alig himself would’ve been proud of Another stand out look was a bright yellow tartan Westwood-esque outfit with padded hips and the bottom cut out to show a real peachy pair. Six inch heels walked up and down the line to make sure everyone saw the cheeky outfit. The club was packed with alternative kids, muscle queens and clubbers all mixed up on a big cavernous dark dancefloor basement room. The lighting was kept dark, then later at certain times the strobes and lights would come on and also pick out just the glitter ball bathing the club in shards of light. It was intense and people were locked in the groove.
Derrick Carter played the last couple of hours, including his remix of Blaze’s classic My Beat. He also dropped the gospel house Sounds of Blackness classic Get I Get a Witness and just before 4am Derrick played and played wringing every last ounce of soul out of one of my personal favourites, Ten City’s My Piece of Heaven. Derrick and co-host Michael Serafini gave a little speech over the microphone when the lights came on, thanking the crowd who cheered. You knew most of them would be back the following week, the lucky lot!
It was a relief to see and hear with our eyes and ears that house music was alive and well, even in the chaotic and bigoted era of Trump. House music seemed fully engaged with its gay and black roots and offering a sense of community, a shelter, with a soundtrack of hope, hedonistic abandon on the dance floor. A celebration of freedom, love and happiness.
The final leg of our house pilgrimage was Frankie Knuckles Way (Jefferson Street and Jackson Boulevard). This was where the Warehouse club was, and where the term ‘house’ originated from people asking for this machine-created child of disco that Frankie Knuckles was playing therein.
In 2004, while Barack Obama was Illinois Senator, the street was renamed as an honorary title and dedicated to Chicago’s adopted son, the Godfather of House Frankie Knuckles. Apart from the road sign there was nothing else to give an inkling that this street is “where it started”, to quote Farley Jackmaster Funk.
From seeing the people we met, and going to the places we were lucky enough to visit it reminded us that America is a huge country. It is also very divided. But the progressive, mixed and culturally open big cities offered hope, and a determination to stand up and ‘Resist’ the rich and powerful reactionary conservative forces who had won their shock victory.
Perhaps it was with Putin’s help, or Breitbart stoking an obsessive hatred of the Obamas. Or maybe a lazy or complacent liberal indifference to Hilary. Or no realisation of just how bad a Trump presidency could be. But the visit showed us the scale of people on the positive and progressive side, and how everyday people will not give up what and who they love and will be prepared to fight and stand up for their freedoms.
We had enjoyed celebrating Pride with our gay friends in New York, where the fight for Gay Liberation started at Stonewall Inn, when police tried to stop men dancing together. The hundreds of thousands participating in Gay Pride in cities across the country gave us confidence that they would organise, stand up and resist and fight for their rights. We had seen the legacy and roots of the music, the shared memory, and inspiration from the Motown Museum – how despite setbacks people still created hope and inspiration from their music, trying to keep on keeping on. It was inspiring to meet regulars still dancing from the Paradise Garage and The Saint were people who had survived the challenges of the 80s and 90s. We joined in the joyous relaxed open air celebration of The Chosen Few, and the weekly basement party of Queen!
The visit had renewed our faith in America. It gave us some hope that despite Trump, the idiots, and the bigots there were a lot of decent people. The people, the parties and the places we had seen reinforced our hope that, as Black Madonna would say, “Still Believe” in the old House Nation inclusive rallying call of Chuck Roberts and Mr Fingers.
“You may be Black you may be White , you may be Jew or Gentile , Gay or Straight, it don’t make a difference in OUR HOUSE”
… thankfully this still rang true, even in the age of Trump.
20 OF SEVERINO’S NEW YORK CITY HORSE MEAT DISCO PRIDE PARTY ANTHEMS
Brenda & The Tabulations – Lets Go all the Way
Candi Staton – Victim
Ashford & Simpson – Found a Cure
Stephanie Mills – Put Your Body On It
MFSB - Kjee
Cerrone – Love in C Minor
Macho - I’m a Man
X Press 2 – Muzik X-Press
Soul Central – Strings of Life (Danny Krivit re-edit)
Armando – Don’t Take it
Arthur Baker featuring Alan Vega – Angel of Hell (Paranoid London Remix)
Eli Escobar – Disco Heat
Cerrone – Give Me Love
Salsoul Orchestra – Oooh I Like it
Mike Theodore Orchestra – The Bull
Donna Summer – MacArthur Park
Diana Ross – The Boss (Dimitri from Paris remix)
Sylvester – You Make Me Feel Mighty Real (Reprise plus Accapella)
Candi Staton – Young Hearts Run Free