By Isa Jones
By Mary Willson
By Brian Turk
By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
As this comment implies, the role of the DJ is finally being recognized by the music industry at large, thanks largely to this year's electronica frenzy. But at this point, it's difficult to predict what the future will bring. The excitement and the frothing at the mouth that has accompanied the rise of dance music in America is beginning to abate to some degree, leaving a number of former rock stars belly-up on the beach and a host of new bands with the pressure to prove that they can transcend trends. For their part, DJs must continue to demonstrate that they're creative entertainers in their own right rather than simple technicians spinning other people's records for well-meaning suburbanites.
Givant succeeds in this regard because he has established an extremely recognizable sonic trademark. Whether he's spinning disco, electro, Hi-NRG, house, old school, R&B or techno, his calling card is music that makes a body dance and move its hips--music that leaves a crowd of partyers bathed in sweat and crying out in exultation as the last song reverberates in their ears. Which is why Givant is likely to be DJing long after many of his contemporaries have gone the way of the dodo.
Back in the Seventies, however, Givant wasn't an elder statesman; he was just another kid who loved music. His first break came when he was eighteen. "This huge club in Des Moines, Iowa, called Uncle Sam's hired me as an assistant DJ," he remembers. "It was the same place that had kicked me out for being underage the year before. It was a fabulous club. Neon red and blue lights ran underneath the opaque Plexiglas dance floor." At the time, the latest trend in the DJ universe was known as BPM, or beats per minute. "BPM was the best way to mix a new vinyl format called the twelve-inch single, which was just being introduced," he says.
KC & the Sunshine Band and the Bee Gees were two of the era's biggest acts, and their twelve-inches, which spotlighted percussion and rhythm, kept Givant's dance-crazy club patrons shaking their booties into the wee hours. "This new music was so uncategorizable, and I loved it," he says. "It wasn't rock and it wasn't soul. It was something new--the beginning of disco--and I was shocked by the intensity and the quality of it. It put out the volume of a live band, but it was a recording."
Since then, Givant has seen many genres of music come and go and come back again. Of those, his personal faves are soul and funk, two important influences on house music and electronica. "There was a lot of soul and funk in the mix back when disco was created, and I see that moving back into the music today," he remarks. "DJs like Masters at Work and groups like Brand New Heavies are going back into the studio and recording music with live bands on top of the sequencer tracks." Another act following in these footsteps is Jamiroquai, whose frontman, Jay Kay, hobnobbed with Givant at this year's Billboard Dance Music Convention in Chicago.
To many techno heads, Jamiroquai and its kin are the enemy, but Givant says, "I'm very excited about what's going on in the world of R&B today. The New Jack Swing fad in the late Eighties and early Nineties was too processed, too electronic. Bobby Brown's 'My Prerogative' just left me cold. Now, like dance music, R&B is moving back to warmer, richer tones of sound. The only thing that I'm leery of with this soul-funk revival is groups like Notorious B.I.G., Puff Daddy, Foxy Brown and Lil' Kim ripping off old-school Eighties songs, right down to the bridges and the choruses."
Such opinions are valued by the folks at Billboard, with whom Givant has been associated since the early Nineties. "I started working at Wax Trax five years ago, which automatically made me a retail reporter," he reveals. "The record labels would call me on a certain day and track their artists to see how they were selling. After a while, these reps got to know me and found out I DJed at a number of clubs in addition to my job at Wax Trax. Then, in 1993, Billboard went to Soundscan--so instead of basing the charts on word-of-mouth from the retail outlets, they were based on actual sales figures scanned and compiled in the retail outlets' computers. That's when the reps suggested I become an official club reporter, and with the help of a friend of mine, David Henney, who worked for Elektra, I got the job."