He Got What He Wanted

DJ Harry brings the music of the String Cheese Incident out of the mountains and onto the dance floor.

John Denver may have single-handedly cemented Colorado's association with grassroots acoustic music when he made the folksy, plaintive strum of an acoustic guitar the signature sound of the Rocky Mountain West. It's a sound that's seen a considerable number of upgrades over the years: Bands like Leftover Salmon and the Samples took the high-elevation sound into more expansive places by coloring between the lines and perfecting the art of the jam. Most recently, the String Cheese Incident has taken a place alongside Phish as an heir to the groovy jam-band throne. But it is DJ Harry, a former Telluride resident currently living in Boulder, who could be the one to push the bumper crop of folksy musical offerings into even more progressive realms.

The String Cheese Remix Projectmarks the first cohesive mating of the jam-band phenomenon and house music, another of Colorado's growing music scenes. On the recording (to be released July 10 on Instinct/Scifidelity), the mountain-man DJ combines sampled outtakes from the String Cheese Incident's finest album tracks and live shows with mellow, four-on-the-floor electronic programming. The resulting fusion -- perfectly reflected in the sleeve art, which depicts a round of cheese on a turntable -- is a sweet surprise that should please fans of both styles. To Harry, blurring the lines between the two was the whole point.

"When you go to see a band, it doesn't really matter what style of music they're playing -- bluegrass or jazz or big band or rock and roll. When the band and the crowd are hitting a peak and there's a frenzied feeling in the air, that's the feeling that I strive for as a DJ." The reasoning behind the cross-pollination is clear in his mind. "I never broke sound down by genre. It's just about hitting that perfect note, that perfect moment, where everyone is vibrating all at once. That's what I look for."

There's no trouble with Harry: The String Cheese Incident found an unlikely collaborator in DJ Harry.
There's no trouble with Harry: The String Cheese Incident found an unlikely collaborator in DJ Harry.

Details

String Cheese Incident
7 p.m. Saturday, June 30 and Sunday, July 1 at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison. $30-$35, 303-830-TIXS

DJ Harry
8 p.m. Friday, July 13, LoDo Music Festival, 20th and Blake streets. $18-$22, 1-800-965-4827

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While the intersection of jam rock and dance music is not an entirely unexplored medium (The Egg appeared five years ago, and several bands, such as Fat Mama, Sound Sector 9 and Lake Trout are currently surfacing nationwide), this subgenre, known as "organica," is still a stripling. Harry entered its grassy frontiers nearly a decade ago, after spending time in San Francisco.

"I went to see the Grateful Dead out at the Oakland Coliseum in 1992. I left the venue, and there were a bunch of DJs set up with generators out in the parking lot. I had never really heard house music before. I knew there was something like that going on, but I hadn't really gotten into it yet." The sound, then new to American shores, made an impression on the bohemian attendees, one that Harry did not fail to notice. "I watched all these hippies coming out of the Oakland Coliseum and going straight out to these DJs and start freaking out on house music, and I said, 'Wow, this is the same thing as the Grateful Dead.' They link all their songs together and create one long medley."

Harry had the good fortune to happen upon the Wicked Crew, a San Francisco DJ collective featuring Jeno and Garth, among others, that laid the foundation beats for the past decade of global dance culture's laid-back house sound. ("Those guys pretty much got it going in San Francisco like we know it today," Harry says.) Then a college student, he started checking out the scene to see what all the buzz was about.

"I went to raves in San Francisco in 1992 and 1993," he says. "That's when the scene was brand-new. There wasn't a status quo or a pre-conceived idea of what dance music was supposed to be or what it was supposed to look like. It was just everyone having a good time." The idea of musical territory that hasn't been co-opted by corporate labels or trendy teenagers is still firm in the DJ's philosophy. "That's when things are at their purest -- at the beginning, when people don't judge it. Everyone goes to check it out, and they form their own opinion."

This explains Harry's ability to find links between what many see as two very different sonic formats.

"House music is all about that," he says, "It's a nameless, faceless music that's about really listening rather than watching [an image]. I always saw the jam-band scene and the house scene as being the same because they take you somewhere with these long, extended solos. And when they bring you back, you realize you've gone somewhere. You have this 'Where was I?' kind of feeling."

Harry's willingness to embrace dualities in his music is, perhaps, an extension of his own life. He frequently alternates between the hustle of big cities like San Francisco and the lure of smaller towns, as evidenced by his 1994 move to Telluride. "I moved to Telluride for the beauty, for the outdoors," he recalls. "I'd heard about the town in the mid-'80s from a high school friend. He said he came from Telluride, and I said, 'What's Telluride?' He said it was this little pocket of paradise.

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