A Very Fine House
Sex and housecleaning aside, electronic dance music is best appreciated in the thick of a sweaty, pulsating, late-night throng with all the usual club-culture accoutrements. And because an essential element of any DJ's mojo is the symbiotic transfer of energy from the booth to the dance floor and back, the world's best sets happen when a DJ's looking out on an undulating sea of beat-happy hedonists. The necessity of ambience would seem a no-brainer, yet electronic-music labels continue to pack the bins with "live mix" dance-music discs recorded in the surgically sterile environs of the studio. The argument is that confining a DJ is the only way to ensure that the sound quality is pristine and the transitions between tracks exquisitely seamless. But the frustration of listening to the end product is often like being forced to drive a Lamborghini along a perfectly straight line.
All of this makes British hard-house sensation Tall Paul's new release, Mixed Live: Giant, a seductive deviation from the dance-music industry's standard form. Recorded live this summer at the grand reopening of the Los Angeles superclub Giant in the main hall of the Park Plaza Hotel, it captures a dazzling peak-hour set by one of the best party rockers on the planet. The recording is laced throughout with the cheers and screams of the ecstatic capacity crowd and the occasional crackle of the needle on a well-worn record. In short, it's all the way live.
"The previous three live albums I've done came out good, as far as the mixing goes, but there wasn't much atmosphere," says Tall Paul, speaking on his cell phone beneath the eaves of a roof in London's Camden Town district, where he's sought shelter from a fall downpour. "Listening to the new record takes me right back to that night. I can remember certain dancers, how they were dressed and how they moved. It was an experiment, but one that worked, because it really does encapsulate the whole fantastic trip. It's nice to be able to hear how it was really going off in there.
"The energy was so high when I took over, I had to make a lot of quick changes to my set and start off with my foot to the floor. I'd planned to start off a bit mellow and show off the mixing a bit, but when I got up there, I thought, 'Why spoil it for the sake of a record? Let's have a party.' So the end result was quite spontaneous."
A U.K. luminary who regularly presides over the decks of London's most torrid nightspots (Sundiessential, Gatecrasher, Cream) as well as the summertime bacchanalias on the Spanish party isle Ibiza, Tall Paul makes his Denver debut Friday night at Vinyl, in between gigs in Tulsa and St. Louis.
"Usually when I come out to the States, I do a little bit of East Coast and then a little bit of West Coast and then fly home. I've never really been to the middle of your country, and I'm quite looking forward to it. I intend to put down some big records and rip the place up."
These days, one of the biggest records in Tall Paul's set is one of his own: the U.K. club hit "Precious Heart," as succulent a slice of up-tempo, feel-good house music as any served this year. The track revolves around a remix of the strings-and-vocals intro to the 1987 INXS hit "Never Tear Us Apart" ("Don't ask me/What you know is true/Don't have to tell you/I love your precious heart"). Tall Paul originally put the mix together last summer as a novelty to take with him on a two-month tour of Australia.
"I was curious to see if it got any response, and the response was actually quite massive, so I put out some white labels of the record in the U.K. to get a reaction from the DJs, and that was massive as well. So everything pointed in the direction of 'Okay, let's try to clear the samples and do this. And it took quite a long time to hop through all the legal hoops, what with all the orchestral bits in there and [INXS lead singer and songwriter] Michael Hutchence not being around anymore, but we got there in the end."
Asked if he considers the track a tribute to INXS, Tall Paul emits a strange groan, then says, "Not really. It's more a tribute to a particular twenty seconds of one of their songs. I was just really entranced with the movement of the chords and the way his voice sounds in that one spot. They were good building blocks for a certain emotional vibe that seems to go over as one of the best records anywhere I play."
Christened Paul Newman, the 6'6" thirty-year-old turntablist logs more than 200 shows a year as Tall Paul. "I didn't think playing out as DJ Paul Newman was a very good notion," he says. He got his start in 1993 spinning the insane time slot of 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Sunday at Trade, a weekly marathon event at the renowned London gay club Turnmills, which is owned by his father. The venue was the first in the U.K. to obtain a 24-hour music-and-dance license.
"Basically, that meant we could legally have people dancing on the premises until we wanted them to leave, which was basically never. Naturally, the sort of party antics that begin to occur about 6 a.m. on a Sunday will make a club rather infamous straightaway. But it was all good fun, and it set me up. My career was born on the back of that license."
Trade was known for far more than party antics. Like the gay clubs of Detroit and Chicago in the late '80s, the gay clubs of London in the early '90s were hotbeds of innovation when it came to dance music. The crowd at Trade, for example, thirsted for a faster tempo and a rougher texture.
"Back then, straight clubs were very much on the vocal house stuff, what we used to call 'garage house,'" says Tall Paul. "The faster stuff, the tougher-edged stuff, the more drummy stuff that was a bit more techno wasn't really getting played, except in the gay clubs. But slowly we started to get more of a mixed crowd because straight blokes would come down to Trade and say, 'Wow, this is where it's going on.' Soon enough, we came into this pattern where the music being played at Trade was consistently becoming popular six months down the road, so we developed a reputation for being up front with our music."
Though his tastes generally fall in the hard-house category, many of the records in Tall Paul's globetrotting flight boxes extend more into electronica's trinity of Ts: trance, techno and tribal. His music does not frolic with unicorns beneath rainbows in the sickly sweet candyland of progressive trance, nor does it hammer at the listener's cerebral cortex with the merciless machine-gun beats of happy hardcore. He operates in the classic range of 125 to 135 beats per minute. And as the trend in dance music continues to move toward ever faster tempos, Tall Paul is growing a little uneasy with the hard-house label tagged to his name.
"Hard house has taken on a whole new meaning now in the U.K. that I expect will cross over to the States soon enough," he says. "I came to be called a hard-house DJ because I never played a lot of vocals and I liked to play around 130, 135 bpm, which was simply the hardest house music at the time. Now the hard stuff starts at 140 and the sky's the limit, so it's possibly a bit of a dated branding, if you know what I mean. I'm not out to rattle anyone's teeth."
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