Music by the Pound
"There are times in a DJ's career where you can see that they've just lost it; they're all about the money," says Greg Diehl, better known as DJ Dealer. "And there is money out there for the higher echelon of people. Those kind of people get paid well, but a lot of them don't deserve a dime."
Such sharp-tongued comments are typical of Diehl, but he's talented enough to back them up. Simply put, he is one of Denver's most innovative beat-mixers, and his work on his own or as part of the Pound Boys, a partnership with DJ Craig C ("Grade C," May 8, 1997), has started to garner international recognition. He already rules the local dance scene, and a broader constituency is knocking at his door.
Diehl spent his formative years in Chicago--"from sixth grade through college," he says--and he grew to love the music that moved clubgoers there. As he puts it, "I was this suburban white kid who thought dance music was what everybody listened to. House music was Top 40 for Chicago. I was there from the beginning of Chicago's dance scene, and that's given me the perspective I have now."
He could hardly have found a better training ground. Artists based in Chicago exerted a major influence on electronic production both here and in Europe. "Initially there were the 'Hot Mix Five' and the 'Hot Mix Six' DJs, and they played all the radio shows, all the parties and all the roller rinks I went to," Diehl remembers. "Farley Jackmaster Funk, Ralphi Rosario, Julian Jumpin' Perez--those were a few of the first generation of famous Chicago house-music DJs. And then you had the really underground types, like Derrick Carter and Mark Farina, who came along in the late Eighties."
When he reached college age, Diehl left Chicago for a small school in Nebraska. While there, he became an on-air DJ at the campus radio station, and he subsequently served as an intern at a pop-oriented commercial outlet in Omaha. "It gave me the chance to hear all the new music as it came through," he says about the latter. "And that's one thing I've always loved."
That remains true to this day: Unlike many of his hipper-than-thou peers, who pay more attention to hype than music, he doesn't shy away from spinning worthy songs by mainstream artists. A case in point: Diehl was the first Denver DJ to play Cher's "Believe," an incredible house single produced by the team behind UK sensation Gina G that's fast on its way to becoming the country's top dance track. This decision doesn't mean that Diehl is a pushover for pap, as his negative remarks about the pairing of Lionel Richie and New York house figure Todd Terry make clear. ("Why does Lionel Richie need to be in the clubs?" he asks. "He's already reached millions and millions of people. Why does he have to get the last hundred thousand?") But he's also too smart to turn up his nose at strong, sentimental melodies.
"Music is very emotional for me," he says. "I don't understand how some people can have no emotional response to music. The most touching, most poignant music I've ever heard has always been ballads. That may sound strange coming from a dance-music DJ, but it's the truth."
These views have served Diehl well in Denver, where he moved upon graduating from college. His first job as a DJ here--at East Colfax's Gold Nugget disco--wasn't especially rewarding, but things turned around after he met Craig C, who remains one of his closest friends and collaborators. The pairing works, Diehl believes, because each gives the other room to be himself. "We established ourselves as distinct individuals while at the same time working together on a regular basis."
As the Pound Boys, Diehl and Craig C introduced house music to Denver during their 1993-1996 residency at the Compound. More recently the pair has been grinding out the grooves at Club Amsterdam, an after-hours warehouse-district space that opened Halloween weekend to record crowds. The venue, conceived by a posse of Greek entrepreneurs, is targeted at gays, lesbians and anyone with hefty disposable incomes and a growing resentment of Denver's archaic shut-'em-down-at-1:30-a.m. bar policy. Open from midnight to sunrise on Fridays and Saturdays, it sports a black interior, costly lighting and sound systems that will instantly remind well-traveled clubbers of New York's Twilo and San Francisco's 1015 Folsom, and a spectacular cast of nightlife celebrities that includes door warden Chocolate Thunder Pussy. The time is right for such a combination, Diehl feels. "We're not looking for 5,000 people to fill up Club Amsterdam," he says. "Denver has the crowd to keep this place plenty busy, and we would be perfectly happy with 500 people a night having a good time." He adds, "I think it's going to be the next chapter in the Denver club scene."
Just as significant to Diehl is Look at You Records, a label he started in early 1997. The company, which is headquartered at a studio on South Broadway, initially struggled: "The first year or two were spent learning the ropes and developing a sound," Diehl says. Today, however, the Pound Boys' sonic signature--energetic, progressive club music with gaunt, electro-rhythmic underpinnings and great singing on top--has helped the duo establish a reputation far beyond Colorado. After their remix of Joi Cardwell's "You've Got to Pray" hit number one on the Billboard dance charts in 1996, more opportunities came their way. According to Diehl, "We did things backwards. The first year that Craig and I were serious, we did primarily remixes, which is usually what you do after you establish yourself. I secured those projects in any way I could get them--sometimes by begging, sometimes by being offered them." To date, they've worked over songs by Urban Soul, Kim English, Saint Etienne, Daryl Hall and Mary J. Blige, among others.
The Pound Boys have made recordings of their own, too. They recently released "Stand Up" on Look at You and "Jazz, Jazz, Jazz" on Bassline Records--and Diehl personally oversaw "Temptation," just put out by New Jersey's popular Subliminal Records imprint. Credited to Risque and featuring a vocal by East Coast singer Lark, the sultry, brooding track has charted both here and overseas and has earned positive reviews in a couple of England's most widely read music publications.
As for the future, it looks bright: The Pound Boys have opened for artists such as Little Louis Vega and David Harness in New York and San Francisco, respectively, and both Diehl and Craig C are viewed as rising stars. Their success behind the boards has a lot to do with that, Diehl says. "To get exposure, you have to put records out. It's the nature of the business right now. There are some lousy DJs out there right now, but because they've had some hit records, they play all over the world. And there are a lot of talented DJs who no one has ever heard of because they're not producing."
DJ Dealer is determined not to be stuck in either of these categories. He's good at what he does, and he wants everyone to know it. And if he makes some money in the process, at least it would be in the name of a worthy cause.
DJ Dealer, with Craig C and Kostas. Midnight Fridays and Saturdays, Club Amsterdam, 2901 Walnut Street, 303-405-4458.
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