For a decade, Greg Diehl (aka DJ Dealer) and Craig Christenson (aka DJ Craig C) burned up the house scene. The duo, better known as the Pound Boys, spun at a half-dozen local clubs -- including a ridiculously popular three-year residency at the Compound, the space where they got their name -- in addition to doing dates all over the globe. Through their label, Look at You Records, the Boys also did remixes for everyone from Jennifer Lopez and Mariah Carey to Angie Stone and Mary J. Blige, with several gaining top slots on Billboard's dance charts. But now Dealer and Craig C have parted ways.
"It's just something that's built up over time," Diehl explains. "We more or less wanted to do different things artistically, and in general, I wanted to travel more and he didn't want to travel. It's been a culmination of things. With any relationship, it takes a toll, and you need your space. I have no hard feelings or anything like that. It just made more sense to go in different directions, so that instead of taking two steps forward and four steps back, we could both keep moving in a positive direction."
Diehl wasted no time in moving forward. He's already building a new house with a new partner, Casa del Soul founder Nate Uhlir (DJ Sense). And while this venture, Juke Joint Productions, may resemble the Pound, Diehl insists that it's going to be more like, well, a juke joint. "It's still going to be house," he says. "I mean, obviously, it's going to be similar. It's not like I'm going to drum-and-bass or something. But Juke Joint is an idea I've been playing around with for a long time. With the Pound Boys sound, we were very polished as far as production. We used lots of session players and horn sections and live percussionists. The Juke Joint sound is more back to the rawness of dance music. We want to go back to the roots of some house, not necessarily a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-out song. The strong structure, musically and lyrically, may be a little more adventurous now.
"I'm not saying that we don't want to do very well-produced or polished types of productions," he adds, "but I also want to get back to the raw street edge that a lot of music -- dance music or house music -- has gotten away from. That's what first drew me to house music, and I don't hear much of that anymore. It's either gotten so polished, or it's gotten really hard and has no soul whatsoever. It's not really club music."
If anyone remembers what dance music sounded like back in the glory days, it's Diehl. He and Christenson didn't invent the genre, but they sure as hell helped make it popular in the Moo. They laid the first stone in 1993 at the Compound on South Broadway, shortly after being introduced by DJ John Chamié, an institution in his own right during the embryonic days of electronic music. "It started slowly," Diehl remembers. "And then the atmosphere started building and literally turned into a dance mecca."
The Pound Boys transformed a neighborhood gay bar into a club phenomenon, with the best house in town. "It really had a vibe unlike anything else that we've seen in this city," Diehl says. "It was really not a club -- I mean, there's only two or three speakers in the whole place. It turned into a club just because of the vibe. And as it turns out, we've yet to see it anywhere else in the world. You never know what you have until you don't have it anymore. And that's probably still the best nights we've ever played anywhere in the world."
But that was then. And the house scene has changed drastically over the last fifteen years -- not only here, but across the country, particularly in Diehl's home town of Chicago.
"It got really ugly from the late '80s to early '90s," Diehl recalls. "It just turned into a mess. To a certain degree, it's what's happened here in Denver. There's so much talent here, but you don't really get to hear it. Or it's not even acknowledged. The Pound Boys name can draw more people in Melbourne, Australia, than it can in Denver. Even though we know a lot of people here, you kind of get taken for granted at home. The same thing happens other places, too. Derrick Carter and Frankie Knuckles didn't blow up until they left Chicago. You basically have to leave and make your name somewhere else. And that even happened with house music. It was founded in Chicago and kind of happened a little in New York, but it didn't blow up until it went overseas and then came back."
And now it's leaving the Pound Boys behind. "You know, we have our friends here and people that know us," Diehl says. "And I do appreciate that. I don't think a DJ should ever be looked at as some superstar or whatever. At home, they're just your friends. Overseas, people ask for pictures and autographs. We've done TV shows and radio, and you're like, 'Wow, I was just playing to five people at this club in Denver, and now I've got someone speaking Italian to me on MTV.' It's really humbling sometimes."
Diehl brings that same humble attitude to Juke Joint. Even though the Pound Boys -- who just released a three-disc anthology on Look at You, which Diehl will continue to run -- are renowned, the new production will have to earn its rep. "We're in a holding pattern until we can get some new product out there so people can see what the new production sounds like and get a feel for that," he admits. "And anymore in this industry, it's, 'Yeah, we know what you did before. But what have you done lately?'"
Plenty, if it's Diehl you're asking. As with the Pound Boys, whose first successful remix, a cut produced for Joi Cardwell, went straight to number one in Billboard, his new crew is making things happen in reverse. The Juke Joint boys have already toured Australia and plan on returning there in the fall before heading to Europe. They're holding off on establishing a Denver residency until the time is right. "We want to do it," Diehl concludes. "But we want to do it right. Kind of like we did with the Pound Boys, we just don't want to play for anybody and everybody all the time. Quite frankly, people don't want to hear you week in and week out."
Still, I get the feeling that when the Juke Joint pair moves in somewhere, they'll have a full house in no time.
Upbeats and Beatdowns: We got a little ahead of ourselves in last week's Scratching the Surface. Chris Fortier will actually be at the Church this Saturday, August 7. Apologies for the confusion. Also on Saturday, Cluster III takes place at Cervantes', featuring performances by DJs Idiom and Ivy along with a fashion show and video and film loops from the An-ism crew.