Haunted House

Chicago trackmaster Green Velvet burns down house music with wickedly funny anti-anthems

It's 8:00 a.m., and I'm figuring last night's tally at Miami's electronic music and press free-for-all otherwise known as Winter Music Conference 2000: seven hours, four clubs, zero transcendent experiences. So I make one last effort, jumping in a cab headed for Club Space, a downtown venue the size of a JC Penney, where New Yorker Danny Tenaglia is spinning his annual all-night set. I've danced for two hours straight. My joints are about to congeal and my field of vision has narrowed to a dust-sized speck.

As I stagger onto the dance floor, a familiar kick-drum pattern begins to batter away in the mix. The mocking male voice slithering over the tune's tick-tocking percussion and skittering snares is hard to place: We're up near the speakers and I left my earplugs in the hotel room--and, oh, did I mention that it's eight in the morning and I've been up all night? Then the music plunges to a halt, the drums echo ominously like the Ghost of Raves Past, and a gravelly voice intones: "Cameras ready, prepare to flash," followed by an Uzi-like double-time snare burst. I snap to attention, and my dancing, like everyone else's in the room, surges with a renewed energy that carries me through the next two hours of frenzied motion.

The song is "Flash," by Chicago house producer Curtis A. Jones, a.k.a. Green Velvet, now available at Wal-Mart stores nationwide as the lead track on Green Velvet (F-111/Warner Bros.), a compilation of his most memorable dance-floor anti-anthems. (Jones also records clubbier stuff under the name Cajmere.) It sounds great through headphones, sure. But few of my rave- and club-going epiphanies have topped hearing "Flash" on Tenaglia's dance floor as the early morning filtered through the warehouse's doorjambs. The record's physical pleasures, from the deep hollow of its electro-inflected straight-four rhythm to the ear-tickling clicks floating above, wire the floor like an electrical fence.

The text of "Flash" has Green Velvet leading a group of imagined concerned parents through a tour of "Club Bad, where all the bad little kiddies go." It's a familiar enough scenario for Tenaglia's audience of professional hedonists, though the song's catalog of sins--sucking nitrous oxide balloons, smoking joints, smuggling in beer--may seem mild compared with the levels of substance abuse most clubland denizens have seen or experienced. But Jones twists a cliché into a sharp joke by providing his tourists cameras with which to photograph their children's misbehavior, and his leering voice can still disquiet the most jaded partiers.

"Flash" is the greatest, funniest joke rave culture has yet told on itself. At times, Green Velvet sounds like a comedy album with good, rough beats. "Answering Machine," for example, features a series of pseudo-messages laid over an unyielding bounce--an eviction notice, a pregnant girlfriend informing him the baby isn't his, a friend who "had this dope party at your crib last week, it was the boooomb!" Velvet's perfectly logical, on-the-beat response? "I! DON'T! NEED! THIS! SHIT!"

But these songs aren't mere novelties. Green Velvet uncannily replicates the drug-fueled psychosis that's practically inseparable from club life. (After all, a party's atmosphere is largely dictated by other people's overindulgences, whether you're using anything yourself or not.) Partly he does it through music: "Leave My Body" underscores its slurred lyric, "Sometimes I want to leave my body/And float away into space/And float away from this place," with a psychedelic track whose bassline evokes sweat-covered warehouse walls undulating in rhythm.

Jones spends much of his time making fun of his own dance subculture. Like "Flash," most of Green Velvet sees Jones doing creepy-funny monologues over the music, a holdover of early Chicago house that also parallels the spoken-not-sung vocals of arena-techno groups like Fluke or Underworld. Unlike those bands, though, Jones doesn't string together pseudo-apocalyptic non sequiturs in order to seem surreal. Instead, his wigged-out method acting generates rambling, demented narratives that could make Kool Keith blanch. If Keith is a master fabulist too eager to believe his own hype, Green Velvet sounds like the kid sitting outside of a rave who took one hit of acid too many and is now watching his psyche disintegrate. And he's narrating it for everybody within earshot.

For instance, "Water Molecule" takes the heavenly, we-are-all-one glow of the Ecstasy trip to its nth degree, as Jones expresses a wish to be reincarnated as H2O so he can literally become a part of everyone he sees. On the even loonier "Abduction," aliens kidnap Green Velvet while he does the dishes: "I don't know how many there were; I don't even know if they were male or female--at the time I wasn't thinking about checking, you know?"

But Green Velvet's psychological breakdown ultimately culminates in "The Stalker," a litany of creepy-guy maneuvers. "Did you like the flowers that I gave you?" Jones asks. "I wanted to get you roses, but they were all out, so I got you daisies instead--and dyed them with my blood so that they would be red." A different kind of "bad little kiddie," to be sure--but appropriately obsessive for anyone who hits Miami Beach once a year to party for one week straight--even if us "kiddies" are getting on in years. (Tenaglia, for instance, has been a professional DJ longer than I've been alive.) So it's only fitting when Green Velvet punctuates "The Stalker" with a deathbed moan of "I'm losing my mind." Isn't that the point of rave-culture excess: A waste is a terrible thing to mind.

 
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