House legend Paul Johnson to play Record Room
Every facet of popular music has legends, figures that shaped the landscape of a particular genre; rock has Jagger and Lennon, country has Williams and Cash, hip hop has Blow and KRS-1. But, in terms of dance music, it's harder to identify the cornerstones. Penchants for anonymity, multiple aliases, stunning numbers of releases spread across tiny labels, and a culture that thrives on the reappropriation of forgotten songs are all to blame, so it's daunting (especially for newcomers) to try and put faces to names.
But so what? Recognition is only a part of the equation; legends are legends because they're irreplaceable artists, and in those terms, house music has a bonafide legend in Paul Johnson. Johnson grew up in Chicago alongside the house scene, starting to spin records when he was 13 years old. He was a scene fixture even before releasing his own productions, some of which are built out of a mechanical thump laced with a bevy of jacked-up disco samples, while others have a decidedly more organic bent with bits of jazz flecking pillow-soft kick drums and vocal soul.
His tracks pointed in the direction that house would take over the next two decades (Johnson has releases on influential Chicago label Dance Mania as well as Crydamoure, an imprint owned by half of Daft Punk), and he crafted a worldwide smash with the piano-driven "Get Get Down," which was damn near inescapable in 1999 and led to a Guinness record for most licensed song in the world.
The term "anthem" barely does its popularity justice.
Though he's got a ton of releases, it's not the business aspect that really sets Johnson apart--it's his joy. In the middle of "Get Get Down" there's a small break where Paul lets out a little "woo!" and it becomes instantly evident how much fun he's having. Watching him play, he chops vocal breaks into tiny rhythmic fragments, making them pulse in time with the beat and melting a couple of minds in the process. He's personally (maybe even spiritually) invested in the music he makes and plays, and his enthusiasm shines. You can forget about stonefaced DJ stoicism; Johnson sings and grooves along with the rest of his audience. His happiness is infectious, and it permeates both his smile and his track selection.
If you spent part of your youth raving (or even if you didn't), local promoters Loud+Clear are doing you a solid by bringing one of the old-school favorites to First Ave's Record Room this Saturday night. Though he's from Chicago and travels constantly, it's been a number of years since Johnson has come to Minneapolis, so it's a rare treat to see the man in action. Whether you're sucked in by the nostalgia, curious about the sound, or just looking for a quality night of dancing and music without the usual assortment of freaky creepers, it's going to be hard to beat seeing a master do what he does best.
BLACK featuring Paul Johnson and Nik Gunz. Saturday, October 16th. First Ave Record Room. 10 pm. 18+. $10. 701 First Ave N. 612-338-8388.
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