Monte Hilleman and E-Tones back-to-back that thang up in this week’s recommended mix

Monte Hilleman

Monte Hilleman Geoff George

The back-to-back set—“b2b” for short—is a DJ-world cliché by now.

Back-to-back sets are nearly as old as DJ culture itself; some of the biggest DJs in the world have gotten there in pairs. (Exhibit A and B: Sasha and John Digweed, who blew up in the mid-90s by teaming up, though both have even longer CV’s on their own.) But in recent years it’s become especially commonplace for event promoters to put bigger-named DJs together just to see what sparks, if any, might arise.

It doesn’t take much guessing what an E-Tones b2b Monte Hilleman set might entail. Both have been spinning house since the mid-90s in Minneapolis—in some ways, they embody the MPLS take on house music (along with a few others we’ll get to in this space in due time, rest assured): clearly modern in both tone and affect, but just as obviously rooted in disco, soul, funk, jazz, and gospel. While E-Tones (Tony Larson) has tended toward rawer Chicago-based house as well as disco at its most bumpin’ (a highlight of a recent summertime Communion was hearing him drop Chic’s “Dance, Dance, Dance” mid-set), Hilleman played more upscale—more jazz, more gospel, tonier, more live instrumentation. Of course they’re going to sound good together.

I wasn’t quite expecting how good they sound. VinoFM #120: Live at Domo (March 4, 2017) is a three-hour b2b recorded at Hilleman’s monthly showcase night at the Minneapolis club Domo for his label Vino Recordings, with VinoFM the podcast series of Hilleman’s sets from those nights. The set is an ideal showcase for the more finely contoured club-based house sound of recent years. There’s a brown-leather luster to this stuff, the sound of older folks who like to dress up when they go out as well as sweat through their clothes once they hit the floor. It can seem a little fancy if your tastes run toward the dirty and weird, but when it’s done this well, who but a true discophobe could argue?

And I’ll be honest—the first couple selections sound perfunctory to me, mood setters, not much more. But it doesn’t take long for things to take off, and once they’re in flight, they stay aloft. There’s a lot of disco here—a classic sampled horn line here, a chunkita-chunk guitar there, diva vocals everywhere. (High-five to whoever dropped the Byron Stingily track.) These records feel not just lived-in but enlivened—they set out to delight, and they’re played by a couple of sharp-eared old pros out to impress each other, and themselves.

There are two tracks in particular I keep coming back to, near the 74-minute mark. Coming out of a more traditionally R&B-styled track, the multitracked vocal cadence is unmistakable: “Rhythm! Rhythm!” Yep: “Rhythm Is a Dancer,” the Snap! hit, covered here by Diva Avari and presented in its “Jamie Lewis Purple Room Mix.” It’s an airy wonder—strings zig, horns zag back, a straight Chic homage with fabulously busy bass and a nearly dubby breakdown. It’s followed by Palamino’s “Oh My! (Morten Trust Remix),” the kind of gospel-kissed house record you don’t think they can make anymore—surely no modern recording can be this guileless, this honestly uplifting? If disco does anything for you at all, and the winter has battered you around way too much for your own good, give it a shot. There’s even a cute little Daft Punk parody in the middle.

Vino Recordings is celebrating its 15th anniversary tomorrow night at Honey Mpls’s monthly House Proud. Monte Hilleman promises “giveaways of vinyl promos and compilation CDs, a preview of new unreleased 2018 music, and a prime time DJ set from world-renowned Minneapolis producer Fourfeet (Justin Thompson).” And, of course, the promise of a better world.

House Proud: Vino Recordings 15 Year Anniversary Celebration
With: Fourfeet, Monte Hilleman, Jeff Swiff (resident)
Where: Honey Mpls
When: 10 p.m. Fri. March 2
Tickets: $8 door; more info here

Are you a Twin Cities dance-music DJ? Michaelangelo Matos wants to hear your latest set. He writes about recent mixes by local DJs (and DJs making local appearances) every Thursday for City Pages. Tweet to his attention: @matoswk75.