Remembering DJ Man-X: Three friends pay tribute
Thomas Spiegel, AKA DJ Man-X, was one of the originators of house music in Minneapolis. His famous House Nation Under a Groove party series began in New York City, and when he moved to Minneapolis in the late '80s, he continued the events at the 7th Street Entry. At the time, this kind of music was really only played in Chicago, Detroit, and New York, but Spiegel and his collaborators helped start a large underground scene here in Minneapolis, which still carries on today.
Sadly, Spiegel passed away in late 2012, but his musical legacy lives on today, both literally and in spirit. In the literal sense, local techno DJ DVS1 acquired his entire collection of more than 25,000 records, which have worked their way into his sets in all corners of the world. In the spiritual sense, his take on what made a good party good are still important parts of the house and techno scenes here today, 25 years later.
To pay tribute, several of Spiegel's favorite local house DJs have come together to throw a party in his memory. On August 9, the Entry will become the House of Spiegel once again. No expense will be spared to bring in a ridiculous amount of speakers and to properly decorate the venue, which were trademarks of any party Spiegel threw. To get an idea of what Spiegel meant to Minneapolis, Gimme Noise spoke with stalwarts of the underground dance music scenes.
I spoke with DVS1, AKA Zak Khutoretsky, who is organizing the event. I also spoke with Tony Larson, aka DJ etones, who has been a house DJ for over 20 years and who inspired a whole generation of DJs during his time as an employee of Let It Be Records. Finally, I spoke with Alex Adams, a long-time friend of Spiegel's who can still be seen at pretty much every house music night in town, dancing like crazy up front with his brother Antoine.
What was your first encounter with Spiegel?
Khutoretsky: My first encounter with Thomas had to have been early 2000s. I was introduced to him right as he was getting back after taking a break away from Minneapolis and music in general since the mid/late '90s. He was back in Minneapolis after returning to NYC to work and was told by a few people that I was the guy to contact in terms of being someone who was carrying on the "wall of sound" tradition. As we met and started to work together on his parties we formed a tight bond over the aesthetic of production and he schooled me on the history of my own city.
Larson: I was about to be a senior in high school and was visiting Minneapolis during August of '89 with friends. We were shopping at Risk Clothing in Uptown and heard some funky, soulful house music playing and I asked at the counter what it was, she said it was a new mixtape from Man-X. I was intrigued. I only vaguely knew what house music was, but knew it was something I already loved. Shortly after I was at Platters Records down the street. Kevin Cole, AKA Acid-Ant, gave us a flyer for the first House Nation Under a Groove (HNUG) all-ages event that was happening the following night at the 7th Street Entry. We ended up making it to the show and we were all blown away by the sound, music, and visual style of the event. During the next year we were driving from International Falls to Minneapolis every time we heard about another HNUG event.
Adams: I Met Thomas in 1987 when he was DJing at Williams Pub in Uptown. We were talking about the music he was playing and he said "You must be from Chicago."
DJ Man-X at the Cricket Theater in 1990
Photo courtesy of Tony Larson
What was the house music scene like before he started throwing the House Nation Under a Groove parties?
Khutoretsky: I don't think there was much of a DJ scene for our music before Tom and his fellow generation took the risk to put things together. He was definitely going against the grain and against what people knew in Minneapolis. He convinced First Ave, which was strictly a live music venue, to hold these events and pushed the DJ culture by making it something to experience.
Larson: Thankfully HNUG was my first full-on exposure to house music as a genre. Until then I had only heard random House tracks dropped throughout the night at First Avenue's Sunday Night Dance Party. A few songs like Technotronic's "Pump Up the Jam" had made it to MTV, but the concept of hearing an entire night of pure house music was absolutely amazing to me. I was an instant fan of Thomas and the HNUG sound.
Adams: When I got here in 1985 from Chicago, nobody knew much about house music. There weren't too many people up on it. Thomas was bringing in a lot of DJs from New York.
Can you still see his influence on the underground dance music parties held in Minneapolis today?
Khutoretsky: Electronic music wasn't popular back then, so the fan base was die-hards and the things he did became elements that every DJ and promoter in Minneapolis has carried on in some way. Many people don't understand that the reason we value our sound systems here and stack them thick was because as the originator of the wall of the sound in Minneapolis, Thomas set the standard for years to come. He truly experimented with the size, shape and amount of boxes you could squeeze into mostly illegal or just ill-fitting spaces to create body-moving music!
Larson: Yes, the format of dance music events featuring the 'Wall of Bass' style sound set-up, artistic visual displays and top-notch line-ups featuring strictly underground dance music DJs and artists was something Thomas made Minneapolis known for throughout the Midwest.
Photo courtesy of DVS1
Zak, have his records become a big part of your sets?
Khutoretsky: Yes, but only slightly at this point, as it's taken me some time just to get things organized and start going through carefully to not miss anything. The short version of the story is that once things were agreed upon with his family and I was given the chance to purchase/acquire the records, we needed to get nearly 200 boxes up from his home in Miami. After sending friends and a truck to bring them back we stored them in Minneapolis for nearly 6 months until I acquired a new place big enough to actually unpack and shelve up the collection. I then hired a friend to go through and alphabetize the collection as it got unpacked and I've slowly over the last year been going letter-by-letter removing some of the filler and mining for the gems. It's been a very tedious process, I literally come home off my own travels and spend every day needle dropping on records and sorting stacks of music, but I've uncovered some amazing things that I was just too late to have known about. It's like having a personal library from a few generations before me with no expiration date on making returns!
What's one thing that someone who never met Thomas or went to one of his parties should know about him?
Khutoretsky: He did his own thing, his own way, with no remorse or second thought of others opinion. This way of living life in regards to music and its special place in our lives is something I truly admire and try and do in my life as well. I don't think he set out to be a teacher, but in the end he inspired and taught so many people, most he may have never even met!
Adams: He was a very generous man. Thomas was like a brother to me. He had moved back to New York but came back to Minneapolis to visit old friends, including my son and I. My son was 8 or 9 at the time. Thomas took him to Guitar Center and told him "Today is your day." I wasn't sure what he meant, but he went and bought my son two CDJ-800 turntables, a mixer and all. He spent $1,800 on my son!
DJ Man-X is in the center
Photo courtesy of Alex Adams
How will the tribute party carry on his tradition?
Khutoretsky: He was connected to a generation that has long left the club and party scene. This generation was always present and supportive of his output when he came back home. They were on the dance floor from start to finish and I'm sure many of them will be coming out to this event as well as a new generation that is connected through me and the other DJ's playing and paying tribute. We will of course stack the sound as big as possible and play music inspired by his memory and his teachings. If everything comes together the way I imagine, you will get a glimpse of his vision and style through the eyes of his friends, family and supporters!
Larson: The event will be held in the original HNUG location and feature the proper Man-X style sound system and visual atmosphere involving as many of the original crew, dancers and friends as possible. The DJs will be playing their favorite Thomas style tracks throughout the night of non-stop dancing and celebration.
Adams: All the people that were hanging around Thomas back in the day will be there!
Man-X Tribute with DJs DVS1, etones, and more. Saturday August 9, 10 PM - 2 AM, 18+, $5 with all proceeds going to American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. More info here.
Photo by Alex Adams
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