RIP DJ Man-X, founder of House Nation Under a Groove
Courtesy of Facebook
Thomas Spiegel, also known as DJ Man-X, passed away on December 30, 2012, in Miami Beach. He was 47.
A DJ regular at First Avenue, Spiegel hosted his House Nation Under A Groove nights of soulful house music around the Twin Cities, Spiegel also was an investment banker and eventually launched Deep Haven Music, which you can sample here. He was a friend of mine, he was a business partner, he was a teacher, and for one magical night in 1990, a fellow monster truck enthusiast.
I met Thomas at some point in lets call it 1988 (I suck at dates, and order of things so times may be way off but it gets the gist and that's something). He had moved back from New York after doing a House Nation Under a Groove night, and wanted to start doing them here in Minneapolis. He had partnered with Kevin Cole doing some shows and starting their regular Thursday night gig in the 7th Street Entry opposite More Funk. I think I started working with him on the second night of it. It was during that time with my business partner Sonia Peterson (she owned Hair Police, I ran the Gallery and did the events) that together we started doing bigger events late nights at the salon, and eventually turning to what would later be called raves, but to us were just events.
Most "techno" fans know about Detroit, they know about Chicago, but what they don't know that we had as big a scene here, and we did it all without any press or radio. Because at the time this was the real underground music, you had to know someone to be on the in at all. It was wild, reckless and just barely legal; it was glorious. You have to understand that this was a different era, up until this point you never saw the DJ's name on a flyer, you didn't go to a party unless there was beer, and certainly not to dance -- maybe drunkenly pogo but never dance. In fact dancing after bar closed was a crime in Minneapolis -- seriously. You can thank Sonia for busting that rule up. The point is there was a big secret scene that existed and largely because Thomas wanted to play house music really really loud.
Eventually the band broke up. One-by-one, we all splintered away to do other things, each person moving to the next bright shiny thing (it may sound a tad nostalgic but things did seem much shinier and brighter then). But Thomas always stayed true, he was Deep House through and through. I always admired his ability to find new and interesting threads in the same flag; I wish I had told him that. Over the years we stopped speaking as much, because that's what people do. That said, he has never been far from my heart, because those days have never been far from my memory. We started a small quiet revolution that begat some much bigger ones -- ones that don't even necessarily know about the previous wars. It's the downside of a culture based so much on the" now" that we forget the how, and ultimately the "why."
DJ Man-X at the Cricket Theater in 1990.
Photo courtesy Tony Larson
I could go on about how many are standing on his shoulders, how many folks who got there started there, or it was the inspiration point to start doing something new. The fact that you can hear techno and house almost everywhere, and can really only hear the alt-rock of the time on oldies alternative. Or that even First Avenue, where it was a fight to get equal rights for dance nights, is more disco than ever. And it's not like he stopped. He was a staple of that deep garage scene, and a mentor to generations of up-and-comers.
Right now, I am thinking about how much I owe this guy. The fact that he let me produce things well before I was of legal age to go to them, that he wanted to make sure that I knew the music, its roots well deeper than my "acid house summer of love" entry point. Thomas was the guy who always got on my case for not paying myself what I am worth, a problem I still have today -- and, truth be told, when I hear my subconscious telling me that it's in Spiegel's voice. He was complex and difficult, a day trader in dreadlocks, a fighter with a rather large collection of Fred Flintstone items. People are complex, and Thomas wasn't any exception.
The golden age of anything in music seems to last for 3- 5 years and I don't know that was any different for house. For a time, it was utter and complete fucking magic. If you were there it changed your life, and if you weren't than it sill sort of did anyway, we were surfers on a wave of drum machine inevitability.
"From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day." sure Shakespeare was using this as a rallying cry to battle. But I think it covers the battles already fought.
Bon Route, brother I hope Heaven has enough Bass bins for you.
Spiegel's services are at 2 p.m. Thursday, January 3 at the Adath Yeshurun Cemetary, 5608 France Avenue, Edina. Full obit here.
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