Wed. Dec. 13, 2017

Armand Van Helden: You Don’t Know Me!

Armand Van HeldenI remember the surprise which was mine when I got introduced to Armand Van Helden. This bringin’ us back in 1995 at the famous pool of the Fontainebleau-Hilton during the Winter Music Conference in Miami…

His look, reminding the one of a rapper, added to a feeling of distance he was surrounding himself with, would be for much on an impression of attitudes he was spreading. But I suppose this was more of a reaction of self-protection until the moment the ice got broken, which happened after a couple of meetings. Therefore allowing me to discover a clever man going straight to the point, just like his music. Armand Van Helden, a man synonymous with bouncing gems. From ‘With Doctor’ to ‘The Funk Phenomena’ and ‘Ultrafunkula’. Not to mention ‘You Don’t Know Me’ and ‘Flowerz’. As many pieces which all made their way in the heat of the night to be nowadays considered as club anthems or Dance Music classics…

“The NYC House Music has ended up becoming the flag of the gay community. And this to an extend which has seen the straight people who loved House Music not knowing anymore where to go. This has brought us exactly to the opposite of the early days of House when gays and straight where all moved by the same love regarding this music. The gays have become the ones setting up the standards in terms of trends. Determining what will be the tomorrow’s hype, regardless the crowd. Meanwhile emptying House Music from its original Blackness!”

Tell us about the first image(s) coming to your mind when coming to do a piece music in your studio…
“Oh man! I can’t help having the one of girls dancing in front of me. And if I get them rollin’, then I have the feeling I’ve done my job…”

Quite far from this memorable interview of yours on Mixmag back at the beginning of 1999. The latter lookin’ like a sort of plea against the gay community. Which, in your opinion, has ended up so to say lobotomizing the original spirit of House Music…
“Definitely. The NYC House Music has ended up becoming the flag of the gay community. And this to an extend which has seen the straight people who loved House Music not knowing anymore where to go. This has brought us exactly to the opposite of the early days of House when gays and straight where all moved by the same love regarding this music. The gays have become the ones setting up the standards in terms of trends. Determining what will be the tomorrow’s hype, regardless the crowd. Emptying House Music from its original Blackness!

And I was just speaking about New York. The gay scene has ended up appropriating itself everything along the way. Setting up its own rules in the worst conditions. They come to the clubs to consume drugs and soar all nite long, not to enjoy music!

They didn’t like ‘Stardust’ in the Big Apple. This tune has been a flop there. Because of being too real, laidback, cool and funky. Not to mention the fact that it has nothing to do with ecstasy. And because it received a veto from the gay community! As a result, we’ve been left with gay imagery things like ‘Put Your Hands Up’. The gay community had jumped on Hi-Energy and mixed it with House Music before excluding all of those who couldn’t be the souls of this movement.

This is how ecstasy has become the king of New York! I remember the House nation parties. There, you would meet a mixed crowd. Straights, gays, Blacks, Whites which was the founding principle of House. Speaking of which we’ve got taken away with the Gay invasion…”

Something to do with Junior Vasquez and Danny Tenaglia
“Absolutely…”

But what about Body & Soul which obviously was making its thing at the time?
“Well, it happened to be so limited in terms of impact in comparison! I loved its concept and the vibes it was spreading. But how come didn’t it make it on Friday nights with a license allowing to sell alcohol?!? The real House community was expressing itself on Sunday afternoons in a club that was only allowed to sell fruit juices…

Once again I loved Body & Soul. But I couldn’t help sort of laughing in front of the hype around it in a certain press, when its promoters were regretting the fact they couldn’t run it in real conditions. Once again, we were under the diktats of our environment. Body & Soul happened to be a beautiful party with an undeniable educative upbringing musically speaking. But its popularity has never gone further than its crowd of afficionados. I found this rather sad. And even more remembering the time when you could have like 3 Body & Soul like parties per night!”

Is it to say that the future of House Music is in some other cities???
“What got me from Hip-House to House Music at the beginning was that magnetism born from the blending of the crowds. House Music was synonymous with party. Partying with Boacks, Whites, Latinos, Asians. Everybody was around. Straights, gays, rich, poor, middle class, homeless, etc., we didn’t give a damn. Then this magnetism has left. We’re talking about a defunct period. And everybody has forgotten what House Music was about and what was its reason being. Nowadays, it’s just about to be seen here or there. The way you’re dressed. Sex and drug stories and all of this has been for much on my frustration.”

“One day my sister came at me and said: “Armand, did you know that Puffy is gay?”. Speaking of which I responded straight: “As long as Puffy doesn’t come at me to tell me he is, then I won’t believe it!” That was the theme of that song. You can catch sight of someone, you can hear of that someone. But unless having a conversation face to face with that someone… you don’t know! In other words, it’s a song telling you how I got enough of being surrounded with ignorance!…”

You don’t seem like havin’ ever reacted with conscious lyrics in your music…
“I’ve never had anything of a politician. The only thing I can say is that I don’t like all the House Music. I’m not expecting having everybody agreeing with me. But if one thing to me is for sure, it’s the fact that if you don’t know where you’re coming from, then you don’t know where you’re going.

When I discovered House Music, I didn’t know anithing of it. So when I started considering it, I told myself I would have to get to its roots in order understand its why before making myself an idea about its potential. I was short of finances back then. But I’ve managed to have enough money to get to the places where to meet people who could inform me about the classics of the 70’s.

I remember havin’ asked about the Philadelphia Sound with an elder talkin’ to me about Gamble & Huff whose productions have been a major influence as far as House Music is concerned. I then started to do my own research. The big problem nowadays comes from the fact that a few people do this. They come all of a sudden. Telling you they like this or that kind of House Music,. But they have no idea as to where it’s coming from…”

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