Fri. Jun. 05, 2020

Tony Humphries: Magic Sessions!

“Diversity and renewal are the key words to succeed. Just imagine this has lasted for 10 years with 4,000 people comin’ each weekend. For the Whites, the Blacks, the Gays, this was the place to be: a… paradise without barriers. So no wonder why we couldn’t play the same thing all night long, one week after another!!!”

The Kings Of House
The Kings Of House
(from l to r: David Morales, Louie Vega, Tony Humphries)

It would then be more accurate to use the New Jersey sound term as as to depict the most soulful side of House Music…
“Exactly! When talkin’ about Garage, one come to think of these 50/55 years old artists who were vocalists or eventually Byron Stingily which is restrictive to say the least. The Paradise Garage was first and foremost a white gay club where you could hear almost anything.

To a certain extend, the Zanzibar happened to be the descendant of The PG, although it was not the same crowd. Because of the period which was not the same neither anymore. But also because of the location of the club itself which was based in Newark, in the state of New Jersey where the majority of the population is Black. This hasn’t got us away from welcoming a mixed crowd though, with a music naturally blended in consequence.

Diversity and renewal are the key words to succeed. Just imagine this has lasted for 10 years with 4,000 people comin’ each weekend. For the Whites, the Blacks, the Gays, this was the place to be: a… paradise without barriers. So no wonder why we couldn’t play the same thing all night long, one week after another!!!”

I guess your way of seeing things has been pretty much influenced by this spiritual upbringing you got at school, like so many Afro-Americans…
“That’s what differentiates us from the rest of the world. Not that you don’t like Garage in Europe, but there are certain things which you don’t get. We’ve been raised in a certain way. Black kids go to church every Sunday until the age of 16. It’s something that we can’t erase from our memories. Something that stays with us during our lifetime, like these Gospel songs we may hear with their Jazz range. It’s something I can’t help myself feeling to the deepest…

Travelling has allowed me to see how people react in a different way from a place to another. Take for instance First Choice’s ‘Let No Man Put Asunder’ and ask a clubber here who was around when the record got released. He’ll tell you it’s the story of a woman saying her man she doesn’t want their relationship to come to an end. Ask Europeans how they feel about it: chances are great they’ll know the song because it has been sampled so many times.
Starting from then, how can we figure they know the whole lyrics of the song? They might remember of the bassline, of a hook, but what about the spirit of the song?”

“Club Zanzibar is a classic. You wouldn’t see any other club like this in the country. This is coming from the fact that Tony Humphries gives the audience a certain feel. When you go to the Zanzibar, you get trapped into a trance” (Winston Jones)

You’ve expressed yourself against Speed Garage (UK Garage), although you’ve played some…
“That’s your thing in Europe; it’s a matter of origins. I can play some Speed G because I know how Europeans are receptive to its high frequencies or to some of its rhythm parts, although the reactions will be way different Stateside. Not because we don’t like this or that element of it, but simply because we don’t identify ourselves to it. Such a competition around forces us to be ultra perfectionist, checking each and every detail. It’s different in Europe as mainly based on the trends of the moment.”

Would the Europeans be perceived as caricatures?
“This is not the point. Take the tempos for instance. You, in Europe, like them faster. Meanwhile at us, it’s different because of all these details we’re taking in consideration in the arrangements…”

Not everyone got into Speed G though, like for instance the Garage City nights in London…
“They played soulful music and extraordinary vocals. But don’t forget I’m hailing from a place where should we have a piece of music which got us raving, although on a different tip – Talking Heads for instance – we would play it. I’ve rarely seen such a spontaneity. Meanwhile playing Ten City music alike all night long, no way! You gotta make breaks in a set and play things comin’ from different horizons to give it the necessary relief.”

Besides, the tempos have slowed down a lot in America…
“True! We had the big bands in the 50’s, and Motown in the 60’s. The 70’s have welcomed an obvious thirst of freedom, as epitomized by Disco Music and the tempos have started speedin’ up. We would put out a Disco cut the way we do a House one nowadays. Then the 80’s would come and the tempos have progressively gone backwards, and even more at the beginning of the 90’s, as opposed to Europe…

Feels like we’ve gone under an ongoing globalization process along these last years/decades. Shouldn’t the DJ’s let their own influences/cultures talk as opposed to almost play the same trendy things everywhere???
“We’ve got the opportunity to be exposed to a lot of different things in New York, meanwhile in front of a cosmopolitan crowd. This has allowed us to evolve with the help of a wide range to pick up things. This is not the case anymore nowadays with DJ’s who, because they want to appear as specialized, don’t open themselves anymore to other genres…

One can think they’ve paradoxically remained stuck to their own worlds, despite the countless opportunities which are offered them to travel. Once again, a matter of open mindedness. Not everybody has got the same tastes. Therefore we’ll have to guess them and modulate.
If I’m seeing a group of Japanese people, there’s no reason I wouldn’t play something which they reputedly like, even though a big majority of people around may not understand the lyrics. We, the DJ’s, supposedly speak English which is an advantage. On the opposite, would you ever imagine a foreign DJ playing Japanese or Arab music for 8 hours???”

Isn’t that a reason which explains the growing success of instrumentals?
“Possibly… We tend to forget how the crowd is emotive but also that attitudes differ from a country to another. There are places in the world where emotions are hidden behind like a strict attitude. It’s against nature and rather frustrating…”

The fact we’ve entered into the virtual communication era has also its importance…
“I think I’m more appreciated by women, because of the emotional content I’m pointing out on my sets. Whenever you happen to play tracks displaying chord partitions, bridges and variations, you’re in the positive to modulate successive moods and engender emotions. And if you achieve adding a message to the whole, it’s even more powerful. But people are afraid of showing themselves the way they are.

I’ve been able to see this deeply macho attitude at men for ages. They want to give the toughest image of themselves as possible. The fact for them to go to a club or another depends on answers to the following questions: does the DJ mix on beats? Does he play hard cuts? Is the sound system enough powerful? Once fixed on this, they would go and have a drink then eventually get some interest as far as the women are concerned. It’s way different for the latter. They like to express themselves in more appropriate atmospheres, more intimate. As many things we have to consider…”

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Story teller, record pusher, compiler & web designer...
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