Terry Mullan used to come to DJ in San Francisco quite often. People would talk about his DJing in a reverent way, they would say that he was a great DJ. I went to see him play one Sunday night at the now-defunct SF club, DV8. He was indeed a great DJ, it was easy to tell. It was easy to tell that he had cut his teeth on the decks in a time before hype and revisionist narratives. He didn’t get his first synth when he was four and didn’t start DJing when he was 11. He obviously slugged it out in the mid-west and had perfected his craft.
The thing that struck me about his style of playing — and I had the same feeling when I saw Spencer Kincy (AKA Gemini) DJ at Stompy in 1999 — was that he moved between robot music, acid, techno etc., and house music that had vocals, garage, tracks with singers on them who had been influenced by r ‘n’ b and gospel, people who were r ‘n’ b and gospel singers. I hate the term ‘soulful house,’ because to me “Acid Tracks” is a soulful house track, there’s a lot of soul in that machine music coming off that record. It’s a redundant term, and I feel that it is sometimes used in a subtly derogatory way. As if a track containing a person’s voice is somehow inferior to something wholly electronic.
When I went to see DJs like Tony Humphries they would also move between abstraction and soul, human voices. This created a dynamic in their sets, the electronic music, the futuristic stuff would create tension through abstraction and darkness, the tracks with human voices would relate something about the human condition, joy, attraction, love, understanding. And though some house music vocals can be trite and the vocals inane, there are some great records that truly speak about life in poetic and evocative ways. These types of records coming in after an avalanche of acid, Detroit techno and such would create a wave of relief, a feeling of being human, across a crowded dance floor.
This is the type of approach I remember from the mix tapes I picked up in the late ’80s, on which “Acid Tracks” by Phuture and “Bounce Your Body To The Box” by Reese and Santonio would eventually dovetail into “Promised Land” by Joe Smooth or “People Of All Nations” by Shawn Christopher and a feeling of elation would overcome you. On the dance floors, and perhaps due to the effects of ecstasy, these feelings would be amplified, and a certain camaraderie would exist on that floor in that finite period of time.
I’ve related that experience of house music and techno to some people and they have said things like “Well, that was a British way of playing the music.” I always thought that response was extremely dumb. I can’t imagine that Ron Hardy, the DJ who really championed acid and Detroit techno, played records like “Acid Tracks” or “Nude Photo” all night. He played disco records, James Brown, Salsoul Cuts and Phyllis Hyman. The waves of human emotion and the oscillating voltage of the machine records, the robot records, blended together to create a temporary utopia on the dance floor.
Terry Mullan and Spencer Kincy brought me to that place when I heard them play. Generic styles of DJing have a limit, merely because life itself is not generic, it is full of shifts and changes, many of them abrupt and surprising. On this mix CD reviewed below Terry Mullan presented a snap shot of his style and philosophy of DJing, using tracks from the IntelliNET catalog. It’s still worth tracking down.
Building Blocks 2
The IntelliNET group of labels showcase more of the considerable talent they have nestling under their wing, this time your guide on this sonic tour is Chicago DJ, Terry Mullan. This 17 track continuous mix collection covers a wide area of music, from the edgy, deep acid of FUSE’s trip de force “Substance Abuse” to Terrence Parker’s piano extravaganza “Emancipation of My Soul.” Mullan directs the mix very smoothly and having seen him live in SF recently I can say that this guy really knows how to groove a crowd into submission. He even slyly throws in Cybersonik’s seminal helping of robofunk, “Technarchy.”
You should expect this ‘cos Terry lurves his acid, he told me so before he played at Spundae on his last excusion to SF, he showed this when he played and he shows it especially clearly when the aforementioned “Technarchy” collides in the mix with “Substance Abuse” (the collision in question being no car crash, but a real smoove one). The mix between the latter track and “Freek” by Plastikman is long and stealthy, creeping up on you over several minutes, then before you know Robotman’s “DoDaDoo” is locked on, in the mix and out.
For the rest of this CD Terry works it out with tracks by Barada, Ian Pooley and Dirty House crew, amongst others. These mix collections serve the double purpose of entertaining the listeners and keeping non DJs up to date with the progress of IntelliNET and its large family of labels without forking out loads of readies for vinyl. The mix CD is really becoming a staple for many underground labels and this is certainly one way that independent imprints can make their mark in this watershed year.
Regardless of market banter “Building Blocks 2” is a must for all lovers of the 303 and its squelchy magic, a strong follow up to the first Building Blocks which was mixed by Detroit disco doyen Terrence Parker, and a good introduction to the underground for anyone not familiar with IntelliNET’s sterling work thus far. Chris Orr