Like so many new, exciting developments too fresh to be shoved down young America's throat via the full-court media press, club and rave DJ culture gestated in Europe's hippest cities. While DJs were lauded here pretty much only in conjunction with the exploding hip-hop scene, overseas they were coming into their own as creative artists, forging new sounds, touring, releasing records and even staging elaborate visual shows updating the psychedelic rock-club environments of the '60s.Of course, some of our nation's more forward-thinking cities shortly got into the act, just as the '90s really got going. Most of them were the usual cosmopolitan hip-culture hotspots — San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York.
It still seems a little weird that Disney Central emerged as a hotbed of early domestic electronic-music originality. Maybe it was the constant influx of tourists, and their tastes, from abroad. Maybe it was the concurrent rise of the area as Hollywood East, a development that brought plenty of creative, hungry young industry hopefuls to town and upped its hipness quotient considerably. Maybe it was the city's status as a magnet for gay culture, and the accompanying adventurous attitude towards clubs and nightlife.
Whatever the reasons, Orlando DJs, promoters and rave-show crews helped pioneer sounds and styles that still push the outer edges of America's ever-expanding dance floor milieu.
"Orlando had a great scene in the early and mid '90s for electronic dance music," confirms DJ Icey in an e-mail interview. He's arguably O-Town's most prolific and widely known turntable jockey, the man Mixmag in '98 dubbed "The King of the Funky Breaks."
"The club scene was very vibrant on a week-in, week-out basis, and the people were into the music," he continues. "We had a lot of big one-off parties as well — it was very inspiring to play in a scene where everyone was so passionate about the music."
Several of the area's artists rose to notoriety on the strength of elaborate, rave-esque live spectacles. Icey (aka Eddie Pappa), on the other hand, staked his claim to fame as a club DJ, earning a residence at late, semi-legendary Orlando nightspot The Edge. His particular area of expertise lay in refining the style known as breakbeat, a big, upbeat offshoot of techno that utilizes sampled loops of live drum fills to lend the music a more syncopated, organic feel.
His mixes — and zeal for enticing European acts like the Chemical Brothers to showcase in the U.S. — caught the attention of U.K. DJ and electronic-music kingpin Pete Tong, who put out a number of Icey's original tracks on his ffrr label. In 2000, Tong invited him to contribute a disc to the watermark Essential Mix series; Icey was the first American to do so.
"Pete Tong rules the U.K., so recording for Essential opened me up to a wider audience — it's a brand name worldwide," says Icey. "I also did some mixes for his weekly "Radio One Essential Mix" radio program [aired on Britain's Radio One]."
For younger mix-CD fans, Icey may have been the first jock they heard to so heavily showcase hip-hop, R&B and soul grooves in dance music. He's quick to point out, however, that there were plenty before who not only influenced his style, but also provided him with material from which to draw.
"I would shop for loads of 25-cent records at the Salvation Army just to find that one dry, two-second drum break to sample there were loads of records I heard in the early '90s that did it all before me. Way before me," he says. "Jungle Brothers bootlegs, Tribe Called Quest samples, The Bar Kays, using '80s funk, '70s rock. It's been going on since the sampler was invented."
Icey bolstered his reputation as a top-notch club performer by touring harder than most of his peers. Between road-jaunts, he continued to put out an astonishing amount of stuff, both of the original and re-mix variety. His mix CDs have earned special acclaim — while the popular format has become plagued by micro-genres and mood-setting (you've got your chillout mixes, your downtempo mixes, your get-amped-for-the-club mixes, etc.), Icey's discs usually strive to recreate the joyful, dynamic feel of a live club set.
"When I do a mix, I just want to make it flow from beginning to end," he says, "with a more dance floor vibe that kind of winds down and chills out at the end."
Most of his time in recent years has been spent in the studio — he's got an eclectic new compilation, For the Love of the Beat, slated for release in a week or so. But Icey still remembers that the clubs made him, and he continues to do guest sets and club appearances as often as he can.
"If I had to pick a favorite of the three [producing originals, re-mixing, or spinning live], it would have to be where I started from, DJing," Icey says. "There's nothing like crafting a set of music to a different crowd in a different city, week in and week out, and getting to experience the music with the crowd."
So You Wanna Be a Rock Star
There's a new label in town, kids. Pinellas County's nascent Glitter Records is looking for acts to fill out its first offering, which, in accordance with indie-label dogma, will be a locally oriented compilation.
Glitter mastermind Justin DeNova's press release states that, while a couple of the area's most well-known punk-type names have already thrown in, he's still looking to fill about 25 slots with just about anything that's guitar-oriented ("punk, metal, emo, etc.") and doesn't suck.
After the disc, Making a Scene, is completed, Glitter is planning a big release to-do at St. Pete's Jannus Landing. Here's the interesting part: Bands will be allowed to select their own time slot on the show, once they've sold a paltry four copies of the record. That means the first bands to hand over the 40 bucks — don't even think about just lying and using your own dough, the Glitter spies will be watching — will get the best slots. Also, since there are a limited number of slots available, if you don't move fast, you'll just have to settle for having a track on the comp. Unless, of course, Glitter thinks you absolutely rule, and decides to make your full-length the imprint's next project.
Interested parties can make contact at [email protected], and send material to: Glitter Records, c/o Justin DeNova, P.O. Box 2043, Palm Harbor, FL 34682. Get on it — the deadline's May 20.
Contact Music Critic Scott Harrell at 813-248-8888, ext. 109, or [email protected].