What is “House” music?

The "House" music scene is alive but not thriving in Charlotte.

You walk into the club. It’s a Thursday night, and you’re starting the weekend early.

You had just enough time after work to go home and change into something more comfortable. This scene doesn’t require cosmo attire — no cocktail dresses and stilettos, no blazers and button-downs. Here, Air Force Ones and flip-flops are not only accepted, they’re encouraged.

You’re inside and the music hits you – someone is playing bongos to the left, a photographer is taking pictures to your right and a deejay (possibly Johnnie Davis) is spinning music right in front of you. Everyone is on the floor, swaying to the music, feeling it.

You realize this is not the typical Charlotte club atmosphere.

This, Davis says, is not a party at all. He wouldn’t accept such blasphemy even if you called it that.

No, he says, this is an “experience.”

This is a movement – it’s House Music.

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What is house music?

House music became popular in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s and is the child of funk, soul and disco. But don’t confuse it with techno music, said DT Hayes, a Qcity event planner and promoter.

Hayes and house music are both natives of Chicago, so he knows a lot about the sound.

Many fans call house music a feeling. A mood. But at its essence, it’s electronic music that incorporates lots of drums and has a strong bass line.

And out of house came deep soulful house, Hayes said. When the father of house, Frankie Knuckles, left Chicago and moved east, he blended R&B with electronic beats.

What does deep soulful house most sound like?

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Probably the club mix of a neo-soul hit.

Well, not “neo-soul,” said Charlotte event promoter Mike Kitchen, the man behind The Sol Kitchen. But it is soul music with a hip-hop influence.

Struggling Charlotte scene

Davis, the Charlotte DJ, is a New Jersey transplant who arrived in the Qcity more than four years ago. As a newcomer, he longed to hear the sounds of home.

He tried various clubs but kept running into commercial pop/R&B/hip hop that even true fans of each genre would dismiss. Sometimes he’d luck up on a “house night,” but those were too few and too far between for his liking.

The Charlotte house scene is struggling, Davis says. But it wasn’t always the case.

Ki-Ki Brown has been involved in the Charlotte house scene for more than a decade. Brown, a senior account executive for Q92-FM, says house has a push-pull relationship with the Queen City. There’s no consistency.

In the ‘90s, clubs really got into the scene, she said. But as more transplants settled in the area, local clubs more readily abandoned the sound in favor of Top 40 hits.

“Clubs wanted to appeal to the 18-and-up crowd,” Brown said with acknowledgment (and maybe a touch of sadness).

And house is best appreciated by the 25-pluses, she added.

Davis agrees.

Go to “quote-unquote black clubs,” he said, and you don’t get soul. You get Soulja Boy. You get “ringtones.”

“You’ve got your mainstreamers,” Davis said. “If it’s not on the radio, they don’t want to hear it.”

Where’s the disconnect?

Davis says Charlotte needs to be more like Atlanta.

It needs fertile ground (more venues to showcase the music) and a receptive audience. More Carolinas residents need to be willing to take a chance on deep, soulful house, he says.

Why aren’t they taking a chance now?

There’s a misconception that house is “gay music,” he said.

While house emerged from the gay community in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Davis says house is now global, with fans in Asia, Europe and Africa.

But stateside, especially in the South, house fans are closeted, Brown said. “House music has gone back in the house,” with private parties and get-togethers.

But with the steady stream of transplants to Charlotte, Brown said more venues need to offer a house alternative and stay with it to build a following.

Kitchen agrees.

“With so many people in Charlotte now from different backgrounds and cities, you just need to find a way to touch these folks,” the promoter said. “…Charlotte has enough people for a club like (the non-defunct HOM, which regularly played house) to survive, but again you have to find the people to support it.”

Davis and Hayes hope their alliance, the Charlotte House Music Society (http://www.myspace.com/clthousemusic), can grow and sustain the house scene.

The partners, who’ve collaborated on events since 2006, have united deejays, promoters, club owners and fans. Their “experiences” aren’t to be missed, Davis said.

Saving the sound

Queen City house heads seem to agree that city needs to expand efforts to reach other house heads to let them know there is a scene. And if others were exposed to house, they’d likely enjoy what they heard.

Hayes says he makes sure to blast house in his car when his friends ride with him, just so they’ll be aware of the music.

Hayes and Davis agree that house likes being unconventional and nonconformist. It never sold out like other genres, never became generic.

But expanding house’s audience won’t taint it, Hayes says. In fact, it could save the sound.

“It’s about bringing education and making sure it doesn’t die,” Hayes said. “I want someone like me from the next generation who’ll be doing what I’m doing.

“You’re not going to reach everybody. But I want to touch at least one person.”

***

Catch Johnnie Davis and other house DJs every second Thursday at Apostrophe Lounge(http://www.apostrophelounge.com), 1440 S. Tryon St. There’s no cover. Dress code: “Come dressed to dance.”

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