By Bob Gourley | Originally published in 2004
Moving beyond his house music roots, Colorado’s DJ Harry has unleashed “Collision,” a fantastic new collection of his own electronic music. The album brings together a wide variety of styles and tempos, and manages to at the same time be musically complex and undeniably catchy. But breaking out of the 125 beat per minute structure of house music didn’t necessarily come easy for Harry, as he told us in the following phone interview.
What is the electronic music scene like in Colorado?
DJ HARRY: “Denver is a stop for all the big house music acts. So pretty much anyone who is anyone in the electronic music scene comes through Denver. There are a few smaller superclubs. So you get a chance to see everyone a couple of times a year. But it’s more in Denver, the larger market, than it is elsewhere (in CO). House music, unfortunately, due to lack of radio play and major label support hasn’t really made it out of the bigger markets in the mainstream sense. The vibe in Denver, though, is hit and miss. The scene has been huge, like in the mid 90’s there were raves with 4000 people. When house music was blowing up nationally. And there are other times, like now, when there is not much of an underground scene.”
Having been a DJ for many years, how did you come to start releasing your own music?
DJ HARRY: “That’s always been the goal. Before I am a DJ, I am a musician. My mother is a piano teacher, I have taken music lessons since I was very young. I went to college for music. So, really, the question is more how did a musician end up being a DJ? And for me, I could never find people to play with. I played the guitar growing up. I grew up in the ’80s, so I wanted to be a guitar god as everyone did when metal and rock was really hot. I grew up in a smaller town in the Midwest and I could never find the right combination of people to play with. So I moved out to California to further my search of a kind of sound and other musicians to hook up with. I went to a rave and was blown away by the energy at the party and the fact that one person could be in charge and in control of such a large group of people. I knew immediately that it was for me. I’m going to do this, I’m going to be great at it. This is what I’m going to do. With a musical background, having taken music theory and really understanding the inner workings of music and melody and chord structures and what not, DJing came very , very quickly to me. Probably 10 weeks after picking it up I was doing very big dates on the rave circuit.”
Were you doing any of your own music back then?
DJ HARRY: “It started out as just DJing, but the intention from the beginning was to make records. It took me quite a while to actually complete my first project. I think part of that was that I should have been living in San Francisco and would have been producing a lot more. I started buying gear shortly after I began DJing but was never able to get to the final step of getting my music to a label. I was actually doing a live PA for a lot of the mid-90’s. I would work on stuff in the studio and lug out a whole studio of gear to a gig and perform live. But I think that there was a crucial element missing for me. I could start a million things, but I couldn’t finish one. I was doing this as a solo act, and I had a lot of the artistic juice but not the side saying ‘ok, we’ve got to get this finished, we’ve got to put this where it’s supposed to go.’ So yeah, I was writing house music all along.”
How would you compare that early music to what we hear on the CDs?
DJ HARRY: “I would say that before, I was writing strictly house music, or progressive house, or stuff you would hear in a club. And now it’s evolved into being much more musical and complex. With a dance track, it’s a drum line, a bass line, and a hook. I think eventually I want to get more into singer/songwriter types of arrangements. Having a musical background, I hear all sorts of sounds and it’s hard for me to strip something down to a track-type basis. So it’s gone from me being in a closet doing simple things to really letting it bloom. The complexity is much more interesting me, to sum it up.”
Do you test out your tracks during your DJ sets?
DJ HARRY: “Absolutely. For the first album that I did, ‘String Cheese Remix Project,’ which was on Instinct, those were all house tracks. And I would constantly test those tracks, nightly and weekly, and change them based on crowd response. With this album , since it’s less house music, it was very difficult for me to complete it because having played house music for 10 years, my mind thinks at 125 beats per minute. And this album has a lot of music that’s 100 bpm, which is considered downtempo. And then there’s some mid-tempo, at about 117 bpm, which feels a little slow to be house. I realized with house music never really taking off that a lot of people I knew who didn’t really know a lot about electronic music all of a sudden knew who certain people were. Like Thievery Corporation. Or Groove Armada. They knew these electronic acts, who to me are an extension of house music but they are playing at more familiar and appealing tempos and beats. So when you have a down tempo track, it has almost a hip-hop flair to it. In my writing this album it took me a while to adjust my brain to a tempo other than 125 bpm. The house tracks I would play out as much as possible to get dance floor feedback, but then I would take these other tracks to DJs who were playing these different tempos and have them test them out on the dance floor. And I would watch the response. I also ran these tracks by a lot of people who weren’t familiar with electronic music , because I feel I have a sound that can appeal to a broad audience, without being watered down or too general.”