Does rave need a do-over? Three decades on, some of the movement’s most ardent believers have become its fiercest critics. “Our scene has failed to live up to its utopian ideals, and to protect, value and uplift all of our peers,” Chrissy writes in the liner notes of his new album ‘Physical Release’, released last October on the Hooversound label. “No matter how fondly we remember our first raves, the culture was and is broken, and it’s our job to fix it.” Encouragingly, though, he goes on to say that many in the community are finally acknowledging this painful reality, and the need to rebuild.
Over dosas and curry at San Francisco DJ favourite Udupi Palace restaurant, Chrissy, a ball of bright energy in mismatched clothing and square-framed glasses, expands on his cri de coeur. “My biggest memory from early rave days was that feeling of just being in a cultural ecosystem that was completely ours and totally divorced from mainstream culture,” he says. “The diversity of the events, the fact that they were outside of the clubs, mostly alcohol-free, centred around music that the rest of the world hated and ridiculed. That feeling of having our own separate little paradise, however naive, is something I want to move back towards as a scene.”
His response is to wormhole back to rave’s roots — or at least somewhere around 1994 — delivering 11 tracks of exuberant, on-the-nose recreations of that far-off heyday’s bangers. An optimistic reboot, ‘Physical Release’ apes the trajectory of a full night out, with track titles like ‘The Map Point’, ‘Virgin Warehouse Space’, ‘Bust-Free Guaranteed’, and ‘Rooftop Sunrise’; punctuated by brief recordings of party-goers, expounding the benefits and wonders of the scene way back when.
“Obviously those specifics were a huge inspiration,” Chrissy says. “Calling the info-line to get the location, then driving around trying to find some warehouse. Listening out the window for the muffled thumping, until you saw some huge swarm of kids — and some promoter invariably yelling at them to get back inside before the cops rode by. I remember searching for ages for a warehouse in Chicago when Dub Shack brought DJ Dextrous, one of my fave jungle producers, all the way from London, in like 1995. Never managed to find the party, so I missed it. I guess you always remember the ones that got away...”
The longtime DJ/producer fell in love with electronic music listening to his big sister’s synthpop and club music cassettes as a child in Wichita, Kansas, gravitating towards Deee-Lite, Technotronic, and other dance acts that made it to the radio. A move to less provincial Kansas City as a pre-teen helped Chrissy find a small crew of fellow techno kids, who attended warehouse parties around the Midwest; a DJ and record clerk friend showed him how to work synths and make tracks.
After booking a few out-of-town gigs and signing a couple of record deals, it was time for bigger things. “I moved to Chicago basically because of house music,” Chrissy remembers. He quickly made a name as a dance music polymath, producing multiple footwork albums; releasing deep disco edits, freestyle records and straight-up pop tracks; launching the Cool Ranch and Nite Owl Diner labels; establishing a Smart Bar residency, and becoming the sort of DJ’s DJ renowned for steaming a set along from freshly minted juke to classic Philly soul. Another change came when he upended everything and moved to San Francisco, to keep things lively.
On ‘Physical Release’, veteran partiers may feel Chrissy has jacked directly into their lizard brains, triggering blurred recollections of twilights spent gurning around abandoned depots and soggy fields. We’re launched back into the hardcore realms of 2 Bad Mice, Rhythm Section, Double 99 and DJ Seduction, jungle and speed garage anthems aimed at a very big room, with nods to Roni Size and Armand Van Helden — and on ‘Feel The Spirit Move You’, even the frenetic disco house that kept ’90s gay clubs hopping until noon.
Whereas a handful of other recent releases have used ’90s elements to build recombinant worlds of personal expression — Posthuman’s ‘Requiem For A Rave’, Lone’s ‘Always In Your Head’, Eris Drew’s ‘Quivering in Time’ — unlike previous rave revivalists such as Zomby, Chrissy sticks close to the programme of emulating classic track structures and textures as much as possible, rejecting pastiche in favour of a more primal stimulus. That means he bravely flirts with the cheesiness still pungent in many of the era’s relics — soaring divas pouring out uplifting non sequiturs, bouncy ball basslines, piercing rave stabs and hoover synths breaking into full flight. Yet ‘Physical Release’ stays artful, dodging cliché.
You’d expect an album tracing a massive night’s arc to wind down with a bliss-out wash of warm tones, as the final cigarette is quashed and sunlight streaks through the bedroom blinds. Instead, Chrissy, who claims to own no ambient records (“I’m more likely to put on happy hardcore as background music”), gives us a ‘Rooftop Sunrise’, which sounds like the Orb gone pear-shaped, and a propulsive ‘Cuddle Puddle (Step Into My World)’, whose bird calls hint at 808 State’s eternally euphoric ‘Pacific’ — but in this case, the jittery 909 version. No gentle melting in with loons here.
“I started making music when a lot of those late ’80s, early ’90s synths and samplers used in old rave tunes were washing up in pawn shops dirt cheap. That’s the era of gear I first had access to, and still what I’m most familiar and comfortable with,” Chrissy says. “I make music on a modern computer with Ableton, but a lot of the synths I use are either those same vintage synths from that era, or software emulations.
“I never got into new genres that ironically appropriate the sound palettes of old genres. I don’t believe in guilty pleasures and I don’t really do ironic distance. If I love a genre, I dive all the way in and embrace it completely. It’s not cheap nostalgia.” ‘Physical Release’, he says, is less a paean to the past than a contemporary call to action, a rave simulacrum with political resonance.
“I think there’s a lot of overlap, politically and artistically, between right now and the early ’90s. The huge cultural divide, the resentment the young feel toward a previous generation that massively fucked them over, serious talk about the benefits of illegal drugs and reforming the laws around them, the societal project of having to repair the massive damage done by the previous Republican administration, followed by the half-assed job that the current wishy-washy centrist Democrats are doing... all these things feel very 1991-1992 to me.”
Putting out an album called ‘Physical Release’ just as many are only now stumbling back into clubs from their consoles has poignancy as well — Chrissy is hopeful it’s coming out at a time “when people other than myself might appreciate it!”
Releasing it on Hooversound, SHERELLE and Naina’s jungle and drum & bass label, thrills him. “The album isn’t necessarily as full-tilt uptempo as some of their releases, but I think it shares a similar ethos,” he says. “We also share a lot of views about the politics of the scene, and how nightlife and dance music could, should be better, kinder, safer and more equitable.”
Chrissy ‘Lift Me Up’ [Hooversound Recordings]
Donald's House ‘The Final Front Ear’ [Permanent Vacation]
Prototype ‘Come Back To Me (1990 Remix)’ [Pandisc]
Casiopepe ‘Euphoriac’ [Pets Recordings]
Jessica Williams ‘Queen Of Fools’ [Polydor]
The Three Degrees ‘The Runner’ [Ariola]
Kikrokos ‘Jungle DJ (Chrissy's Edit of Ron Hardy's Edit)’
Andi ‘Confess’ [Mecanica]
Saint Etienne ‘Burnt Out Car (Balearica)’ [Heavenly]
Hard Ton feat. Roy Inc. ‘Release’ [Balkan Vinyl]
Sharda ‘Dreamer (Gemi Remix)’ [Kiwi Records]
Big Ang ‘Catch The Light’
Usher ‘U Got It Bad (Soulpower Remix)’ [LaFace]
Community Theater (aka Chrissy & Maria Amor) ‘Let Me Party (Escaflowne Remix)’
[forthcoming Sorry Records]
Emz & Sam Binga ‘HEA’ [Pineapple Records]
Rootikal ‘Dengue Fever Riddim’ [Fox Fuse]
De Schuurman ‘Nu Ga Je Dansen’ [Nyege Nyege Tapes]
Jose 2 Hype feat. TeeCee ‘Funk In Me’ [2 Hype Records]
Chrissy ‘Wichita Roadman’ [forthcoming Permanent Vacation]
LMajor ‘Tear My Heart’ [Club Glow]
Guchon ‘Raccoon Hill (Chrissy Remix)’ [forthcoming Feelings]
Psychotropic ‘Hypnosis (SL2 Remix)’ [O2 Records]