The past year has been rough for Toronto dance music promoters, but the slump isn't just a local phenomenon. All over the world, club attendance and record sales are down, in part due to growing economic uncertainty, but also because of shifting trends.
San Francisco-based soulful jazzy house DJ David Harness isn't worried, though. He sees what's going on as a part of the natural evolution of the scene.
"A lot of people have been saying that house music is dead in the States, but it's not. It's just gone back to its true form, which is the underground," Harness explains from his Bay Area home. "Now the real heads, the ones who want to hear passion and pain, can go and frolic, instead of having people filling the clubs who don't appreciate it."
Harness has the distinction of being one of the few DJs playing soulful vocal house to a dedicated gay crowd. While the gay dance scene in general has moved toward the harder, trance-inspired circuit sound, Harness has maintained a relationship with his local queer community. He's also watched his crowd change so now a lot more straight faces appear on the dance floor. Either way, he's happy as long as they're there for the right reasons.
"I still have a huge gay following, but also a strong straight following, and I love that. That's the best type of vibe. You want to be someplace where it's just people who appreciate music. I don't necessarily want to be in a room that's all men, although I like that. I get a lot of girls out these days -- I'm a gay man, but if I were straight, I'd be real happy. I'd be getting into a lot of trouble, but I'd be real happy," he laughs.
Harness has been a major force in San Francisco's house scene for the past 10 years, DJing in clubs regularly as well as bringing his sound to the airwaves through a well-loved but now defunct radio show called Yo Mama's House, which had a successful five-year run.
Dance music in general has had a hard time fitting into radio, especially in the U.S. Harness feels his sound could be integrated into a hiphop and R&B format -- it has similar roots -- but acknowledges that house music is a bit of a tough sell to black audiences these days.
"Back when house was first coming out of New York and Chicago, it wasn't hitting everywhere else the same way. The way it was pushed and marketed then on the West Coast, we didn't think of it as house music, we just thought they were R&B records. But today a lot of the black kids here don't realize that house music is part of their culture. It's kind of sad, really."
Harness is currently touring to promote his new mix CD, Loveslapped Vol. 2, a fun, groovy mix of deep and jazzy house featuring some of the biggest names in the genre, as well as a couple remixes and productions of his own. He can barely contain his excitement over bringing his sound to new dance floors and is especially thrilled to be making his first appearance in Toronto.
"I'm so nervous. I've played numerous times in Vancouver and I've played Montreal, but I've always wanted to play Toronto because I've been told that Toronto loves its house music. I just wish I were going there in the summer."
DAVID HARNESS with the GROOVE INSTITUTE at Jai Bar (214 Adelaide West), Saturday (December 14). $15, $10 with flyer before 11:30 pm. email@example.com