ARMAND VAN HELDEN with HONEY DIJON at the Docks (11 Polson), Friday (December 17). $25 advance, $30 before midnight, $35 after. 416-469-5655. Rating: NNNNN
In retrospect, it's a bit strange that Armand Van Helden ended up being one of the most commercially successful house producers of the 90s. He's always professed to be more into hiphop than house, happily remixed the cheesiest of pop songs, often came across in print as an angry, arrogant thug and criticized the house music underground every chance he got. "I don't put on the clown nose well. I don't deal with interviews and all this stuff well," admits Van Helden from his New York studio. "I'm just a guy who wakes up and makes beats. I don't care about the rest of it."
After being out of the limelight for a bit, he's back with a mix CD, New York: A Mix Odyssey, which more cynical types might describe as a mainstream rip-off of the house-rock-new-wave-disco-punk thing that's suddenly hip. Van Helden beats them to the punch, though, by freely admitting in the intro track of the CD that a true NYC mix should also have way more hiphop and that the label steered it in this direction, but that he's OK with that.
"I live in NYC, and it makes you realize that most people don't fit into just one thing. The culture forces you to be into other things. The big house scene here is long gone, so people like me end up with this because it's the only thing that's interesting right now."
The CD has some of the same vibe as the whole indie dance scene, but beefed up and crossed with that big-room club sound. If, like Van Helden, you don't care too much about being cool, it's pretty fun. It romps through tracks by Blondie, Felix Da Housecat, Yaz, Soft Cell, Yes, the Romantics and some new tracks by Van Helden himself along with some big clubby tracks and some current dance rock. Unfortunately, you probably won't hear a set this eclectic from him on Friday, since the Docks is one of the bigger rooms in town.
"I have my safe set and I have my experimental set. I bring both, but within a few songs I can tell what they're going to like. Younger crowds and big rooms want house, but sometimes I can get away with more."
He's also got another full album in the works, a format he's attempted a few time before but never with as much success as his long string of hit singles and remixes.
"The market doesn't accept albums, but I need to leave something more than just a bunch of singles; an album is more permanent. Dance albums are boring, though. I don't blame the audience for not being into them. I can't think of a dance album I'd want to listen to all the way through.
"You have a choice - you can make a song that's just a vibe, that you're going to play for a month or two and forget, or you can make a song that people are going to remember forever.
"I can't understand why you would want to go through all the work of making and releasing a track just to put out a vibe, but everyone's so caught up on being underground and cool.
"I don't know much about underground credibility, but I do know most of these guys are making music for the wrong reasons."