Paul E. Lopes

Popular DJ busts out of his T.O. box

PAUL E. LOPES CD RELEASE PARTY with DJs PAUL E. LOPES, NICK HOLDER, ABACUS, JOJO FLORES, PATRICK PAREDES, BLUEPRINT, MORENO and a live performance by SACHA presented by Garage 416 Friday (June 21) at Roxy Blu (12 Brant). $15 advance, $20 at the door.

Rating: NNNNN

Ask DJ’s and promoters in Toronto’s deephouse scene about Paul E. Lopes’s Whatnaut: House DJ mix CD and you’ll get a very surprised response. Not that Lopes is unqualified to represent Toronto’s house scene to the world, but it seemed unlikely that a major label would be clued in enough to choose him for a compilation. After all, Lopes is in many ways the DJ’s DJ, not a flavour-of-the-month superstar or shameless self-promoter.

He’s respected for his vast record collection, impeccable mixing and veteran status as a DJ. See him spin at a club and he looks like he was born to do it — his big ear-to-ear grin lets everybody know he’s having as good a time as those down on the floor.

As much as we’d like it if these were the criteria used by major record labels to choose DJs to do mix compilations, in reality those honours usually go to the ones with the best knack for self-promotion and the most contacts.

“Everybody asks me that: “How did this happen?’ Lopes agrees over a sunny patio brunch. “Honestly, Virgin actually has its pulse on the scene. The people they’ve hired, from the top down to marketing, are all young cats who know what’s going on and were coming out to see us spin before they even had their jobs.”

Still, despite soulful house’s peculiar popularity in the local club scene, it’s pretty much a small niche market worldwide — not exactly a sure bet for a major to take a chance on. Are things really changing that much in the traditionally rock-centric North American record industry?

“House has become one of the major influences on music in general. It’s not marginalized any more. Cher and Kylie Minogue do house records, and in some ways they’re not so different from underground house. People’s ears are used to it now, so there’s room for someone like Jazzanova to get big because the music isn’t foreign to anybody.”

Whatnaut: House opens with Feeling So Good, a laid-back Fender Rhodes-driven reworking of an obscure Quebecois underground disco classic, produced by Lopes and Patrick Paredes under the moniker Augusta and featuring Ivana Santilli on vocals.

Not laid-back in the lounge house sense, though. This is bouncy, funky rootsy dance music that sounds like it could have been made at any point in the past 25 years. The two other tracks on the album produced by Augusta are also standouts — especially See Thru You, featuring Sacha, a stripped-down, raw, vocal house track that shakes and swings like dance music is supposed to.

There’s good Canadian representation all through the disc. Abacus remixes Directions, and Richard Brooks/Wes Parks and Nick Holder/Sirus are featured as well. There are also a few pretty big international tracks, like Erro’s Change For Me, a standard for the past year at deeper parties.

“My one rule for this was not to make it too heavy,” he says. “You need that sense of fun. If you take it too seriously, then that’s the end of it. This music isn’t based on being serious it’s based on having fun. It goes in cycles, though. For a while everything is all spiritual and intense, and then it turns around and everything is silly and cheesy. It’s a shame we can’t have more continuity.”

Lopes was a key influence on many Toronto DJs through his Vibes ‘N’ Stuff radio show on CIUT. The show, which ran from 1994 to 98, was an eclectic stew of jazz, rare groove, hiphop, house and soul, and helped provide the foundation for the current jazz funk DJ scene.

Since 98, Lopes’s style has become more and more house-based, but for him it’s always been about his personal slogan: “Good music for good people.”

“The hedonistic stuff I just can’t relate to. My roots in music are really in what I heard around me playing in the park when I was four years old — reggae. Everything I play has history behind it, whereas what people play in the hedonistic environment is all about being new.”

Lopes’s own history as a DJ stretches back to 1982, when he was 13. Growing up in the high-rise, low-income area at Caledonia and Lawrence known as the Village, he was heavily influenced by the reggae and early hiphop being played in parks.

“The cool thing to do at the time was to rap, breakdance or be a DJ I went to the DJing cuz I was too scared I’d break my neck breakdancing. You’d play recreation centres, high schools, basement parties and breakdance competitions. That was what was available to a 14-year-old kid at the time.”

His first club gigs were in the West Indian community, which must have been a strange sight at the time — a little Portuguese kid spinning reggae and funk for a black crowd.

“It was kind of weird, but I didn’t know anything else. My public school at the time was the most racially diverse in the world. It was all new immigrants, so there was a bit of everything. Culture shock for me wasn’t DJing at Jamaican parties, it was going to Central Tech and seeing all these other Portuguese kids my age, because I didn’t grow up in that culture at all. They were all rockers at the time.”

Lopes is adamant about not following trends too closely, having seen too many DJs burn out trying to keep up. He is, however, taking notice of the overhyped electro revival, confessing that he’s finding its goofiness a healthy counterpoint to the earnest seriousness of the deep house scene.

“I hate to say it, but I like what electro revival is doing — they’re making it fun again, and it’s sort of the anti-pretentious. I actually like it more now than when electro was first coming out in the early 80s. At that time it was looked at as kiddie music, breakdancing songs. I preferred clubbier music back then because you couldn’t get away with playing the electro songs in the club scene. I remember playing Rockit, by Herbie Hancock, when it came out, and people started booing because they wanted soulful funky stuff.”

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