Hard house hardass Armand Van Helden has been dance music's enfant terrible for years now. His releases tend to lean to the left of the dancefloor he once sampled the Scorpions, for god's sake. But like any great DJ, he knows a good, if off-center, dance hook when he hears one. (His particularly grimy remix of a Tori Amos track set off speed garage, a minor UK subgenre, nearly a decade ago.)
But as such, Armand has become dance music's Flavor Flav.
With Ghetto Blaster, AVH is back to being its Chuck D. The album is a loving tribute to dance music's roots, to a time when groups like Inner City mixed techno and wailing divas and hip-hop groups made house remixes. It's hard not to hear GB as a reaction to the current sate of dance music, with its chin-stroking and veneration of its old-timers in lieu of new and exciting tracks. AVH reminds us that that before dance music was intelligent, or progressive, it was something fun to wobble around in the dark to with a buzz on at two in the morning. And Ghetto Blaster doesn't disappoint. "Go Crazy," is just that, the same kind of pumping ascending synth bass line New Order mined for "Bizarre Love Triangle," only now taken back to its disco and new wave roots in a shout-out to, well, go crazy.
Other forms of electronic music have weathered the retro storm; electro clash was the last also-ran on the whole punk-funk thing of the late '80s.
Dance music can be less forgiving with its insecurities about being relevant and important. AVH is just saying that clubs were more fun when you could hear Bronski Beat, P-Funk, New Order and Kraftwerk alongside techno 12-inches and hip-house hybrids. Maybe the music is more fun than it is good, too, but if he can get rapper Fat Joe to drop the hook on "Touch Your Toes," a dancefloor call to women to show their behinds as well as any DJ Assault track ever could, he's doing something right.
Hobey Echlin writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].