Roger Sanchez & Armand Van Helden: Two Nights, Two Legends

New York City’s dancemusic scene is hopping. With the arrival of the Eric Morillo’s new Pacha in a few weeks and Crobar continuing a pretty good run, Cielo is packing them in as well. All kinds of new venues are appearing out of the woodwork. There’s the new SOL and the old Centro Fly is now Duvet. Plenty of parties kicking off where you can hear house music in the city. A far cry from just a few years ago, when the double hit of the dot com crash and 9/11 took a bit out of the Big Apple’s club community.

Roger Sanchez at CieloLast Thursday (November 10th), I took my Konica Minolta Dimage A200 to Cielo to catch a few shots of Roger Sanchez manning the decks. Usually, Cielo is fairly crowded at a certain hour, but having made the transition from local superstar who couldn’t get shot in his own backyard to a certifiable attraction, punters were lined up down the block waiting to get in. Inside, people were dancing like crazy. As usual, Roger was killing them with his brand of uplifting, latin tinged house music anthems. Never one to just stay with one style, the “S-Man” leaned a bit progressive, dropped a few anthems, went deep, and dabbled in tech house. His selection was tight and the mixes flawless.

Per usual, Roger’s sets are filled with beats that’ll make you move your feet, with most culled straight from the U.K., where his legendary status as one of house music’s early pioneers (and arguably its hardest working DJ) keeps him squarely in the international spotlight.

It warms my heart to see Roger so loved by the crowd at Cielo. One of the world’s best DJs and most prolific house music producers deserves a spot in New York City, where he can bring the party vibe and be supported by the dancemusic and club community.

I didn’t have much time to get a list of the tracks he was playing in his set. Camera in hand, I really wanted to get a few good shots of Roger, and I did just that. I think the photos here capture the essence of a man so driven and motivated, always giving 100% behind the tables. I hope you agree.

Roger Sancez at CieloSpeaking of tables, I must be living under a rock. Is anyone using vinyl anymore? All the top DJs are spinning CD’s on Pioneer’s CDJ-1000’s. For both Roger and Armand Van Helden’s sets…it was all CD.

I know there are still some cats spinning vinyl out there, but the move to digital is growing ever more present in the world of major touring DJs. I guess it’s necessary, as some complain about their record boxes being lost or held up by airport screeners as they’re searched. I’d move to CD too. To cut down on the drama. Take a couple of CD-books on the plane with you–travel light, that’s the way to go.

I’m moving directly to MP3 and using Traktor DJ software for my Netmix mixes. If my computer ever gets lost or crashes, I can download a new copy of Traktor, get all my tracks from a password protected server or directly from my account at Beatport.com, and be up and running in no time. The only thing I’d worry about is losing my M-Audio firewire interface. Need that for the headphones feature, so I can cue up tracks in Traktor.

I know that both Roger Sanchez and Armand Van Helden moved up in this year’s DJ Mag Top 100 poll. Does this mean house is making a comeback? Tipping the scales from Tiesto-like trance anthems back to a more soulful or chunky house sound? That remains to be seen, and I’m not out there enough nowadays to really make the call. If anyone wants to comment, I welcome your feedback below.

Armand Van Helden at Avalon

Promoting his first full-length album in five years, Nympho (Ultra Records), Armand Van Helden made an appearance last night at New York’s trendy Avalon, a club catering more to college kids from NYU than real hard core punters. Armand and I have a long history of working with the group that owns and operates Avalon Boston, and now Avalon New York. Early in our careers, when we worked together at X-Mix, we both spun for the owners John and Pat Lyons on occasion.

Avalon New York

When I arrived with my friend Sima (a singer on her way to superstardom) we had a bit of a problem accessing the venue because my name was not on the list. A nice young woman, Milo, who ran the list, gracefully comped us after seeing my camera bag and realizing a guy with salt and pepper hair probably wasn’t there to hang with the early crowd. It was kind of a college hip hop fest.

In fact, when we got into the main room, a scratch DJ was performing on stage. At the end of his set, members of hip hop group Black Moon and a few of the guys from Wu-Tang took the stage to perform, but the performance was cut off by the club for some unkown reason. Maybe they ran out of time? I don’t know. Things were starting to get a little hectic. Some pushing, a little shoving, but then it calmed down and the door staff cleared the stage.

It was a bit odd, but I know how much Armand loves hip hop. I don’t think he had much to do with the earlier event. He didn’t arrive until 1:30 a.m., well after the hip hop heads chilled out and left for the chapel, where kids were grinding to the latest Kanye and 50 Cent tracks the rest of the night.

I’m pretty confident that the club double books parties. They’ll book something til 12 and then switch over to a different format after a certain hour. Avalon in Boston does same thing to try generate revenues well before their 2 a.m. closing time. I’m not sure, judging from the thin crowd that the strategy really works here. Then again, I write a blog and I don’t own a nightclub. Who knows what works and what doesn’t?

I can tell you there weren’t many people on the main floor before Van Helden dropped his first record. Most likely because of the cheesy Euro dance being played by the warm-up DJ, a lot of head’s seemed to be packed into chapel to the hip hop beats.

Avalon is housed in and old church on 20th Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan, which is controversial club imprasario Peter Gatien’s former superclub, the Limelight. The chapel area houses a DJ booth, as does the bathroom upstairs. The main room features a DJ booth where the organist most likely would have been, back when the church was in use.

Avalon New YorkHangin in the DJ booth was Netmix hip hop guru Madsol Desar and Spalding Rockwell’s ML and Nicole, who appear as vocalists on both “Hear My Name” and “Jenny” off the Nympho album. Armand was rockin it as usual, tight mixes, pumping his hits off the album as well as a number of hot tracks that chugged along eliciting cheers from the punters down below.

Not only is Armand growing musically, but his sense of personal style is also changing. Gone is the hip hop gear that marked his wardrobe for some time. Understated, baggy jeans and a brown sweater with an image of Jimi Hendrix adorning the front is a far cry from the colorful Ecko-wear he sported only a few years ago.

Armand Van HeldenInteresting to note, Van Helden wears a wrist band when he’s spinning. Don’t know if that’s a fashion statement or keeps his hands dry. I’ll have to ask him about that next time I see him.

Of course, no self-respecting dancemusic industry blogger would finish a posting without showing the obligatory gratuitous photo of a few of Avalon’s dancers, pictured here, hanging in the DJ booth for a minute to flirt with the superstar.

Oh come on people! Sex sells! And, by the way, while you’re at it… make sure to click on one of the ads below! I gotta get paid, baby!

Avalon Dancers

Check out these quotes from around the music world about Nympho:

“Van Helden’s hetero-campy persona romps all over this proper follow-up to 2000’s house-music piss-off Killing Puritans – chest-pumping vocals, his own thrashy, dragstrip guitar. But there are also slinky, sprawling anthems galore, pumped full of heavy-breathing bass lines. Nodding not at all to precision-cut micro-house or electro kitsch, this is just a raw dance floor passion.”

A- SPIN Sept. 2005

“Forgoing both R&B and hip-hop flavors, Nympho instead builds upon his love for current and vintage rock in an inspired house-punk fusion that’s farmore dance-worthy than most guitar-band albums attempting a similar coalition.”

Barry Walters / Rollingstone Magazine Sept 2005

“House music’s bad boy finally delivers a worthy follow-up to 2000’s Killing Puritans. When filtered vocals, grungy guitars, and juicy hooks collide, as on the hyped up “My, My, My,” Nympho becomes a dirty disco-rock party worth losing sleep over.”

B+ Raymond Fiore / Entertainment Weekly Sept. 9, 2005

“At the damn near geriatric age of 33, AVH might be the granddaddy of the hip-house scene, but old dawgs can learn new tricks. “Nympho” is a raucous brew of agro-house tinged with punk rock, transforming the usual “oontz-oontz” club beat into a weapon of mass deconstruction. Headz will spot the excellent “Hear My Name” and “My My My” from the 2004 mix comp New York: A Mix Odyssey, while new cuts like “Sugar” and “The Tear Drop” simply surge.”

Billy Murphy / Future Music Magazine Oct. 2005

“The dance album of the summer is not coming out in the United States until the fall…Nympho is the latest from dance antihero Armand Van Helden. It is his first original collection since 2000 and a fitting follow-up to his 2004 DJ-mix compilation “New York: A Mix Odyssey,” which braided 80’s standards from Soft Cell and Blondie with new ones from Heavy Rock and Van Helden himself.”

Kerri Mason / Billboard July 2005

“Nympho’s amazing title track (featuring Virgin Killer) kicks off the disc with wicked cowbells, rock guitars and pounding beats. All the while, Killer drops an insane screeching vocal. Hot damn, what an intro! “Into Your Eyes” is a nostalgia trip that jacks Andy Taylor’s (ex-Duran Duran axe man) 1987 track “I Might Lie.” Later, Spalding Rockwell reunites with Van Helden (they also appear here on the hit “Hear My name”) on “Jenny,” a vicious electro-pink track. Just listen to this album and become immersed in Armand Van Helden’s genius.

Jay Kay / Big Shot Sept. 2005

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