DJ Sprinkles, Midtown 120 Blues

[Mule Musiq]

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Like disco before it, house music was born in queer club culture, one of the few places its artists and patrons — mostly gay minority men — could be themselves without fear of reprisal. And also like disco, house was co-opted by ever larger audiences, shedding its ethnicity and sexuality along the way. With this in mind, Terre Thaemlitz begins Midtown 120 Blues with a challenging statement: “House isn’t so much a sound as a situation.” As she dismisses popular perceptions of what informs house — “life, love, happiness” — in favor of more concrete ones — addiction, sexual/gender crises, queer-bashing, censorship — and frames house geographically in “East Jersey, Loisaida, West Village, and Brooklyn” rather than as a universal phenomenon, the situations which defined the music for him become clearer.

Thaemlitz left the American Midwest in 1986 for New York City, where he DJed in midtown Manhattan transsexual clubs as DJ Sprinkles and witnessed the first bloom of deep-house. Roughly twenty years later, as the sound and definition of deep-house has expanded immeasurably, Midtown 120 Blues serves as an elegy for the scene as she knew it and a kiss off to its current de-contextualized form. Although countless tracks and dozens of artists vocally revere the roots of house music, few offer more than platitudes about its origins. By pointing out its blanched, commercialized trajectory in a series of no-punches-pulled monologues and samples, Thaemlitz bravely confronts listeners with oft glossed over issues and participants in history. Given the scarcity of house tracks which address any sort of social issues, an entire album cast in such a light is a rare, engrossing treat.

Whereas the concepts Thaemlitz presents are provocative, the music of Midtown is more serene. Draped in lush, droning chords, punctuated by crisp, mechanical hi-hat dashes and synthetic snare ellipses, and hovering instead of stomping, its deep-house sound is so deep it’s practically ambient at times. Piano is splashed across many of the album’s 10 tracks in broad, resonating chords carrying listeners forward as much as the percussion. Flute, acoustic guitar and drums and a few other elements round out the sound, underlining particularly emotional motifs and pushing the material towards self-described “fagjazz” on “Sisters, I Don’t Know What This World Is Coming To” and “Reverse Rotation” with Kuniyuki. Taken together, it’s a gorgeous, twilight aesthetic that hits notes of sorrow, longing and contemplation.

Nominally a house album, Midtown flirts with the dance floor only on a few songs, though it’s quite satisfying each time it does. “Midtown 120 Blues” is simple and effective, colored by two massive piano chords that decay slowly, as alacrative percussion carves out the groove. Joined by pulverizing sub-bass, depth-plumbing bass notes and a disembodied diva’s single-word refrain, the track’s subtle tweaks keep it continuously compelling. “Grand Central, Pt. I (Deep Into The Bowel Of House)” and “House Music Is A Controllable Desire You Can Own” have fuller sounds and rest at the dance floor’s edge. Thick with sub-bass and gently modulating pads, Thaemlitz’s use of limber bass tones, catchy little progressions and endlessly refined percussion patterns draw listeners through their bountiful lengths.

Other tracks like “Brenda’s $20 Dilemma” and “Grand Central, Pt. II (72 Hrs. By Rail From Missouri)” have the hallmarks of house but are content with ambience, blanketing listeners in sublime pads marbled with wandering synth melodies and sampled vocals. The album’s most emotionally evocative song, “Ball’r (Madonna-Free Zone),” is also its best, layering drag queens’ playful leering atop interwoven melodies undulating in and out of focus. Mournful yet tinged with hints of past cheer, it’s a candid reflection of the vibe Thaemlitz misses. Even if the listener doesn’t yearn for the same things, the concepts, mood and slowly unfolding chapters of Midtown 120 Blues create an atmosphere ripe for reflection on people and places which no longer exist as they once did.

stu  on December 10, 2008 at 9:16 PM

nice review.

smn  on December 11, 2008 at 6:30 AM

Yeah, nice review.

And that Midtown 120 Blues track has just blown me away. It’s such a beautiful, sad, soulful track, and I could dance to that shit forever. It’s one of the best things I’ve heard all year. Now I just need to go and find the vinyl somewhere.


smn  on December 11, 2008 at 8:07 AM

Didn’t realise this hasn’t been released yet. Have heard a few tracks online though and wow, wow, wow. This better be HUGE when it comes out next year. People need to feel and hear it. Amazing…

littlewhiteearbuds  on December 11, 2008 at 9:53 AM

Well it has been released, just not yet widely in Europe/America (January 09). It’s actually been available in Japan and through the Comatonse website since September. But yeah, like you said, people need to hear it so we decided to sound the alarm a touch early.

ryan  on December 11, 2008 at 11:14 AM

i want to hear more of this album but i can’t find it anywhere else. i don’t think its release is until jan 29…

anybody have more info on it?

ryan  on December 11, 2008 at 11:17 AM

whoops, guess i hadn’t refreshed for awhile. ha

Patrick  on December 11, 2008 at 12:22 PM

Thanks, I didn’t know about this and I love the shit out of Terre Thaemlitz. “Genrecide (I Wish Tricky’d Die Anyway I Hope)” is the blueprint for how I think ambient should sound. Love Terre’s webpage, too, which captures the sort of confrontational brilliance of the music and the writing perfectly.


harpomarx42  on December 11, 2008 at 4:02 PM

This is a good album. Some of the songs don’t really live up to the mark, but each track has its own intricacies and idiosyncrasies that make them special. The first 2 tracks are the best, and they sound good when combined.

jake elliott  on December 11, 2008 at 4:08 PM

great review & it’s nice to hear this record after hearing so much about it. “ball’r” is really beautiful.

i’m having trouble figuring out what the release is like though; does anyone know is there/will there be a LP version or just CD?

littlewhiteearbuds  on December 11, 2008 at 5:28 PM

I think Terre prefers CDs (his discography suggests as much), so I’d be surprised if this comes out on LP.

Andrew  on December 12, 2008 at 2:15 AM

only listened once, a few weeks ago, but thought this started off very brightly then got a bit boring… will try again sometime.

doubt there’ll be a vinyl release of the whole album but there’s a 12″ out already with a few tracks from it.

Limbic  on December 12, 2008 at 3:37 AM

again nice picture…
nice review
and always a nice selection here on LWE!
Luv it!

henning around  on December 12, 2008 at 5:17 AM

the geradn central p. 1 12″ is already out on mule!
my 12″ of the yeasr by the way. so unique.

henning around  on December 12, 2008 at 5:18 AM

sorry, the GRAND central pt. 1…..slipped.

tibal  on December 12, 2008 at 2:33 PM

Thank you so much LWE for bringing this to my ears!

This is pure beauty and for me album of the year(if we consider it’s already out in Japan)

This is such a special album, astonishing, emotional, beauty!

Plus great review here! Well done!

Fred'Rec  on February 16, 2009 at 9:12 AM

Amazing work! Refreshing and looking forward! Need the LP!

Fred ze French Frog of Québec!

david  on April 20, 2009 at 2:19 PM

all life just in 1 dream…fuck!my men.very horny.

jo cam  on December 29, 2009 at 9:45 PM

I am strangely enamored by the love of repetitive machines. The air conditioner at naptime in my preschool, the refinery and it’s dull thud behind grandmas, and my dasd’s old buick and the strange clicking i listened to from LA to oregon when i was 4 years old. However, i never would would choose to listen to these, this is more my taste cya

imnotgivingmynametoamachine  on May 10, 2010 at 8:18 PM

A really soulful album.

Sean Levisman  on June 11, 2010 at 4:57 PM

Great review. However, I am confounded by an adjective you used — “alacrative”…

I’ve searched for a definition of this word online, and not only does it not show up, but your article is at the top of all search results. Did you come up with this word?

littlewhiteearbuds  on June 11, 2010 at 5:01 PM

Hey Sean, thanks for the kind words. In some ways I did come up with it, as I don’t think it’s a proper word. The word I was working off of is “alacrity,” which means “cheerful readiness.” Of course that didn’t fit into my sentence structure so I bent my own editing rules and made it work. Hope that helps!


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