JOE CLAUSSELL / “JOE CLAUSSELL MIXTAPE”
Source: Breath of Life (BoL Mixtape March 30, 2009)
The music exists.
To tell us that we can
(And ought to) be more
We already are
The final destination
I stood unsmiling, unable to see. A film of water called tears covering my eyes. The corpse of my father lay before me. At that moment in a church full of people, my two brothers near me, I felt utterly alone. Utterly. Alone.
In my heart were
A million songs
I don’t remember being born.
And undoubtedly I
Will not remember dying.
The two most astounding
events in my life and I
will have no memories of either.
This is why some of us cling so tenaciously to music. Because we are alive, and good music, real music is also alive. Our spiritual twin in the material world.
There is a lot of music I remember.
She came toward me. I don’t know which of us saw the other of us first. I know I was fascinated by the way she held her head, proudly on that graceful, ebony column that most observers would call her neck, except because of her eyes, the cut of her crisp cheekbones, the wide flash of her brilliant teeth, and below that the mesmerization of her hips as she danced whatever this dance was. I was in Cuba and this dance troupe was dancing and the music was playing and they were asking us guests to get up and join in. I do not need two invitations to musical banquets. So there I was, up in all my unclumsy hundred-eighty-plus pound hugeness, flowing into the music like one of those sea birds circling the bay, in fact I had my arms up parallel to the ground bend at the elbow and gently, oh so gently, twitching my shoulders to those drums, the rhythm perfect, and I was watching what the dancers who knew what they were doing was doing. Isn’t that one way we learn life, by watching those who know what they are doing and trying to do what they do? I must have been a good student because as I came out of one of those slow circles you make turning in place, your feet barely moving and your hips rocking and so synchronized with the beat you just close your eyes and flow with it and when I looked up after completing three-sixty, she was in front of me, encouraging me to keep dancing.
And I did. I danced. I. Danced.
I’m over sixty now and
I still can dance.
Say—if you dance
You’ll never grow old, well
At least not too old
I like Joaquin “Joe” Claussell. Joe Claussell makes dance music. Some times Joe sounds a war dance against division, against ignorance. Some times he serenades us with lover’s rock, the sounds of getting together, embracement. Joe’s music is mostly the stuff that moves the house—our house, the edifice within which we be ourselves howsoever our selves be when we are being us full out and not imitating some other bodies, not trying to put on to be accepted, not polite or cute or nothing like that, but ourselves, both the fashion and the funk of us, the sacred and the profane of us. Funk and feeling. Spiritual elevation and both feet down in the gutter. The all of us.
This is a soundtrack for dancing and for meditating. We really get something to think about while we’re bending over, shaking our tail feathers.
Joe Claussell is one of the most famous house music DJs on the planet. The man is a monster in terms of what he does in mixing and remixing the music. How he mashes up acoustic guitars and flutes, with hard hot house beats and samples as diverse as rainfall and Sun Ra utterances.
Back in the day my man owned dance Tracks, one of the most famous record stores in New York City, and you know you got to go some to have a store of that caliber in the capital of the U.S. record industry. He was also one of the main DJs for the infamous Body & Soul sessions, which have now gone international and draw literally thousands of participants (8,000 were in Tokyo). Currently, Claussell owns a record label, Spiritual Life Music, and is focusing on developing new talent.
DHN – How is your label, Spiritual Life Music doing?
Joe Claussell – Beautifully – we’re really excited about what we are doing. Since starting in 1996 a few years ago I thought of Spiritual Life as an outlet to introduce more live deep music in the industry which at that time was non-existent, but I started from a record store so kind of prematurely. Now it’s like 2002 and its more treated as a label. I have much more staff and to do much more to expose this music in the right way which is what it’s all about and we’re really excited because we have a lot of projects, and artists that we are very excited about. We have Jephte Guillaume, who has been with us since the beginning. We have Three Generations Walking, which consists of MKL and SOS and we have a group called Slam Mode – they are a duo that produce really deep, atmospheric, mostly electronic with some organic music. Right now as we speak we have our first Spiritual Life compilation that has been released as a double CD, consisting of two parts. One CD is is from our past, which was originally released on a Spiritual life compilation on Nuphonic, and the second is new material from upcoming artists. We’re really excited about that.
DHN – You used to own a record store Dance Tracks – how much involvement did you have in running it, and did it interfere in your other work much?
JC – Dance Tracks was created in 1988, by the owner Stan Hatzkein. I credit him with why I’m here today. I took it over in 1993 with a partner, and after the migration to Spiritual Life, I gave up my part in Dance Tracks, so I’m no longer involved. But I did cultivate the vibe from Dance Tracks, and put a lot of time into it in the beginning. My partner at the time was more of a financial person, and I was more the creative person. I did what I could at that time and music started changing more and more and I started getting more heavily involved in producing, re-mixing and obviously DJing. But regardless, Dance Tracks was still more of my priorities, definitely because it was very important to have a record store at that time and it is most definitely very important to have one now, to preach what we felt was good music and is. It’s good to have an institute like that to do that besides a club or just DJing so it is very important part of my life and it is something that I want to do again. But I think I divided my time between the five pretty well. It’s just that it was the right time for me to leave that behind and pursue the labels – Spiritual Life and myself, as a person.
—Deep House Network interview
Joe’s background is a big Nuyorican family sitting, dancing, listening at the crossroads of all the musics produced in and passing through America. Because of his musically catholic upbringing, Joe hears everything, is intimate with everyone’s music and realizes everything is him if he accepts it and he is everything whether or not he accepts it.
DHN – As a producer, you’re famous for coming up with a more organic sound, influenced by a variety of more traditional music styles like Latin and African music. What turned you on to these styles, and what do you feel they bring to house music?
JC – Well first of all I’m Puerto Rican and also Puerto Ricans as with Cubans, we come from the Ruba tribe from Africa and Nigeria so being that it’s only natural that I will produce with African and Latin rhythms because that is my heritage. But at the same time when I get more time to produce you hear other styles, you hear out of the context of my heritage. My first love was rock music so I grew up listening to that along with everything else. As I develop more as producer you will hear more variations – different sides of Joe Claussell.
—Deep House Network interview
Achieving greatness as a musician is so difficult because you have to keep expanding beyond whatever limitations you have. You don’t “be great” by simply relying on what you was. Greatness results from being more than you is. Greatness is achieved when you become what you ain’t, or at least move beyond what you already have, what you already are and get into the sphere of otherness. The greatness is in enlarging the self, being more and better, which is what Joe’s music evidences.
Q: So what do you think of the New York scene today? How has it changed from back then, to today and after Mayor Giuliani? It seems that was the trigger for a lot of New York nightlife changing as he wanted to clean up the act. People say it’s safer now but a bit soulless…
A: It’s very simple. Giuliani don’t like unity in terms of people. They were a very racist outfit. As much as they don’t like to talk about it, there it is. It’s an issue. They were extremely racist. And I think they saw the power underground music can give people, the power it has to change people, give them beliefs. And that’s why when they started to clean up the city, they started first with the clubs. It’s like they came to power and were trying to separate people. Because clubs and music bring people together. I’m sure they went to the clubs and saw how it touched people; blacks, whites, gays, all dancing together? What’s going on here? We can’t have this. That’s a powerful thing and they wanted to stop it.
Q: And I guess authorities wouldn’t have understood it, the importance to people of this movement.
A: You know, it’s about power. It’s about divide and conquer, like politics is the world over. The way to control people is to separate people, and make them fearful. It’s like a war. And that’s why Giuliani came down so hard on the clubs, they feared the blacks, whites, gay, Hispanic, all dancing together. They had their own agenda. The problem though is not Giuliani, its why did we give up so easily? Why did we just accept everything that was given to us? Why didn’t we fight back? A lot of times, we don’t know the power we have. And people coming together is the true power of music. We’ve abused music. You can use music to look cool, to make money off it, or pick up girls, or guys, to fill a void in your self esteem, not loving yourself. Just like people might go buy a Mercedes, or jewels that they can’t afford to fill that void in them. People are lost, and confused, and I believe it comes down to education in a nutshell. In America, we were brought up not to learn about anything except this superpower, and we’re a very divided place. And I believe the beauty in music is that we have within our grasp the key to eliminate and abolish all that’s going on around us. Like racism, the separation, if we could just learn to realize the importance of being together and how powerful that could be, we could overcome it. Obama getting in is a very small example of that. And if we could re-align ourselves to respect music and use it for good, and not abuse it… well. Music has the power to unite us in a very positive way…
If you trace the arc of his music over the past 20 years you will see an ever moving space probe that sends back sonic pictures from other worlds—both ancient worlds documenting the history of how we got here, as well as futuristic worlds that most of us have yet to get to but which accurately map all we will be/come too.
But I do not mean to mystify Joe Claussell. His accomplishments are the marriage of steadfast ideological commitment and practical hard work. He does what he believes in and believes in what he does.
Back in the day, it was about love and music. There was an immense amount of clubs on at that time, and so many different parties and music, but back then everyone wanted to share their music. They loved it, in the disco era, and the Garage era you had people like Tee Scott, Larry Paterson, Richie Rivera, Walter Gibbons and Francois K… they would go to each others’ clubs and give each other music, and support each others’ music. They just wanted to share, there were no egos, and that was a beautiful time. That was one of the reasons the club scene was so healthy back then. Now, unfortunately, it’s all about ‘me’, about trying to be ‘The Man’ or the woman, whatever, it’s forgetting what the true essence that this is all about. It’s about the music, the people who listen to it, love and sharing. No divas, not putting DJs up on a pedestal. I believe a DJ should be a conduit, which I consider myself, letting the music flow through him, the energy of the music, the universe, whatever. A lot of that is missing these days, and it reflects a time right now where I believe people are completely lost, personally, politically, we lost the point somewhere. And people no longer have that powerful belief or energy that music can give us, the club has lost that. Back in the day, it was like a chapel, like a temple. And that’s missing, people have lost faith with themselves, and musically. And that comes from, I believe, not having the religious aspect of music being preached. I mean preached not in a way that is force fed, but organic. Our role as a DJ used to be as a conduit. Don’t look to me as someone to look up to or admire, but look to me as almost like a ghostlike figure, you are feeling and hearing the music, the energy through me.
He sees the whole as he works on particular pieces, thus unlike the music we hear and forget—sounds that are tres forgettable and nearly always forgotten, for instance, stuff like what we ate on April 24th two years ago—unlike that, a lot of Joe’s music both startles and sticks with us. We remember.
You may not like this mixtape, but if you listen to all of it you will not forget that you heard it. That’s the kind of music Joe makes.
I am in solidarity with Joe’s ideological foundation, the launching pad for his spiritual flights, flights which inevitably are explorations that proffer its passengers more ground to alight upon and from which to take off on the next deep space soaring.
A final word about the music. Joe has mixtapes, Joe has experimental recordings, Joe has remixes, Joe has house music classics—what you want? What you need? I’ve mashed it all up this week (see the playlist below).
Joe Claussell—music for all that we can be.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Joe Clausell Mixtape playlist
Preamble: there is no simple way to get to Clausell’s house. You could approach from the main street and get his DJ collection Mix The Vibe, which is an awesome introduction for those who are unaware of or who are not into deep house. Mix The Vibe is a 2-CD mixtape and so, although I think it is top drawer, none of it is included here as I wanted to highlight Joe Claussell the producer and remixer.
In the playlist I have a bunch of snippets from the album Translate but the whole album is basically snippets and short dips that are totally unlike Joe’s usual long-form fare, so even though there are a number of cuts from Translate in this mixtape, I don’t recommend you start there.
I like Unchained Rhythums and Un-Mix The Vibe, but again be aware that both focus on selecting and segueing with only a modicum of remixes. I have cherry-picked from singles and compilations to put this mixtape together. I’ve tried to indicate which tracks are easily available.
In a backwards sort of way, the above explains what I tried to do with this mixtape. I wanted to give you an earful of Joe Claussell, sounding both his breadth and his depth. Hopefully, what you experience here will encourage you to check deeper for one of the deepest DJs on the planet.
01 “Track 01″ – Live on NRJ (Better Days) Radio Paris
02 “Interplanetary Summit” – Translate
03 “Drum Speak” – Unchained Rhythums, part 2 (vinyl edition)
04 “Escravos De Jo” (Robust Horns) – Escravos De Jo – CD single (with Kerri Chandler)
05 “Now Is The Time” – Translate (featuring Jeff Mills)
06 “Third Answer” – Translate (featuring Desgom)
07 “The Latest Craze” – Remixes
08 “Dis Poem 99″ – Dis Poem 99 – CD single (featuring Mutabaruka)
09 “No Where Else To Go But Forward” – Translate
10 “Bahian Trance” – Unchained Rhythums, part 1 (featuring Bira Reiss)
11. “Let Love Fly” – Joe Claussell remix on Night Blossom by Ananda Project
12. “Higher Spiritual Life” vocal mix – Remixes
13. “First Answer” – Translate (featuring Desgom)
14. “Bourgie Bourgie” – Joe Claussell remix on Hits, Remixes and Rarities: The Warner Brothers Years by Ashford & Simpson
15. “Feelin’ Good” – Joe Claussell remix on Verve Remixed – Nina Simone
16. “Tears for Chiyo” – Unchained Rhythums, part 1
17. “Twilite” – Translate
17. “Without A Warning” – Translate (featuring Francis Englehardt)
Laughing & Loving
Joe makes, mixes and loves music for club-goers, but he does it with so much warmth and sensitivity that its hard to actually think of his stuff as ‘club music.’ It’s more like lifemusic.
I’m not up on my club terminology, but I guess they’re calling the type of thing Joe does ‘deep house.’ What I hear is a meshing together of rare groove, Brazilian pop, classic R&B and soul, Latin jazz and modern electronica. Sometimes the positive vibes are set to that ubiquitous over-and-over thump that categorizes the music we know as ‘house,’ othertimes, the groove is different. In any case, it doesn’t really matter, because the one thing that’s always the same (even in the case of the tracks I don’t really like) is the organic, earthy, REAL feel of the music.
Joe brings the fresh light of day to the sometimes-stifling dark of the nightclub. I listen to his music and, yes, I do feel like dancing, but just as much, I feel like smiling and hugging, laughing and loving.
We dig you, Joe. Keep on keeping on.
—Mtume ya Salaam
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