Blow Your House Down

It Takes a Rave Nation of Millions to Hold Armand Van Helden Back

Yet despite its lukewarm sales, Van Helden stands by the record. "I brought consciousness to dance music, Bob Dylan-style," he says. "Dance music's built for escapism. I'd rather say something that means something." What it meant to many DJs, however, was that it was unplayable. Which, Van Helden says, is pretty much the point. "I didn't make it for them. If it went over DJs' heads, that was intended.

"Eminem dropped his album, he made his point, but he also gave you something the club world could enjoy. He found that really good niche. I made my point, but all I found was that half-assed niche. A lot of those tracks are dirty-assed garage, heavy metal house. It doesn't make sense. I intended it to be a middle finger for people in house music.

"When people would tell me they're playing my records, I'm like, 'You're lying.' But then, I'm not in enough house clubs to know if people are playing my shit."

But when he is, Van Helden, to his credit, puts his money where his mouth is, spinning his own shit—even the Scorpions-sampling "Little Black Spiders." "I played that at a couple of spots and people were doing [he puts his forefinger and pinkie up] the metal fingers, like you got Richard Dawson doing on Family Feud, like you're at a stadium watching Asia."

His campaign to make house more than just dancefloor fodder can just as often backfire. He was thrown off the decks last June in Ibiza for playing a hip-hop set more ill-timed than ill. But on a grander scale Van Helden is calling out house, and himself, even if he hangs himself doing it.

"How much regular shit can you get in your lifetime? I got other DJs over all the time, and they're always talking about records. But when I reflect on records six years later, I'm like, who cares, it doesn't mean anything, it's just a banging track that fills a moment in a nightclub. Put that next to Fleetwood Mac's Rumours.

"I know I can't make Fleetwood Mac. I wish I could, but I can't do that, talentwise or musicianwise. When they make a song about a love relationship, emotions get stirred. Maybe I just have to do that in my own way." Which for now means making house music that eats its words even as it bites the hand that feeds it. "You need that dirty karma," he says. "Everything can't all be that shiny." And we thought it was just dance music.

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