Looking back on dance music's most iconic (and only?) anti-ecstasy anthem.
In a friend's apartment 20 years ago, Curtis Jones, the producer best known as Green Velvet, almost died. "I think someone put GHB in my drink," he later recalled. Facing death while also high on weed and mushrooms, a combination he was familiar with, Jones turned to God. "I told him, 'If you spare my life this time, I promise I will turn my life around.'" He did. Jones would soon produce what might be electronic music's most famous (and perhaps only) anti-ecstasy track. Released in 2001, "La La Land" was a tale of pills and afterparties set to a stomping house beat. This anti-drug message became a club anthem, the most famous tune in Jones's catalogue of vocal-lead hits.
The Chicago scene Jones called home has given electronic music more iconic vocals than any other. There's romance (Jamie Principle on "Your Love"), calls to party (Steve "Silk" Hurley's "Jack Your Body") and X-rated debauchery (the entire Dance Mania catalogue). The Chicago canon makes up the world's most impressive collection of house music. But even within this staggering volume of great records, Jones stood out. His releases as Green Velvet and Cajmere were hugely influential, their meaty basslines and vocals—sometimes heartfelt, other times abstract—inspiring generations of artists. (That influence endures in the bass-heavy sound of contemporary labels like Hot Creations and Crosstown Rebels.)
"La La Land" arrived more than eight years into Jones's career. The former chemical engineering student had turned to production upon returning to Chicago to study after a stint on the West Cost. He soon outgrew his rudimentary initial setup—a "sixty-buck keyboard, a cheap four-track and a cheap drum machine"—and released a series of bonafide hits, one of which, "Brighter Days," reached the Billboard charts. Those hits would help define the sound of house and US house and techno for the next decade, which is also the time Jones began dabbling in drugs. Jones wrote the lyrics to "La La Land" as a warning to others who might fall into the same trap.
I've been the one to party
Until the end
Looking for the afterparty
I'm going down to La la land
I hope to see you soon in La la land
Something 'bout those little pills
Unreal / the thrills / they yield until
They kill a million braincells
After years of late nights and afterparties, he saw spreading that message as part of his promise to God. "I was a lost sheep and I found my way back to the Lord," he said. But some listeners confused his lyrics as encouragement to take more pills, not avoid them. In the year following its release, "La La Land" was played on what seemed like every dance floor in the universe, seen as something of a drug-taking anthem. (Even at RA, opinion is split on whether the track was for or against ecstasy use.) Eight years after the track's release, Jones was aware of the ambiguity. "I think that for the most part, people know," he said. "When I first wrote the song, all my friends knew what I was trying to do, and they stopped taking pills. Then they started doing other drugs!"
"La La Land" remains Jones's best-selling single, its iconic refrain synonymous with the Chicago scene. It had modest mainstream success, reaching the singles charts in the UK and Belgium. You won't hear many DJs playing it these days, but Jones made several more recent hits. He spends plenty of time in the UK, where he collaborates and DJs with top-tier acts like Patrick Topping and Eats Everything. But ever since that life-changing experience in the apartment, Jones's outlook remains the same. "My purpose in life is to do good," he said. "That's it."