Theo Parrish is a challenging artist. Challenging because he puts out fantastic material, but makes you track it down on vinyl before the limited pressings inevitably sell out. Challenging because he’s not afraid to speak his mind, even when his opinions may be controversial. Challenging because his DJ sets encompass a variety of styles and he refuses to be pinned down to a 4/4 beat. All of this has garnered the man an underground reputation greater than just about any other DJ/producer around, so when I heard he was coming to town and I’d finally be able to hear him play out, I jumped at the opportunity. The fact that he was playing on APT’s fantastic Funktion One system made the occasion even more enticing.
The night starts off with DJ Duane Harriot from Other Music spinning a set of US vocal house that would make Kerri Chandler smile. The crowd is definitely feeling it, cheering cheer ecstatically at every soulful track, and the mood is all smiles as Theo begins at 1 a.m. The first cut? A four-to-the-floor no-nonsense old-school techno banger—jarringly heavy stuff after the solid half-hour of soulful house that preceded it. Nevertheless the crowd digs it, there are plenty of yells of approval, before gradually the techno beats start subsiding and Theo mixes into some…vintage disco.
Some of the dancers stop moving and just stare at the booth, before the track starts bringing back the earlier funky vibe, and they start shuffling and clapping all over again. After the disco comes a jazz piece with full-on, extended sax solos, then a slow soulful ballad, and just to keep things eclectic, an old-school Busta Rhymes track. As you might expect, the crowd reaction to all of this is mixed. You can almost see the look of confusion on many dancers’ faces asking themselves Isn’t he supposed to be playing house? In fact, I find myself in the same situation. Sure, the set thus far would make a great radio program or a CD, but what about the context?
I grab a beer and return to the floor, and Theo drops Kindred the Family Soul’s ‘Rhythm of Life’ which gets a nice reaction from the crowd. From here on out the beats and musical styles become more dance-focused. Even though Theo is throwing in house, disco, funk, afro-beat and techno, the beats hit hard, are smoothly mixed and are arranged for dancefloor effectiveness. Theo clearly looks happy with the way things are going.
As we reach the peak of the night, Theo drops the classic Black Mahogani track, ‘Shades of Jae’. In the past I’ve heard the likes of Luciano and Jay Haze play this out and it’s always gone down very well, but I’ve never heard this version before. The percussion is lowered in the mix, and the piano hooks ring loud and clear, while the background muttering and vocals on the original are nowhere to be found. It goes down a treat. Later funky house transitions back into techno and then to house again, and it’s impossible to keep track of the varied material. Towards the end of the night, with the dance floor in a trance, Theo pulls out a classic—Phuture’s ‘Acid Trax’. With most of the dancers on the floor being born too late to have experienced Acid House at its inception (me included), hearing this track on a Funktion One system and mixed with such skill is a true pleasure.
The acid-tinged tracks continue for a short while, after which point Theo comes back to the soulful house which seems to be the foundation upon which he builds his sets. Eventually the beats become less intense and the mood becomes more laid back as the crowd enjoys a blissful come down. At the end of the night everyone shuffles back upstairs with smiles on their faces and their legs worn out. I am happy in the knowledge that this has not only been a great set but almost a sort of musical history lesson. Overall, it was a great evening courtesy of a DJ who challenges his audience to keep an open mind, but whom ultimately rewards them with a fantastic groove courtesy of his impeccable taste and mixing skills.
Photo credit: Patrick Burns