"Oooh, I do detect/ I can't go on/ Without you," the latest lesbionic Chaka Khannabe, Leela James, rasps in the spooky reedit of "My Joy" that's dominated dance floors worldwide for about five months now. The mix is by NYC's deep house genie Quentin Harris, whose last smash crack-up, of Jill Scott's "Not Like Crazy," whistled lonely through the graveyard on the grounds of soul's asylum. "My Joy (Quentin Harris Shelter vocal)" is a classic melancholic spine-tingler. A Hammond B3 swirls toward climax, the bass skips a heartbeat, strings of life collide, and the woeful diva's voice is drawn and quartered, pulled in four directions, wailing "My mind! My mind!" despite an uplift in the chorus: "No, no, no, ain't no way/ You gon' take away/ My joy, my peace, my strength." In the end, James dumps her psycho lover and moves on — but we're all left shaken to the bone.
Whatever happened to house? It devolved into circuit, all shrieking modulations and lame-ass breaks, the pale lingua franca of gays worldwide. It rode the elevator down to easy listening lounge, the wallpaper tube-topped bimbos spilled appletinis on. It got all lush and gospel, overeagerly fronting its blues-black roots. It stripped off its base and went seriously loony, fattening up Fat Boy Slim's paycheck and Paul Van Dyke's portfolio.
Poor little house, kicked to the curb with its shoelace untied, crying foul in its white-label milk. What's an unabashed househed freak who loves working it out gonna do?
Go to Fag Fridays at the Endup, for one. Despite all the lip service to a house revival and a titilutf8g resurgence of underground queer clubs dedicated to old-school jacking, the national house scene's been whittled down to a mere trifecta of well-respected bastions — Shelter in NYC, Deep in LA, and our very own Fag, which gathers all the varied arms of house back into one long, sweaty embrace. I'm not saying Fag's the only happening house gig in town, far from it, but it's the only weekly joint where you're guaranteed to hear slices like "My Joy" — and not feel obliged to wonder if you look a mess while you lose your shit over it. No matter what you do, you will never, ever be the messiest-looking freak up in there.
Fag was started by grassroots impresarios David Peterson and Jose Mineros a decade ago, when queer was still a dirty word and sex columnist Dan Savage was getting hate mail from homosexuals because he allowed readers to address him as "Hey Faggot." The golden age of local fun houses Klubstitute and Product had just petered out, folks were still dying left and right of AIDS, and gay men were heckling me on the street because I sported — gasp! — baggy pants and a wallet chain. Homo-hop was unheard of, gay youth was a derogatory term, and Manhunt hadn't been invented. People who did drugs had to actually leave the house to get laid! For the group of streetwise queer kids of color who clustered around Peterson and Mineros and had roots in House Nation, Fag was heaven — a clubhouse, a get-down, and, for some of us, a home.
Now, 10 years later, Fag's still going strong, featuring not only some of the best known SF DJs as regulars (David Harness, Pete Avila, Neon Leon, Rolo) but pulling in the globally acclaimed as well (Frankie Knuckles, Tony Humphries, Angel Moraes, Honey Dijon). The upcoming anniversary celebration kicks off with singer Dajae, she of back-in-the-day "Brighter Days" and "U Got Me Up" fame. Sure, Fag's now become a kind of institution, associated by some with shirtless boys, GHB casualties, shit-faced queens, and on one occasion, raids for Versace's killer. But it's hung in there, proving that house isn't dead. It's alive. It's joyful. It's kicking.
It's also relevant. I went there last month to hear Quentin Harris himself on deck, and he did this thing all night where he kept a little fuzz box of white noise going on behind the mix, which — to my overanalytical mind, at least (metaphors! metaphors!) — was a perfect representation of the global mess outside we were all hopping around to escape. Groovy, cute, and smart? Hey, Quentin, wanna date?
10th anniversary with Dajae
May 12, 10 p.m.–6 a.m.
401 Sixth St., SF