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Spin Doctors: Hannan and Watt hype up the crowd.

House of Mirth

Jay Hannan and Ben Watt blow up the DJ-as-superstar theory

By Yoshi Kato

ALTHOUGH PERHAPS not as existential as the ubiquitous "What is Life?" question, stateside dance music fans have been trying to get their finger around the nature of Lazy Dog. Is it a club? A DJ team? A theme night?

The answer, it turns out, is all of the above. A biweekly club held from 4 to 11pm at the Notting Hill Arts Club in west London, Lazy Dog was created in April 1998 by dance music vet Jay Hannan and Ben Watt, the male half of the British musical duo Everything But The Girl (EBTG).

Hannan and Watt have since taken the Lazy Dog experience to other clubs around the United Kingdom and Europe and the United States, including a stop Friday (Feb. 22) at Ruby Skye in San Francisco, which is rescheduled from last October.

The pair have also completed two double mix CDs on the ace Astralwerks label, with Deep House Music released in October 2000 and Volume 2 set to hit March 12. Recent reworkings Watt has done for Sade ("By Your Side") and Maxwell ("Lifetime") bear the moniker "Ben Watt Lazy Dog Mix" and Hannan's future studio and remix work will be branded as "Jay Hannan Lazy Dog" productions or mixes.

According to Hannan, the crowd at Lazy Dog club nights is as much as part of the experience as the setting, DJs or even the music. He and Watt spin from underneath a staircase--not from an isolated booth--and freely interact with club-goers.

"It's now become a sort of feature that when someone jogs the deck, the whole crowd just cheers--even the bar staff cheer. And they clap the guy or the girl and kind of joke with them," he says.

A singer/songwriter for over two decades, Watt has enjoyed international success with EBTG's brand of adult jazzy folk-pop. EBTG--which also features Tracey Thorn, Watt's personal and musical partner--was first noticed by the general dance community through the tremendous success of the Todd Terry remix of its 1994 single "Missing."

Though some accused Watt of being a DJ-come-lately after the remixes of "Missing" and the electronic orientation of subsequent EBTG albums (1996's Walking Wounded and 1998's Temperamental), EBTG had actually planned to incorporate a modern element to their sound as far back as 1993. In a 1996 interview, Watt explained that "Missing," in fact, originally was written around a house loop from the late-'80s by Raze called "Break for Love."

When he met Hannan in 1996, Watt was DJing drum 'n' bass sessions before EBTG shows and at select invitations. They became friends and founded Lazy Dog two years later. Hannan took a decidedly different route than Watt's popular music artist-to-club DJ career path. "I started DJing years and years ago, just as an old-fashioned DJ in the pre-house days," he recalls. "I played jazz-funk, disco, soul and even a bit of northern soul as well."

From 1991 to 1998, he held a day job first as House Music Specialist and later as Shop Manager and Main Buyer at Blackmarket Records, a fabled independent dance-music shop in London. And from 1991 to 1996, he also spun at the London clubs Spice and Spirit and on pirate radio station KISS FM.

The dual work-life gave Hannan access to other DJs, producers, A&R folks and promoters. "So it was a great grounding for what I'm doing now," he reflects. "But mind you, DJing really wasn't that glamorous at the time. When I first started, it was actually very uncool to DJ in England. And it wasn't well paid, either," he continues.

"I've seen house music spurn this whole superstar culture. And there's a part of me that's a bit suspicious of it," he admits. "So one of the main reasons we set up Lazy Dog was really to move away from the whole superclub, superstar DJ vibe that was going on, particularly in England, with your Ministry of Sound and this whole perception that DJs are the new rock stars."

Lazy Dog spins Friday (Feb 22) at 10pm at Ruby Skye, 420 Mason St, San Francisco. Tickets are $20. (Ticketweb or 415.693.0777)

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From the February 21-27, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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