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British Invasion

Among the U.K. expats who founded the West Coast's rave scene, DJ Jenö still spins legendary grooves

By Rob Pratt

THE MUSIC THAT BOOMS out of mammoth sound systems specially tuned for large-scale raves and produced on equipment directly marketed to the burgeoning American DJ scene tells a tale as much of geographical movements as of musical movements. Though what is generally termed house music has its origins among the urban centers of the American Midwest and East Coast, the music first exploded into mainstream consciousness during London's first wave of rave in the late '80s.

Disaffected youth in England under the reign of Margaret Thatcher took to abandoned warehouses along London's M-25 orbital expressway for all-night, ecstasy-fueled dance parties featuring a shocking new sound: acid house. Derived from Chicago house and Detroit techno, acid house layers convoluted synthesizer squalls--the inimitable slithering lines of a TB-303--over mechanical beats. Among the first to catch on to the new underground sound were punks who quickly traded their guitars and assorted narcotics for turntables, synthesizers and ecstasy.

Such was the scene when Jenö, in his early 20s, threw down his guitar. Diving headlong into producing events and spinning records for orbital raves, he eventually fell in with leading crew the Tonka Sound System and turned out a series of his own dance parties (under the moniker "Whoosh"). But as the London scene began to crank up tempos and anxiety in the music, Jenö headed to San Francisco to find a more psychedelic sound.

San Francisco's underground dance-party scene was ready to follow Jenö and his fellows in the Wicked collective as they developed a uniquely Bay Area rave music sound. Culled from acid house's tripped-out journeys but closer to the dance-all-night 125-bpm tempo favored in San Francisco's gay discos, the Wicked crew (no doubt using "wicked" to mean "going beyond justifiable limits" instead of hinting at anything sinister) conjured a style that paired the city's high-rise cosmopolitanism with its funky South of Market vibe. The sound and the psychedelic imagery immediately connected with underground- and pop-music fans just getting over a late-'80s wave of neo-hippy nostalgia.

While New York raves of the time seized on outer-space themes and Los Angeles raves developed a fun-house feel, the Wicked crew's parties had a pagan element. The group's full-moon parties brought thousands to outdoor, revel-in-nature locations and landed a 1995 Santa Cruz North Coast beach event in Rolling Stone as the mainstream music press belatedly caught up with the stateside rave craze.

Though without as much star power as Wicked partner DJ Garth, Jenö has brought the San Francisco Sound off the beaches and into the world's top dance clubs--New York's Twilo and London's Ministry of Sound.

Still, Jenö's mixes are best experienced up-close and underground (or at least outside of a glitzy dance club). It's a sound strong on tradition--his new remix of Rocket's "People" on Garth's Greyhound label has a long section of TB-303 warbling in the middle of the track--but as eclectic, spirited and forward-looking as the region that inspired it.

DJ Jenö appears Saturday (Aug. 5), 11pm-1:30am at the Usual, 400 S. First St., San Jose. (408.535.0330)

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From the August 3-9, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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