For some, the last two weeks have been a time when the role of music abruptly shifted from the indispensable rhythm of life to a frivolous, even annoying, specter of sound.
It was, therefore, with great expectation mixed with a bit of trepidation that dance-music fans in the New York area received the news of the all-star DJ lineup – which included Moby, Danny Tenaglia, Little Louie Vega and David Morales – assembled for a fundraising event Tuesday at the nightclub Centro-Fly.
The occasion was dreamed up on September 13 by the club’s owners, Tom Sisk and David Baxley, when they learned of the loss of a police officer friend from the precinct near Centro-Fly. The day after the event, which attracted more than 2,600 people, Sisk called it “the most humbling experience of my professional life. Everyone responded to this.”
Even though he and his partner had brought together the artists who have served as the backbone of the city’s storied house-music community for the last 20 years, Sisk said the most difficult organizational task was getting through on the phone to the Widow’s and Children’s Fund of the city’s police and fire departments, which was inundated with offers of charity.
The intentions of the jam-packed gathering were crystal clear: first, to raise money for the families of victims of the World Trade Center attack of September 11; and second, to help New York get its groove back.
With a $40 minimum donation required for entry and all proceeds from the bar – including workers’ tips – earmarked for Centro-Fly’s stated goal of donating $150,000 to the NYPD and FDNY, the first, more tangible goal proved no problem to attain, and was easily surpassed, according to Sisk. (Cash-strapped fans were offered a $20 discount in exchange for hugging a cop outside the entrance, while superstar DJ Timo Maas, who heard about the event by e-mail, called in a donation of $1,000.)
Although each of the club’s three musical areas was overstuffed throughout the evening, the second goal – getting the groove on – required a bit more finesse on the part of the DJs and the folks on the dance floor. For many guests, Tuesday night was their first return to the nightlife world since the attack, which created a feeling of uncertainty that gradually dissipated as the hours of beats wore on. As Francois Kevorkian and Little Louie kicked things off in the downstairs Pinky Room, the soulful, optimistic rhythms of house music so familiar and even central to the lives of those in attendance sounded foreign, almost too positive for this sorrowful time.
But some dancers had no problem getting moving, and, judging by the ubiquitous patriotic fashion choices – flag doo-rags, entire flag ensembles, I [Heart] NY More Than Ever T-shirts – the night was equal parts celebration and contemplation. Each time, for example, a DJ dropped a classic New York house cut into the mix, a whoop from the crowd affirmed the renewed pride New Yorkers have tapped into over the last two weeks.
Upstairs in the Tapioca Room, when local-scene stalwart Matthias Heilbronn found his house rhythms were losing their way, he swiftly switched gears and flipped a set of crowd-pleasing hip-hop tracks by New York artists, including Q-Tip’s “Breathe and Stop” and Mary J. Blige’s smash “Family Affair,” and the room responded in kind, with rumps shaking and smiles flashing.
Moby, who was listed as a DJ for the evening, was in attendance briefly but did not perform.
After New York veteran Junior Sanchez debuted a number of tracks from Armand Van Helden’s next album, Gandhi Kahn (due October 2), the night’s balance was turned over to the deft hands of Danny Tenaglia, who, despite his considerable skills, was never able to work the floor into the transcendent froth he normally does. It was no fault of his own, of course, and as dawn approached outside, it was enough simply to watch people moving in unison, enveloped if only for moments at a time by the power of rhythm.