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"House music still has a strong sense of where it comes from," says Colette Marino (aka DJ Colette). The same goes for Colette herself, who's from Chicago, like house music itself. For the uninitiated, house is to dance music what the blues are to rock: the O.G. (original groove), dawn-of-dance-floor-man funk that developed in Chicago and New York in disco's coke-comedown, adding a soulful vibrancy to a heaving 4/4 beat delicately inflected by the nascent techno of Kraftwerk and Donna Summer's Italo-disco classic "I Feel Love."
House filled in the blanks between soul, disco and techno, simultaneously casting itself as a purist subgenre and a template for the future. Know that Daft Punk song "One More Time" you can hear Rick Dees schlepping over on pop-hit-whatever-they-call-it radio? All roads lead back to house.
"Growing up in Chicago completely influenced me," says Colette, who for the last seven years has called LA home. "I started hearing house music on the radio when I was 10; I started going to parties when I was 14. I didn't realize how special the genre was at the time, just to be exposed to it like that. Later on when I started touring, I'd meet people in their 20s only just discovering house music."
Which is why her role as headliner for Halloween night's Focus party at Newport Beach's Tapas is such a trick-free treat. Usually on Tuesdays, the party brings out the best in the 18-and-over-crowd, many of whom, like Colette did at Chicago's legendary all-ages Medusa's, are discovering house themselves, spurred on perhaps by JT Donaldson tracks and Derrick Carter remixes coming out of Costa Mesa's Seasons label. "People come in and just start dancing right away; there's not that awkward first hour where people feel like they have the need to get inebriated."
That's saying something, because electronic music is sure sounding inebriated these days. Like a decade ago, when the Prodigy and Chemical Brothers brought techno to the rockers, the indie-dance sounds of Justice and Simian Mobile Disco have made house music the lower-profile older brother again, watching its younger funk siblings with the weird haircuts and dubious fashion choices find their way.
It's funny that house, as the oldest electronic music, at least on this side of the Atlantic, is still arguably the most underground. "It isn't as accessible as trance, and it isn't on the radio, and kids want to go out and sing to their favorite songs," Colette sighs.
In an era of fading superstar DJs (they're playing records after all, and the X isn't that good), Colette is the kind of star who doesn't have to be super. She's firmly planted in the tradition of her Chi-town legends Derrick Carter, Mark Farina and house's ODB, Green Velvet. She's still a member of the estro-house DJ collective Superjane, which she co-founded in Chicago 10 years ago. On her latest disc, Push(Om), she worked with Chi-sound upstarts Santiago and Bushido.
Push makes the case, kind of like Deee-Lite and the Jungle Brothers' "I'll House You" of the early '90s did, that when you have that kinetic what's-not-to-love 4/4, anything can happen. For all the micro-gentrification of electronic music, Push, in its good-time-house way, is refreshingly expansive. Some beats tinker, some beats bump—even rapper Black Spade (an underrated St. Louis MC) finds his way onto a track. But to add to the tradition—or at least keep it interesting enough for the kids who want to sing along—Colette sings over her tracks. Not in a screaming-diva way, but in a "she DJs and sings" way.
Live, that means she gets on the mic like she has to announce someone parked in handicapped is gonna get towed, but starts busting sweet vox. "I was actually a singer before I was a DJ," she explains. "It made sense to DJ so I wasn't just freestyling over some record I didn't know." Though her trademark is her singing, Colette puts the spinning first—unlike say, DJ Peretz (Perry Farrell), who makes dub dance tracks to sing over. "I try to keep the vocals in the record, as opposed to over the record," she says. "DJing is the real art, so I try to find a balance with the singing."
Now that she's done her part giving the kids something to sing along to, they could return the favor by buying her record. "You play shows and people know the songs, but you look at the record sales and the numbers don't add up." Even DJs get the blues, which is why there'll always be house.
Colette performs at the Focus Halloween party at Tapas Bar & Grill, 4253 Martingale Way, Newport Beach, (949) 756-8194, Wed. 9:30 p.m., $10. 18+.