House music is made for darkened clubs, but much of the best house evokes pure sunshine.
That’s definitely the case with Christian James’s Live at Communion Sunday, Mpls (June 18, 2017), one of the most ebullient house sets imaginable. Recorded at the brick Sunday-afternoon-to-evening party right as summer began last year, it’s a mix so sunny you can easily imagine kids flying kites in the park to its grooves. You can also picture it soundtracking the dankest overcrowded basement club imaginable at 4 a.m.
Right from the off, the jack—that knocking kick drum a delicious quarter-second or so ahead of the beat—is what gets you, but it’s also what surrounds it. Many of James’ early selections—the set kicks off with “Ouich Lorraine” by Le Grand Détournement, a friend of James’s who’d sent him a white-label of the track’s home, the Pom Pom Galli EP—have a lightly psychedelic feel, the keyboards smeared but with a gold-flake flow that recalls a more contained, four-to-the-floor variation on the samples utilized on earlier electronic touchstones like Akufen’s My Way and the Avalanches’ Since I Left You. (No coincidence that Le Grand Détournement records for a French label called Sampling as an Art.)
That giddy feel extends throughout the set, even when the tracks aren’t reliant on samples. But most of the best ones are. Near the end, James drops Crackazat’s “Coffee Time,” which flips a cooking little jazz saxophone and sends a fluttering female singer’s lines through delicious, nutritious filters; the result is both laid back and so full of energy it could burst.
“I’m a live-in-the-moment kind of guy so I’m not a fan of live mixes, but the vibe at Communion that day was extra crazy,” James recalls. “After listening back a few days later, it actually kind of brought that feeling back, and that’s pretty rare for me, so I posted it up.”
Though James was “conceived in Chicago,” as he puts it, “I’ve been here so long I just consider myself a Minnesotan. I’ve called Uptown/downtown home for almost two decades.” He began spinning in house parties and small events before attracting wider notice at the tail end of the nineties.
James doesn’t always play house. “The sets really depend on when, where, and for who, but nine out of ten times it moves back and forth between house and techno,” he says—and strictly speaking he doesn’t here, either. (I won’t spoil the finale, but it’s by a local singer-songwriter of some note.)
He doesn’t DJ as much as he once did, period: “I’ll be honest and admit that playing out locally has taken a back seat to music production,” James says. “Communion Sundays with my partner [Steven] Centrific is the only event (publicly) where I currently hold residency, but you might find me behind the controls randomly at a House Proud, System events or a one off here and there.”
Communion is a co-sponsor of Friday night’s appearance by Josh Wink at Rev Ultra Lounge, for which James will play the opening set—a sharp combination, considering both men’s propensity to go wherever they want during a set. “Expect a lot of unreleased stuff, which all will be forth coming on the label I run with Jeff Swiff, Nicewon Recordings,” says James.
Are you a Twin Cities dance-music DJ? Michaelangelo Matos wants to hear your latest set. He writes about recent mixes by local DJs (and DJs making local appearances) every Thursday for City Pages. Tweet to his attention: @matoswk75.