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Evolution can't happen without the past and house music can't move forward without its history intact. This is the philosophy Grammy-winning DJ/producer Peter Rauhofer subscribes to, and it deserves the attention of every newcomer looking to ride the wave paved by pioneers like him. On a muggy evening in New York City last summer, the soft-spoken Austrian native played with a pack of peppermint Mentos in the offices of his Star 69 label on Lafayette Street. Decked out in a baseball cap, checkered short-sleeve shirt, and days-old stubble, the current Roxy resident had one question for the American dance music scene: "Where are all the New York producers?"
There was a moment of silence that spoke volumes. Once upon a time Manhattan set the standard, turning out tracks that shook the club circuit and spread the house gospel of preachers with names such as Vasquez, Van Helden, and countless others. DJs the world over tuned in to the underground vibe born from the sweaty atmosphere of the legendary Paradise Garage, which spilled over into the city's fiery rave and nightlife scenes. But now Europe monopolizes the top of the dance music charts and Rauhofer finds that frustrating.
"Right now Europe is in control," he said. "I came to the U.S. because I liked the sound coming from here, and now I have to deal with what I wanted to leave behind. Ten years ago DJs would play 80 percent domestic and 20 percent import, and now that trend has reversed. Now everyone is on the tech-house trip. It's like a chain reaction. Before, everyone wanted to get signed to a U.S. label, and now the fight is to get on a U.K. label."
Times have changed but trends still churn the moneymaking machine. Rauhofer himself is no stranger to banking on a guarantee. Following the success of last year's compilation Live@Roxy Volume 1and the beat-steady Volume 2, a safe but still pounding mix of diva-house that offered a snapshot of the Roxy on a Saturday night, he's now poised to hammer the faithful again with Volume 3. On it, the drums bang loyally to the tribal code, and vocal attitude gets tossed about with reckless abandon.
"It's always a little bit different from what I've done before, but I only have two to three hours to capture a set that usually lasts from 11:00 p.m. to 9:00 a.m.," he explained. "So of course it will be songs that people would consider Roxy hits. It's more a soundtrack of the year so I don't have to come up with ideas like when I remix or produce a new track." Volume 2 included the familiar (ATFC's soaring take on Moby's "In This World") and the fierce (Richard "Humpty" Vission's jet-setting version of Andrea Doria's "Bucci Bag"). It was a careful selection of tried-and-true tracks that turn out the Roxy faithful, which can average up to 4000 people on a given night. Volume 3 stays the course, offering up Madonna (a Rauhofer remix of "Nobody Knows Me"), William Umana ("The Enlightenment"), and Erik Reyes ("Let's Do It") for a market that never seems to tire of rump-thumping house tracks.
Following former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's legal attrition and police crackdowns, Roxy now stands alone as the Saturday-night gay club in New York, a warehouse with the burden of carrying a scene through lean times. When house music superclubs like Twilo and Limelight shut down, Rauhofer felt the pressure to entertain an audience now more diverse than before. Although he has always been receptive to playing multiple styles of dance, the onus is now on him to bring everything to the table on a consistent basis, from house and techno to underground tribal and trance. "People have to accept what I play, but I try to cover as much as possible to satisfy as many people as possible," he said. "A lot of DJs don't consider that. I never do sets of just one style. Those types of DJs bother me."
Then Rauhofer smiled demurely. Frustration can foster a sense of humor. If anyone can see the silver lining in this club crisis, it's the man who found the magic in music through the silly and tender New Wave sounds of Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Spandau Ballet, which became the building blocks, along with Seventies disco, for Rauhofer's own electro-orgasms.
Add to that a claim that the theme song to The Golden Girls is among his all-time favorites, and it's clear there are no boundaries to his methodology. "From Depeche Mode to Eric Clapton, I'm influenced by all kinds of sounds. The way I grew up, everything intrigued me from the Seventies to today," he said. With a 2000 Grammy to his credit for nonclassical remixer of the year, his own prosperous Star 69 Records, and more work on the way with the likes of Annie Lennox and Madonna, Rauhofer can weather this storm.