The Orlando dance collective Open House Conspiracy marks five years of under-the-radar activity on the house and techno front with a blowout celebration this weekend. The main event is Chicago DJ Roy Davis Jr., best known for the transcendent single "Gabriel" (XL Recordings, 1996; reissued last year on its 19th birthday). We spoke to Open House organizer Austen van der Bleek about the origins of this club series, and the enduring appeal of electronic dance music.
What made you start deciding to throw dance events yourself?
I had selected the music at house parties before and a lot of friends would always hit me up for what to listen to, I’d even messed around on some software, turning playlists into mixes, but I wasn’t considering DJing. I figured you had to have expensive equipment to do it and I didn’t have the money for anything like that or much knowledge about it.
I approached the owner of the Engine Room, who I had talked to over the years about music, never asking for anything, but just establishing a relationship. I think I first asked if Nick McCoy and I - we combined our last names and went under bleek n' coy - could open for Thugfucker and dOP when they were coming to Tallahassee. Once again, we lucked out and the show actually got cancelled, so the owner just gave us the night under the premise [he] “would need it to not be a waste of time, no offense intended.” He was actually a very nice guy, no bullshitting though, which I really came to appreciate and realized is the best way to get things done. I look for that now. Anyway, we had no clue what we were doing, but a nice network of friends, especially everyone we knew together from London. When it comes to events, you just have to do it. I don’t really remember learning how, I wish I had and that someone taught me, but I guess it just came naturally and the rest you figure out.
The first night was fun and a success, but I didn’t really understand the business side of it and when I asked the owner he said, "You walked away with money because I'm a decent human being, and I appreciate you.” When I asked him what he thought about the night, he said, "Favorite one yet …” I didn’t know what he was comparing it to then. ... It was probably just a joke since it was our first event? We did two more and a few guest sets on other people’s nights before he shut the venue down. We also started another night during that time for more eccentric and deeper music with some older heads, it wound up being a mishmash of different generations and it was held in the backroom of this place called the Warehouse, the front room being a pool hall, and it was a very DIY space. That became Open House Conspiracy.
Tell me about moving the operation from Tallahassee to Orlando.
I graduated Florida State University and moved back to Brevard. My first gig after moving was at Sandwich Bar in the Milk District. This DJ from Tallahassee that goes by Seraphim (there’s a different one in Orlando), who runs a record label and online radio station called Chicago House FM, connected me with Lola B, who runs this all-female party, Queens of Noise. I was the first guy to play that party. I considered myself their jester. Through that I met the owner and he was into what I played that night, so he let me throw parties.
Who was the first big name you brought to Orlando?
The first DJ I brought to Orlando was Alkalino, a Lisbon-bred producer living in Munich, in 2013. He was on local vinyl label owner Sleazy McQueen's (Laurin) Whiskey Disco and headed stateside. One thing I really liked about Lino was his honesty. He does not bullshit around. Him and I argue from across continents all the time, back and forth, but it’s kind of playful. That was a Thursday in Orlando though. King Britt, who I brought a couple months later, might be considered the first big name. King is the most humble, down-to-earth guy. ... His rider included things like incense and a good paperback book.
How has the way that you’ve promoted events changed over the years?
I do less physical promoting these days, so it’s mostly digital. I might not even print flyers or posters at all. It’s not really proper, I wish I could do more (I wish I had a team). It’s funny too because everyone thinks I live in Orlando, but I never have. I just didn’t know of anything on the coast and things are even slower, less cultural there, so I never got out much or had interest in doing events there. I don’t think people understood the commitment I made always driving over an hour one way to do events and sometimes driving back that night at like 3 a.m. or crashing on the couch at friend’s places.
A lot of times good music can take a while to catch on; when your focus is the music you do less gimmicks or cheap tricks to draw people out because it feels like it cheapens the experience and natural process of building a crowd. It’s not necessarily immediate, but so many business owners have no patience or vision for how building an original and unique party with different programming will create a built-in and dedicated crowd that can’t get that experience anywhere else.
What’s the most memorable event you’ve put together in Orlando so far?
That’d have to be Kai Alcé with my old mentor Brad Ashwell. It was really cool to bring Brad down from Tallahassee, he really showed me a lot of music that it would have been hard for me to be exposed to in Tallahassee and Florida in general, and back to Orlando. Giving him shine and seeing some of his old friends come out to hear him play felt really good.
Also, Kai Alcé has since become my favorite DJ, so it was great to connect with him. Plus, we did a record giveaway of his “Into Your Story” remix he had put out through Florida label Fast Forward. I liked this song when I first heard it streaming online, but I’ve since heard it over a few different systems, including the night we had him, and it just took on a whole different life. It’s an amazing record and it’s cool how we were sort of a part of him breaking this record like they used to do. He even flew in an entire box with him from Atlanta that the airline lost and then wound up delivering after like 1 a.m. straight to the club. It was a pretty funny sight.
Tell me about Roy Davis Jr. and what his music means to you.
Roy Davis Jr. is a legend. I don’t know him that well on a personal level or anything (but that can always change), but I do know the respect that guys I look up to, like Manny Cuevas and Michael Zucker, have for him. I feel like it’s pretty well-known in the industry in general that he’s just one of those all-around good guys that has left nothing but a positive footprint behind him. His music? It’s in a very literal sense spiritual.
I’m not a particularly religious person, but just listen to a song like “Gabriel.” It’s the gospel and yet it’s a classic that even heathens dance to because it’s so powerful and emotional and the message is undeniable. It puts me at peace and calms me down, but at the same time it obviously makes people dance and go crazy. [Fact Magazine said this upon the track's 2015 reissue: "Anyone with even a passing interest in dance music will agree that ‘Gabriel’ is both a timeless classic and a pivotal record in the convergent histories of house and garage – and DJs can still turn a dancefloor into putty with those horns."] And this is the essence of deep house, as imagined by Larry Heard and company: "Dancing soon became a way to communicate.” Roy Davis Jr., Manny Cuevas and Michael Zucker are all brothers in Christ and Manny brought to my attention Psalms 150:4–5, which says, “Praise Him with drums and dancing, praise him with harps and flute, praise him with cymbals, praise him with loud cymbals.” That’s house and techno!
The house and techno scenes seem to stay fresh from a constant influx of youth ...
Classic house and techno is just raw and has so much soul. Raw music is timeless because it comes from a place of necessity to create and it has so much character because it’s made with whatever the artists could get their hands on.
I feel like house and techno, more so than a lot of other genres, is something really malleable, where no matter what your style is, you can find it in dance music! Or you might be surprised to know how much clubbing and raving influenced some artists you’re into. Pure joy of discovery is what it’s all about! I love to see it. I wish I saw more of it. It seems so often attitudes around music are all about what you know and how you knew it before someone else or how little this person knows … flaunting what you know and creating social competition. It’s so wrong. Those that exhibit curiosity and openness towards sound will reap all the best musical rewards and experiences.
Open House Conspiracy celebrates its five-year anniversary this Saturday at Vinyl Arts Bar. Music starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $17.
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