Even in the long, dark shadow of local government's repeated attempts to rid downtown Orlando of a vital club culture, the city remains a pivotal piece of the national dance music puzzle. Although DJs like Kimball Collins, Dave Cannalte, Robbie Clark and DJ Icey helped establish the city's reputation, newer players -- like Miami transplant Noel Sanger -- have helped keep the scene alive.
As a pioneering DJ, producer and remixer, Sanger has helped to maintain the sonic image of the dance community during a time when, as he says, "anyone with a fast Pentium can make a track." Although he established his reputation by playing energetic sets for locals and tourists at Universal CityWalk's The Groove with his incredibly popular "Ritual" nights, his inspirations lie in the streets of downtown.
"Early on, Orlando was the place for this new sound," he says. "It was a hotbed of innovation and progress for the first half of the '90s, maybe even past that. But our overzealous, moralist local government has fought hard to keep people from dancing at 'inappropriate' hours. I, for one, feel much safer knowing nobody's having fun at 4 a.m."
Sanger is so much a product of Orlando's club history, he holds his sets up to the standards set by legendary evenings like "AAHZ," a club night formerly held at the Beacham Theatre that had a groundbreaking impact on dance culture by bringing dozens of European and English DJs to the States for their U.S. debuts. He also acknowledges the "very forward vision" of local DJs-cum-entrepreneurs like Chris Fortier (of the Fade label) and Jimmy Van Malleghem (Fortier's partner in Balance Promotions) with much of this: "These guys get credit for helping set the fire that eventually consumed the whole continent. I think Chris has worked harder than anyone in America to promote the progressive sound."
Although he realizes that the most popular music in Orlando clubs right now is what gets played on local radio -- "Our radio is a little more cutting edge than a lot of places, but the big, popular clubs sort of cling to that format of breaks and pop-trance," he says -- Sanger admits that this seems odd for an area he claims is "disproportionately blessed" with a number of great DJs and producers.
There's "nothing too underground or innovative," he says of the current mainstream club scene. However, he also notes that this more populist attitude, combined with legal restrictions could, ironically, yield some creative fruit. "I think small clubs are the way forward for the real underground, the way to bring back the environment of fearless innovation."
Sanger's most recent contribution to the scene is his latest mix CD, "Summerbreeze II," recently released on Nettwerk (Sarah McLachlan, BT). Sanger describes the album's sound as "progressive, to be sure" and it includes not only Sanger's vocal debut ("Trapped"), but also a tune featuring the beautifully harmonic voice of his wife and songwriting partner Dauby ("My Prayer"). Though aimed at a national and international audience, "Summerbreeze II" pointedly features contributions from fellow Floridians Mike Hiratzka ("Homage") and Stryke ("All That Remains `Noel Sanger's Ritual Object Mix`"), two artists described by Sanger as "incredible talents that deserve to be heard by more people."
However, as the two-disc set is the second in Nettwerk's "Summerbreeze" series (the first was helmed by DJ Tiësto), Sanger was allowed the freedom to move away from the trance sound he's established on his previous four full-lengths. Although both discs are suffused with Sanger's trademark deep ethereality, the first disc takes a house-oriented approach, throwing Chris Lake and Lexicon Ave. into the mix, while the second disc (with tracks by Prophecy and Ben Camp) is a much more upbeat, breaks-centric affair.
Although promoting the new album is a bit of a challenge for Sanger -- who admits he prefers spending time at home with his two young children Aidan and Neven -- it's something he certainly doesn't mind doing. His wife and children (to whom "Summerbreeze II" is dedicated) are clearly an inspiration on many levels. In fact, it's his boys that Sanger seems most intent on impressing.
"I hope they'll be proud of us, that we always tried to write positive, uplifting messages into our music, that we had a driving desire to inspire people to goodness," he says of the musical collaborations with his wife. "I do know that right now they love it! When they hear the music and the beats coming out of the studio, they both get huge smiles and dance like crazy! And I guess that's all any of us are after, isn't it?"