Life » Barfly on the wall

Houses in motion


Eight years ago, at the age of 18, Richie Salvaggio, a.k.a. DJ Richie Salvaggio, brought a brand new sound to Rochester: funky house.

            It happened in a building on Main Street his friends intended to turn into a record store (they never did). Salvaggio says it was his friend BK of the Brain Fruit Crew who gave him his big break.

            "It wasn't here yet," he says of funky house, "because this is a farm town. Once I brought that sound here, people were like, 'Oh, my God.'

            "I was the first person to introduce funky house to this city," says Salvaggio, "and the kids went ape-shit when I played the set, man. I was psyched. It was really hot.

            "Then, from there, I just blew up."

            Salvaggio turned untold hundreds of local teens on to this novel, more potent style of dance music. Granted, to the unecstatic ear, it's the same synthetic, repetitive, insistent beat so common in today's techno discos. But funky house also has real bass and horn lines, guitar riffs, and soulful vocals. In mid-1990s Rochester, it was a revelation.

            "Then," Salvaggio says, "I blew up huge in Toronto."

            It was Hullabaloo Meltdown 1998, and 2,000 ravers showed up. Soon, Salvaggio was spinning twice a month in that cosmopolitan foreign metropolis and selling his CD mixes on the side by the boat-load.

            Up in Toronto, "It's like you're a rock star," he says. "I had to sign autographs for people... I was like, 'Oh, my God, You want my autograph? I'm just a DJ.' But that's how they act up there."

            Unfortunately for Salvaggio, the Canadian government got sick of the way its young, glassy-eyed, pacifier-sucking citizens were acting, and instead of cracking down on babies, it went after ravers.

            "Around '99, the government banned raves in warehouses up there and I lost all my bookings like that," Salvaggio says. "It sucked."

            Fortunately for Salvaggio, Tonic, the upscale nightclub, had opened on East Avenue, and he's been spinning there ever since. These days, he's there Saturday and Sunday mornings from midnight to 2:30 a.m.

            The underground rave scene in this city has been quashed like a terror cell. "Right now, if you try to throw an underground rave in Rochester, you will get arrested," Salvaggio says. "If they find out about it, they will come and they will arrest you and take you to jail."

            These days, the action on the surface also ain't what it used to be. "The scene goes up and down," Salvaggio says, "and the past year-and-a-half to two years, maybe even three, it's been down and it hasn't gone back up. It's weird."

            The music has lost a lot of its taboo chic. "It's more commercial now," Salvaggio notes. "You hear house music played at Old Navy."

            That's not to say Tonic doesn't try hard to recapture some of that old warehouse ambiance. On a recent Friday night, fog machines clouded the dance floor, lithe figures wiggled in the artificial mist, and Salvaggio wove selections from his 3,000-record collection into a seamless stream of danceable musical wallpaper.

            The crowd's a little older, and considerably smaller, though everyone's still unnervingly gorgeous. (I half-suspected someone'd slipped me an ecstasy mickey that night --- it was like a catalog model convention in there.)

            Of course, there'll always be those squares who can't get in the groove. "There are definitely the cheese-people," Salvaggio says.

            "They want to hear some Prince or something like that."

            Perhaps that explains where today's club kids are wiggling: hyper-commercial dance warehouses like (Purple) Rain. Can Armageddon be far behind?