Dancing Shoes Only: Dress Code Lets It Go
Where the hell is Dayton, Ohio? I saw that on a T-shirt once. But I got a better one: How come such cool music comes from this town? Devo, Guided by Voices, the Ohio Players, and I'm sure there are others. Is it the water? The presence of the University? There is a local fertility that comes out in the music, especially the funk: hello Slave (driving '80s funk) we are not worthy; 'nuff respect, Zapp, featuring Roger Troutman (and if you don't know, now you know).
Following the lineage is Dayton born-and-bred Derek Holley, the one-man band known as Dress Code. And on his EP Sonic Boom
), he steps up nicely with a hot mix of breaks, electro, and soulful house-style dance music, cut with rock, funk and hip hop influences. His eclectic approach comes from a deep and long appreciation of music.
His early memories of hearing music? "One thing that stands out was my parents' Sly and the Family stone records, and lots of '70s and '80s funk and R&B." When you check the beginnings of funk, you find rock and soul, blazing guitar and bugged out studio psychedelia. From Sly and the Family Stone to Hendrix to Funkadelic to the Ohio Players (blenders of gut-bucket soul singing with James Brown's horny horns and funky drummer): different folks drinking from the same well. Same as Dress Code.
Besides the funk, music was part of the life of the Holley family. "I would get toy instruments to play with as a kid, and I guess it stuck with me. I really started to get serious about music in high school. I'd go home after school and practice playing different instruments. My first instrument was the drums, but I started to learn guitar and bass so I could write songs.
"Later on, I bought my first multi-track recorder and started making demos. Prince was a big influence on me because he did it all: played instruments, wrote songs, and got to produce his 1st album when he was still a teenager! I liked his sound, mixing funk and R&B with rock and pop. I thought the over-the-top image was cool, too. Funky music with a glam rock star look." Dress Code rocks a classic style of black shades, black shirt, a black leather jacket. Eternal glam.
What was the music scene like growing up in Dayton, Ohio? "There was a huge funk scene here in the '70s and '80s. Some of those bands are still working now. There's been more of a rock scene here now than before." Dress Code, funky as they are, is dance music. Here in America that scene is confined to the night life subculture. Overseas is a different matter.
"I have music out in England right now," Dress Code explains. "I think dance and electronic music is more mainstream in other countries. There's a scene for it in the US, but it's not as big. I hear electronic/dance music in commercials and movies, but not on the radio. For it to get bigger in the States, it needs to be promoted by putting the artists up front the way most other popular music is marketed, and not just a particular track. It should have more of an identity, a look to go with the sound."
And his sound grabs the listeners and makes them shake that thang. The cuts "Control" and "Just a Party" are like C+C Music Factory with more grits and soul. The title track, "Sonic Boom", has a late-'80s early-'90s retro punch, like a club scene in a Hong Kong action flick where two gangs meet and stare down each other. "Let It Go", a personal favorite, has an old school house music groove and two soulful vocal hooks that scream hit song.
Part of Dress Code's identity is being a virtual band. In the Internet age this makes perfect sense. Some artists exist only as iTunes downloads. Unless you're playing live, it doesn't matter if you are an actual group that gets down in a sweaty rehearsal studio. And even then you can fake it with a DAT or CD track playing while you pantomime. Hello Ashlee Simpson, Brittany, et al.
"The virtual band idea came about because I couldn't put a band together and I wanted to make a demo," he explained. "I originally got the idea to play all the tracks from Prince, but I got the idea of using a band name from Nine Inch Nails. In the credits for the record Pretty Hate Machine, it says 'Nine Inch Nails is Trent Reznor.'
"When I put my music together, I start working on a track from a guitar riff, bass line, or a beat. Sometimes I have lyrical ideas first, either a chorus or some kind of catch phrase. The music is a mix of samples and live instruments; when I'm recording, I play guitar, bass, and synthesizers." And unlike other DJ-centered bands that focus on the spectacle, with dancers gettin' down to a CD playback of the record, he doesn't front live.
"In the live show I use a DJ set up, combined with live instruments and vocals. I have a set of CD decks and a DJ mixer, sampler, keyboard, and an electronic drum pad. I also use a cordless mic." Like many artists today, Dress Code exists outside the reach and interest of megacorp major labels. Besides the web, he also has found a home on an independent label.
"I have a nonexclusive licensing deal with Home City Records in London, England," he told me. "Two of my tracks will be on a compilation disc they're releasing in Europe. They're also selling my MP3s. The state of things right now for my style is that there are opportunities for licensing; especially for film, TV, video games, and CD compilations. Indie labels offer more opportunities than major labels do."
Opportunities exist closer to home, too. Dress Code has been invited to showcase at the 2005 MidPoint Music Festival in Cincinnati, OH. This event with run from September 21 to 24 and will host over 250 artists from the US and abroad.