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Dance Music With a Lasting Vibe

DJ-producer Miguel Migs believes 'vocals that speak to you' give life to songs

October 10, 2002|TOMMY NGUYEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Many supporters of the '90s underground dance scene rallied behind the idea of dance-floor globalization, the way predominantly vocals-free and technologically standardized dance tracks were able to transcend boundaries of language and culture. And, as their logic would seem to have it, the bigger the sound and the less important the vocals, the wider it reached. The problem is that globalizers seldom considered how wonderfully intimate, local and specific dance music can be. Or that it might hit with anyone other than dancers.

Take, for instance, the sexy, vocals-rich San Francisco-flavored sounds of Miguel Migs, a DJ-producer who believes that dance songs don't have to live only for the moment the way many of the scene's weekend warriors do.

"A thing with dance music is that it doesn't have a lot of lasting power," says the Santa Cruz native, who played guitar in a dub band before he turned to turntables professionally in 1995. "But quality songwriting is timeless, and vocals that speak to you are a big part of that."

It's electronic dance music with a face, a personality and a nice figure. That doesn't just characterize Migs' deep-house sound; it's the whole sensual vibe of Naked Music, the S.F.-based label that represents him and that has played a big part in the 29-year-old's rising popularity.

As a vital player in a world-class Bay Area house music scene defined by its soul-jazz-tribal aesthetic, Naked Music taps into a more mature, suave groove of the club underground, one that's bringing dance floors to a higher ground. You can detect Naked Music's smooth and sexy vibe just by looking at the label's illustrated cover art, which often features artistic nudes amid scenes of social and sexual opulence. Although these distinct retro-derivative drawings are a marketing come-on, they also show the label's awareness of the lifestyle-dance-style change taking place among dance music listeners.

"Club-goers who were listening to harder, tweakier dance sounds eventually grew up and discovered a love for different kinds of music, like R&B, soul, dub and hip-hop," says Migs, who produced the label's first 12-inch single, 1998's "Breakin' It Down," a lush sound bed of soft percussion, electro-embroidery and full-bodied vocals (by Ledisi) that's still the standard for the label's productions.

"Naked Music is doing music more on that level: soulful, warm, textured music with a lot of songwriting. So the people who buy Naked Music albums aren't just people who are into dance stuff."

In fact, on Migs' Oct. 1 Naked Music/Astralwerks release "Colorful You," his first full-length recording of original material, it's hard to find more than four or five songs among the 14 that can be dropped into a proper house set. "I wanted to keep 'Colorful You' diverse, so I put in some house, some R&B and some soul-influenced down tempo," says Migs. "But even the album's house tracks aren't really big-sounding club hits. It's more of a listening-pleasure album."

But make no mistake, the pleasures found in Migs' DJ live sets are definitely for the feet. Although they still show a respect for all things mature and soulful, his DJ sets allow him to break away a bit from Naked Music, whose very signature voice and rhythm often run the risk of sounding too singular. "I don't like to get pigeonholed, so that's why I make records for other labels as well," says Migs, who has worked with Deep Dish's Yoshitoshi and Britain-based NRK, among others. "I'm not going to say that Naked Music is closed-minded, but it definitely has a formula it likes.

"So when I spin, I play for myself, I play for the crowd. I bring a very diverse crate," he says, with labels like Soulfuric, Drop and Defected getting a lot of club time in his sets as of late. But, of course, he'll spin a Naked track or two, because you cannot deny the crowd what it wants.

Breaking down the mature appeal, he says, "People can simply relate to Naked Music on a different level that's not about bouncing around high at a club."

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Miguel Migs is spinning Oct. 17 at Honey, the Thursday night 21+ club at Circus Disco, 6655 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. $10. 9 p.m.-2 a.m. (323) 957-1181.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Migs lays down a hot wax foundation for one of his smoking club sets:

"Changes," Sandy Rivera (Defected)

"Dubplate Sessions," Miguel Migs (NRK)

"Sweet Sonora," Nuboy and Sebastien

Gamboa (Weekend Rec.)

"Ethnicity 1," Grant Nelson (Swing City)

"Without Love," Jay-J and Chris Lum

(Moulton)

"Work in Progress," Little Men (Drop)

"Niteflight," Ian Pooley (Cube)

"Waterslide," Lance Desardi (Chez)

"Teach You How to Fly," Nathan G.

(Transport)

"Steppin' Up," Miguel Migs (Yoshitoshi)

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