In the mid-2000s, Quentin Harris was a dance music powerhouse, churning out top-notch Deep House faster than the flights that were taking him around the world. With his past affiliation as a resident DJ at the Shelter, Quentin is amongst the high office participants of NYC dance music. But despite his outspoken and over the top nature, his musical offerings of late have been relatively sparse. With this month’s release of his new artist album, Sacrifice on Strictly Rhythm, Quentin’s come out of the box to bring the truth.
How does putting out your new album feel?
It physically and emotionally feels like giving birth. Of course I don’t know what that actually feels like, but I’m happy that it’ll be out by the time people read this. It took two and a half years to get through my writer’s block.
My first album, No Politics, was well received. Then I felt all this pressure in my head to meet expectations because of the bar I set for myself. The difference between No Politics and my new album Sacrifice, is that my first album was all about me being creative. But the minute that what you love to do becomes your work and how you pay the bills, your livelihood depends on how well your art is judged by other people.
So I had writer’s block for two years. There was this thought in some people’s heads that I wake up in the morning and just breathe and out comes a record in the stores. It’s all because I was a little factory for a moment. I had that creative energy and it was flowing fast.
Once I slowed down, I kept hearing, “Well, where’s Quentin? Where’s Quentin?” On top of that, people kept telling me I have this sound, and I was like, “I don’t think I have a sound!” People started imitating a sound of mine I didn’t think existed. Scott Wozniak’s remix of “Glad I Found You” imitated me to the point that everyone thought the track was by me. They would swear it was me until they saw his name on it.
But this new album is something that you can play at clubs, at home or driving. It’s a great driving album – I tested that in Italy. The way it starts and ends – it’s telling a story of what I’ve been through for the past four years. I was all but on the side of a milk carton box with some people.
I can understand the feeling of pressure since your new album came out on Strictly Rhythm.
Yes! I feel honored to be a part of the label, actually. As much as I play in clubs, I’m also a history nut. If I’m going to be signed to a label, I’m definitely going to know the history. And the history with Strictly Rhythm is just immense.
What’s your history with Shelter?
Three years after moving to NYC from Detroit, I started working at Satellite Records and making more dance music. I met Ben Johnson, future Unrestricted Access partner, and we hit it off.
I was always showing up late to work because I was working on music. One particular day, I showed up three hours late because I was finishing a remix of India Arie’s “Ready For Love”. Ben took the record to Timmy Regisford and he started playing it in the club. Then Timmy wanted a meeting with me and Darryl James. He said, “You two guys have the hottest shit right now.” I was like, “What do you mean? You only got one record from me.”
Later I was asked to do a remix of Donnie’s “Cloud 9”. As the story goes, I gave it to Timmy and he said, “I’m going to kill this record this week!” That weekend, Master Kev was blowing up my phone. He was like, “Quentin! Timmy is playing this record over and over again and he says it’s yours.” I was like, “Okay, I’m heading to the club.” I got there around 6 a.m. and Timmy played that record 12 times that night. Now that’s called breaking a record! That means he played a nine minute record every hour.
That basically started this wave I’m riding now. From there I started doing a lot more remixes and bootlegs. And I’ll be the first to tell you – my career was built on those records. From there my relationship with Shelter continued to blossom and Timmy encouraged me to do things and remix songs I wouldn’t have necessarily dared to do, such as Femi Kuti and other African stuff.
Today we’re still friends. We talk and I still call him for advice. Whatever rumors that are going around that we don’t work together is more like – we haven’t been working together as of late. He advised me on the new album. He didn’t A&R it like the last one, but he gave me suggestions and things like that.
What’s your relationship with the New York City scene these days?
I’ll be honest, I think I’m losing my Deep House fanbase. In my mind, the current state of dance music is that the younger generation doesn’t give a shit about the Paradise Garage or the Music Box. And seeing the older generation interact with them, it’s like seeing a puppy go up to the older dog and the older dog doesn’t want nothin’ to do with the puppy. One scene doesn’t respect the history and the other scene doesn’t cultivate youth.
And the location where Shelter is now – there’s a party next door and it’s very gay and lots of trannies are running around. People are like, “What’s up with all these gays runnin’ around?” You went to the Paradise Garage! People also complain about drugs and I’m like, “You went to parties when they were throwing pills in the punch!”
The “Kiss My Black Ass” party I did for a short time in NYC… I always had these crazy ideas for a party. At the Shelter, we would try to get Timmy to decorate or paint and he was like – it’s not important. Yes, it is important! The room, the sound, the visual aspect… I thought people were taking themselves too seriously. Hence the title of my party. I thought all those worlds – the Deep House and the Pacha crowd – could all exist in one building. And it was starting to happen at my party.
Then we did a Paradise Garage tribute party. When it was first brought up, I wasn’t into it, but we went with it because we needed more numbers at the club. Something really scandalous happened that one of the DJs did to me. I never met Larry, but I’ve dated people who knew him. I thought that in the spirit of the Garage, I could play anything I wanted to.
So I played five classics in a row and then went into all new stuff. The older people raked me through the coals because I did that. These people only come out when it’s a classics party – they never wanna hear the new stuff. So I took a step back and decided I didn’t want to do any more parties in NYC, as people didn’t see the bigger picture.
I always thought a lot of things were born out of nightlife. They’ve been places that bring you in contact with people you wouldn’t necessarily come across. It builds tolerance and acceptance. But it isn’t always like that these days. So I’ve kind of shut down from that scene. If they like it – they like it. So I’m going through a change – well… I’d rather call it an evolution.
What’s your take on the overall state of the music industry?
I think the state sucks in terms of sales. The only reason why things are the way they are is because of the people that run the labels. The majors don’t think dance music is a viable commodity, even though everyone wants a dance track now. Dance music these days is definitely the 1990s all over again, but not necessarily a true representation. In the 1990s, dance music was becoming mainstream, but there were a few things that killed it – primarily, that there was no face to it.
Today, David Guetta is extremely popular and I’m not mad at him at all for it. But Kelly Rowland – why is David Guetta getting top billing over you? Instead of this “feature” stuff, how about David Guetta produces a dance album for Kelly if she wants to do a dance album? The other thing is that there are too many singles and not enough albums. Singles aren’t as accessible to the average person. They want a body of work they can hum along to and singles just aren’t cutting it.
Why do you think Deep House has become mainstream music in South Africa?
A lot of their original music already has the Deep House feeling to it. But it goes back to what I was saying: they put a face to their music. Have you seen Dennis Ferrer’s “Hey Hey” video? Why is Dennis not in the song? I don’t get that.
On my album, I share the billing with the artists I work with. I hate the word “featuring.” How could I say, “Quentin Harris ‘featuring Ultra Nate?’” I think you do the vocalist a disservice when you “feature”. We need to sell a face.
Speaking of Ultra Nate, let’s finish off with the inside scoop on your future project with her…
I’ll be in a band with Ultra Nate titled Black Stereo Face. We’ll be exploring funk rock with influences from Talking Heads, Rolling Stones… We’ll be flipping it into something modern. I actually had half of the album done for Black Stereo Face before I even had three songs done on my solo artist album. But be on the lookout for it sometime in September of next year.
Interview by Brent Crampton