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Sunday night in the Tower District. There's a scattering of late-night diners at Livingstone's, rushing to get their order in before the kitchen closes. A few friends sit on the patio, nursing drinks and chatting. The streets have quieted down from busy Friday and Saturday nights, and things are decidedly mellow.
Except at the Starline, where the weekly house party Focus is going off.
Folks are dressed in their dance floor best and waiting two deep at the bar for a drink. Guest DJ Red Sonya controls the beats while bright visuals are projected onto white screens on two sides of the club. About 20 people are dancing at any given moment, while the rest are fetching drinks, talking to friends, or stealing a smoke outside.
Focus is the longest-running of the three main house nights in Fresno. Organized by Jason Merle and Clint Storm, Focus takes over the Starline every other Sunday.
In a town where rock bands are a dime a dozen, the house scene in Fresno is still going strong. Mention glow sticks to any of the DJs in town and they'll look perplexed. House is not the rave scene of the 90's. It includes all genres of music- from jazz, to funk, to rock- over a steady 4/4 beat.
Kristian Moua, who organizes the monthly party Bounce, first discovered the music six years ago.
"There's so many genres within electronic music," Moua explained. "House music, it has soul, it has funk, it has every genre of music in it so it just depends what you like. The younger kids they tend to like a little faster stuff."
Moua tells the tale of the beginnings of house music: It all began in a Chicago club called Warehouse (hence the name), as disco was on the decline. "Black folks, predominately gay, wanted to experience more of the disco scene but they couldn't find it. Frankie Knuckles had a party in a warehouse playing this style of music."
New York had its own scene, "garage." The music featured more vocals than Chicago house.
"House I would say is generally 120-130 bpm [beats per minute]. It's usually a 4/4 beat," said Moua.
House music has infinite sub-genres, from deep house to acid house to Detroit techno.
Jordan Werth, aka DJ Jordan, owns Ditrec Records in the Tower District and has been a part of house music in Fresno for more than 12 years. He organizes the every-other-Wednesday party Club Beyond at Club Fred.
His favorite styles of house are Detroit techno- "It is very swingy, the bass line kinda rocks"- and acid house. "With acid house it's a very warbly, kinda bubbly sounding tone that kind of overrides the bottom and top of the music. And I like it all infused with tribal and jazz."
Live percussion is not uncommon.
"Nowadays, if you can have a live act, people are a lot more impressed with that. So a good one right now is called Greenskeepers. They also produce," said Moua.
Complimenting the beat is the vibe that goes along with a house party. For Bradley Fitzhenry, aka DJ Bradley, it was a large part of what drew him into the scene. Bradley until recently organized Nectar, a monthly party at 609 Grille. He attributes the party's popularity in part to the vibe created by the crowd, and intends to start a new night when 609 Grille owners open their new restaurant.
"I really fell in love with the attitude of the people of that scene," said Bradley. "House is a philosophy to a lot of people- a religion. It's a way of life for a lot of people."
"It's an environment of inclusion, openness, and acceptance," he said of the house scene in general.
"House music is an extension of the roots of all tribal dance music. It's a 4-to-the-4 rhythm and bass line that is specifically made to dance," explained Jordan.
"I've been throwing parties for over 12 yrs. I started sneaking into clubs when I was 12 at a place called the Lighthouse. There were DJs that were mixing and not just playing the songs," he remembers. The Lighthouse was a club located near where Blackbeard's Family Fun Center's bumper cars are now.
According to Jordan, the scene in Fresno started around 1988. That year, the first mailer-only acid house parties began. In 1992, Fresno got raves. Jordan recalls organizing one that was sponsored by MTV's "Choose or Loose."
"That was when MTV was still a little fringe."
"There's probably been around 5 waves since 1988," Jordan estimates. This current wave is a recovery from the rave fallout in the late 1990's and the dot-com crash.
"When 9-11 happened, you basically had a crash of the Silicon Valley and the Silicon Valley is a huge hub of DJs in the United States. Now things are staring to start up again."
This latest wave of house in Fresno is being fueled by the generation that was into the scene five or six years ago and is coming back, in addition to next-generation DJs or people who are discovering house for the first time.
Judging from the talent that's grown in Fresno and the DJs that pass through, the next wave of Fresno house is in full effect. Bounce's one-year anniversary is July 1st at the Starline, and Moua plans to launch a new house label, Voluptuous Recordings, late this summer. DJ Jordan is booking world-famous DJs like Donald Glaude and Gavin Harkiss.
"Fresno is definitely on the map," said Moua. "There's a big buzz about the Fresno house scene."
Focus happens every other Sunday at the Starline. For more information visit: myspace.com/jasonmerle
Bounce happens the first Friday at the Starline. For more information visit: freewebs.com/bounce02
Club Beyond happens every other Wednesday at Club Fred. For more information visit: myspace.com/djjordan
For updates on DJ Bradley and Fresno house in general, visit sonicfoundation.net.