MUSIC: Liquid Sound Lounge’s Jeannie Hopper Keeps Rockin’ the Boat
SOULFUL ON ALL FREQUENCIES: Q&A WITH JEANNIE HOPPER (NYC)
If you know anything about NYC’s underground dance culture, the name Jeannie Hopper travels in very good circles as an ambassador of the scene and ardent supporter on the airwaves. Her show, Liquid Sound Lounge, celebrates a milestone this year amid financial uncertainty at WBAI-FM, yet Hopper remains steadfast for all the right reasons.
And, she keeps “keepin’ on” while wearing many hats _ DJ, radio host, producer, label owner, music programmer and station manager for Art International Radio, the first online radio station dedicated to the arts. Find out more about Hopper in the following exclusive with Tania Fuentez Media. Then, check back tomorrow for part two of the interview.
NOTE: LSL’s annual Summer Boat Cruise is Friday, Aug. 23. Partial proceeds to support WBAI-FM. Visit www.LiquidSoundLounge.com for more information. Photos courtesy of Jeannie Hopper.
TFM: Congratulations on your show’s 20th anniversary. Did you ever imagine it would have such longevity, global reach and impact on listeners?
JH: The stories, the stories, the stories! Oh, so many to tell. The honor to be a part of this rich community continues to amaze me, and I’ve always called myself an ambassador in the scene in my radio personality and journalist role. In terms of listeners, WBAI historically has played a crucial role impacting the community locally and nationally, thus it feels especially humbling to be a part of this history. However, it’s the listeners who have the say as our station is solely funded by them and not corporate underwriting or commercials. It’s because of this incredible model of radio free-form, created by Bob Fass of Radio Unnameable in the early 60s, which allows me to use the airwaves as a canvas.
But, it’s my record label and productions, collaborations and DJing that have been the catalyst in having a global reach and come full circle in impacting the radio show. Longevity does feel good! Record releases have continued to be a true ticket to globally impacting so many and in such a grassroots way in my case, which is very different from the international impact of a dance record that has a major label engine behind it (a k a money).
The second record I wrote lyrics and performed spoken vocals on, Déjà Vu by Jon Cutler and DJ Romain in 1995, continues to be remixed and re-released in the new millennium by New York’s Mr. V, Italy’s Supernova, Japanese/UK-based Akiko Kiyama and featured on DJ Pierre’s Mix the Vibe compilation. And, the record I wrote, performed spoken vocals and released on my label, Guiding Light by Louie Balo Guzman, was licensed by NRK records where Pete Heller did a remix and Global Underground licensed it as per Deep Dish for their Moscow compilation where they wove my a cappella throughout the entire double CD mix set. Currently, another record I wrote and performed on, How Many Tears by Victor Simonelli, is about to be re-released as it inspired a producer to do the re-edit.
TFM: In 1999, you launched “the original groovy soulful House music dance party on a boat.” Obviously, ahead of the pack since theme cruises and boat parties are pumping everything from disco classics to Goth/Industrial tracks these days. What inspired your first one?
JH: The changing club culture due to the impact of NYC’s ‘quality of life’ campaign in the 90s, which thanks to our politicians focused on the negative sides of clubs, and influenced the entire club scene. You could have the most down-to-earth party you wanted to do in a club and suddenly you felt like you were entering a prison being pat down, and the excessiveness of the nightlife task force coming down on a club to check permits at the peak time of the night, that was not in violation but was now threatened because of a rezoning. Luxury housing developments moved to the neighborhood because our culture made it more attractive, but alas the ‘new neighbors’ didn’t want it in their ‘backyard,’ so to speak. I know cities are ever-changing, but this never ceases to amaze me that the US doesn’t respect and embrace the cultural value of the club scene like London or Ibiza.
The impact all this had on clubs created bottle service, which to me is the corporatizing of the scene for us folks who were trying to have a grassroots party that focused on the music, dancing and the experience as a community rather than bar guarantees and posing, which seems the only affordable model to be able to exist in lower Manhattan where the scene historically developed. I connected with one of the first boat companies that started to appear as the waterways around the island were becoming accessible once again. I found I could have a dialogue with Marco Polo Cruises as a partnership in creating an event that would be welcoming to the vibe I was trying to create.
I try to have every detail focused on the joy of the patron to walk away with an unforgettable experience. Not only was I the first to head to a boat for the vibe I was trying to create for soulful House music heads, but one of the first to have to charge a higher price than the norm, thus rethinking it as a ‘special occasion.’ It’s been incredible unique journeys each cruise. There’s been love found, engagements and even a marriage as the result of our LSL-LoveBoatFest.
TFM: Remember your opening track?
JH: I don’t recall the first track, but I do recall I was spinning vinyl which technically I had to work out with the elements _ being on waves, surges of power being that it was running on generator, having enough power, etc. There’s a tune, though, that has become somewhat of an anthem by Victor Simonelli that I’ve deemed ‘the boat song’ called, The Ride, featuring Chris Caggs’ spoken vocals (West Side Records). And, Coati Mundi’s, Boat Dance (Rong Music) has become another anthem.
TFM: Despite all the rules and regulations stifling nightlife and club culture, what still makes NYC so special?
JH: We still have a dynamic hub of incredible talent and a whole ever-evolving audience coming here seeking to experience what emulates the original energy and vibe of the scene. I feel also like where there’s a will, there’s a way which is the spirit of so many that continue weekly parties in legal and illegal spots. The scene, however, feels seemingly disparate, and in applying my journalistic curiosity, I’m forever keeping in touch and seeking out what’s going on. We’re still spoiled in the sense there’s still more going on here than most places on the regular. And, the DIY scenes in Brooklyn are breaking some serious ground. We all, though, need to get rid of the antiquated NY Cabaret law that keeps coming and killing cultural movements one party and/or venue where people are dancing at a time, thus go to http://legalizedance.org and Please Sign the Petition!!!
TFM: Speaking of the radio show, how are things holding up at WBAI? Is there a silver lining in sight? What have you learned from this process and how has it made you stronger as an independent artist.
JH: The situation is at a critical juncture as is Pacifica Broadcasting. They go hand in hand. The foundation holds five licenses total, including New York City, Washington D.C., Houston TX, Los Angeles and Berkley, CA, as well as serving more than 200 community radio affiliates that depend on us for progressive programming. We’re the only network not influenced by corporations, but rather can cover stories from a very grassroots to global perspective without worrying about funding being threatened because we offend a ‘sponsor.’ This is extremely important and an invaluable resource in this ever-increasing landscape of corporate influence … an example, the film about the Koch Brothers. Pacifica was the inspiration for NPR/PBS being created. It plays quite an amazing and unique detrimental role in broadcasting, thus must survive by all means necessary. The issue is not between Pacifica and the union, the issue is a greater financial one resulting in having to turn to layoffs. The governance changed in the last 11 years, which hasn’t been working, thus the structure needs to change nationally and locally.
Unfortunately, the financial issues so many not-for-profits have faced since the economic crash in 2008, and for us, meant already being in an unstable state increased to a critical state when hurricane Sandy hit where we were displaced and continue to struggle to stabilize. It’s a struggle to have to keep quantifying and explaining why your show qualifies as deserving time on the airwaves and educating management as to how my show serves the community on the many levels it does. Music is a very political issue in itself when it comes to access to the airwaves for an artist to gain greater exposure, thus I’ve always focused on music that doesn’t get airplay and/or a new artist.
This is helpful on so many levels to the artist, personally in recognition of their talent to a greater reach in connecting them with new fans and bringing their fans to WBAI. And, with the Web this means an even greater connectivity as music is a global community and in the case of House music and soulful-based dance music emanating from the US. Like jazz, it’s impacted the world, but someone has to support the new artists, and that’s what the LSL mission and a part of the Pacifica mission is about.
The Internet allows everyone to connect in a greater way with their audience and build an audience. Media that is a level playing field, so to speak, but do fight for net neutrality so this continues. And, talk about a research tool for your own marketing and seeing how those before you continue as mainstays like Louie Vega, Eric Morillo, David Morales, Frankie Knuckles, Kerri Chandler and the list goes on and on. But, the key is always your love and drive and staying true to yourself.
Can the station and network survive? Simply put, support listener sponsored radio! Become a WBAI Buddy by contributing monthly ($10 or greater) or simply make a donation to the station at www.Give2WBAI.org
TFM: Despite its production quality and vast range, soulful or deep House continues to be eclipsed by pop music or the latest movement, EDM.
JH: There’s always been EDM even prior to its commercial accessibility as of late. We called it ‘commercial house’ which was also called ‘hard house’ etc. … House music has had and continues to have such an incredible journey like jazz in its many styles, vibes and interpretations. I love that the UK calls soulful house ‘proper house.’ Eclipsed? Depends on how you’re weighing in on it all. Remember Love Generation by Bob Sinclar ft. Gary Pine of The Wailers? That record was huge in visibility and Pine garnered some serious fees to perform it in the US at corporate functions, thus it impacted a much broader community than the ‘underground’ or US club scene. Now, look at its success outside the US, a totally different story! It made oodles of money, while Tommy Boy Records, which released it domestically, not the case. This goes back to radio and its incredible importance, even with Internet access increasing visibility for all genres.
US radio is controlled by corporate interests _ pre-determined playlists based on market shares in attracting corporate sponsors. You’ve seen a trend in EDM entering this corporate model, thereby garnering success. We saw it with Hip Hop, which was a unique moment where radio and major labels were in trouble for payola scandals that opened a window for a format change. And, the big festival circuit is possible in the US again since the chilling effect of the Woodstock reunion festival pushing insurance through the roof as festivals became high risk.
But, soulful house a k a OG called ‘House’ period, the birth of the genre out of disco, soul and funk, had great strength on the radio in the 80s from KISS-FM’s DJ/programmer Shep Pettibone including and bringing Tony Humphries on to Kiss to Frankie Crocker bringing the music of the Paradise Garage and other pivotal clubs into rotation on WBLS and DJs like John Robinson in the mid-day mix at noon (may both Frankie and John rest in peace). The bottom line is if you have a love for what you do, it will show in the music and I always think there’s an art and then there’s a formula … follow your heart!
Liquid Sound Lounge: www.LiquidSoundLounge.com
To Donate: www.Give2WBAI.org