[11 April 2002]
It’s not that cool to be cool anymore. Back when Dimitri from Paris put out A Night at the Playboy Mansion in 2000—or “Y2K”, as all the cool people called it—everyone wanted to be cool. Dot-com IPOs were making millionaires (instant cool cachet) out of chess club dorks, the longest economic expansion in US history was waning but still in swing, people weren’t putting their disposable incomes into uncool savings accounts. Heck, cocaine and dry martinis were even making a comeback. It was the good life.
And there’s no place better equipped to celebrate the good life than the Playboy Mansion, because that’s where the God, the Zeus, the Joe Montana of coolness—one Hugh Hefner—resides. The guy’s had parties all day, every day for something like the past four decades, and he holds court over them in silk jammies and a smoking jacket, his tumbler always half-full and always on the rocks. How cool is that? About as cool as Dimitri’s soundtrack, which called on about four decades of hipster grooves to make for one cohesive ode to id. It was so naturally cool that it could only come from a cool natural.
If anyone was a cool natural, it was Dimitri from Paris: he did a show on France’s Radio 7 back in the day, he’d created runway and boutique soundtracks for the top names in fashion; he’d even provided the soundtrack to our dinner parties with his original debut, Sacre Bleu. He was the Maurice Chevalier, the Catherine Deneuve, the Yves Saint Laurent of French cool, and it came through in most of what he did.
Unfortunately, Dimitri has this thing for disco. Not disco as in the ‘70s disco era and everything after, but Disco as in the ‘70s era exclusively. While some disco mixed here and there can be quite cool, disco exclusively is anything but. That became obvious the year after A Night at the Playboy Mansion when Dimitri did the three-CD Disco Forever compilation, which included two mixes that were so true to the compilation’s name that even Disco Stu would need a short break lest he get swallowed up by the polyester-rayon monsters of mixes. In about two hours’ worth of music, Dimitri from Paris went from being so naturally cool he didn’t need refrigeration to being the Pepe LePew, the Gerard DePardieu, the Jacques Chirac of French cool.
Thankfully, he made it through that butterfly-collar jungle and back to the Playboy Mansion. But, is anyone there to listen? We’re in a recession, our world identity has undergone about five transformations since September 11, none of which involve being cool, and we’ve got a Bush in the White House again. We’re much more concerned these days with matters of the heart and pocketbook than matters of the id. What that might translate to is: Hugh Hefner + Playboy Mansion + Dimitri from Paris = Uncool. You’ve got to hand it to the guys for sticking to their guns through good times and bad, but are the rest of us willing to follow suit, get in our finest silk accoutrements and hit the foyer for some cocktail chat? If this compilation were only half of its two-CD set, the answer would be a resounding “Oui”, but as it is, the answer is “Oui et non”.
Dimitri starts out smoothly with a set dubbed “a laidback selection”. It’s downtempo enough that it’d fall into place behind light conversation and h’ors d’ouvres, but there’s enough thump to it that you can make your way to the dancefloor if you’re inclined. The opening selections, Lil Louis’ “Nyce & Slo” and Imagination’s “So Good, So Right”, have the trappings of that original disco era but are soulful enough to keep the nightmarish flashbacks from taking over. From those retro-smooth beginnings, Dimitri takes us on a journey through cool sounds from around the globe: Les Nubians’ “Makeda” and Beautiful People’s “I Got the Rhythm” have that modern frenetic French house sheen that highlight other Respect Is Burning compilations; the moaning tribal rhythm and percussion of Ralph Myerz & the Jack Heren Band’s “Nikita” that send us into the middle of the mix provide a smooth segueway to more funked-up disco on Tata Vega’s “Get It Up for Love”; but it’s just a temporary trip, and we’re soon back into a world House groove; remixes of Gwen Guthrie’s “Peanut Butter” and Grace Jones “Feel Up” provide the diva touches and the free-blown sax of Blaze’s “Seasons of Love” send us out with a flurry of sharp harmonies. There are precious few moments where the transitions and production values of the live mix are anything short of seamless. Tres cool.
Perfect mixing notwithstanding, the “uplifting selection” starts in with the disco and, despite holding true to the name, never quite gets past that original retro feel. TS Monks “Candidate for Love” is about as uplifting as they come, but there are fewer stylistic transitions that follow it than follow “Nyce and Slo” from the laidback mix. Happy house is fine if that’s what you’re looking for, but such a mix seems geared toward the playmates rather than the playboys or, as the laidback selection pulls off seamlessly, something for both playmates and playboys. That said, the uplifting selection gets better with repeated listens, especially the jazzy ba-ba-ba fusion of Next Evidence’s “The Body Theme”, Paul Murphy & Marc Woolford Project’s “Jazz Room” and Llorca featuring Nicole Graham’s “Indigo Blues” in the heart of the mix, which come together in a groove happily similar to the new school of European techno-jazz. Dimitri hits one more high note by selecting the rollicking “(It Ain’t) All Good”, a super-funky remix of an unreleased De La Soul song featuring no rap and vocals by Chaka Khan.
That selection reminds us why we’re listening to Dimitri in the first place and why we still want to party at the Playboy Mansion: even if the rest of us have our ups and downs on the coolness barometer, people like Dimitri from Paris are so cool that they can tell us what’s cool and, disco homages notwithstanding, we’ll always listen, because sometimes being around cool people is enough to make us feel cool ourselves.