Opinion #3: House Music

by Tom Barr

Do you know what House music is?

This is what I asked the man next to me after ordering another drink. “Do I know what what is?” he said. “House music,” I replied, wearily gesturing around me. “Umm, well its a genre of electronic dance music that originated in Chicago in the early 1980s,’ he said. ‘Generally it’s characterised by repetitive 44 beats, rhythms mainly provided by drum machines, off-beat hi-hat cymbals, and synthesised bass-lines.” I couldn’t help but wander what sort of mind-altering poisons this degenerate must have consumed to spout such nonsense. Still, I could see he was trying to help in his own perverted way. “Oh right, cheers.” This was useless, I was getting nowhere. I had gotten nowhere the entire night. Whatever this ‘House’ music was, it was ethereal and fleeting. Trying to understand it was like trying to grab hold of a fly made of smoke, or just smoke generally. It seemed as though ‘House’ would float out of my life as easily as it had entered it.

I’d just put the final touches to my essay when Jack messaged me: “Hey, what are you doing tonight?” Here I was, in a position to party and Jack was about to propose a wild night out. Well, as wild a night as Exeter could offer. “Dunno, why?” I replied. “I’ve got a free press ticket for the Our House ‘End of Term Takeover’ at Timepiece. You can have it, if you write an article about it. It’s a ‘House’ night.” I said I’d do it, although naturally I had no idea what he was talking about.

This was pretty exciting. I’d never been to a ‘House’ night before. Although if an article also had to be written I’d have to keep my wits about me. My usual Timepiece performance consisted of steadily making my way through 6 double vodka lemonades, culminating in a last ditch Jagerbomb before politely being requested to leave the premises. No, there would be no room for any of that tonight. As I approached Jack’s door I was interrupted from this line of thought by the sight of a shadowy figure standing by the door. As I came closer he slowly entered the fading light. The man had skin like Peruvian horse wood and eyebrows like plump mahogany caterpillars. I recognised him immediately as the man known only, as ‘Mendes’. It was rumoured that he’d been one of Castro’s personal guards, before the development of an unfortunate skin allergy to cigar smoke had developed. All that mattered now was that he was standing in front of me, ready to answer my questions. “Where is Jack?” I asked. “He no here,” he replied. “‘He’s not here’ you mean.” “He no here,” he replied, with what I considered an necessary amount of snark. “Here your ticket,” he said, handing me my green wristband. Mendes might have been a lot of things, but as I stared into the lower brow area where I assumed his eyes were, I could tell he wasn’t a liar.

Where could Jack be? He’d never miss a Timepiece night. He’s all about music and alcohol. Something was obviously going down tonight that someone wanted hushed up. Who were those someones? What had Jack let slip? Was it the music? I remembered his last words to me:

It’s a ‘House’ night.

What if this actually meant something? A code? Jack had obviously got in over his head and was trying to let me know. If only I’d seen the signs sooner.

I’d been thinking this over the entire walk to Timepiece and I really felt the silence had been a bonding experience for me and Mendes. Although we’d soon have to part. If I wanted answers I had to stay outside, but Mendes had to head inside because of that smoke allergy. As we parted he gave me an encouraging nod and wink, I think. I had no time to lose; I had to unlock this mystery and find my friend. I sat down next to two nice enough looking girls. They had kind faces and I sensed they would help me if they could. I flashed my press wristband and put forward my cover story. As far as they were concerned I was writing a piece for a student-run music website for a piece entitled ‘What is ‘House’ music?’. However, it soon transpired that these girls weren’t going to play along so easily. When I started my investigation they started getting evasive and vague. “I don’t really know what House music is. I just come here to get drunk really.” I couldn’t understand why they were ducking my questions. I went to get another drink.

The whole operation went much further than I could have imagined. Every time I asked anyone what ‘House’ was, they all gave the same sort of answers. “It’s a thumping beat.” “It has a lot of remixes.” “Something you can fist pump to.” “Go away please.” Nonsense, all of it. They were obviously prepped for my investigation. Someone must have gone to a lot of trouble to keep this secret. I went to get another drink.

As I came back from the bar I spied a bouncer surveying the dancefloor. Surely a night scene professional would have answers for me. As I approached I could see the consternation in the bouncer’s eyes. “Go away.” Of course, they have to tow the party line. I was obviously ruffling some feathers pretty high up. How far did this go, all the way to the top? The top top? I had to find out. I’d come too far to stop here.

I ascended the stairway with my customary grace, one step at a time. By this point I was finding it hard to see straight. The rigours of my investigation had finally got to me. I had to sit down for a little bit. As I regained my strength I stared out into the mass of bodies. They were all enjoying themselves. Perhaps that was what ‘House’ really meant. You shouldn’t ask questions. Just go along with it. Maybe ‘House’ wasn’t code. It certainly wasn’t a genre of music. Maybe ‘House’ is a way of living. A philosophy. As I descended the stairs I felt as if a load had been lifted from my shoulders. Maybe now I could enjoy my night.

I spied Mendes over by the bar. “I think I finally understand ‘House’, Mendes.” He continued to stare into the middle distance. I knew he was proud of me. I wished Jack was here so I could share my findings.

Jack! That was the reason I had come here in the first place. I had got so lost in trying to understand ‘House’ that I had completely forgotten my friend. Is this what ‘House’ does to you? It seduces you. then makes you forget all ties of friendship and loyalty. I turned to Mendes. “We need to find Jack!” “He no here.” “I know Mendes! That’s why I came here, to find him.” “No, he gone away. He passport expire and he go on holiday soon. He need to go renew. He tell me to come with you here.” “What! Why didn’t you tell me that?” “I say “He no here”!” This is too much to process. I’d been on a wild goose chase the entire night. This whole investigation now felt pointless and inane. Although, there was still one thing I couldn’t get my head around.

“Why did Jack want you to come with me?” “He say you promise him article for music website. He say if you alone, you just get drunk and make fool of self.” I don’t know why Jack had felt the need to lie to Mendes, but I was done with investigating for tonight. Still, one thing was true: I had promised Jack I would write something. In my search for what ‘House’ meant I hadn’t actually listened to any of the music. Like Icarus, I had flown too close to the sun. Where was I now? In the drink with a mush of feathers and melted wax. “Sod it,” I thought. “I’ll just make something up.”