DJ John Larner reluctantly paused from stocking vinyl at his New Orleans record store when he felt a hand grab his shoulder followed by a stern voice demanding that he “put the records down.” The St. Palace Theater dance club next door was being raided by five law enforcement agencies under suspicion of housing raves.
This may have been the beginning of the government’s 2002 Rave Act to crack down on illegal parties, but the dance music and Larner would spin on.
“Rave by definition is illegal,” Larner, 33, says. “But this was a Ticketmaster-sponsored electronic music concert, not some people breaking into a warehouse and partying.”
Today, Larner’s name isn’t requested for a police rave investigation list, but for gigs to spin his Chicago-based house music all over the world.
With 20 years of experience on the decks, Larner’s latest release, 2 Cool 2 Dance, is one of five tracks in regular rotation on the U.K.’s Radio 1, the world’s largest electronic music station. Along with music collaborator DJ Slater Hogan, Larner boasts 22 other such records and annual international tour dates from Buenos Aires to Sydney.
Muzique Boutique, Larner’s record label with Hogan, is also set to release Space Cadillac from the house band, White Lotus Society. Although the record doesn’t drop until March, it is already being hailed as the biggest underground house release of 2007.
With this kind of notoriety, it would seem that Larner would be considered a hometown hero, but unlike the U.K., the U.S.’ electronic music scene continues to flow far from the mainstream.
“I think the main thing is the difference in media in the U.K. versus the U.S.,” he says. “The music you hear on MTV and the radio in the U.S. is controlled by very few people.”
Though he grew up in Bloomington, Ind., Larner was immersed in music at a young age. Between his father’s new wave and electronic records of the late ’70s and his uncle’s international jazz band, he was exposed to a variety of sounds.
Breakdancing eventually led 11-year-old Larner into the electronic music scene, where he joined the Studio Breakers Crew and met two Indiana University freshman who would teach him beat matching in exchange for showing them record scratching.
Larner later spun hip-hop at Ball State University rave parties and transitioned to house music when he heard DJ Derrick Carter.
“I couldn’t understand or relate to what gangster rappers were talking about, but house was about all different kinds of people,” he says.
DJ D-Wynn also inspired Larner to turn to house when he witnessed his bouncing belly behind the decks at a Detroit party in 1995.
“His bumping belly almost took out the decks,” Larner says, “but I got into his soulful vibe and it was all over from there.”
Larner lays down the beats locally
• Therapy Nightclub and Lounge for “Keepin’ It Deep,” Thursdays, no cover
• Gelo Ultra Lounge on Fridays and Saturdays, cover Larner’s local and international tour dates and records