The progression sessions
House stalwart Tedd Patterson's career is a study in evolution.
Wed Aug 1 2007
Photo: David Diesing
“The Germans and the English are mopping our asses in the big American clubs!” house-music veteran Tedd Patterson says. But the 46-year-old DJ makes the declaration with a hearty laugh. He’s in the middle of a nearly two-month club crawl through the DJ booths of Italy, with only a brief midtour homecoming on Saturday 4 to spin at Vibal, his monthly residency at Cielo.
Whether manning the decks at the intimate Cielo or some glam Euroclub—he frequently helms Italy’s 6,000-strong Angels of Love parties, for instance—Patterson’s traveled far since his late-’70s nightlife initiation in Savannah, Georgia. “It was still the height of disco,” he says, “and before I was spinning, I was a disco dancer, to the point that I was competing in contests with a partner.” After moving to Atlanta—and sharing A-town club-kid status with the likes of Larry Tee and RuPaul—Patterson fell in with the alt-music scene. “It was like a little community of alternative freaks,” he recalls. “Larry is one of the smartest fuckers I’ve ever known, and so is Ru. He wasn’t always a drag queen; he was like a punky freak with a loincloth and a Mohawk with fuck written on the side of his head.” In the later ’80s, of course, house came along. “You have to remember that house—Chicago-style house more so than the soulful sort—was also considered alternative back then,” he says.
It was house that got Patterson to Gotham, when one of the city’s bigger 4/4 labels, Emotive, took him on as head of its A&R division in 1991. (This was an era when independent house-music labels regularly sold tens of thousands of each release.) The European gigs started coming, and so did a multiyear stint with the Magic Sessions, a popular series of soulful-house affairs that Patterson deejayed with turntable heavyweights Louie Vega and Tony Humphries. “That kind of defined my life at the time, and my name became attached to that party,” he says. “Which meant that, in America, for a while I kept pretty much to soulful house because that’s what was expected of me. But when I would play in Europe, I was much more adventurous—and now, at Vibal, I’ve progressed to where it’s a combination of deep-tech plus tribal plus soul. Carl Craig, Alex Neri, Osunlade, all the minimal guys—it’s a big cornucopia.” (Some Vibal sets can be sampled at Patterson’s website, teddpatterson.com.)
That kind of musical progression may be, oddly enough, one reason Patterson’s name isn’t quite up there in the house pantheon with the likes of some of his contemporaries. who—for better or worse—have basically been working the same sound for the past two decades. House aficionados can be a conservative lot, and sometimes tend to look askance at anything that deviates from the paradigm they’re familiar with. Patterson, however, is content. “My choice,” he says, “was to either play from a certain list of specific soulful-house records without varying, or be open to everything that’s going on—and I chose to be open.”
And then there’s the reality of Patterson’s discography being a bit thinner than some of those better-known names, despite having produced a handful of near-classics like 2000’s “Roots,” and “Magnifique” from 2003. “It’s kind of a problem, as many of the DJs who are big nowadays are big more because of their productions than because of their skills,” he says. “I’m kind of shy when it comes to making music, but I am getting more comfortable with it; I’ve got my own studio set up, finally. But I’m humbled by the fact that I’ve been able to hang in there for this long without having that much material out there, and I think it’s because I am a good DJ. I barely want to say that out loud, but it serves to remind me that I have to stay on top of my shit! And there is something kind of cool about bubbling under for 20 years.”