Photography by Todd Franson
When Jean-Philippe Aviance lined up his first DJ gig at Lizard Lounge, a friend remarked, "Oh, I can't go there. It's too Versace." The wildly popular weekly gay party now held at Connecticut Avenue's swanky MCCXXIII (1223, in layman's numbers) attracts more than hip fashionistas, though. It attracts a crowd seeking out slightly off-kilter dance music, a warmer, less bombastic and slower variant of the hyper-diva house that has ruled gay clubbing for at least the past decade. Hip music-maniacs, if you will.
Aviance fits the bill. "For me, music is an obsession," he says. "It's like a sickness." But in his illness lies the cure to breaking up the musical monotony afflicting even a hardcore clubgoer with mainstream dance music tastes.
Aviance defies easy measures and categorizations. For the past couple of years he hasn't spun live often -- although he's at Lizard every Sunday night before a Monday holiday, spinning at his perch on the third level. He listens to as much up-tempo music as he can, but he's not overly forthcoming about which artists he likes -- and you probably haven't heard of those he does, such as Air, a French group whose forthcoming album has him most excited right now. (Still more obscure: Zombie Nation, an electro-oriented group topping Aviance's January Top Ten list, with "The Cut.")
He also doesn't go out much. "The bars don't hold a lot of appeal for me, since I'm in a relationship and not looking to hook up," Aviance said. He's been with his boyfriend John going on four years now.
As for DJs he admires, he holds particular regard for Kostas, Lizard's weekly resident DJ. "Kostas was the last DJ in town who actually got me to dance," Aviance says.
The 34-year-old has been a part of the D.C. scene off and on since 1990, just as the techno-driven rave scene was taking off. He got his start -- and his pseudonymous surname -- at the House of Aviance. "Housemother" Juan Aviance asked him to DJ for the House, including its weekly Kindergarten party at the former Vault nightclub. The House of Aviance included Kevin, who Jean-Philippe had worked with in Paris a couple years prior when Jean-Philippe was supposed to be studying international business at The American University. (He studied nightclubs instead.) At least in gay dance circles Kevin Aviance has become the most popular member of the Aviance family, which after a couple years in Washington dispersed to New York, Miami and overseas.
Jean-Philippe himself has moved from Washington and back a couple times since, first to Los Angeles and later to London, DJing in both cities. He last returned in August of 2000.
"I love Washington," he says. "I love leaving Washington even more." But these days it's just to take short trips every couple months. His problem, such as it is, with the city? "The people here work really hard, they need to play really hard, but they don't. It can be like pulling teeth to get people out here." And that leads to promoter complacency. "People say, ‘Oh, that would never work, especially in Washington.' I mean, come on, give people some credit."
His particular gripe -- though he's too effusively cordial and polite to call it a "gripe" -- is with the music played at clubs in town. Part of the problem is with the state of dance music itself, which Aviance finds wanting. So he's launched a second record label of his own, Trocadero, joining his two-year-old, tribal/progressive house-oriented Core Recordings. He'll release several remixes on Trocadero this spring, including a blistering remix of Donna Summer's "Sunset People" and a Discoteque-era Pet Shop Boys-style remix of "Amour Toujours" by the Belgian group Telex.
He's currently consumed with creating mixes of music in the sub-sub-genre Italo-Disco, which he describes as "melodic, pumping, slightly slowed-down trance with soul and a predominance of male vocals." Though he might take issue with the idea, it's not so distant from some of Paul van Dyk's most recent work, or other trance producers veering into rock and chill-out territory.
And Aviance is finding increasing opportunities to contribute to D.C.'s nightlife scene. He's in discussions about making his engagement at Lizard more frequent, perhaps as often as once a month. He's also in negotiations to spin at a separate weekly event that he couldn't identify except to say that it would be "nondenominational," welcoming of all sexual orientations. That would start in the spring.
In the meantime, he's revived an old DJ tradition when he spins at Lizard. He puts the album jacket for every record he plays -- as it plays -- in the glass window surrounding his DJ booth. A sort of Hip Music 101 for the music-maniac in you.
Jean-Philippe Aviance spins this Sunday, January 18th, at Lizard Lounge, at Club MCCXXIII, 1223 Connecticut Avenue NW.Visit www.atlasevents.com.