"Oh my God, are you serious? I gotta look this up," says King Britt when I ask him if he's seen "Deep House Dish," the recurring talk-show parody that appears on that late-night comedy institution, Saturday Night Live. This running sketch features cast member Kenan Thompson as flamboyant host DJ Dynasty Handbag, introducing artists who perform their own tweaked-out dance tunes, like a love song devoted to Jake Gyllenhaal, a jam about hitting the club after eating a bad fish sandwich or a remix of the Brokeback Mountain theme. (Britt says there are actual remixes of that theme floating around.)
"That just shows that deep house is cracking the mainstream," says Britt. "When Saturday Night Live does skits on deep house music, there’s definitely something going on."
"I love Saturday Night Live and I like what they do," he adds. "I mean, it’s all in good fun, you know. It’ll definitely make people be like, ‘Well, what’s deep house?’ It just adds questions and makes people curious. And they’ll score some [music] and like it, instead of laugh about it."
There are certain, oversensitive DJs out there (we aren’t saying any names) who would take offense to a sketch-comedy show making light of their profession, their art, their Helen Mirren -- if you will. Thank God Britt isn’t one of them.
"You gotta have a sense of humor in this world, man," he says. "People are too serious sometimes. I definitely know DJs that are just super-anal about that shit. It’s just like you can’t, you know, stress about it. You just gotta go with the flow."
Indeed, King Britt (his actual name) is a man who can’t stop going with the flow. The Philly-born-and-bred DJ/producer/remixer always seems to be involved in something. He could be halfway around the world, spinning grooves at some swanky club or party in a heavily exotic, babe-covered locale. Or he could be working on another album under the dozen-or-so aliases (Sylk 130, Oba Funke, Nova Dream Sequence) he's acquired over the years. But the former Digable Planets DJ’s latest project, Deep and Sexy 4, the latest in a series of personalized dance-DJ compilations, is all him -- although it does include a track he recorded under his most trippiest alter-ego, Scuba. It’s a deep house mixtape that sounds exactly like the kind of thing the SNL crew would mock on "Dish."
But, for the 38-year-old Britt, it’s another way for him to inspire and enlighten audiences through his music. It’s the same sort of inspiration and enlightenment he brought to his most acclaimed project to date, King Britt Presents Sister Gertrude Morgan. This 2005 album had Britt remixing and adding live instruments to Let’s Make a Record, a decades-old, a cappella gospel album from the late, New Orleans-based preacher, artist and self-proclaimed "bride of Christ." Britt insists that, even though Sexy and Sister are more likely to be found in completely different sections of your nearest CD store, the intentions behind them are the same.
"When you go to a house club, and you were to listen to, say, Deep and Sexy, it’s not dirty," he says. "But it’s uplifting. It’s a whole different way of appreciating spirituality. But, with Sister Gertrude, you get the same sort of elated feeling, but it’s just presented differently. That’s all.
"That’s how it is," he says with a laugh. "You know, those things are from the heart, and they’re both very uplifting and spiritual things, just in different contexts."
Britt evolved into quite the American musical historian after the Sister Gertrude project was released, doing not only live shows but also lecturing about Morgan’s work and legacy at such spots as New York’s Whitney Museum and London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts. It makes one wonder, did the people who attended these lectures know about his other life as a record-spinning bon vivant? And is his club-kid fan base aware of his exploits hipping folks to the long-lost music of forgotten artists? Britt does reveal that, every once in a while, he has seen these two separate communities cross paths.
"Well, check this out though," he says. "So, when I did, for example, the Whitney Museum for Sister Gertrude, it was highly publicized -- like the New York Times and all these different magazines. And when we were doing it, a lot of the electronic kids, the people that come out to my house events, came out to the Sister event. And they were blown away, which was wild. And then, when I did a club in New York for a house event, some of those people that were at Sister came out to the house event. And they loved it.
"So, those very few people that do come out to all the events, if I can touch those people, then that’s great. It shows, like, there is hope." (Laughs)
Britt is continuing in his mission of touching more people -- by creating as much music as he possibly can. As mentioned before, the man has his hand in many things. The Sister Gertrude album has given him enough of a rep to oversee the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s upcoming album. He’s also behind the boards for the next album from longtime friend, collaborator and Philly poetess Ursula Rucker. ("She wants this album to make people feel as uneasy as possible. She wants people to really feel like they’re fearful of her work.")
Another, long-awaited Sylk 130 album is scheduled for the fall. And he’s also working on a compilation titled Digital Angels, featuring songs performed by vocalists he met on MySpace.
He says, "So, my whole idea is to kind of bring all of the -- since I love music so much, its different styles, to show that it all is relative and it all works together."
Well, good luck on that endeavor. And if it doesn’t work, at least you’ve given those smart-asses over at SNL more fodder for their little comedy show. - Craig D. Lindsey
King Britt performs Saturday, April 21, at the Engine Room, 1515 Pease, 713-654-7846.