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The Boston Phoenix Taste Makers

Danny Tenaglia and Gilles Peterson

By Josh Kun

MARCH 20, 2000:  My albums of the moment are hardly albums at all: Gilles Peterson's entry into the "INCredible" series, The Sound of Gilles Peterson (Sony Music UK), and Danny Tenaglia's Back to Mine (Ultra). Neither Peterson nor Tenaglia is a recording artist in the traditional sense of the phrase. And neither album has the sort of "original music" one usually associates, and expects, from musical recordings attached to the name of a single performer.

Peterson and Tenaglia are much-adored and -respected club DJs, and these releases are both, I suppose, mix CDs in that all the tracks are mixed into one another. But these are not mix CDs in the sense of remix CDs, collage CDs, or even throw-your-own-party CDs (check the new one from the Lo-Fidelity All-Stars, On the Floor at the Boutique, for that). They're songs selected by Tenaglia and Peterson that neither had anything to do with. That is, they're the kind of mix CD that you or I would make, a homegrown collection of songs that we'd give out to friends or make for our own pleasure.

Of course, Tenaglia and Peterson are "stars," so their mixes mean something in the marketplace that ours don't. Most important, their stardom is based not on the singularity of their artistry but on the bankability of their taste -- something both albums are up front about. That I like the music on both CDs is important, but it's not really the point; the point is that the music I like has been hand-picked and hand-arranged by each of these DJs. It's music that they like, and if I like it too (enough to buy it), that means I like what they like -- I like their taste.

Neither CD is being marketed as a recorded version of a club set spun by Peterson or Tenaglia. When you buy The Sound of Gilles Peterson or Back to Mine, you're buying Peterson's favorite songs, or Tenaglia's. You're buying their taste.

"What does Danny Tenaglia play when he's at home and there's no crowd to please but himself?", Alexis Petridis asks in the liner notes to Back to Mine. "This is what happens when one of the finest DJs in the world forgets about the BPMs and lets his imagination run riot." Both albums work the same angle: other mix CDs give you what Peterson and Tenaglia play at work, we give you what they play at home. What's promised is not just taste but domesticity, intimacy, and authenticity.

Tenaglia pushes the envelope by explaining, in an almost at-home-with-Scott-Baio Tiger Beat sort of way, why he chose each song out of a potential 15,000 he could have selected. Take Gentle People's "Emotion Heater": "This song relaxes me." Or Sergio Mendes's "One Note Samba": "This is what I was raised on as a child." This matters because people trust Tenaglia's taste as a DJ, as someone whose job it is to fill a room with music made by other people. DJs are called "selectors" for good reason: they select songs and make choices based on both what they like and what they think other people will like as well.

In the classic study Distinction, Pierre Bourdieu showed how taste is a marker of social division, how taste can function to enforce class hierarchy and perpetuate highbrow-lowbrow-middlebrow wars. But Peterson and Tenaglia take taste to a higher level by transcending the very distinctions that taste is supposed to enforce: on The Sound of Gilles Peterson, Fania All-Stars' "Coro Miyare" lands right next to the Isley Brothers' rocking of Neil Young's "Ohio" and Minnie Riperton's regal soul operetta "Les Fleurs."

The taste of Tenaglia and Peterson draws its own lines. If you like the way Peterson slides A Tribe Called Quest's "If the Papes Come" out of Jimmy Smith's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", that says something about you -- about what kind of person you are, what scene you pledge alliance to, what aesthetic you push. If you like the idea that Tenaglia has Cece Peniston and Stina Nordenstam on the same shelf, it means you might want to do the same at your house, and that now, you'll feel even better about doing it.

In that sense, maybe pop music's crankiest critic, Theodor Adorno, was right after all: we buy albums just to flatter ourselves. Because, if Peterson and Tenaglia have good taste and I like Peterson and Tenaglia, then I must have pretty good taste too.

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