Various VariousVoguing: Voguing And The House Ballroom Scene Of New York City, 1976-1996
Among many other things, this compilation is proof of the importance of context in popular music, as opposed to the neo-liberal theories that denied such importance in the eighties - the years when Voguing was at its peak. It's impossible to understand the subculture represented here (also as a concept that gives meaning to this collection of tracks that go from seventies Disco to early nineties House) without talking about the people who created it and its distinctive characteristics - when it comes to clothing, gestures, choreography, relationships and preferences - which would directly influence the kind of music the phenomenon is associated with.
Voguing, or the House Ballroom scene, has always had an interesting political component that never needed to be explicitly explained. Its potential audience were set apart to begin with - for reasons of sexual orientation (gay), race (black and Latino) and class – which was projected on to their aesthetic choices, both visual and sonic.
In the essential documentary on the movement, “Paris Is Burning”, it becomes clear that its characteristics are in response to the dominance of capitalism in the eighties. The dancing and the celebrations shown in the film (to which the songs on this compilation are the soundtrack), reflect an almost ritual approach to the idea of triumph and social acceptance they were denied. Thus, this concept of reality - of pretending to be wealthy heterosexuals - is used as a standard for the determination of the winners in their competitions. Though fascinated by opulence, they were fully aware of their situation as second-class citizens, removed from the structure of hegemonic power. The mere existence of Voguing is a criticism of a society that pushed them to marginal positions.
As with many subcultures closely linked to music, there are two stages. During the first stage, no music is being made specifically for a particular public; songs are picked on how they fit with the collective identity in the process of creation. Those records are called Old School Vogue, represented here by fundamental classics like Diana Ross and Salsoul Orchestra, and “Is It All Over My Face”, produced by Arthur Russell. What these tracks have in common is a sensual vision, stylised and sophisticated, on femininity and hedonism. In the second stage, called New Way Voguing, there is a preference for harder rhythms, which meant new challenges for the dancers. Some of the representative tracks are real House classics, such as “The Witch Doktor”, by a very young Armand Van Helden, or “The Ha Dance”, by Masters at Work. Voguing has its own superstar DJs too, of course, of which Junior Vasquez gets the special treatment here - not only with the inclusion of “X”, but also with the one-hour plus mixtape included in the package (on the special request of Soul Jazz).
You could even speak of a third stage, initiated by the always clever Malcolm McLaren and his “Deep In Vogue”. He was unsurprisingly attracted to a subculture around fashion, sexuality and social marginalisation - ingredients identical to those of the punk movement. However, the most popular moment came with Madonna's “Vogue”, though not included on this compilation. Co-produced by Shep Pettibone - a recurring name in the credits of the tracks on this album - the song caused a bit of a stir, prompting accusations of cultural pillaging. That narrative line appears dissolved on this compilation - in favour of a tracklist that connects the dots between the different stages in order to make it clear that they are part of the same ideology, latent at first, fully aware of itself and its potential by the end.
In conclusion, a warning: don't think of this subculture as a kind of nostalgia for a pre-Internet era, when music articulated social relations rooted in real and physical spaces. These movements still exist today, an example of which is the footwork scene in Chicago.