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Time to get ill? Nah--time to get sik, on location in the Sik Bay, creative den of R.C. Lair, underground DJ and premier graphic artist for the Valley's dance-club and rave scenes. R.C. (the initials stand for Ryan Christopher) is a bit nocturnal. Sik Bay--actually one room in the Tempe apartment R.C. shares with his rave-angel fiancee Skye--is dark, except for one dim, glacier-blue light bulb and the LED displays from a rack of synthesizers and drum machines in the corner where they twinkle like a miniature version of the radio towers on South Mountain at night. One of the pieces in R.C.'s arsenal is an original Roland TB-303, arguably the most crucial piece of hardware in the evolution of underground dance music. It's about 10 inches long, five inches thick, with a cheap, nickel finish and plastic knobs. It looks like something you could have found next to the Speak 'n' Spells in Toys "R" Us, circa 1978.
R.C.'s equipment is patched through an amplifier that, for some reason, intermittently picks up a local country radio station. This seems to annoy R.C. to no end. He doesn't care much for country music. He likes a lot of other music, though, especially deep house--the postdisco, sunny, floral electronic dance music that emerged from Chicago in the mid-'80s and provided the soundtrack for the dawn of rave culture. Until he moved to Phoenix in 1994, R.C. was strictly a house DJ. He's Canadian, and grew up in Regina, a small town in the middle of Saskatchewan. A classically trained pianist, he began studying the instrument when he was 5 and continued through high school, taking classes at the World Conservatory of Toronto. After he graduated, R.C. went to graphic-design school in Montreal, where he discovered that city's rave scene in its nascent stage. A few months later, he began DJing under the unfortunate handle "Big Bird."
"Those were happier, more carefree times," he says today. "I was tall, I had yellow hair. . . . What can I say?" After Montreal, R.C. spent a few months as the resident DJ for the Empire, a gay club in Calgary, then moved to the Valley to be with Skye, who left for Arizona State University a few weeks after they met. When he arrived here, R.C. was in for a rude shock. In Canada, he was a well-known DJ with a healthy following. Here, he was a nobody. Not only that, he was a nobody who spun house music. By that time, the Phoenix rave scene had turned up its nose at the more soulful house in favor of speedier, more ominous styles of dance music, and R.C. was forced to adjust. Since then, he's established himself as one of the best--and most popular--turntablists in the Valley underground, and the artist who puts out the freshest rave and club fliers on the street. And now that he's known, R.C. has a mission--to educate the glittered, baggy-pantsed masses. To teach rave kids--and promoters--respect for house music and its formative role in electronic dance culture. To make sure it's not forgotten. And to get people off the hard-core tip, already.
I spent a few hours in the Sik Bay recently, rapping with R.C. and playing with his dog Knuckles, a pug who kept bringing us the same order of objects to throw down the hall: teddy bear, sea urchin squeak toy, small stuffed cow. Teddy bear, sea urchin squeak toy, small stuffed cow. Knuckles seemed unaware of his prestigious namesake--godfather house DJ Frankie Knuckles--but if he could comprehend, I'm sure he would feel duly honored.
New Times: So where did it all start for you?
R.C. Lair: Montreal. It was 1990, and a friend told me about this club he'd gone to where there were lots of girls and this wild music, and everyone was on Ecstasy. So I went to check it out. There was no rave scene in Montreal then, just this one club, which was called Crisco. It was in a converted black box theater--black walls, black ceiling, a few risers and a killer sound system. The first night I went there, the lighting was minimal--just three or four red flashers and a light man in the DJ booth who had this huge truck headlight, powered by a motorcycle battery, which he'd just sort of chaotically wave all over the place. The place was thick with fog, and when I first walked in, my hair just stood up on end, because the energy was like nothing I'd ever felt. There were all these beautiful people in cool clothes, just losing their minds, dancing and laughing and sweating and screaming so loud you could barely hear the music sometimes. It's all been downhill from that night, but, man, what a night.
NT: So that was it--you were like, "My people! I've found you!"
R.C.: Yeah, I mean, every weekend after that, I went to the same club, and started meeting the people there, and buying that kind of music, and the scene was growing fast, and pretty soon I was a professional club kid. Basically, I got paid to just hang out at the club five nights a week--the owners picked people they knew help provide the energy, image and atmosphere they were going for. Also, I helped promote the first actual rave in Montreal. It was called Solstice. This was summer of 1991, before the split between the gay, house-music club scene and what would become the ravers--the younger club kids.