Green Velvet Finds Fame After A Decade In The Underground

Five-year-old 'Flash' is at #3 on the dance charts.

Green Velvet, the dark techno alias of Chicago DJ/producer Curtis Jones (known also as Cajmere), has been around some unusual company in his near-decade in the electronic-music business. But Jennifer Lopez?

"It's wack," Jones said recently from the office of his labels, Relief and Cajual, located a few blocks west of the Windy City.

"Flash," Green Velvet's hard-hitting techno classic, is currently #3 on Billboard's Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart — five years after its original release. The song is two slots above Jennifer Lopez's "Feelin' So Good," a previous #1.

"The company that track is in, I don't see how it works. But it's cool. I guess people are open-minded," Jones said. "It's dark and there's not any pretty vocals in it. It's not 'Thong Song.' But I think it's an indication of the way the scene is changing."

"Flash" (RealAudio excerpt) was recently re-released by the Warner Bros. subsidiary F-111 Records to promote a compilation of Green Velvet singles that hit stores in April. The single features remixes by New York club legends Danny Tenaglia and Timo Maas.

"Danny's work on this package is superb," said Chris Cox, whose Thunderpuss remix team has spawned six #1 club singles this year. "It's not the typical wailing diva, hands-in-the-air record that we generally make, but it is a record that really creates an amazing mood in a club. It's very dark and driving, and I enjoy spinning it as a DJ."

As his house-leaning alias, Cajmere, Jones took a Tenaglia-remixed track, "Brighter Days," to the club charts in 1996. But he was hesitant to allow a Green Velvet remix.

"When [F-111] said, 'We're gonna remix "Flash," ' I was like, 'Oh my God. I don't even want to hear it.' I trust Danny — he's my boy — but I wasn't that familiar with Timo Maas. But when I heard the stuff, I said, 'That's cool.' They both added something to it that gave the track a little extra life. Sometimes you can get remixes that are wack, but thank the lord."

Birth Of A Techno Personality

Jones, 32, grew up clubbing in Chicago, and moved to California in his 20s to pursue a graduate degree in chemical engineering at UC Berkeley. In 1991 he left school to return home and become part of the city's pioneering house-music scene. He recorded his first track as Cajmere in 1992, "Coffee Pot (It's Time for the Percolator)." A Green Velvet update of the song, "Percolator 2000" (RealAudio excerpt), appears on the compilation.

A few years and several singles later, Jones concocted Green Velvet, a flashy, fashion-conscious, live techno performer who specialized in blending quirky humor with minimal, driving beats. Green Velvet went on to create a slew of tongue-in-cheek underground hits, including the hilarious "Answering Machine" and "The Stalker" (RealAudio excerpt).

Several of his singles were compiled on The Nineties (1993 A.D. through 1999 A.D.), and his full-length debut, Constant Chaos, was released last year as well.

"Green Velvet is amazing," said Joe Shanahan, owner of the Chicago club Metro, where the producer recently performed to a packed house. "I have loved his music for some time. To see him a put a cool show together and perform his anthems live was proof that he is moving into a different, but powerful direction."

Unearthing Green Gems

Those anthems were surprisingly difficult to purchase in the United States for most of the '90s. Many of the singles were only available as imports, while others were issued just to DJs.

So the release of Green Velvet, a collection of 12 singles, was a welcome addition to this spring's crowded list of dance-music releases.

"Everybody was like, 'I can't afford these imports,' so I thought it would be dope to put everything out for a reasonable price," Jones said. "It was a long time ago when the guys at F-111 and myself started to put this together. Even though it may be a compilation, I think it's a good introduction to Green Velvet."

With F-111's roots in Warner Bros., Jones is currently knee-deep in a situation he never imagined — being signed to a major label. But the pioneer of underground music and artist-run labels — Relief and Cajual are among the most respected dance imprints — said the situation has been smooth.

"The guys over at F-111 made me feel at ease as far the major-label situation," Jones said. "I just think it's a good opportunity. It's more accessible to a lot of kids. Before, I don't know how people were getting tracks."

Jones recently finished touring behind the record, and has begun working on a new full-length album, which he says will be released by the end of the year. He is also working on material as Cajmere with several vocalists.

"It's crazy," he said of his new material. "I don't want to explain it. I want to keep it a secret."