Dirty Vegas started as three club guys looking for a good time. Ben Harris, Paul Harris, and Steve Smith grew up around London, loving both music and the local music scene. In the early 1990s the house style hit its stride and the three were swept up by its heavy beat. The club world in which the music thrived was a dynamic place for England's youth and many were determined to make music of their own. There seemed to be a common feeling that, stylistically, anything was possible. All kinds of music were woven into the house sound: Latin, African, Asian—different styles were mixed together to make a wall of sound that the dance scene embraced. It was in this environment that the members of Dirty Vegas saw the influence music can have.
Paul Harris was destined to be a deejay. From the time he was a young boy, he loved to mix his own music. So when he reached an age where he could pretend to be an adult he immediately infiltrated the clubs. He took notes on what he liked and showed a real talent for networking. He met deejay and renowned promoter Nicky Holloway who was impressed enough with the kid to give him a job as a deejay. Harris stacked up well against the other deejays and made a name for himself with exceptional spinning prowess and a nose for the business.
Steve Smith was a kid who liked to bang on things. He joined a band called Higher Ground as a teen where he played drums. But when the lead singer abruptly left he filled in and found out he could sing too. Smith and Paul Harris had known each other for years but had never played together. That changed when the two ran into each other on the way to a music festival in Switzerland. They ended up spending a good amount of time together and really bonded. They vowed to jam when they got back home to England.
Ben Harris was a natural studio engineer. He loved to produce new music but he also loved to mix. His innovative style was enough to keep the young man employed in his self-made studio. But he was also someone who yearned to be part of a band. So when Paul Harris and Smith showed up on his doorstep ready to jam, he had found the opportunity he was looking for.
The three of them riffed for a while and came up with a catchy melody that they knew, from experience, would do well in the club scene. They could have called it a night at that point. But then Paul Harris added some vocals—a taboo if there ever was one in house music. The vocals were quiet and unobtrusive but they added a layer that most clubbers would not be accustomed to. It sounded great and the trio knew they were onto something. They decided to release the song to the underground scene, where they assumed it would find a niche audience. But before they were even a band, the song, "Days Go By," did much better than expected.
The rise of "Days Go By" started with a spin on London's BBC Radio One. After just one play, requests for the song lit up the boards. When all was said and done, the single ended up with 12 weeks of heavy rotation and a spot in the top 30 on the United Kingdom charts in the summer of 2001. The song was bought up by Parlophone on the condition that more songs would be made for an album. The trio, who wanted to be called Dirty Harry, had signed a record contract before they'd even become a band.
This sudden good fortune had a downside. The three didn't know each other very well and had no idea how they would work together. Their club friends had high hopes for the trio, and London was waiting for their new stuff even though they had no album and no name ("Dirty Harry" was copyrighted). The day before the trio signed the contract to become a band they hit the West End casinos, where they were cleaning up. It was then that they came up with Dirty Vegas. It was decadent and tacky. It was perfect.
Now they had to come up with an entire album. They'd made one song together but could they make a dozen? At first, it looked like the answer would be no. The three went into the studio without a clear idea of what it was they wanted to do. They knew that they wanted to make the dance scene in London a little fresher but beyond that they had no focus. They found that, while they liked each other, they didn't really work together well. It was a tough time, when the pressures of making an album were clashing with the fact that they weren't longtime friends. To make matters worse, they were, at their core, party animals. They had spent most of their lives on the club scene, which is not conducive to the hard work of being a contracted band making a debut album. But they stuck it out, struggling through arguments and practically coming to blows at times. The end result was a second song called "Lost, Not Found"—a piece that dealt with the club scene and the toll it can take.
The recording process became much easier after they laid the second track and the rest of the album quickly fell into place. The style of the music was clearly influenced by the group's club roots, but Dirty Vegas didn't shy away from bringing in many different influences—including old fashioned rock 'n' roll. Smith's love of old songwriting rockers like Neil Young popped up in the form of catchy refrains and thoughtful, emotional lyrics. This ability and willingness to tap into many influences allowed the band to transcend the label of "club band." The studio was happy with that they heard and the trio were happy that they found their voice.
"I don't care whether you make rock, country, urban, whatever," Harris told Rolling Stone. "A good song is a good song. And we always, naturally, will sit down and start the core of a record with a piano or a guitar and a vocal, and then we start expanding the production around that."
The band's old-fashioned approach paid off. House, by its own definition, is a type of music that is heavy on beat. But many house musicians were depending on the beat and not focusing on the songwriting. "Days Go By" hinted at a new generation of music. The reviewers were waiting to see if Dirty Vegas, who had a hit single before they were even a band, could deliver. And, for the most part, the critics were satisfied. Rolling Stone wrote about Dirty Vegas's first self-titled CD, "[Dirty Vegas] pool their digital talents in the service of old-fashioned guitar-rooted songwriting. The band's turntable-destined danceables are tight and hummable."
For the Record …
Members include Ben Harris , guitar; Paul Harris , keyboards; Steve Smith , vocals.
Group formed in England, c. 2001; laid track "Days Go By" to play in their favorite clubs; track hit top 20 in the U.K.; released debut album Dirty Vegas on Capitol label, 2002; won three International Dance Music Awards including album, song, and video of the year, 2003; "Days Go By" topped Billboard electronic albums chart; "Days Go By" hit Billboard top ten, 2003; video for "Days Go By" nominated for MTV Video Music Award for Best Dance Video, 2003; released the mix collection A Night at the Tables on Ultra label, 2003; released third album The Trip, 2003.
Awards: Grammy Award, Best Dance Recording for "Days Go By," 2002; International Dance Music Awards, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Video of the Year, 2003.
Dirty Vegas was in for another surprise, this time from the United States. Their hit single was leased by Mitsubishi for an American television commercial in which a group of hip kids dance to the song in a car. The tune got remarkably heavy airplay and internet forums were riddled with questions about the unknown tune. Who was it? An import? Where could they get it? The ad placement inevitably led to wide radio exposure and soon enough America was dancing to the tune too.
When "Days Go By" won a Grammy and three International Dance Music Awards in 2003 the band hit its stride on the international club scene. They weren't alone in their style since successful acts like Sonique had proven house was open to experimentation. The band designed their concerts to feel more like a night out than a concert. As they performed they developed a better sense of what their next album would sound like. They knew it would rely heavily on the same craftsmanship and vocals that were prevalent in their first work. But they also wanted to give their new audience an idea of the kind of club scene they were trying to create. The result was A Night at the Tables, a mix CD that allowed them to take material from some of their club idols and stamp it with the Dirty Vegas style.
The band was delighted with the results. Dirty Vegas had set out to redefine the club scene and give the world a peek into their world, and their sophomore album did that. "A Night at the Tables shows another side to us," Smith told Raves. "People heard our band album and were listening to music performed in a traditional band set up … This album shows people that Dirty Vegas has a different edge, one you'd only know about if you've heard our live deejay Soundsystem set up in a club environment."
The reviewers once again took to the band's style. Of their second effort Rolling Stone wrote, "They prove they have skills, kicking it off with a shuddering mix of Kylie Minogue's "Love at First Sight," then progressing smoothly through some crisp house beats to a buckling, humming M.A.S. Collective remix of their own tune 'Ghosts.'"
The band continued to do well worldwide but kept its focus on Britain. Having been handed an opportunity to leave an imprint on the scene they loved, they had no intention of slowing down. Not that the trio doesn't want to do well everywhere—it's just that they feel more comfortable in a place where good music is considered good music, no matter what type of music it is. "America seems to be more divided than Europe for the whole dance-rock thing," Paul Harris told the Launch website. "Your radio stations will only play rock, or only play dance. In Europe, a radio station will play anything that's good."
Dirty Vegas, Capitol, 2002.
A Night at the Tables, Ultra, 2003.
The Trip, Universal, 2003.
Billboard, May 18, 2002; June 1, 2002; January 25, 2003.
Entertainment Weekly, June, 2002.
Rolling Stone, July, 2002.
Times (London, England), August, 2002.
"Ben Harris Interview," BBCi, http://www.bbc.co.uk/manchester/music/2002/10/15/dirty_vegas_interview.shtml (March 7, 2004).
"Days Go By and You Still Can't Get Dirty Vegas Out of Your Head," MTV Online, http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1454923/05312002/dirty_vegas.jhtml (March, 2004).
"Dirty Vegas," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (March 7, 2004).
"Dirty Vegas," Village Voice, http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0403/maldoro.php (March 7, 2004).
"Dirty Vegas: Do a New Dance," RollingStone.com , http://www.rollingstone.com/news/newsarticle.asp?nid=17293&cf=2044114 (March 7, 2004).
"Dirty Vegas: Last Night a Deejay Stole My Car," VH1 Online, http://www.vh1.com/artists/interview/1455915/07022002/dirty_vegas.jhtml (March 7, 2004).
Dirty Vegas Official Website, http://www.dirtyvegas.com/ (March 7, 2004).
"Dirty Vegas Rock Out," RollingStone.com , http://www.rollingstone.com/news/newsarticle.asp?nid=17987&cf=2044114 (March 7, 2004).
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