Calvin Harris: The Dance-Floor Don

It was supposed to be nothing more than a little publicity stunt, an innocent ploy to build a buzz for Calvin Harris, an artist so self-assured as to proclaim in song, “I created disco,” despite being born a few years after the music’s 1970s heyday. The summer success of two hit singles, “Acceptable in the ’80s” and “The Girls,” pushed thousands of British kids onto the dance floor in his native U.K., and Harris’ label wanted to create momentum for his latest single, “Merrymaking at My Place.” Fans were to submit ideas for house parties to be thrown simultaneously across the U.K. on the release date — with Harris crashing the winner’s place. Sounds like a blast.

The stunt, however, turned into a scandal when the British press labeled him a parent’s worst nightmare for the damage and pandemonium his parties would cause.

“I think the silliest thing about it was that people mistook me for someone who had any influence over anyone. That really isn’t the case,” says Harris over the phone from his home in Dumfries, Scotland. Still, he’s a little flattered.

“To be hated by people who it’s all right to be hated by, like Mum and Dad, is a good thing. It’s all right to be hated by parents, innit? It’s kind of cool,” he decides.

His label, Sony, flew into damage-control mode by posting a “guide to partying responsibly” on his Web site, and reassured the press that the events would remain under control, adding that one of the finalists being considered was actually throwing a tea party.

The winning event, a C-themed party (everything from the attire to the food had to start with a “C”), wasn’t so prim and proper, if the photos are to be trusted. Harris is throttling a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.

“It was a bit nerve-racking,” confesses Harris, “so in order to combat that I just got quite drunk. It worked. By the time we got out of the bus, I was like, ‘All right, bring it on, I’m ready. I can’t see, but it’s fine.’ I couldn’t really sing either, but that was okay too. There were so many people screaming. It was quite bizarre, the whole thing.”

The title of Harris’ debut album makes a bold claim —I Created Disco— and, though tongue-in-cheek, it garnered much attention, opening the door for claims just as far-fetched. The BBC recently deemed the 23-year-old a “hate figure for parents,” and tabloids have tied him romantically to Kylie Minogue after the two worked on tracks together for her new album.

“The press doesn’t write about me a lot, but when they have a story it tends to be an outrageous one,” he says, diplomatically evading the central question. “Not that many people care about me, so it needs to be linked to something else that people do care about, like Kylie Minogue or the welfare of their children and property.”

Crafted in his home studio in Scotland (apparently the birthplace of disco), I Created Disco oozes thumping beats and pulsating synths. Harris half-talk/half-sings his way through dance-floor stompers, conversing in rhythm and often breaking into a Beck-like falsetto to celebrate the nightlife in all its indulgent glory. The refrain to “Merrymaking” is: “We’re merrymaking!/All the stuff that we’ve been taking/All the stuff that I’ve been taking/All the stuff that you’ve been taking.” “Neon Rocks” sounds like it was teleported from New York City, 1982, a funky, chunky ode to neon rocks and pink socks. In “Vegas,” Harris loads up his car with drugs, stuff, pills, girls, boys and more girls. “Why not go to Vegas?” he declares.

If the artist’s ascent from lowly stockboy to glamorous gossip fodder seems to have happened fast, he’d actually been plugging away for years. Harris was filling shelves at the U.K. retail chain Marks and Spencer, after spending a miserable and unsuccessful stint in London trying to ignite his career. He’d been shopping his demo, to little response. “I’d sort of given up all hope once I moved back home. I was like, ‘That’s that. I’m going to have to think of something else to do,’?” he says. Only after he stopped trying did he catch the ear of a record-label rep on MySpace. “It just kind of snowballed from there. It was lucky.”

“To this day the most satisfying part of it all has been quitting my job and just being able to say, ‘There you go, I don’t like you anymore,’?” he says, adding that his new gig comes with a different kind of pressure. “I wasn’t expecting myself to make songs that did well. It’s just weird having expectations, but I’m getting paid for it and essentially having a laugh.”

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