Billy Porter, Tituss Burgess, and Gloria Gaynor to sweat it out on 'Red Hot + Free' dance compilation
With diva-house rave-ups, glittering electropop, and a new remix of "I Will Survive," the 18-track HIV/AIDS benefit album is here to save your summer.
If this past year of quarantine has left you longing for the thrill, mystery, and sweaty anticipation of the dance floor, Bill Coleman feels your pain. That's why the producer has assembled a fierce, formidable clutch of musicians and nightlife fixtures for Red Hot + Free, an upcoming HIV/AIDS benefit compilation tailor-made for the club, the pre-game, the comedown, and everything in between.
"I thought, If I'm going to be stuck in my house for a year, I have to figure out something to do. I cannot just Netflix and chill," says Coleman, the manager, DJ, and music supervisor behind the Brooklyn-based entertainment company Peace Bisquit, which has worked with everyone from Beyoncé and Bette Midler to Lady Gaga, Lizzo, and RuPaul.
He had already enlisted Billy Porter last year to record a cover of Juliet Roberts' 1990s house anthem "Caught in the Middle" and teamed with Sofi Tukker and Mali duo Amadou & Mariam on "Mon Cheri," a vibrant, worldly groove sung in Portuguese, Bambara, and French. "I was like, Okay, we have these two songs. Maybe we should do an album," Coleman says. "I've managed people for a living and helped a lot of my artists with production, but being in lockdown made me focus on my own production and remix skills again."
Tapping into his diverse network of collaborators and friends, Coleman was able to quickly recruit enough guest stars to craft an 18-track, cleverly sequenced collection of late-night lounge house, shimmying electro bops, and piano-laced barnstormers. But the genre-hopping double LP — which in addition to the aforementioned cuts features retooled takes on songs by Tituss Burgess, Allie X, Cakes Da Killa, Bright Light Bright Light, and Amanda Lepore as well as new remixes of classics like Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" and Ultra Naté's "Free (Live Your Life)" — was more than a passion project. Given the loneliness and grief that Coleman and countless others experienced during the pandemic, it felt like an act of necessity.
"I lost someone I worked with to COVID-19, someone we've managed in the past," he says. "A number of my colleagues in the business passed. So I really felt this… mission. I also felt like, You know what? I'm here still striving and surviving. Now to deal with all this unprecedented time, I'm going to bust my ass and get this done."
Coleman has been involved with Red Hot, a nonprofit founded in 1989 dedicated to fighting HIV and AIDS through music and pop culture, since 2018. It has raised more than $15 million for charities and released 20 compilations, starting with 1990's Red Hot + Blue, a collection of reinterpretations of Cole Porter songs featuring artists like U2, David Byrne, and Sinéad O'Connor (in November of that year, Entertainment Weekly underwrote the launch party for the album). He had been tossing around ideas for a project for the organization, but when faced with the reality of mortality and the willful ignorance toward racial and class disparity in 2020, Coleman, like many of his friends and peers, couldn't help but draw parallels between the pandemic and the AIDS crisis that ravaged the LGBTQ community in the 1980s and '90s.
The response to the sorrow and rage then, for many, was to step out of the shadows, confront the issue head-on, and fight to be seen and heard. Change would come not only through activism but through celebration, through bodies—Black, white, queer, trans, straight—coming together. That sense of unity, euphoria, and possibility was encapsulated in Red Hot's 1992 compilation, Red Hot + Dance, which featured artists like Madonna and Seal and three new songs by George Michael, including the smash "Too Funky."
Coleman considers Red Hot + Free that record's "cousin," specifically citing Porter's remake of "Caught in the Middle," a track originally released in 1994. "That, to me, brings it full circle without being overly nostalgic. 'Caught in the Middle' is a '90s house classic, but it hasn't been played everywhere. It's my little nod to Red Hot + Dance. We get a bit of that flavor, but freshened up for 2021."
Also merging the past with the present is the comp's lead single, "U Try Livin' (Pressure)," a timely gospel-house joint by Black Guy White Guy and 808 BEACH about shaking off political, economic, and ideological woes under the glow of the mirrorball. Like many of the album's songs, its gravitational pull is undeniable. It is the sound of a hard-won summer, of post-pandemic liberation.
"I knew we weren't going to be in lockdown forever, although it felt like it at certain points," Coleman says. "I just could not be more honored and proud to have gotten this album done and let it have whatever life it's going to have. I hope people are jumping around their house, in their apartment, on the street, in the park, roller-skating. Whatever is going to release the pressure, release that tension, and make people just be a little bit more in tune with one another. And be happy."
Red Hot + Free is out July 2. See the full track list below.
1. Sofi Tukker and Amadou & Mariam, "Mon Cheri"
2. Black Guy White Guy x 808 BEACH, "U Try Livin' (Pressure)"
3. CRICKETS, "Elastic" (808 BEACH Dangerous Power Mix)
4. Body Language, "Start It Up" (Red Hot Extended)
5. Allie X, "Super Duper Party People" (Alan Braxe Extended Mix)
6. Sam Sparro, "Pressure" (RedTop Mix)
7. Ultra Naté, "Free (Live Your Life)" (Felix Da Housecat x Chris Trucher Remix)
8. Billy Porter, "Caught in the Middle"
9. Louis the Child & Foster the People, "Every Color" (Dombresky Remix)
1. The Aces, "Daydream" (Snakehips Remix)
2. Cakes da Killa & Proper Villains, "Don Dada" (Honey Dijon & Luke Solomon Extended Alcazar Remix)
3. Kiwi Dreams, "It's Ovah"
4. Tituss Burgess ft. Imani Coppola, "Dance M.F." (Red Hot Extended Mix)
5. Vagabon, "Water Me Down" (Pamcy Remix)
6. Casey Spooner, "I Love My Problems" (Boys' Shorts Dancefloor Remix)
7. Gloria Gaynor, "I Will Survive" (Eric Kupper Dub mix)
8. Dubesque ft. Amanda Lepore, "Queen" (Club Mix)
9. Bright Light Bright Light ft. the Illustrious Blacks, "These Dreams" (Red Hot Extended Mix)
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