The micropolitics of “featuring” credits on dance records is a fascinating world. Duane Harden – who wrote and sang the words to “You Don’t Know Me” – gets no sleeve credit on the UK release, but did on the US. Rightly so – his angry, wounded performance gives the record most of its flavour. “You don’t even know me / You say that I’m not living right / You don’t understand me / So why do you judge my life?” – even though Van Helden was on the ascendant globally, house and garage music in New York had strong roots as a music by and for the city’s minorities, and Harden’s defiant lyrics speak to that. If the sentiment resonated with house’s black, gay and Hispanic fanbase in 1998, its appeal since has hardly narrowed: constant, public judgement is the condition of online life, and it’s a burden as unequally distributed as ever.
Harden was a songwriter turned club dancer, recruited by Helden for his habit of “screaming” when a passion for the music took hold – for most of “You Don’t Know Me” he keeps that side leashed, letting it out at the record’s climax in a long, falsetto cry of release after his vow to just live his life despite the hate. Helden had handed him the track and left Harden to it – it was an excellent decision, as Harden’s part is a strong fit to the track’s mix of aggression and escape. Garage music traced its line back to disco, and Helden was happy to make that obvious – this is the blissful, string-soaked sound of late 70s disco chopped and filtered to fit a more hustling world. Its rhythms jerk and bump back and forth like shunting freight trucks, creating as wonderfully solid, chunky bottom end. There’s just enough of discio’s blissful release to leave “You Don’t Know Me” a positive record, though – to make it sound like Harden’s battle for recognition as a human being is a winnable one, sleeve credit or no.