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No Air Apparent

DJ Maxx pumps up the Oxygen at XO.

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Saturday night fever doesn't get any better than this: a claustrophobic dance floor, sweat-laced bodies, and the sounds of Michael Jackson bumpin' the speakers.

But Michael Jackson? What has his music done for us lately?

Yes, Jackson has been obscure during the past few years. But in the hands of mad DJ Maxx, Jackson sounds as good as new. Maxx, Oxygen's resident vinyl-ator on Saturdays, sometimes plays an uncredited remix of Jackson's pop pearl "Rock With You" -- a song clearly recognizable to the masses. For most underground dance-music DJs, playing anything by Jackson might cost them valuable street cred.

But give Maxx (real name Max Ross) his due. Hinting at Michael Jackson shows he is willing to toy with his musical influences. Maxx is a devotee of "house" music, the Chicago-born genre of neo-disco that has evolved into today's techno and Top 40 dance styles. House punches the air with gospel-influenced vocals and layers of percussive melodrama. Pop it is not.

Maxx says about 60 percent of the records he spins are produced and distributed in Chicago. He was turned on to the sound years ago, when he started spinning locally with the Vibe Tribe.

"I kept buying records, and most people didn't like what I played," Maxx says. Over time, that changed, and Maxx eventually turned Oxygen into a needed retreat from the commercial-based music played at most Kansas City-area dance spots.

"I don't like to play when people are dancing just to noise they hear," Maxx says. "I prefer to play the back room because it's intimate and there is a higher concentration of people who are there to hear the music."

When Maxx plays at Oxygen, his house offerings induce plenty of heavy breathing on the floor. A year ago this month, Maxx began his odyssey at Oxygen, where he builds his nightly tempo from the dance floor up. He keeps his tracks fresh, and regulars show up week after week to hear the DJ's latest loops. "I don't play my best unless it's a full dance floor," Maxx says. "I see a lot of the same people, and it makes me believe they are enjoying their education. Plus, I think what's happening is that there's quite a number of people who are looking for quality music to enjoy and have a good time with it."

It is a rare feat when a local DJ in Kansas City can last a year in one spot playing music not known for its staying power. "I liken the DJ experience to a roller coaster or adventure," Maxx professes. "It's not a straight line. You take them to the highs and to the lows, and the trip cannot be described by any singular point. It's the epoch of that trip, the aggregate sum of the highs and lows."

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