Sun, 28 Dec 2003 19:15:11
written by Phil Cheeseman for DJ magazine
It’s been ten years since the first identifiably house tracks were put on to vinyl, ten years which have changed the technology behind the electronic music revolution beyond recognition but left the basic structure of house intact. It’s seven years since it was being said house couldn’t last, that it was just hi-NRG, a fast blast that would wither as quickly as it had started. But then the music reinvented itself, and then again and again until it gradually dawned on people that house wasn’t just another phase of club culture, it was club culture, the continuing future of dance music. The reason? It’s simple. People like to dance to house.
While Chicago stole the thunder in 1986, other cities not only in the United States but across the world had either been absorbing house or working on their own thing, biding their time. One record from New York served a warning shot that the city was gearing up for some serious action – ‘Do It Properly‘ by 2 Puerto Ricans, A Blackman and A Dominican. ‘Do It Properly’ was essentially a bootleg of Adonis’ ‘No Way Back’ with loads of samples and a great electronic keyboard riff squeezed in to it and the first in a long, long line of New York sample house tracks. Its producers were one Robert Clivilles and David Cole, helped by another guy called David Morales. After that some kid in Brooklyn called Todd Terry made a couple of sample tracks with a freestyle groove for Fourth Floor Records by an act he called Masters At Work.
But the sound that was really taking shape in New York and New Jersey was a deep style of club music based on a heritage that had its roots firmly in R’n’B. Though there were some superb deep, emotive instrumentats like Jump St. Man‘s ‘B-Cause‘, the emphasis was on songs, which came with Arnold Jarvis‘ ‘Take Some Time‘, Touch‘s ‘Without You‘, Exit‘s ‘Let’s Work It Out‘ and a record on Movln, a new label run from a record store in New Jersey’s East Orange – Park Ave‘s ‘Don’t Turn Your Love‘. Ironically, as the first garage hits began to appear, The Paradise Garage – Larry Levan had already left – closed, but the vibe carried on with Blaze, who recorded ‘If You Should Need A Friend‘ and Jomanda, both of whom teamed up with new New York label Quark.
Echoing the need for vocals in house music, deep house began to take hold in Chicago. Following Marshall Jefferson’s lush productions, the record that defined deep house was the Nightwriters‘ ‘Let The Music Use You‘, mixed by Frankie Knuckles and song by Ricky Dillard, a record that a year later was to become one of the anthems of the UK’s Summer Of Love. And it didn’t end there. Kym Mazelle launched her career with ‘Taste My Love‘ and ‘I’m A Lover‘, while Ralphie Rosario unleashed the monstrous ‘You Used To Hold Me‘ featuring the wailing tonsils of Xavier Gold. Then there was Ragtyme’s ‘I Can’t Stay Away‘, sung by a guy who sounded a a little like a new Smokey Robinson – Byron Stingily. Soon after, Ragtyme, who also made an extremely silly innuendo track called ‘Mr Fixit Man‘, mutated into Ten Clty. But Chicago‘s excursion into songs wasn’t only characterised by uplifting wailers. There was another side, led by the weird, melanchoty songs of Fingers Inc and beginning to show itself in other minimalist productions like MK II‘s ‘Don’t Stop The Muslc‘ and 2 House People‘s ‘Move My Body‘. By 1987, though house was no longer a tale of two cities. The virus was taklng hold elsewhere as clubbers, DJs and producers worldwide became exited by the new music.
It was obvious that Britain, which had already seen a massive boom in club culture in the mid-eighties as the increasingly racially integrated urban areas turned to Black music in favour of the indigeonous indie rock music, would eventually get in on the act. Though acts like Huddersfield’s Hotline, The Beatmasters from London and a handful of others who included DJs Ian B and Eddie Richards had been trying to figure things out, the first British house track to really make any noise came from a partnership that included a DJ from Manchester’s Hacienda, one of the very first clubs in Britain to devote whole nights to house music – Mike Pickering. With its funk bassline and Latin piano riffs, T-Coy‘s ‘Carino‘ busted out all over, particularly in London at previously rap and funk clubs like Raw. But with the open nature of the UK pop charts compared to Billboard which was an impossibly tough nut to crack for small labels marketing new music, it was inevitable that the sound would be commercialised. ‘Pump Up The Volume‘ by M/A/R/R/S was a rather lightweight record based on a house beat with a number of clever (at the time) samples but it worked like crazy on the dancefloor and it wasn’t long before club support propelled it into the charts, where it held Number 1 for an incredible three weeks. Also in the top ten at the same time was another record that had broken out of Chicago – the House’ ‘House Nation‘. The marketability of house – or pophouse – in the UK became gruesomely apparent with the advent of the ‘Jack Mix’ series, a number of hideous stars-on-45 style megamixes of all the house hits.
Things were progressing in a much more underground fashion back in the States. A few guys in particular who’d been noticed hanging out in Chicago and checking the scene came from a city just a couple of hundred miles away Detroit. One of them, Juan Atkins, had been making records since the early eighties under the moniker Cybotron which specialised in spacey electro-funk fired by the Euro rhythms of Kraftwerk. But progress had been slow and electro had already fused with rap. By 1985 Atkins’ sound was beginning to change with records like Model 500‘s ‘No UFO‘s’, which bore more than a passing resemblance to the new sounds emanating from their neighbouring city. Two other guys who had been to school with Atkins, and who shared his passion for European music were also beginning to experiment with making tracks and heartened by what they heard coming out of Chicago, set to work Their first tracks, X-Ray‘s ‘Let’s Go‘, produced by Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson‘s ‘Triangle Of Love‘ by Kreem weren’t classics by any stretch of the imagination but it didn’t tahe them long to hit full power. Kevin came out with ‘Force Field‘ and ‘Just Want Another Chance‘, and Juan pressed on with Model 500’s ‘Sound Of Stereo‘ but it was Derrick who really hit the button with Rhythim Is Rhythm‘s ‘Nude Photo‘, ‘Kaos‘ and ‘The Dance‘, all of which were immediate hits on the Chicago scene, and the latter a record that was to be thieved and sampled again and again for years to come. The Belleville Three, as they became known after the college they attended, made an amusing trio with Kevin as the regular guy, Derrick as the fast-talking nutter and Juan as the laid-back smokehead, but there was more to techno than that. Two other producers who helped forge the different sound were Eddie Fowlkes and Blake Baxter. It was faster, more frantic, even more influenced by European electrobeat and severed the continium with disco and Philadelphia, taking only the space funk basslines of George Ctinton from Black music. They called it techno. But Chicago was also beginning to head off into another direction, the most frenetic form of house yet. It was started by two crazy tracks that Ron Hardy had been pumping at the Music Box and it was going to be perhaps the most important stage of house so far. It was acid.