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.
By now the UK and its trend-hungry music press had become the local point of the dance music world. After acid had slumped into fatuousness with the adopted logo of acid, the smiley, appearing on t- shirts racked up in every high street and the mainstream press (including the ‘qualities’) scuttling after every whiff of a half-arsed drug story, they discovered new beat from Belgium. The trouble was that save for one or two genuinely good records like A Split Second‘s ‘Flesh‘, nearly everyone outside Belgium hated new beat, a sort of sluggish cross between acid, techno and heavy industrial Euro music and the media hype dissolved into a number of red faces. Then they discovered garage. ‘Garage‘ as a term had already long been in use on the house scene to differentiate the smooth, soulful songs flowing from New York and New Jersey from the more energetic, uplifting deep house out of Chicago. But the hype on this supposedly new music did allow a lot of very good acts a chance of exposure that otherwise they wouldn’t have had. The Americans were confused. To most New Yorkers and Jerseyites, garage was what was played at the Paradise’ Garage, which had closed two years earlier. What they were making was club music or dance music, and house was all that track stuff from Chicago. But they were happy that someone somewhere was getting off on their sound. Tony Humphries, who’d been on New York’s Kiss FM since 1981 and at the Zanzibar in New Jersey since 1982, was to become instrumental in exposing the Jersey sound. Though he was one of more open-minded DJ’s In the New York area, his was the style that married real r’n’b based dance to house.
Blaze were the forerunners of the new soul vision, followed by their protégés Phase II, who struck big with the optimism anthem ‘Reachin‘, and Hippie Torrales’ Turntable Orchestra with ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me‘. Then there were the girls – Vicky Martin with ‘Not Gonna Do It’ and of course, Adeva, behind whom was the talented Smack Productions team. ‘ In And Out 0f My Life‘ had already been released by Easy Street a year before, but when Cooltempo signed the Jersey wailer up on the basis of her cover of Aretha Franklin‘s ‘Respect‘, mainstream success was more than on the cards – it was a dead cert. ‘Respect’ entered the Top 40 in January and hung around for two months, by which time Chanelle‘s ‘One Man‘ and then her own collaboration with Paul Simpson, ‘Musical Freedom‘ had followed the example. It didn’t end there. Jomanda, who shared the billing with Tony Humphries at a massive event stage in Brixton’s Academy were next with ‘Make My Body Rock‘, and though they were to become successful in the States, their sound never crossed over in the UK.
New York was stepping up the pace in grand fashion and there was a lot more going on than just the Jersey sound. Following Todd Terry‘s success, the New York sample track was breaking out like wildfire, particularly with Frankie Bones, Tommy Musto and Lenny Dee at Fourth Floor, Breakln’ Bones and Nu Groove records. Nu Groove, built on the foundation of the Burrell twins who’d escaped from an abortive r’n’b career with Virgin Records, was fast becoming the hippest house label. Nu Groove had started the year before with records like Bas Noir‘s ‘My Love Is Magic‘ and Aphrodisiac‘s ‘Your Love‘ and by 1989 they were on a roll. Nu Groove never had a sound – with producers as disparate as the Burrells, Bobby Konders and Frankie Bones that wasn’t conceivable – and they never really had one big record, but the concept of the label went from strength to strength. Among their producers was Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzalez, yet to hook up with Little Louie Vega, who was moving into house with his Freestyle Orchestra project. Nu Groove’s first competitor was to come in the form of Strictly Rhythm, who opened up in 1989, though their first breakthrough wasn’t to come until the following year. Two other New York producers who were also beginning to make a lot of noise were Clivilles and Cole with Seduction‘s ‘Seduction‘ and their excellent deep, dubby mix of Sandee‘s ‘Notice Me‘. Their break into the mainstream came with a mix of Natalie Cole‘s ‘Pink Cadillac‘. Another guy who was also beginning to make a name for himself as a house remixer was David Morales.
But one of the biggest records on the burgeoning UK rave scene was a record that made very little impact in its native New York – the 2 In A Room LP on Cutting Records, a follow-up to 2 In A Room‘s ‘Somebody In The House Say Yeah‘ that included a clutch of firing sample tracks from Todd Terry, Louie Vega, George Morel and a few other producers known only on the Latin freestyle scene in New York.
By Summer 89 the acid house scene had grown into the rave scene which was becoming so big that promoters came up with the idea of putting on huge events in the countryside outside London – events that could not only hold thousands of people but which could go on all night. Although the scene was later to degenerate with an increasingly narrow musical policy, ludicrously numerous DJ line-ups and suffer from gangster style promoters who saw how much money could be made, at the time it was incredibly broad. Alongside the regular house movers, records like Corporation Of One‘s ‘Real Life‘, Karlya’s ‘Let Me Love You For Tonight’ and 808 State‘s ‘Pacific‘ became the open air anthems.
Several of those anthems came from a label that had started up in Canada the year before. Toronto’s Big Shot Records was the brainchild of producers Andrew Komis and Nick Fiorucci, and they were startled when Amy Jackson‘s ‘Let It Loose’, Index‘s ‘Give Me A Sign‘, Jillian Mendez‘s ‘Get Up‘ and Dionne‘s ‘Come Get My Lovin‘ became huge club records in the UK.
“I was dumbfounded about England. To me it was soccer players and the Queen, but if it wasn’t for the dance stores in London and Record Mirror I’d probably be working in a hardware store.” Andrew Komis. Again, the scene was largely fueled by radio. Though the original pirates had come off the air in an attempt to gain licenses (Kiss eventually managed it in 1990) and the penalties had been sharply increased, a new generation of pirates were on the air – Sunrise, Center force, Fantasy, Dance and countless others. Young, loud and incredibly unprofessional, they pumped out an endless diet of underground house music round the clock and shamelessly promoted all the raves.
Another set of incredibly successful records came from a country only marginally more likely than Canada. House records from the Continent were becoming more and more common, though most of them were sub-standard covers of US and UK records, and when Italy’s Cappella crashed the charts with ‘Helyom Halib‘ it was really only because it was based on a huge club record from Chicago which had never managed to crossover – LNR‘s ‘Work It To The Bone‘. Then came Starlight with ‘Numero Uno‘ and Black Box with ‘Ride On Time‘, both the work of production team Groove Groove Melody. ‘Ride On Time’ was a brilliant concept, taking the vocals from Loleatta Holloway‘s ‘Love Sensation‘ and putting them to a sizzling piano anthem. There was no holding it back. As the record flew up the charts on its way to becoming the first house Number 1 since ‘Jack Your Body’, the floodgates opened. Italo-house was a happy, uplifting lightweight sound nurtured in the hedonistic clubs of the Adriatic resorts Rimini and Riccione, and it gatecrashed everything from the large raves to the hippest clubs. Those that argued that there was no substance behind it (a lot of the records WERE extremely corny) were foiled when a more mature sound emerged with Sueno Latino‘s ‘Sueno Latino‘ and Soft House Company‘s ‘What You Need.’ Despite their initial insistence that ‘Ride On Time’ wasn’t all sampled, Black Box managed to record a very good album, though they promptly pulled a similar stunt on Martha Wash, who wasn’t at all amused. The Italians would go on to become an integral part of house music, with one of the most consistent labels, Irma, proving acceptance in New York by opening up shop there.
Even in 1989, when house music had become the property of the world, Chicago still had a few tricks up its sleeve. Led by people like Steve Poindexter and Armando, the new underground of the city was returning to its roots with a new, minimalist style even rougher and rawer than the original drum tracks, a sound that was to join acid and techno in forming the roots of the hardcore scene. Another producer who’d led the way with crazy tracks like ‘War Games‘ and ‘Video Clash‘ was Lil Louis. While his spinning partner DJ Pierre became entangled in a fruitless contract with Jive Records (a fate that also befell Liz Torres), who’d opened up in Chicago, Louis’ time came in 1989 with a track that slowed down to a complete halt and had as a vocal only a senes a female love moans – ‘French Kiss‘. ‘French Kiss’ was a huge club record and eventually it climbed to Number 2 in the charts and landed Louis an album deal with Epic in the States and ffrr in the UK. Though the style had started three years earlier with Jackmaster Dick‘s ‘Sensuous Woman Goes Disco‘ and Raze‘s ‘Break 4 Love‘ the previous year, ‘French Kiss’ began a sex track phenomenon that was to last a long time.
Another group that broke out of Chicago was Da Posse, formed by Hula, K Fingers, Martell and Maurice. Their early tracks like ‘In The Life’ were mostly based on old Rhythm Is Rhythm records, but ‘Searchin Hard‘, a deep house song on Dance Mania records led them to a deal with Dave Lee’s Republic Records, for whom they eventually recorded an excellent album. Later they formed their own label, Clubhouse Records.
Two other house originals also teamed up in 1989 – Frankie Knuckles and Robert Owens, who recorded ‘Tears‘ with Japanese keyboardist Satoshi Tomiie. ‘Tears’ was a great record but mystifyingly, even in the year of house hits, it failed to make the charts. Though Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May and Juan Atkins had become very popular with the majors as remixers, Detroit had become very quiet, and the only club that supported techno, the Music Institute, had closed down. But a resurgence was on the horizon with new producers like Carl Craig and a young protégé of Saunderson who had just made his first record for KMS – Marc Kinchen.
Despite the studied apathy of the American music business and repeated attempts to replace house in Britain with just about anything – Soul II Soul and their numerous imitators proved more of a hiccup than anything else the 4/4 bass kick entered the new decade stronger than ever, underground dance scenes developing in new cities and new countries with every month that passed. Even Spain underwent its own acid house craze in 89, and threw up the talented Barcelona producer Raul Orellana, who created a style all of his own by merging flamenco with house. A comment made in 1988 by Robert Owens on the UK TV documentary ‘Club Culture‘ was proving truer and truer.
“It’s not just boom boom boom. They’re telling me something here. Something I can dance to and learn from. I can see house music becoming universal one day. It’ll just take time for people to receive it.”