Classic House Series Episode #33 – Bottom Heavy – Danny Tenaglia

Danny Tenaglia is called “the DJ’s DJ” for good reason.  After seeing firsthand the genre-less approach the legendary Larry Levan brought to the equally legendary Paradise Garage, Tenaglia vowed to one day create a club concept based on Levan’s bold foundation match with his own musical and experiential vision.  Tenaglia would achieve his dream years later after lengthy residencies at New York institutions Twilo and the Tunnel with his Be Yourself parties at Vinyl where he enjoyed complete creative freedom over every aspect of the music he was playing.  Danny would regularly sit the newest anthems right next to classic favourites from his childhood and extended marathon sets were the norm for this club veteran.  In addition, for an entire generations of clubbers, Danny Tenaglia also rules as the undisputed king of tribal house.

After releasing successful remixes for the likes of Jamiroquai and Madonna, Danny Tenaglia’s debut LP Hard & Soul arrived in 1995.  The title sums it up well:  the album is an infectious mix of the hard-hitting tribal rhythms and percussion that have become Tenaglia’s trademarks with deep, soulful basslines of the nastiest quality.  “Bottom Heavy” remains a standout cut and actually began life as a remix for 80s legends New Order’s track “World (The Price of Love).  When the mix was rejected by the band, Tenaglia asked for permission to release the track as his own minus the vocals and the track became an instant club anthem when released in 1994 on Tribal America Records.

With the original mix clocking in at over 13 minutes in length, this is a real treat for the dancefloor that doesn’t let up for a single moment.  Tenaglia’s debut single firmly establishes the blueprint for his signature dark, dirty, sexy tribal sound and would be best served in the early hours of the morning on a good, powerful sound system.

 

Classic House Series Episode #32 – Two Fatt Guitars – Direckt

The late 90s could be considered the golden age of disco house, especially with the strong influence of the French Touch sound that was dominant at the time.  Strong releases from Daft Punk, Bob Sinclar, Armand van Helden and others would serve to define the sound, but there remains a plethora of great disco house tracks that pre-date the explosion seen in 1997 and Direckt’s anthem “Two Fatt Guitars” stands out as one of the best.

Here’s a tip for any house producers reading this:  if you’re looking for some great disco tunes to sample, grab a Chic record.  You’ll likely have a much easier time getting a nice, clean loop from their material than some others you may have tried.   Formed by the late Bernard Edwards and producer turned Daft Punk collaborator Nile Rodgers, Chic remains one of the tightest bands you will ever hear and their impact and influence on musical styles ranging from hip-hop to hard rock is arguably unparalleled.

For Direckt (Michael Kirwin and Daniel Bennett), nicking a few samples of Chic’s 1978 megahit “Le Freak” was a wise move indeed.  With sales of over seven million, “Le Freak” was Atlantic Records‘ biggest-selling single until it was topped by Madonna‘s “Vogue“.  With it’s fantastic interplay between Rodgers’ “chucking” guitar licks and Edwards’ booming bass, after over 21 years of DJing “Le Freak” remains not only my favorite Chic song, but my favorite disco record of all time.

Taking a few snippets of the main guitar riff, Direckt drops them over a similarly funky house beat and tops the whole thing off with some serious sub-rattling bass and a bit of old-school ragga toasting.  The funky factor is out of bounds on this one and with the added bonus of the instantly recognizable guitar loop, this one is a floor filler whenever I pull it out.

Classic House Series Episode #31 – It’s All Good(Full Intention Mixes) – Da Mob feat. Jocelyn Brown

In preparation for the launch of his incredibly successful and influential Subliminal Records label, internationally renowned DJ and producer Erick Morillo made sure he had all of his bases covered.  Having achieved his first success through a plethora of releases on the legendary Strictly Rhythm label, Morillo knew firsthand what was needed to establish Subliminal as a leader in  top quality house music.

It’s All Good” remains high on the list of the very best tracks to come out of the Subliminal camp and that should come as no surprise given the producers behind it.  The second release from Da Mob (after 1997’s “Fun which also served as the label’s debut release) is a soulful, funky vocal house number with a nice jazzy feel and the incredible vocals of legendary R&B and dance music singer Jocelyn Brown.  The 2×12″ release features a dub courtesy of The Dronez, but the real gems in this package come courtesy of the gorgeous remixes from acclaimed house producers Full Intention.

Michael Gray & Jon Pearn take the original and turn it into an uplifting piano-house anthem with more than pinch of gospel influence and their signature pumping drums and percussion.  The result is a track every house-head dreams about; one minute you’re dancing in a group hug with all your friends and moments later you’re lost in your own world but still completely locked into the same groove as everyone else around you.  Well worth tracking down if you don’t already have it, this one can still deliver in any prime-time house set just as well as it does as a late-night classic.

Classic House Series Episode #30 – Gym Tonic(Thomas Bangalter Mix) – Bob Sinclar

As house tunes go, there are few tracks that have been surrounded by as much controversy with respect to authorship and release as Bob Sinclar‘s (more accurately, Thomas Bangalter‘s) 1998 French-house anthem “Gym Tonic“.  A classic example of the French Touch sound, this particular track has become almost mythical in terms of its origins, release and legacy.  With all the conflicting stories going around the net about this one, this post will be based largely on what seems to be the most reasonable and accepted versions of the story and, hopefully, will provide the most accurate version of the facts without getting Mr. Bangalter and Mr. Sinclar in the same room to sort it out (because that will likely never happen).

Let’s go back a few years to the 1998 Winter Music Conference in Miami.  Thomas and Bob meet and hit it off.  They start talking music and in the discussion it is revealed that Bob wants to make a track using the funk classic “Bad Mouthin’” by Motown Sounds.  Allegedly, Thomas quickly produces the track and adds a cheeky vocal sample from a Jane Fonda‘s  Workout record (2-3-4-5-6-7-8 and back along with some intro snippets).  With the track done, Bangalter hands it over to Sinclar for use on his debut album “Paradise“.  Bangalter’s only request is that the song not be released as a single and that his name is not anywhere on it (likely for not having cleared the rights for either sample).  Sinclar agrees and the track is added to the album.

Fast forward a few weeks to when the initial feedback for Sinclar’s album starts coming in.  The album is great (and it is), but DJs are going bananas over one particular track:  Gym Tonic.  This is where things get interesting (and complicated).

Despite promising Bangalter that he wouldn’t release the track as a single, the pressure is starting to come down from Warner Music, the label responsible for distribution of the album on Sinclar’s Yellow Productions imprint.  There is allegedly some attempt from Sinclar to reach both Bangalter and his manager Pedro Winter.  No success on either attempt.  With increased pressure to get a proper single out to support the album, “Gym Tonic” is released as a single albeit with the words “promo only” tacked on to it.  This reaches Bangalter’s ears and the lawyers start going at it.  But there’s one more heavyweight about to get involved.

The single attracts the attention of Jane Fonda herself and her legal team who are none too pleased about her vocals being sampled without permission.  This further ramps up the litigation with rumours that Fonda wanted as much as $30,000.00 to clear the sample.  Meanwhile, Sinclar’s album is in stores and selling well, all thanks to Bangalter’s production work.

The fallout from this whole episode had some stiff ramifications for Sinclar and our ears as well.  In response to Sinclar disregarding his wishes, Thomas Bangalter removes Sinclar’s remix of Music Sounds Better With You” – Stardust from all future pressings of the CD single (the initial run of discs did include and are now highly sought after).  In addition, Warner goes ahead and commissions a “re-make” of the single by Spacedust under the name “Gym & Tonic“.  While the Motown Sounds sample remains, the vocals are re-recorded (poorly) by a session vocalist and the Spacedust single ended up hitting #1 on the UK singles chart (with a dreadful video to boot, see above).  Lines are drawn and it is assumed that Bangalter and Sinclar will never work together again, or even speak to each other, over the mess.

Controversy aside, one can safely say that the original Thomas Bangalter mix of “Gym Tonic” is a bona fide French-house classic and one of Bangalter’s best productions.  He even goes so far as to include snippets of the scratch samples that he used on his solo production “Spinal Scratch“.  The result is a pumping, swirling dancefloor bomb and if the vocal hook doesn’t get stuck in your head, the insanely catchy Motown Sounds sample will definitely do the trick.  It’s still a treat to drop this one on an unsuspecting crowd today and despite the controversy and fallout from its creation, this one has held up extremely well and your crowd had better be ready for a good workout here (pun fully intended).

 

Classic House Series Episode #29 – Funk-A-Tron – R. Rivera’s Grooves

Legendary house producer Robbie Rivera‘s legacy stems largely from his status as one of the biggest contributors to the tribal-house genre.  The Puerto Rican-born DJ’s signature dark, dirty, underground tribal rhythms with heavy doses of Latin and progressive influences have rocked dancefloors around the world since the mid-90s with hits including “Bang“, “Feel This 2001” and “The Hum Melody“.

Rivera’s 2000 release “Funk-A-Tron” on the equally legendary Subliminal label is a brilliant departure from his usual sound as he serves up a slab of slithering, nasty electro house chock full of needle-sharp synth lines and a bubbling bass groove underneath.  Any Subliminal release at the time was worth listening to, and after about 30 seconds my decision to grab this one was complete.  The track became huge in the clubs and raves and I dropped this one so often that one of the hip-hop DJs I worked with back then went out and bought himself a copy simply because I smashed it week after week.

The original mix has held up well, but for me the Crazee Remix on the flip has always been my go-to.  The track would be resurrected and re-released in 2003 as “Funk-A-Faction” thanks to some new mixes courtesy of electro DJ/Producer Benny Benassi.  With lots of mixes to choose from, this remains a crowd-pleaser to this day and can kick the energy of your audience up to 11 in no time.

Canadian Classic House Episode #5 – Into You(Meteor Club Mix) – Shauna Davis

The 90’s was an important time for Canadian dance music in terms of quality and quantity.  In addition to support from dance-oriented radio stations across the country, many artists actually became more well-known due to their music videos being shown on dance music themed television programs like Electric Circus on Toronto’s MuchMusic and Bouge de la via Montreal’s Musique Plus.

One act I was introduced to through their videos on EC was the Montreal-based Shauna Davis project, fronted by Haitian-born vocalist Stephane Moraille.  The first single “Get Away” received moderate radio and video play as did the third release from the project, “Try My Love“.  Sandwiched nicely between the two was what I believe to be the strongest single under the Shauna Davis moniker and a classic piece of Canadian house music:  “Into You“.

The production really pops on this release; some of the nicest house beats I’ve heard in a Canadian track, a lovely Korg M1 organ-like bassline and synth stabs with a great vocal arrangement that keeps thing moving.  It has a classic feel right down to the song itself and often gets overlooked when considering the best house tracks to come out of Canada.  This one still goes down well in a vocal house set and works just as effectively in peak time as it does in a good warm-up set.

Classic House Series Episode #28 – House 4 All – Blunted Dummies

When looking back on people and artists who influenced me as a DJ, one of the first names that comes to mind is Chris Sheppard.  Back in the late 80’s and early 90s, Shep dominated the weekend radio airwaves in Toronto as far as dance music was concerned.  Through his extremely popular and highly informative Pirate Radio Sessions syndicated show on Saturday afternoons and his live-to-air broadcasts from Toronto’s legendary Guvernment(and formerly RPM) nightclub on Saturday nights, Chris Sheppard was the undisputed champion of quality dance music I Canada.  As a dedicated listener, believe me, I learned a lot from those shows.

One common thread throughout Shep’s programming was to use his shows as a format to provide exposure to the more underground house sounds and genres that reflected what was happening in Toronto’s early race scene at the time.  Key to that was to find and play tracks that brought people together on the dancefloor, ones that can create a very communal feeling and a sense of kinship with those around you.  1993’s “House 4 All” is one such record and despite being relatively simple in its creation, producers Shawn Caesar and Ty James (under the name Blunted Dummies) provided a standout track in terms of demonstrating the emotion that could be generated by a jackin’ house tune.

As was the template for many a great classic house track, “House 4 All” is composed mainly of samples; from 5 different sources to be exact.  The underlying organ chords and hi-hats are lifted from “The Poem” by Bobby Konders and this is one of the most important parts of this record.  The organ sounds invoke an unmistakable feeling of being in church and any dedicated house-head will tell you exactly how close being in a packed club with hundreds of strangers locked into the same groove compares to being part of a congregation.  Vocal samples come courtesy of “Happy Music” by the Blackbyrds and that glorious kick that hits you squarely in this chest was lifted from “Dance” – Earth People.  The remaining beats heard throughout the record come from hip-hop samples; specifically, Brand Nubian’s “All For One” and the old-school anthem “Check the Rhyme” by A Tribe Called Quest.  

The end result is actually quite ingenious in terms of getting all the samples to work together and if you’ve got an older crowd looking to hear some truly classic sounds, this one comes highly recommended.

Album Review – Starboy – The Weeknd

starboy-2

The Weeknd can do no wrong, it appears.  A little over a year since the release of his mind-blowing major label debut Beauty Behind the MadnessStarboy has been eagerly anticipated and there’s no question that the hype machine has been in overdrive ever since the album was first announced.  It’s setting records too, including being streamed well over 36 million times in the first 24 hours of its release on Spotify breaking the previous record held by fellow Canadian Justin Bieber.

Rather than rush to provide a review of this album, I’ve taken the approach of listening to the disc over the last few days and allowing it to grow on me.  While the album lacks the dark, atmospheric feel of its predecessor, there are numerous moments of pop brilliance and the record definitely has some house influence to it, which may or may not be the result of working with electronic music masters (and my heroes) Daft Punk on the two tracks that open and close the album.

The title track and lead single was met with mixed reactions from fans of both the Weeknd and Daft Punk, many stating that this was the wrong direction for the French duo to go in and that their vocals efforts were lacking when paired with the Weeknd and his incredibly powerful voice and lyrical abilities.  Nevertheless, it is a strong R&B opener and Daft Punk’s appearance, while admittedly understated, certainly lends an air of credibility to not only the track, but the album as a whole.  “Party Monster” follows and this is probably the closest we find to the Weeknd going back to his Beauty Behind the Madness sounds with an intoxicated-sounding sonic backdrop and repeated refrain “woke up by a girl, I don’t even know her name“.  The lyrical references to another night of hard drinking and cocaine permeate the track and seque right into the rock-influenced “False Alarm”.  The record’s mood shifts to an up-tempo vibe on “Rockin'” which wouldn’t sound out of place in a set of garage house with old-school synth stabs and clear classic house feel.

“Secrets” has become one of my favourite tracks on this album.  The house influence shines through hear as well, with the heavy kick drum and clap rhythm providing a solid foundation over which prominent samples of the Tears for Fears classic “Pale Shelter” are placed.  The chorus is a direct interpolation of The Romantics‘ hit “Talking In Your Sleep” and there’s some nice filtering at the beginning making this a great choice to open up an R&B set with.

“Stargirl Interlude” is really not much more than a cameo appearance from frequent Weeknd collaborator Lana del Rey with Weeknd adding a few sparse vocal lines at the end.  “Sidewalks” steers the album back on track courtesy of an appearance by hip-hop superstar Kendrick Lamar and continues through to “Love to Lay”, another up-tempo number with some house vibes to it.

Sadly, after “A Lonely Night” the album starts to take on a bloated feel and most of the tracks to follow up until the closer seem out of place and only serve to suck the energy out of the record by consisting of series of ballads.  They seem like filler and don’t come close to sounding as intriguing as “Angel” from his previous record.  “I Feel It Coming”, again featuring Daft Punk, closes out the disc and stands out as one of the highlights of the album.  It serves as a nice, feel-good cut which might not have been completely out of place on Daft Punk’s 2013 album Random Access Memories.  Their vocal presence is more prominent and it feels like they had more impact on the overall production than they did with “Starboy”.  In spite of the track’s brilliance, it feels oddly out of place after the glut of ballads that precede it, but nonetheless ends the album on an upbeat note.

With few peers to compete head-to-head with him at the moment, the R&B spotlight is firmly on the Weeknd with this release and to say the album has been successful so far is an huge understatement.  That said, while there are a lot of great moments on this record, overall it just doesn’t feel like as strong a record as Beauty Behind the Madness.  While it sounds incredibly well-produced on each track, there is a certain lack of cohesiveness and flow over the album’s 18 tracks and it feels like it could be trimmed down to about 12.  In spite of this, the Weeknd’s vocals and lyrical dreamscapes remain some of the best out there right now and Starboy is definitely a worthwhile listen for fans of pop, R&B and dance grooves.

Rating:  3.5/5

Classic House Series Episode #27 – Wake Up(Shay-Ama) – Nu Civilization

One of challenges (and joys) of playing a great classic house set is picking just the right track to kick things off.  With a genre based on the concept of classic records that have stood the test of time, the possibilities are endless.  Name one good choice and the DJ next to you will name something completely different, but arguably just as valid.  A strong start will inevitably set the tone for things to come, and Nu Civilization‘s gorgeous anthem “Wake Up(Shay-Ama)” has done the trick rather nicely for me many, many times.

I first became aware of this record by way of its inclusion on the 4th installment of the revered Techno Trip compilation series that was the brainchild of iconic Toronto DJ and radio host Chris Sheppard.  Sheppard’s approach to this series leaned heavily on the underground hardcore, break-beat and techno tracks making the rounds on Toronto’s early rave scene but each release in the series offered a couple of proper house tunes and this was one that immediately stood out for me.

Composed and produced by the Toby Brothers, “Wake Up” has all the elements that make up a great classic house record:  early drum machine programming and percussion, synth, piano, a killer bass hook and, of course, an uplifting, soulful vocal with an instant sing-along quality that sticks in your head well into the next day.  The arrangement is rather simple and that’s what works so well for this record.  That, and the fact that there’s an actual song contained within it (and a great one, at that) and you have a deep house classic with a positive message that aches with soul and a groove you can just lose yourself to.  Still a killer cut to drop to this day despite its somewhat underrated status; bonus points if you get your hands on the radio cut from none other than Mr. Frankie Knuckles himself with the call to the dancefloor “Hey, Frankie, tell ’em to wake up”.

Classic House Episode #26 – It’s Gonna Be Alright – Pussy 2000

In dance music, the concept of combining elements of two of more complete songs to create what is now known as a “mash-up“, “edit” or whatever term is being talked about today, is nothing new.  Ever since audio editing software became commercially available, and with even more primitive methods than that having been used before, people having been mashing up their favourite tunes and from about 1999-2002 it seemed like a new bootleg mix (often of hit-or-miss quality) was hitting websites every day.  Thankfully, some of these were good enough to impress the record labels owning the original tracks used in the mix to allow the remixers, mostly bedroom DJs and aspiring producers, to have the new “mash-up” version commercially released.

This is exactly the case with what began as a bootleg release from the production team known as Pussy 2000 (Andy Jones and Steven James Travell) and what would be commercially released as “It’s Gonna Be Alright” on V2 Music in the US and internationally.  The mash-up combines musical elements from the original six-minute version of the Clash anthem “Rock the Casbah” with the soaring vocals of Sterling Void on his 1987 hit “It’s Alright“.  The two tunes fit together perfectly and with a little bit of pitch shifting to create the groove, you get one serious heavy, funky and fantastic disco house anthem.

The track did extremely well in Canada and received the remix treatment from Chicago house legend DJ Sneak.  The original mix does the most damage on the dancefloor with the sing-along nature of the vocals and the genius idea of turning a a record by The Clash into a house track.  It’s a great one to pull out any time, and older crowd will definitely appreciate the ingredients in this little treat.  Bonus if you can get your hands on the Hard Pussy mix for a deeper darker take on the original.