Classic House Series, Episode #4 – Do You Know What I Mean – Fresh Tunes #1

This track asked a simple question and everyone knew the answer the second they heard it:  YES!

You can’t help but consider this record when looking at the greatest classic house tunes of all time.  This one drove the dancefloors crazy when it was first released in 1993/1994 and it still does serious damage to this day.  Pressed up through various labels over the years, the track found the most success with its release under the classic Fresh Fruit and almighty Strictly Rhythm banners.

The simplicity of the track is one of the major reasons why it has aged so well over the years.  A good and proper house groove (which would later become the backbone of a Toronto house classic, more on that to come), a three-note bassline, and a vocal sample lifted from Colonel Abrams’ classic “The Truth”.  Throw in some steel vibraphone chords, strings and a an insanely catchy organ riff and you have a tune that forms a HUGE part of my definition of classic house music.

Fresh Tunes #1 (#1 Fresh Tunes depending on the label) was comprised of René ter Horst & Gaston Steenkist a.k.a DJ Zki & Dobre.  In addition to the classic piece of house, the two producers would also enjoy huge success with their release “Give It Up” as The Goodmen and over a decade later would drop one of my all-time favourite trance tunes “Stringer” under their Riva moniker.  The duo has recorded under at least 10 other aliases including Jark Prongo and the Rhythmkillaz.

The lads definitely hit the nail on the head with this one.  I remember dropping this back at Mixdown Mondays at Humber College in Toronto back in 2006 and a girl came running up to the stage to tell me I had just played her favourite song.  You can’t buy moments like that which is why I always enjoy giving this one a loving spin and it can work just about anywhere.  This tune is pure good times and I’ve seen it take the vibe to the next level in many clubs and everyone who gets on the floor to this one will have a smile on their face the whole time.

Have you got a story to go with this classic house anthem?  Post your comments below and tell us about it!

The Wanted – The E.P. – The Review

Let me clarify something to start:  NO, THIS BLOG IS NOT TURNING INTO A FORUM TO PRAISE BOYS BANDS.  But, unless you’ve been living under a rock in a cave on Mars, you’ve no doubt at least heard the huge single “Glad You Came” from British boy band The Wanted.  With its club-friendly dance-pop sound, this single has been garnering massive radio and club play the world over, and with today’s North American release of their new E.P., the question remains:  is there some substance behind this band or is it just commercial fluff?

The answer is a little of column A and quite a bit of column B.  The 7-track E.P. opens with “Glad You Came” which was produced by Steve Mac, producer of One Direction, Susan Boyle and Kelly Clarkson, among others.  Mac lays a decent sonic foundation here, complete with accordions and a pulsating bassline over which the lads layer pop fodder and the result is a rather good piece of commercial dance pop that should be working the wedding circuit nicely this year.

The rest of the disc pretty much follows suit and could accurately be called a dance E.P.  “Chasing the Sun” follows next and more or less recycles the same formula as “Glad You Came”.  The same holds true for the rest of the disc; up-tempo dance production with rather typical boy-lyrics and harmonies.  Mac also handles the production on three other tracks here, “All Time Low”, “Lightning” and “Gold Forever”, but with the exception of “All Time Low”, they just don’t quite have the same impact as “Glad You Came”.  “Heart Vacancy” remains the only ballad on this disc and really doesn’t do a whole lot to round this collection out.

The idea here was to give North American fans a little taste from both of the band’s first two studio albums, 2010’s “The Wanted” and 2011’s “Battleground“.  The result is a very radio-friendly dance-pop E.P. that, while somewhat appetizing, ultimately fails to deliver the goods and leaves the listener yearning for something with a bit more depth.  Reasonably priced (in Canada, anyway), die-hards will certainly want this in their collection, but for the casual listener, just flip on your radio and you’ll probably hear this band’s best effort in the next five minutes or so.

**1/2/ 5

Great post here about Record Store Day from theelectrichoneypot.com!

The Electric Honeypot.

Over the last five years an independent record shop has closed in the UK every three days.


Flashback ten years or so and the friendly (for the most part) independent record store was a staple fixture in most towns across the UK and further afield. Now, with this alarming statistic ringing in our ears, the depleting independent stores are, if at all, limited to survival in the major cities, in the UK at least.

How did this happen? Well, there are a couple of key factors that led to this situation – you probably know what they are and have most likely contributed to them, consciously or not.

During that same space of ten years we’ve seen music move from on the shelves to online with Amazon, Play, and the launch of the undeniably revolutionary iTunes music store, all taking a huge piece of the music sales pie. Factor in…

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A BIG THANK YOU FROM thekeytothehouse!

Well, it’s official:  thekeytothehouse has gotten 100 web hits!

Exactly one month ago on March 20, 2012, I started this blog as a personal project and have been amazed at the response it has received from around the world!  We’ve had visitors from Germany, the U.S., Italy, Ireland, Australia, India, Spain, Hong Kong, the U.K., Czech Republic, even as far away as Mauritius!  And, of course, my fellow Canadians have led the charge so big shouts out to my Canuck friends in house music.

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank each and ever one of you that has visited the site and let you know that I am extremely grateful for every page view I’ve received.  I am thrilled to see that people are embracing the concept and content of the site, and I will continue to provide music reviews, articles and the newly added Classic House Series with the same attention to quality I have always tried to provide to you.

I believe it is important to give back to those who help you, so I am pleased to share with all of you a little trance mix I recorded recently that I call From There To Here.  The review I did of Paul van Dyk’s new album “Evolution” was met with a fantastic response and you’ll hear a number of his new and classic tunes together with some of my personal favourites in this one.  I hope you all enjoy it, and you can check out some of my other productions at www.soundcloud.com/shawnaustinmusic.

I am always looking for ways to improve thekeytothehouse, so please feel free to comment or contact me with any suggestions you may have.  I am doing this because I love house music and I want to bring my readers, followers and fellow lovers of house the content they want to see covered.  Remember, this is the house that we can all help build and it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, everyone is welcome in this house!

Yours in house music,

DJ Shawn Austin

Classic House Series, Episode #3: Break 4 Love – Raze

It is my firm belief that one of the nicest things any good house DJ can do for their crowd is play “Break 4 Love” by Raze.

On paper, it really shouldn’t have worked.  For one thing, the track bucks the standard 4/4 house beat that defined the “house” sound at the time of its 1988 release and instead incorporates a relatively simple “break”-beat that serves as the foundation of the groove.  BPM-wise, it was a bit slower than other tracks of the era and a few basic piano chords, synths and subtle bassline rounded out the rest of the arrangement.

The key to this classic is that it’s not simply a house track; it’s a song,  and that is where the real magic lies.  Raze was a project of Vaughn Mason, who had previously enjoyed success with oft-sampled “Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll” in 1979.  Teaming up with vocalist Keith Thompson, Raze had a number of charting releases including “Jack the Groove” and “Let The Music Move U” but it was “Break 4 Love” that brought them the most success, reaching #1 on the US Hot Dance Club Play Chart in 1988.

The track is quite simply a classic piece of house music with a classic love song laid over-top of it.  By using simple lyrics backed with a solid groove, Raze crafted an instantly recognizable piece of music with a sing-along quality that hadn’t really been heard before in club music.  We’re definitely not talking about a big room anthem that had the entire club screaming at the top of their lungs, but instead something far more intimate.

For me, this was a late-night record, in many cases my last tune of the night.  Not only is it the perfect track to bring the energy back down to earth, but time after time I’ve seen guys grab their significant other and pull them back on to the dancefloor for one last dance and spend the entire song looking into their partner’s eyes and mouthing the lyrics. The overall vibe of the track is just so pure and honest, but with a certain amount of sexiness to it as well.  It cools things off and heats things up all at once.

The production and the song work together so well here, that this can’t help but be considered both a great house and a great pop record at the same time.  Still one of my favourite tunes to play out to this day, it is truly amazing to think how well this one has aged over its 24 years.  Timeless.

Classic House Series, Episode #2: Superstylin’ – Groove Armada

For me the best part of this tune is like the best part of a good roller coaster:  THE DROP!!!

If you want to know what it sounds like to be hit by a sonic boom, stand very close to the speaker the next time you hear this one in a club (it’ll happen).  This sun-drenched piece of funk combines the huge basslines of the speed-garage movement that was very popular at the time, with live percussion and a ragga-laced vocal to create my favourite tune of 2001 and one that never leaves my crate.

You’ll recognize Groove Armada (Tom Findlay and Andy Cato) as the electronic wizards who gave us 1999’s big-beat classic “I See You Baby“(featured in NUMEROUS commercials and films thanks to a big, silly remix from a big, silly remixer, Fatboy Slim).  With their second album, the fantastic “Goodbye Country, Hello Nightclub“, the band sought to move away from the more chilled sounds of their debut LP “Vertigo” to deliver some pumping anthems aimed squarely at the dancefloor.  They succeeded brilliantly, with “Superstylin'” becoming one of the most played club anthems around the world and establishing the lads as a driving force in combining the hottest elements of club music with live musicians and pop sensibility.

This one was nominated, but sadly passed over, for the Grammy for Best Dance Recording in 2003(???), and IMHO definitely deserved to win.  Not only was the production top-notch (including the infamous DROP before the bassline kicks in) but it definitely had a good sing-along vibe thanks to the ragga-influenced vocals from M.C. M.A.D.  The arrangement alternates between some full-on stomp moments and a few breaks to “just recline….” and catch your breath before the drop comes in again.

Like many acts who released tunes during this time period, this track was way ahead of its time and still sounds amazing on a soundsystem today.  I’ve worked it in everywhere from clubs to weddings to private parties and it always goes down in a storm.  I dare anyone to try to NOT shake their booty when the percussion lines come in, it simply ain’t happening.  Always a welcome favourite in my sets, this is definitely one to pull out and play out again, the smile on your crowd’s face will say it all.  Pure class.

The Evolution of Paul van Dyk – Album review and interview

Like a breath of fresh air, epic electronic dance music pioneer Paul van Dyk has released his sixth studio album “Evolution” and once again we have a great disc here with a very fitting title.

Evolution” is very much a collaboration-heavy album, but not in the sense of having a crossover R&B star featured on every track.  The collaborators van Dyk has chosen do include vocalists like Sarah Howells and Michelle Leonard, but it is his work with his peers by way of co-production that really stands out here.  Two collaborations with trance superstar Arty are featured here, including a very cool drum ‘n’ bass vibe on “The Sun After The Heartbreak”.  Ummet Ozcan brings his signature sound to “Dae Yor”, providing one of the record’s best highlights.  (If you haven’t yet heard Ozcan’s brilliant “Miami Sundown” yet, I suggest you track it down immediately.)  Most of the vocal tracks work well, including “Eternity” which features the vocals of the man behind Owl City, Adam Young.

Austin Leeds guests on the album’s fantastic opener “Symmetries” and returns a few tracks later on the lead single,  “Verano” ,which has been getting pounded in clubs throughout the world.  Fans will definitely want to check out PVD’s own Full Fire Remix of this one for a more big-room take on this anthem.  Perhaps the true gem of this disc is “Lost In Berlin” with Michelle Leonard which “evolves” from a techy, electro sound to a pure hands-in-the-air anthem over the course of its six minutes.  Album closer “Heart Stops Beating” doesn’t seem quite a strong a tune as some of the other selections here, but is preceded nicely by a fantastic collaboration with Giuseppe Ottaviani in “A Wonderful Day”.

Paul van Dyk’s sound continues to evolve with each album he releases and while he retains the familiarity of his classic sound and style throughout, he isn’t afraid to explore some more tech-heavy arrangements giving the disc an extremely well-rounded feel.  This is definitely one you’ll want to listen to from start to finish and you shouldn’t find yourself reaching for the skip button anywhere here.  With 15 cuts and bonus tracks available on the iTunes release, this one has something for fans of PVD new and old and feels like a true return to form for the acclaimed German superstar.

****/5

Check out this fantastic interview with Paul van Dyk below as he talks about the album, his Evolution World Tour and what he thinks about the state of electronic music today.