Classic Canadian House, Episode #2: Happy Days – PJ

It was 1996 and most of the popular “dance” songs to play at the time were predominantly Euro and dance-pop records of the day, but every now and again a house record would come along that slowed things down just a little bit and gave a dancefloor the chance to appreciate the groove once again.  I was working with a mobile company at the time and shortly after meeting the owner, I asked what were the big records he was playing at the time.  He rattled of a list of names, but one that stuck out was “Happy Days” – PJ.

The record started of as a project of Paul Jacobs, who was a university student in Toronto at the time and also DJed and produced on the side.  The bulk of his better known work including “Spanish Fly” and the “Soul Grabber” series, was released on the now-defunct Aquarius Recordings label, also based out of Toronto.  The label had taken an unique approach to their marketing:  vinyl only with very vague black-and-white labels containing only the Aquarius logo (a variation of the zodiac symbol), the producer’s name and the name of the E.P. and a release date from 1970-1979.  The flip side of the vinyl label would contain a photo of the artist whose music had been sampled for the tracks, and on other occasions a random picture of the producer from some point in their childhood years. Aquarius was seeking to bring back the essence and spirit of the disco 12-inch single with their designs and their releases which prominently featured disco samples, and their minimalistic approach probably helped with any sample clearance issues the label might have.  A number of Toronto producers released their early material on the label including The Stickmen, Nick Holder, Mitch Winthrop, and Miguel Migs and Aquarius continued releasing productions until 2003.

“Happy Days” began life way back in 1981 with the release of a track also called “Happy Days” by North End feat. Michelle Wallace.  North End was a project of disco producer Arthur Baker and “Happy Days” was their biggest success.  The success, though, came only after a the track was remixed and re-named “Tee’s Happy” on the b-side of 12″ releases.  This version saw most of the vocals stripped away and the groove was brought to the forefront.  The b-side was played regularly at the legendary Paradise Garage by the equally legendary DJ Larry Levan and quickly became an anthemic track at the club.  Listen above and you’ll hear all of the chunks sampled in the original and remixes over the years.

PJ’s release is not a complicated arrangement; the original (and IMHO best) version simply lifts a section of the guitar solo from “Tee’s Happy” and loops it for about four minutes with a little bit of filtering over a house groove that progresses along with the sample.  The track basic elements filter out, only to have a loop of the chorus (“Happy days, and thing are still okay, we’re going…”) come slamming back in to carry the track to the end.  A lovely little horn loop is added in two sections and is actually one of my favourite elements of the tune.

From my first listen, I knew this was a hot track and the simplicity of the arrangement and the vocal hook would make it appealing to a much broader audience than just the underground disco scene.  It took a minute to catch on, but eventually I would see dozens of people making their way to the dancefloor every time that funky guitar loop started inching its way out of the speakers.  The 12″ release actually contains three cuts, the original and two remixes also from Jacobs that expand on the original concept by extending and adding new samples from the North End track offering several good quality mixes on one release.  The track would go one to be remixed and re-released dozens of times over the years, as recently as 2011, in fact, but I’ve never found a remix that truly matches the pure brilliance of the original.

The tune also received massive support on Canadian dance music radio and was eventually the first Aquarius track to be released on CD single.  Acclaimed house label Defected even snapped it up for overseas release and it quickly became an anthem the world over.  “Happy Days” truly was one of the first tunes to put Canada on the map as far as house music was concerned, and it really hasn’t lost its luster over the years.  A lot of tracks are given the label “timeless”, but this one almost defines it.

Eric Prydz presents: PRYDA – Review and Album Sampler

After years of waiting for a proper CD release from electronic dance music legend Eric Prydz, today sees the release of not just an album, but a three disc set of unreleased and classic Eric Prydz productions under the banner “Eric Prydz presents:  Pryda“.  We’ve been anxiously awaiting today’s release date here at thekeytothehouse, so let’s get right our Pryda album review!

The three discs contain, respectively, 13 previously unreleased Pryda tracks (Pjanoo being the exception, although it appears in the form of a new edit from Prydz himself), and two retrospective mixed discs that sees Prydz pulling out the best of his back catalog together with some more recent productions and the result is simply fantastic.

The first disc of new material opens with “Shadows” which sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the set:  a slick cohesion between thick, heavy basslines and simple, yet strong melodic synth leads.  “Shadows” nicks a portion of  “Old and Wise” from the Alan Parsons Project and it works very nicely.  “Javlar”, “Sunburst”, “SW4” and my personal favourite, “Mighty Love”(view comments below to find out the sample ID!), are all standout tracks here, as is “You” in both its original form and as an interlude/transition into the re-edit of “Pjanoo” which closes out this disc.  Overall, an excellent listen with very few flat moments.  “Agag” lost me a bit halfway through but “Leja” is an interesting tune where the bassline serves to carry the melody.  The disc definitely benefits from some nice sequencing and pacing and can more than hold its own against other electronic albums currently making the rounds.  In fact, it could flatten them.

The first of the two mixed discs is comprised mostly from the first series of releases under the Pryda moniker and record label.  Opening with “Lesson One” makes good sense and then it’s a jolly good romp through some classic Pryda hits including “Rakfunk”, a re-edited version of “Aftermath”, “Armed” and “Muranyi”.  The second last track on the first disc is, amazingly, Prydz’s remix of “1983” by Paolo Mojo.  When I first saw the tracklisting for the set, I was thrilled to see this on here as it is an absolute masterpiece of a remix and really showcases just how good Eric is in the studio.  This is a somewhat dated production by today’s standard, but it definitely deserves to be here for the depth of the production alone.  Prydz exhibits absolute mastery of synths and sequencing, achieving a balance between his throbbing basslines and bottom end groove and the simple, repetitive and gorgeous synth melodies that he layers on top.

The second mixed disc picks up right where the first leaves off, cheekily opening with “The End”.  Classics like “RYMD”, “Waves”, “Glimma” and “Juletider” are all here, together with some new edits of “Viro” and “MELO”.  The big guns on this one are the simply breathtaking “2Night” and the angelic-synth-meets-dirty-funk sounds of “M.S.B.O.Y.” (special props if you know what the acronym stands for.  If you do, comment below!).  Both discs are excellent listens and they certainly demonstrate Prydz’s knack for smooth programming.  Nothing fancy on the mixing here, but with material as good as this, there’s no real need for it.  He lets a lot of the selections on both discs ride well past the eight-minute mark, which is great to see for a change.

Given the mainstream success that his commercial offerings like “Call On Me” and “Proper Education” brought him, it is very refreshing to see that Prydz is giving us what he does best:  very personal productions created without compromise, tight programming, and consistency.  It is extremely rare today to see an electronic artist that brings a noticeable overall quality of production to every single track they make.  I have know idea how he does it.  What I do know is that if over the span of three discs 95% of what’s on them is top of the top level tunage, the man is doing something right.  For the dance music enthusiast, there is simply no reason not to go out and pick this up.

The single-disc version alone is worth the money, but the full three disc set is what the discerning listener will cherish and it satisfies the cravings Pryda fans have had for a proper set of his productions quite nicely.  Now they have 37 all together in one place.  While some may be disappointed that some key productions (namely “Wakanpi”, “Lift” and “Niton (The Reason) aren’t included, there’s more than enough to make up for it.  So go out and get it.  NOW.

4.75*/5

Canadian Classic House, Episode #1: I’m In Love With You – BKS

Welcome to a new feature here at thekeytothehouse.  Being a Canadian-based blog, periodically we will be featuring posts on classic house tunes that were produced here in Canada and that laid the foundation for the amazing reputation the Canadian House Scene is enjoying around the globe.  Check back regularly, subscribe to our RSS feed or follow us on Twitter to make sure you get every episode!

“Heavy tune.”

That’s what someone said to me when they heard me play this one way back in the early days.  And it was.  Not too heavy, but it had a certain…uniqueness to it and it certainly opened Chris Sheppard’s BKS project to a lot of ears in Toronto, and across Canada.

BKS was a project created through Quality Music Canada and consisted of ambient composer Hennie Bekker, producer and owner of Abbeywood Trail studios (where the bulk of the project’s material was recorded) Greg Kavanagh, and Toronto dance radio legend Chris Sheppard.  Taking the first letters of their last names, BKS was born.

The trio’s first singles, “Talkin’ Bout Love” and “Living in Ecstasy” were released in 1992 and were regularly featured on Sheppard’s weekly Pirate Radio broadcasts.  The group also collaborated with Canadian hockey icon Don Cherry to record the much-ballyhooed “Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Techno”.  Their debut album “For Those About To Rave….We Salute You” was released around this time.

1993 saw the release of their sophomore album “Dreamcatcher“.  The album’s title track, a downright decent stomper in its own right, was well-received, but it was the B side of the 12” release that started gaining some serious attention.  Featured on Sheppard’s first “Pirate Radio Sessions” CD mix compilation, and hammered relentlessly on his radio show,  “I’m In Love With You” became a Toronto club staple and was widely praised the standout track from the album.  Clocking in at just under 3:20, it got to the point quickly.  The throbbing bass was always my favourite aspect of the track, together with the extremely sweet shaker line in the background.  But there was something about the basic groove of the track and the one-note staccato acid sound that dropped in a couple of times that made me think, “Hey, I’ve heard something that sounds like this before.  But what???”

As a matter of fact, I had heard the sounds before, but it wasn’t until several years later when I was talking with DJ Swet (Cory Bradshaw), Shep’s main DJ, that I found out what they had gotten up to.  Swet had come into Kavanagh’s Abbeywood Trail studio to help out with the track.  BKS had already decided to sample the drums from an already established hit, “Do You Know What I Mean?” – Fresh Tunes #1.  During the recording, the group felt the track needed something extra.  Bradshaw had brought his trusty AKAI sampler and nicked the acid line from “Magic Feet” – The M.D. Connection, another track being smashed by Sheppard in the clubs and on the radio.  Hennie Bekker laid down two very funky little organ solos and vocalist Simone Denny, who would work extensively with the group on their third album, “Astroplane“, provided the simply, yet very catchy, vocal hook.  Denny would also work with Sheppard on his post-BKS project, Love Inc.

It was stripped down, almost raw-sounding, but it worked the dancefloor nicely.  I would often use it as a transition track because the arrangement at the end gave DJs a couple of different options.  You could  mix out of it if you wanted to keep the groove going, or you could use it to transition into a different tempo or style altogether.  I still enjoy dropping this one, it always seems to bring back a lot of memories for those who used to party in the City of Love back in the day.  As for BKS, their third album would be their last but “I’m In Love With You” gave them a key dose of credibility which allowed them to deliver their final disc to a bigger audience than ever before.  I remember having about eight CD copies of this at one time due to the number of compilations it was licensed to.  Now I only have two (I think), but I always make sure it’s in my arsenal.

Classic House Series, Episode #5 – Magic Feet – The MD Connection

In the early 1990s, there was a strong underground rave culture thriving in Toronto and with it came certain records, both locally and via imp0rts, that became seminal classics in the scene and helped define the vibe of the Toronto house sound.  With a new wave of new DJs embracing the developing sounds of Toronto’s house scene, one of those records was “Magic Feet” – The MD Connection.

Back then, there was only one club in the city where you could go and hear good quality electronic music and actually want to stay until the very end of the night.  Now known as the world-renowned Guvernment Entertainment Complex, in the early nineties it was simply called R.P.M. and served for many years as Toronto’s answer to legendary clubs like Chicago’s Warehouse and New York’s The Loft in terms of breaking new music and creating hits Toronto house-heads could call their own.

“Magic Feet” had a certain attitude that made it stand out against the other jackin’ house tunes of the time.  A prime example of what could be done with basic gear and a good idea, the track is not much more than some Roland 808 and 909 drums, a single note acid line repeated throughout the track and a crushing, balls-to-the wall kick that came in twice on the last bar.  Originally released as part of the “Tracks That Move Ya” album released by veteran house producer Mike Dunn under his MD Connection pseudonym, “Magic Feet” got regular rotation from nightclub and radio legend Chris Sheppard at his weekly shows at RPM and on his groundbreaking Pirate Radio show which dominated the weekend airwaves in Toronto during this period.  Here’s an excellent interview with the man himself from the New Music:

Given Shep’s knack for knowing a good tune when he heard one, Toronto DJs would flock to Play De Record on the weekends to grab the tracks they heard him spin the night before and copies of “Magic Feet” were in constant demand, whether legally or on white label.  The repetitive one-note acid line would play an important part in another classic Toronto house anthem with Sheppard himself having a hand in the production(more on that to come).  The tune, interestingly enough, gained something of a reputation outside of the clubs in Toronto and could regularly be heard at high school dances and formals around the city (especially if you were at one of the ones I played at back then).  It was included on the second installment of Chris Sheppard’s acclaimed “Techno Trip” series which at the time was one of the few releases to feature a proper CD version of the track.

It’s difficult to explain exactly why this tune did so well; it’s a hard, heavy, nasty piece of early techno, to be exact, but whenever I’ve played it, people usually get the idea that it’s time to just lose it for a few minutes and kick up their feet to this battle-tested party weapon.  It’s simple, and it works.  What more could you ask for?

A Tribute to Pryda

We’ve been anxiously counting down the days to the release of the “Eric Prydz presents:  Pryda” triple CD here at thekeytothehouse and we now have just two weeks to go!  To wet your appetite for what’s to come, I’ve dug out a Pryda tribute mix that I did back in 2009 for all of you to enjoy.

Eric Prydz has been nothing less than the most consistent producer in house music today.  Consistent in the sense that every single track that this guy makes is pure GOLD!!!  Since bursting on to the scene with the seminal “Call On Me” back in 2004, Prydz has demonstrated a remarkable ability to balance his underground productions under his Pryda alias with the commercial sensibility of his releases under his real name including “Call On Me“, “Proper Education“, “Pjanoo“(originally a Pryda production which crossed over nicely) and others.

Prydz’s productions are laced with his signature throbbing basslines, gorgeous, uplifting synth melodies and thumping grooves that you will feel in the depths of your soul.  Classified as house, progressive house, techno and trance, I prefer to call the music of Prydz “J.C. tracks” simply because whenever I hear something new from him, I inevitably exhale and say “Jesus Christ!”  He could be considered the Chuck Norris of dance music as I believe this guy could eat a synthesizer or sequencer for breakfast and crap out a masterpiece by mid-afternoon.  A Pryda release is not just another track to come out, it is an event to look forward to and it’s easy to see that millions of people around the world would agree as his releases almost instantly hit the top of the charts on sites like Beatport and others.  And, as forward-thinking as he might be, he continues to make his releases available on vinyl and his Pryda label boasts some of the biggest sales around with respect to that format.

As a DJ, Prydz has stepped up his game and raised the bar with his jaw-dropping “E.P.I.C.(Eric Prydz In Concert)” shows which feature his amazing tunes against a backdrop of incredible imagery and even 3D holographic projections to create a truly unique experience for his fans.  Hopefully we will one day see him take this show to venues around the world and I know I will be in attendance if he touches down in good old Toronto, Canada.

Fans have been clamouring for years to see a proper CD release from Prydz, and his upcoming 3-disc set will finally satisfy those admirers.  Sadly, one of my favourite Pryda productions “Wakanpi” will not be part of the set, but it is included in my tribute mix above.  Nevertheless, the set will feature new and classic productions mixed by the man himself and should help cement his status as perhaps the top electronic dance music producer of the new millenium.

Be sure to check back here at thekeytothehouse for our review of the set once it is released on May 21, 2012.

Got a favourite Pryda production?  Post your comments below and let us know which of his “epic” productions means the most to you!