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

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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”.