Classic House Series Episode #18 – Ultra Flava – Farley & Heller Project

In the world of house music, a production can make a moderate impact at one moment and sometimes, just sometimes, be resurrected to even greater acclaim years later.  Such is the case with the undeniable house bomb that is “Ultra Flava” – Farley & Heller Project.

The year was 1994 and DJs/Remixers Terry Farley & Pete Heller were getting great feedback from their remix of Ultra Nate‘s single “How Long” under their Fire Island alias.  A listen to the remix shows that this is where the bulk of the sonic foundation for “Ultra Flava” was laid.  It remains a great remix in its own right, and Ultra Nate would go on to achieve worldwide success with the release of “Free” in 1997 and has continued to maintain a strong following to this day.  Heller would go on to enjoy success as a solo artist with his 1998 release of “Big Love” which would hit #1 on the US Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart.

In 1996, Farley & Heller decided to release a slightly re-worked version of their mix minus Nate’s vocals and entitled it “Ultra Flava” as a nod to the track’s origins.  DJs hammered this new version out, it’s throbbing bassline and uplifting new vocal hook adding perfect balance to a sure-fire dancefloor destroyer.  Remixes followed from the likes of DJ Sneak, Grant Nelson, Rhythm Masters and many others over the years, but none have truly been able to match the sheer brilliance of the original.  The slick percussion completes the irresistible groove and this one still packs the floors every time(soooooooo perfect for a late-night house set).

Gotta move it on, push it on, ’til we find a better place.”  Farley & Heller certainly did that with this one.

 

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Canadian Classic House, Episode #3 – I’m Hot For You – L’il Louis

Let’s clear up some confusion first.  No, this is not Lil Louis who brought us the legendary anthem “French Kiss“, but rather a cheeky alias for some Toronto-based DJs who grabbed a few choice soul samples, dropped them over a fairly basic beat and made one of the best records ever to come out of Toronto’s early house scene.

The alias likely is derived from the source of the track’s lovely rolling bassline which comes courtesy of producer Lee Lewis’ 1989 release “Atmosphere“.  This led to bootleg copies of “I’m Hot For You” floating around Toronto incorrectly titled with the Lee Lewis song name.

The vocal hook and title originate from a sample of the acapella of Karen Young‘s 1983 single “Hot for You“.  A simple layering of vocal, bassline and beats resulted in a record that was not usually excluded from a good house set in Toronto.  SPG Music wisely gave us a proper pressing including remixes from fellow Toronto DJ/producers Mitch Winthrop and the Stickmen who would go on to become established and respected players in the scene themselves.  The incessant bassline and sing-along quality of the lyrics help lift this record out of the underground clubs and on to dance music radio playlists and mixshows.  Still a killer throwback tune to drop today and ladies love this one.  Always a favourite to kick a classic house set off in style.

It Shall Be(Original Mix) – Shawn Austin

Well folks, things are going beautifully here at thekeytothehouse with well over 300 page views and nearly 60 page views of our Eric Prydz presents:  Pryda review alone!  I appreciate all the support and remain grateful and humbled by it.  In that regard, I hope you all will enjoy the new track I finished up this past weekend called “It Shall Be”.  It’s a funky, techy, at times minimal tune, and I hope fans and DJs alike will give it a spin and, please, let me know how you feel about it!!!

It is available for free download and so far, has been getting a great response.  Big thanks to my Twitter superfan Frank Sinop for his compliments and for consistently supporting the blog.  Please leave your comments below on on Soundcloud and you can check out all my tunes at www.soundcloud.com/shawnaustinmusic.

Again, many thanks to all of you for the love and support.  You are always welcome in this house!

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.

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?

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.