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.

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.

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.

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 #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.

Classic House Series, Episode #1: Lovelee Dae – Blaze

Spring is officially here and what better way to kick off the new Classic House series here on thekeytothehouse than with this timeless classic.  One listen to the lyrics “It’s a lovely day, and the sun is shining” and you’re in a good mood and ready to go.

Acclaimed production duo Blaze are the minds behind this beautiful slice of classic house.  Comprised originally of Josh Milan, Kevin Hedge and Chris Herbert, Herbert introduced Milan and Hedge to each other and then ironically left the group in 1991.  Hedge and Milan “blazed” forward, creating a string of classic tunes and remixes that can still be heard in clubs around the world to this day.

Hedge and Milan shared productions duties, vocals and instrumentation and achieved worldwide success with hits including “How Deep Is Your Love”, “My Beat” featuring Palmer Brown, and also composed De’Lacy‘s global club smash “Hideaway”, which has been remixed and reissued numerous times.

I will admit to not having discovered “Lovelee Dae” until about two years ago when I heard it as part of a live mash-up by DJ Falcon at Pacha with his and Thomas Bangalter‘s original version of “Call On Me” (later re-released by Eric Prydz).  The vocal hook was so compelling that I had to track down the original and since I did, it has never left my record box.

1997’s “Lovelee Dae” is the perfect chilled, laid back house tune for a sunny afternoon and still works on the dancefloor to this day.  I love dropping it to give my crowd a little time to catch their breath and enjoy some nostalgia, but it never fails to get heads bobbing and people dancing.  The simple bass kick, hi-hat and snare beat lays the foundation and the gorgeous synths and vocals just seem to wash over the track like a wave of bliss.  Perfect for warm-up or peak time, this one is a definite winner and is a staple part of my classic house sets.

What are your thoughts on this timeless tune?  Please post your thoughts and comments below and let us know how this classic has worked for you over the years!