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.

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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”.

Classic House Series, Episode #6 – Let Me Show You – K-Klass

One word to describe this one back in the day:  CHOON!!!

This was one of the gems that used to keep me glued to Chris Sheppard’s Pirate Radio shows during the mid-90’s.  The main reason:  THAT PIANO LINE!!!  “Piano-house”, as it is sometimes called, had its share of moments, but this was the big one for me.  “Let Me Show You” was one of those tracks that started with a burst of energy and it simply doesn’t let up over the course of the tune.

The group known as K-Klass consists of Andy Williams, Carl Thomas, Russ Morgan, and Paul Roberts.  Williams and Thomas met Morgan and Roberts at La Hacienda in Manchester during the 80’s and decided to team up to make some house tracks.  Their gear was very basic, an SH-101 and a Tandy mixer, but this didn’t stop them from making some of the best house music of the early 90s.  The group’s first hit, “Rhythm is a Mystery”, reached number three on the UK singles chart and “Let Me Show You” hit number 13 in 1993.  Since then, they have gone on to release a slew of well received singles and albums, worked with the Pet Shop Boys on their album “Bilingual” and have produced top-notch remixes for the likes of Candi Staton, Rosie Gaines and a classic remix of “I Hate That I Love You” from Rihanna and Ne-Yo.  That one is a personal fave and you should definitely check it out if you haven’t already.

“Let Me Show You” became a rave anthem and a subsequent crossover success.  It is a beautiful combination of a high-energy rhythm section, some powerful synth stabs, vocals from frequent K-Klass collaborator Bobbi Depasois, and the piano hook that sucked people in and never let go.  Many times have I seen a dancefloor scream and raise their hands to the air when the hook comes in and an explosion of madness when the drop comes.  K-Klass remixed and re-released the single in 1999 with a new club mix that has a speed-garage vibe and certainly can hold its own against the original.  However, it is still the original that I find myself reaching for when it’s time to give a party a good kick in the pants.

This is no doubt a seminal tune from the early-90s house era and one that deserves to be pulled out time and again for some pure dancefloor madness.

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?