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.

Advertisements

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 Episode #26 – It’s Gonna Be Alright – Pussy 2000

In dance music, the concept of combining elements of two of more complete songs to create what is now known as a “mash-up“, “edit” or whatever term is being talked about today, is nothing new.  Ever since audio editing software became commercially available, and with even more primitive methods than that having been used before, people having been mashing up their favourite tunes and from about 1999-2002 it seemed like a new bootleg mix (often of hit-or-miss quality) was hitting websites every day.  Thankfully, some of these were good enough to impress the record labels owning the original tracks used in the mix to allow the remixers, mostly bedroom DJs and aspiring producers, to have the new “mash-up” version commercially released.

This is exactly the case with what began as a bootleg release from the production team known as Pussy 2000 (Andy Jones and Steven James Travell) and what would be commercially released as “It’s Gonna Be Alright” on V2 Music in the US and internationally.  The mash-up combines musical elements from the original six-minute version of the Clash anthem “Rock the Casbah” with the soaring vocals of Sterling Void on his 1987 hit “It’s Alright“.  The two tunes fit together perfectly and with a little bit of pitch shifting to create the groove, you get one serious heavy, funky and fantastic disco house anthem.

The track did extremely well in Canada and received the remix treatment from Chicago house legend DJ Sneak.  The original mix does the most damage on the dancefloor with the sing-along nature of the vocals and the genius idea of turning a a record by The Clash into a house track.  It’s a great one to pull out any time, and older crowd will definitely appreciate the ingredients in this little treat.  Bonus if you can get your hands on the Hard Pussy mix for a deeper darker take on the original.

Classic House Series Episode #24 – My Feeling – Junior Jack

Despite the hoards of advantages that the digital age has brought us in terms of accessing music, I really miss record shopping.  I still do it as often as I can, but I miss the days when my Saturday afternoons were always blocked off for a trip to Yonge & Dundas in downtown Toronto where I would troll the record stores and HMV to grab the latest bangers, browse the hard-to-find classics and, if I was lucky, hear something completely at random that would shift the mood of the entire trip (and my purchasing priorities).

Such was indeed the case one Saturday afternoon in 1999 when just as I was sorting out which slices of wax I would be taking home with me from Toronto’s legendary DJ institution Play De Record, one of the staff put on a MASSIVE slice of disco house with a sound that was very similar to the Stardust anthem “Music Sounds Better With You” and a vocal hook that just screamed to me “you need to buy this track and play it out tonight“.  A few seconds later, a copy of “My Feeling” by Italian-born producer Junior Jack (Vito Lucente) was in hand and the itch began.  I couldn’t wait to get to the club that night to throw this one on.

Yes, the Stardust influence is all over this track (right down to the solo kick drum bridge and the phaser on the drums during the breakdown), but Lucente’s use of two separate samples that work perfectly together are the glue that gives this one its shine.  The backing track consists of a sampled loop taken from Sister Sledge‘s endearing classic “One More Time” from their magnificent third album We Are Family.  Once again, it’s a Chic-produced sample that does the trick here, pitched up to give it that disco house feel.  On top of that we have a few vocal snippets from the top 10 US R&B smash “Saturday Love” from Cherelle & Alexander O’Neal to form the hook.  The instantly recognizable quality of the vocal sample over a classic disco house loop certainly continued the trend seen in recent releases from Phats & Small (“Turn Around“) and Armand van Helden (“U Don’t Know Me“) and Lucente’s track was well-received worldwide including peaking at #1 on the Canadian National Dance Chart.

When I did finally drop this one at the club that night, the results were as I expected:  we had an anthem on our hands.  It’s simple, somewhat formulaic and even corny to a point, but it worked wonders wherever I played it (and I played it out a lot) and I even got the chance to meet Junior Jack before he played a guest set on the long-running dance music show Electric Circus on MuchMusic.  He signed my vinyl copy and I was very happy to see this one get a lovely 12″ x 2 release on Defected Records not long afterwards.  A great addition to any disco house set, this one still gets the crowds going.

 

Classic House Series Episode #23 – The New Wave – Daft Punk

When Daft Punk burst on to the North American consciousness in late 1996, for most of us it was via the mind-blowing, genre smashing throb of their first single released through Virgin Records, Da Funk.  Combined with its surreal video, convincing most of their fans that the group consisted of one dude in a dog mask, it was a fitting way to introduce the French lads to the world and the critical and commercial response to the single was explosive.

The single was, however, not the first or even second time the duo had appeared on wax.  After signing their very first record contract with Scotland’s Soma Records imprint, their first E.P. began making its rounds and is the real source of the early buzz behind the two mysterious producers.  Entitled “The New Wave, this is the first official release by Daft Punk and while it may not quite have had the success of “Da Funk“, it was our first introduction to what would become some of the most crucial components of Daft Punk’ signature sound.

The title track of the E.P. is a raw, almost primitive slice of techno delivered at a much faster tempo than we would see on later releases.  Appearing in its original form and an edited version, the sonic sheen that would emerge quickly via their future releases is not quite there, but plenty of their other trademark flourishes take the forefront:  the heavily compressed sound of the track, booming percussion, and the in-your-face feel of the mix were all early clues as to where they group might take their sound to next.  The track does itself sound like an unfinished production, but also strikingly similar to a cut from their debut album that was heavily featured in their live sets at the time.  Flipping the record over would provide us with the answers we were seeking.

Side 2 of the E.P. opens with “Assault”, a slightly more polished, but again minimal piece of hypnotic techno.  You don’t hear quite as many layers of sounds in this one compared to “The New Wave“, but the track does serve its purpose; repetitive, late-night, almost acid-sounding techno with a few switch-ups on the drums to keep things moving.

The final track would also prove to be the final mix of “The New Wave” complete with a new title.  The penultimate track on their debut album “Homework” first appears to close out the E.P. under the title “Alive(New Wave Final Mix).  The sonic similarities between the two track should now be fairly obvious, but compared to its original form, this mix of “Alive” is an absolute MONSTER.  Big sounding doubled kicks, stabbing synth lines and an enormous bassline close out this record on a massive note and shows us the full potential that Tom and Guy-Man had right from the get-go.  The E.P. was also released on Italy’s UMM records and is not impossible to find.  This is one release every serious fan or collector of Daft Punk music should own, or at the very least, listen to so they can experience what it was like to hear the first tunes to come from these legendary producers.

Review – Daylight to Midnight – Night Safari feat. James Newman

It seems like the tide may finally be turning for dance music after the glut of “EDM” tunes that have been dominating the scene for about the past 5 years and the monotonous formula of build-up/ breakdown/ build back up/ peak/ and drop is being replaced with classic drum samples and grooves.  Recent releases from the likes of Calvin Harris, EDX and even “This Girl” – Kungs vs. Cookin’ On 3 Burners all feature vintage Roland 808 and 909 percussion elements and Roland’s recent reveal of their forthcoming DJ 808 controller for Serato are all strong indications that old-school sounds are being revived for today’s dancefloor and that’s great news for fans of good house music.

Any good DJ knows that you can happen across great tunes anywhere at anytime and that’s exactly what happened to me last night.  Just before heading out for the evening, I flipped on an “electronic” station just in time to catch a huge sounding, old-school house-flavoured bomb that was released just over a year ago through Armada Music.  “Daylight to Midnight” arrived courtesy of Night Safari, a duo comprised of house music veteran D. Ramirez and songwriter and former frontman of The Infadels, Bnann Infadel.  Featuring the vocals of James Newman and a gorgeous,  throbbing bassline (clearly influenced by or played on the legendary Korg M1 synth), the track brings together all the elements that make house music great.  The hook is catchy enough but kept relatively simple and it doesn’t some cross over into “cheesy” territory even after a few listens.  I’m amazed that I missed this the first time around but I’m glad I discovered it as this one should be able to work anywhere.  I hope to see more producers embrace the classic sounds and bring the groove back to the electronic scene that has been dearly missed.

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.