Classic House Series Episode #32 – Two Fatt Guitars – Direckt

The late 90s could be considered the golden age of disco house, especially with the strong influence of the French Touch sound that was dominant at the time.  Strong releases from Daft Punk, Bob Sinclar, Armand van Helden and others would serve to define the sound, but there remains a plethora of great disco house tracks that pre-date the explosion seen in 1997 and Direckt’s anthem “Two Fatt Guitars” stands out as one of the best.

Here’s a tip for any house producers reading this:  if you’re looking for some great disco tunes to sample, grab a Chic record.  You’ll likely have a much easier time getting a nice, clean loop from their material than some others you may have tried.   Formed by the late Bernard Edwards and producer turned Daft Punk collaborator Nile Rodgers, Chic remains one of the tightest bands you will ever hear and their impact and influence on musical styles ranging from hip-hop to hard rock is arguably unparalleled.

For Direckt (Michael Kirwin and Daniel Bennett), nicking a few samples of Chic’s 1978 megahit “Le Freak” was a wise move indeed.  With sales of over seven million, “Le Freak” was Atlantic Records‘ biggest-selling single until it was topped by Madonna‘s “Vogue“.  With it’s fantastic interplay between Rodgers’ “chucking” guitar licks and Edwards’ booming bass, after over 21 years of DJing “Le Freak” remains not only my favorite Chic song, but my favorite disco record of all time.

Taking a few snippets of the main guitar riff, Direckt drops them over a similarly funky house beat and tops the whole thing off with some serious sub-rattling bass and a bit of old-school ragga toasting.  The funky factor is out of bounds on this one and with the added bonus of the instantly recognizable guitar loop, this one is a floor filler whenever I pull it out.

Classic House Series Episode #30 – Gym Tonic(Thomas Bangalter Mix) – Bob Sinclar

As house tunes go, there are few tracks that have been surrounded by as much controversy with respect to authorship and release as Bob Sinclar‘s (more accurately, Thomas Bangalter‘s) 1998 French-house anthem “Gym Tonic“.  A classic example of the French Touch sound, this particular track has become almost mythical in terms of its origins, release and legacy.  With all the conflicting stories going around the net about this one, this post will be based largely on what seems to be the most reasonable and accepted versions of the story and, hopefully, will provide the most accurate version of the facts without getting Mr. Bangalter and Mr. Sinclar in the same room to sort it out (because that will likely never happen).

Let’s go back a few years to the 1998 Winter Music Conference in Miami.  Thomas and Bob meet and hit it off.  They start talking music and in the discussion it is revealed that Bob wants to make a track using the funk classic “Bad Mouthin’” by Motown Sounds.  Allegedly, Thomas quickly produces the track and adds a cheeky vocal sample from a Jane Fonda‘s  Workout record (2-3-4-5-6-7-8 and back along with some intro snippets).  With the track done, Bangalter hands it over to Sinclar for use on his debut album “Paradise“.  Bangalter’s only request is that the song not be released as a single and that his name is not anywhere on it (likely for not having cleared the rights for either sample).  Sinclar agrees and the track is added to the album.

Fast forward a few weeks to when the initial feedback for Sinclar’s album starts coming in.  The album is great (and it is), but DJs are going bananas over one particular track:  Gym Tonic.  This is where things get interesting (and complicated).

Despite promising Bangalter that he wouldn’t release the track as a single, the pressure is starting to come down from Warner Music, the label responsible for distribution of the album on Sinclar’s Yellow Productions imprint.  There is allegedly some attempt from Sinclar to reach both Bangalter and his manager Pedro Winter.  No success on either attempt.  With increased pressure to get a proper single out to support the album, “Gym Tonic” is released as a single albeit with the words “promo only” tacked on to it.  This reaches Bangalter’s ears and the lawyers start going at it.  But there’s one more heavyweight about to get involved.

The single attracts the attention of Jane Fonda herself and her legal team who are none too pleased about her vocals being sampled without permission.  This further ramps up the litigation with rumours that Fonda wanted as much as $30,000.00 to clear the sample.  Meanwhile, Sinclar’s album is in stores and selling well, all thanks to Bangalter’s production work.

The fallout from this whole episode had some stiff ramifications for Sinclar and our ears as well.  In response to Sinclar disregarding his wishes, Thomas Bangalter removes Sinclar’s remix of Music Sounds Better With You” – Stardust from all future pressings of the CD single (the initial run of discs did include and are now highly sought after).  In addition, Warner goes ahead and commissions a “re-make” of the single by Spacedust under the name “Gym & Tonic“.  While the Motown Sounds sample remains, the vocals are re-recorded (poorly) by a session vocalist and the Spacedust single ended up hitting #1 on the UK singles chart (with a dreadful video to boot, see above).  Lines are drawn and it is assumed that Bangalter and Sinclar will never work together again, or even speak to each other, over the mess.

Controversy aside, one can safely say that the original Thomas Bangalter mix of “Gym Tonic” is a bona fide French-house classic and one of Bangalter’s best productions.  He even goes so far as to include snippets of the scratch samples that he used on his solo production “Spinal Scratch“.  The result is a pumping, swirling dancefloor bomb and if the vocal hook doesn’t get stuck in your head, the insanely catchy Motown Sounds sample will definitely do the trick.  It’s still a treat to drop this one on an unsuspecting crowd today and despite the controversy and fallout from its creation, this one has held up extremely well and your crowd had better be ready for a good workout here (pun fully intended).


Album Review – Starboy – The Weeknd


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 Compilation Review – My House In Montmartre – Various Artists

My House In Montmartre

When I first got into house music, compilations were a great way to keep up to date with what was hot at the time while being exposed to new music as well.  With the advent of music going digital, the compilation has in many ways gone the way of the dinosaur, however, if you regularly troll for used CDs and vinyl like I do, you’ll be able to appreciate the value in coming across a great compilation that sees a lot of classic tunes assembled in one place.  And for anyone who is looking for an enjoyable lesson in classic French house music, My House In Montmartre remains a great place to start.

Released by acclaimed electronic label Astralwerks in conjunction with MTV, the disc serves as a real “who’s who” of the French House music scene in 2002.  The Daft Punk crew is well represented with Stardust’s Music Sounds Better With You appropriately appearing as the opening cut, my favourite cut from “Discovery“, “High Life” coming in at track 3 and the inclusion of their brilliant remix of I:Cube‘s “Disco Cubizm“.  Roule label-mate DJ Falcon‘s legendary remix of Cassius‘ “La Mouche” is a welcome addition in its full-length form, together with Alan Braxe & Fred Falke‘s live bass anthem “Intro” which received a huge response worldwide when originally released.

Other classic cuts include the Buffalo Bunch remix of Phoenix‘s “If I Ever Feel Better (I’ll Go to the Disco)“, “Grandlife” – We In Music and “Lucky Star” – Superfunk.  Add all of these to a plethora of great tracks and remixes from the likes of Air, Alex Gopher and others and you have yourself one very versatile comp which would well suit anyone looking for a thorough snapshot of what was hot when French House was at its peak.

This one is definitely worth tracking down and is very DJ-friendly given that the majority of the tracks appear in full-length form.  In fact, grab two copies if you can and work the floor with these classics!

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.

Classic House Series Episode #21 – T.I.T.T.S(Take It To The Street)/ Music Box – The Buffalo Bunch

Any Daft Punk fan worth their salt knows that beyond the scope of their studio albums and live shows Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo have forged their own successful solo projects through their labels Roule and Crydamoure respectively.

Thomas’ Roule label was arguably the more commercially successful of the two, particularly with the massive worldwide popularity of Music Sounds Better With You” – Stardust, and later releases featured Thomas’ collaborations with DJ Falcon under their Together alias.  Roule also released the debut single “Vertigo” by Alan Braxe and singles from house legends Roy Davis Jr. and Romanthony, who would provide vocals on “One More Time” and “Too Long” from DP’s Discovery album.

The Crydamoure sound was also built on the above formula but took an even more bare, stripped-back approach to production and focused on sampling (and microsampling) obscure R&B and disco loops, then drowning them in effects and filters.  The bulk of the Crydamoure catalogue comes directly from Guy-Man and label partner Eric Chedeville under their guise of Le Knight Club, together with collaborations and releases from DJ Sneak, Sedat the Turkish Avenger, and the Buffalo Bunch.

Consisting of Guy-Man’s brother Paul de Homem-Christo and Romain Seo, the Buffalo Bunch have the distinction of being the only artists to have a release of Roule’s sister label Scratche.  The single, “Buffalo Club” was well received but it wasn’t until the release of their double-single on Crydamoure that people really took notice.

The A-side, Take It To The Street, loops a portion of Leo Sayer’s “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” over the hi-hat and cymbal heavy percussion the Bunch are known for.  Definitely a decent tune, but IMHO the real gem lies on the flip.

Music Box is an absolute cracker of a tune and was created by combining three different samples; “New York City” – Boney M. and “No, No, Joe” and “Thank You, Mr. DJ” both by Silver Connection.  The samples are delightfully obscure, but come together over some tough-as-nails beats to create a delightful disco house stomper.  Check out the video above to see how the sampling was done as this remains my favourite Crydamoure release and whips a crowd into a frenzy.

Classic House Series Episode #20 – 2Future4U EP – Armand van Helden


When discussing the term “longevity” as it relates to house music, one must certainly give big credit to Boston native Armand van Helden.  Since 1993, AVH has been at the forefront of house music and created a signature sound that can veer from uplifting and melodic to dark, tribal and downright evil.  His early productions had a darker, tribal edge to them as was the case with his breakout hit “Witch Doktor“, which remains a great track to this day and showed me that even the more underground side of house could work with commercial audiences when done properly.  His remixography could fill an encyclopedia and these days it’s more of a question of “who hasn’t he remixed???”  He created such enduring club classics as “The Funk Phenomena“, “My My My” and “Hear My Name” and a plethora of full-length albums to accompany them.  In 1998, however, he gave us what may well be his most enjoyable release.

1998 was the year of disco-house.  Daft Punk, Stardust, Phats & Small and a host of others scored serious hits using filtered loops, house beats and occasionally a guest vocalist singing over top.  When Mr. van Helden release his 2Future4U EP as a teaser to the full-length album that would drop a few months later, the crossover hit “U Don’t Know Me” featuring Duane Harden definitely fell into this category and once DJs found out that this 2xLP with the somewhat bizarre-looking cover was the place to find it, the EP was quickly snapped up in favour of waiting for a 12″ single release.

Upon arriving home and listening to the 5 tracks, it soon became evident that this was a very unique release.  Instead of copying the U Don’t Know Me formula over again, people discovered that not only was every track on the EP amazing, but quite varied as well.  Let’s take a quick track-by-track look at what goodies lay hidden on this gem:

1.  Mother Earth feat. Tekitha from Wu-Tang Clan

Moody, brooding and featuring frequent Wu-Tang collaborator Tekitha, this is a great opener and clocking in a nearly 10 minutes, it’s downright hypnotizing if heard in its entirety.

2.  Psychic Bounty Killerz  Pt. 2 feat. DJ Sneak

Opening with a cheesy pizzicato riff, a direct slag at Sash!, Faithless and others who were profiting off tracks like this at the time, it’s soon cut off with a hail of gunshots before descending into madness.  Any track featuring the talents of both Sneak and AVH is sure to please, this one delightfully sampling “You Stepped Into My Life” – Melba Moore and “Freelance” – Grandmaster Flash (the lyric is “disco dream on the mean machine”), and featuring scratches and stutter samples galore, I have seen this one shred many a dancefloor.

3.  U Don’t Know Me feat. Duane Harden

This was the track that sucked everyone in.  When van Helden left Harden alone in the studio to write a song over the loop he had created using the now instantly recognizable string from “Dance With You” – Carrie Lucas and the drums from the legendary “Plastic Dreams” – Jaydee while he took a nap, I don’t think he could have predicted what the end result would be:  vocal disco house at its finest and endearing enough to be pulled out to this day.

4.  Entra Mi Casa feat. Mita

Dirty, sexy, latin-tribal house with vocalist Mita moaning some allegedly very explicit lyrics in Spanish over top.  Drop this in a club and expect to see steam rising from the dancefloor.

5.  Necessary Evil

There are a few WTF moments on this EP, but none so more than when the needle hit the last track:  a saw???  Yup, a saw sampled from “Keep Your Eye On Me” drives this stomper complete with preacher vocals coming in about halfway through.  You might not initially think so, but this is a club-rocker.

The EP served as a fine introduction to the full-length album which would include further hits “Flowerz” and “The Boogie Monster“.  This one still stands out well on its own and is a must-have for any house DJ.