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

2futurecover

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.

 

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Classic House Series Episode #19 – The Ghetto – Bob Sinclar

1997-1999 were indeed golden years for French house and it wasn’t just Daft Punk that was making some waves at the time.  French DJ/Producer Chris Le Friant, better known by his alter-ego Bob Sinclar, released his debut studio album “Paradise” in 1998, a set of funky, filtered house jams that relied even more heavily on layered disco sampled than his fellow Frenchmen did.

Sinclar’s association with Thomas Bangalter led to the creation of “Gym Tonic”, a track mixed and programmed entirely by Bangalter, and later released as a promo single against Bangalter’s wishes(you can read about that debacle here).  Despite it’s popularity the single, in Toronto anyway, was difficult to find leading many DJs including myself to simply grab the full album on vinyl.  “Paradise” turned out to contain several club-worthy tracks, including a little gem, “The Ghetto“.

By combining elements from a live recording of soul legend Donny Hathaway‘s “The Ghetto” and George Benson’s classic “The World is a Ghetto“, Sinclar threw together a funky stomper of a tune that made my jaw drop when I first heard it at Toronto’s legendary Venus nightclub during our Saturday sessions.  Over the coming weeks, people would seem to lose their minds when the delirious piano loops came in and the track remains a favourite of mine to pull out every now and again.  Despite “Gym Tonic” getting most of the shine, this cut and the album as a whole are not to be overlooked and stand out as true French house classics.

Classic House Series Episode #16 – Fly Life Extra – Basement Jaxx

In the late 90s, if there was ever a track that served as a call to arms for fans of deep, underground house music to hit the dancefloor, this one was it.

While Daft Punk were busy showing the world the finer details of the French Touch, Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe, known collectively as Basement Jaxx, were developing their own unique style which employed elements of cut-up house, deep basslines and an unmistakable quirkiness that led them to become one of the most important acts to emerge from the UK house scene at the time.

Named after their successful club night in Brixton, the duo released a number of independent singles through their Atlantic Jaxx label before dropping their debut LP “Remedy” in 1999.  4 acclaimed singles would be released from the album including “Red Alert and “Rendez-vu, both of which would top the Billboard US Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart.

Fly Life originally appeared in 1997 through Multiply Records and featured remixes courtesy of Erick Morillo, Roni Size and Cajmere under his Green Velvet alias.  Featuring a ragga-style vocal from Glamma Kid and samples from the Jaxx-produced Corrina Joseph track “Live Your Life With Me“, the track did well, but it was the Fly Life Xtra remix to follow that would take it over the top.

The Jaxx crew take us on a 9-minute ride that removes the ragga vocal in favour of accenting the filtered bass, the stuttering “Fly Life” vocal, a few snippets of Ms. Joseph and, of course, the pitch-bent synth squeal that takes this one into orbit.  Buxton and Radcliffe were already known for remixing on the fly during their live sets and this remix definitely sounds like it could have been done in one pass, hands manipulating the knobs and filters to create a distinct live feel that gives this track its edge.  Always a treat for the old-school heads, this one remains a big crowd favourite to this day.

15 years of Discovery

15 years ago this weekend, Daft Punk released their 2nd full-length studio album Discovery on the world and the world has never really been the same since, the dance music world anyway.

After transforming dance/house/electronic music as we know it with their landmark debut LP Homework, many fans were expecting a sequel of sorts for their sophomore release.  When the first single “One More Time” was released approximately three months before the album, it became one of the most instantly polarizing records in dance music history.  Purists were stunned by the duos foray into the world of Auto-Tune and the overall “commercialized” feel of the single.  Others thought the move to be quite brilliant, and look to it as the moment when Daft Punk truly crossed over from an underground house act to a mainstream phenomenon.  Let’s not forget that this is the record where they introduced us to their now standard robot helmet guises.

With the release of Discovery, fans now had a full-length concept album to embrace, which also served as the soundtrack to the accompanying anime film Interstella 5555:  The 5storu of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem produced by Daft Punk and legendary Japanese animator Leiji Matsumoto.  The duo spent about 2.5 years recording and developing the album and it certainly sounds like it.  To this day, I believe it is the slickest sounding purely electronic album that has ever been produced.  Every note, transition, nuance and sound is EXACTLY where it’s supposed to be with a beautiful sheen that makes the metallic font used for the album cover ever more appropriate.  Beyond the tracks released as singles, the album has wonderful moments of, yes, DISCOVERY, including “High Life”, one of my favourite DP tunes, “Voyager” and even the tongue-in-cheek 10-minute long closing track “Too Long”.  The list of guest performers is relatively short when compared to those featured on their collaboration-heavy fourth album Random Access Memories, but if that list is comprised of house legends Romanthony, Todd Edwards and DJ Sneak, clearly something is being done correctly.

Sampling made up a huge part of the record and I will not go into what was officially cleared and what was not; you may debate that among yourselves and, if necessary, use that rubbish Discovered bootleg disc which allegedly contains all the samples used.  Half of them are wrong anyway, and include tracks thought to be sampled on Homework and Human After All.  The point is, rather than simply looping samples and adding a beat to it (which they both did to great effect on their Roule and Crydamoure labels and releases), they ADDED and built songs around the samples putting their own brilliant touch to each.  They have stated themselves that this was meant to be a FUN record, paying homage to the sounds and musical styles they most closely identified with in their youth.  Indeed, it is difficult to find a moment on the album that can be described as introspective or deep and that’s fine.  What we have are 14 tunes that blend together to create a timeless listening experience and considering the lasting impact the songs have had, this may very well be the duos most instantly recognizable release.  “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” was employed to great effect in Kanye West’s “Stronger“, 6 years after its original release.  I personally can attest that “One More Time” is my most played Daft Punk song as a DJ.  Countless television and radio programs have used excerpts of the albums tracks as bumper or background music.

I won’t bother with a track-by-track review of this magnificent album.  Instead, check out the video above so you can rediscover the beauty of this important, genre-bending and ultimately satisfying release for yourself.  ONE MORE TIME.

thekeytothehousemix 2012 – Mixed by DJ Shawn Austin

It’s been a great year here at thekeytothehouse so here’s my way of sending another big thank you and a little Christmas present to all of you!

This 75 minute DJ mix features many of the tracks that have been featured in my posts and reviews here on the site including:

Happy Days – P.J., Do You Know What I Mean? – Fresh Tunes #1, I’m In Love With You – B.K.S., Music Sounds Better With You – Stardust, Lovelee Dae – Blaze

I definitely wanted to give this one a classic feel, and I hope you enjoy the trip back in time including a simply incredible house re-edit of one of my all-time favourite tunes, “Why” – Carly Simon courtesy of Redondo, a duo to watch out for in 2013.  Please be sure to check out my Soundcloud page for the full track listing and more of my tunes and remixes.

I’d like to wish everyone who visits this page warmest wishes for a happy holiday season and a prosperous 2013!  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from thekeytothehouse!

DJ Shawn Austin

The Greatest Electronic Album Ever Made: Homework – Daft Punk Part 4 of 4

This is the final installment in our 4-part review of Daft Punk’s “Homework”.  Be sure to check out Parts 1, 2, and 3 as well!

SIDE D:

13.  Burnin’ – The final side of the album opens with one of Daft Punk’s most frequently overlooked masterpieces.  “Burnin'” is one of those tracks that truly defines DP’s ability to make you listen to try and figure out what exactly these guys were thinking when they literally whipped this one up, all while grooving your butt off.  Whooshing fire truck sirens, alarm bells, and a filtered subtractive synth line all build to a climax before one of the most defining basslines ever heard in house music drops and sends the track into sheer pandemonium.  The drum programming is simply brilliant here, with the lads tapping out what sounds like “Dueling Banjos” for percussion on their drum machines (including some cheeky, slightly out-of-place tom sounds just for fun).  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this tune absolutely destroy in the clubs and based on the response DP received when they added it to the slightly revamped Alive 2007 set list, this one will continue to endure as a fan favourite.

14.  Indo Silver Club– One word:  MADNESS.  This is Daft Punk at their absolute nuttiest; here they grab a snippet of “Hot Shot” by Karen Young (the only credited sample on the album) and set a bendy bassline to auto-insanity and let ‘er rip.  This is an extremely cool track, one that takes a sample so far out of its original context it’s ridiculous and the result is a great late night tune that served as the duos second Soma single, released simply as “Indo Silver Club“.  The single contained “Part 1”, a heavier, rolling, clanky techno cut, and “Part 2″ which appears on the album.  The 12” (of which I have a copy, tee-hee) is one of the tougher DP releases to track down, but well worth it if you’re a diehard fan.

15.  Alive – Many people are surprised to learn that “Da Funk” was not the first single released from Daft Punk.  In 1994, the duo released their debut E.P. on Soma and UMM Records entitled “The New Wave“, containing two versions of the title track, an early techno number, “Assault”, and what appeared on the single as “Alive(New Wave Final Mix)”.  It is this version that is presented on “Homework” and if you listen to the original arrangement of “The New Wave”, the similarities are present, but not quite as polished as the “Final” product.

Let’s not mince words; “Alive” is a monster of a track.  The final mix is slower in tempo and it starts off heavy with some kicks put through a nice doubling reverb and a single-note bassline.  The effects and synth hooks follow with everything building towards a huge climax before kicking in even harder.  It’s perfect 1996 rave music and shows a marked improvement in terms of arrangement over “The New Wave”, which seems to rely a bit too heavily on its faster tempo and somewhat scattered sounding sequencing and engineering.  “Alive” has endured as a consistent fan favourite, included in both their Alive ’97 and Alive 2006/2007 live shows and lending its name to the tours themselves.  The main thing is it sounds fantastic in a club, even better when the boys tear it apart and put it back together, and is the perfect tune to close an amazing debut album from two unassuming kids from France who banged out a masterpiece in one of their bedrooms and changed the course of house music forever.  Right?

16.  Funk Ad –…..Well, kinda.  Let’s face it, from day one Daft Punk has always approached everything they do with slightly cheeky humour.  The masks, the dog in the video for “Da Funk”, not appearing in their videos themselves (at least not until the release of “Human After All“), you get the idea.  Many will argue for and against the merits of closing such a fantastic debut with a 50-second snippet of “Da Funk” played backwards, but who cares what the real reason behind it is.  Maybe it’s a joke, a DJ tool, a subliminal hook that helps ingrain the album into the fabric of your brain (surely I can’t be the only person this has happened to), or just something more to add to an album that was longer than just about any album released during this time period(73:53).  At this point, after listening to the sheer brilliance of the 15 tracks that preceded it, you would almost come to expect something like this from the guys who knocked out “Rollin’ & Scratchin'”, “Oh Yeah”, etc.

CONCLUSION

“Stands the test of time” is an accolade that’s been misused to the point of being mostly meaningless these days.  “Homework”  is a record that accomplished much more than that, but if we choose to focus on the music alone for a minute, there is a definite timelessness to the album that can be observed simply by looking at how well the tracks hold up to this day in 2012.  Seriously, put on “Around the World” and then show me a current “hot” single or song that is anywhere near as funky as this.  Skrillex‘s “Bangarang” is a decent tune, but if “Da Funk” didn’t exist who’s to say it would either?  If you’re a house DJ and you’re gigging this weekend, pull out “Burnin'” and just watch what happens.  Maybe you’ll thank me on Monday.  The quality of every track on here is light years ahead of where the curve was in 1996 and, quite frankly, where it is today.

One of the reasons why the album has endured and received further acclaim in the years after its release may well be because it was, in fact, too far ahead of its time for most people.  Thomas & Guy-Man introduced a novel approach to making electronic music without deviating too far away from the pop sensibilities that made their tracks instant classics.  Remember too, this was an LP designed with the DJ in mind.  This may have worked a little too well, since Virgin even had difficulties in deciding how best to market the album since DJs of various genres were playing every single track out!  The arrangement of the tracks themselves are very DJ-friendly, consisting of full versions instead of radio edits.  Hmmm…the easier it is to mix and play out the tracks, the more people will play them!  No wonder everybody was on Daft Punk in some form when this album dropped.

At the end of the day, the main reason I selected this recording as the Greatest Electronic Album Ever Made is simply because it is one of the few albums of any genre that I can actually listen to all the way through and it is still a pleasure to do so.  It grabbed me by the ears and soul and hasn’t let go since.  Daft Punk simply made people sit up and say “woah….what is this???”  It broke away from the Eurodance sound that was dominating the genre at the time and made people realize that with a little imagination, some half-decent gear and respect for house music’s founding fathers, you can actually do this yourselves.  This record has influenced everything from my DJ sets to how I approach making my own tunes and has most definitely become one of my “deserted island” records.  I haven’t stopped playing this since I got it and have no plans to stop any time soon.

No album is perfect, but for me, this one definitely comes close.  If you want to hear how half a dozen different house sounds and styles got started, do a little Homework and give this one your attention.

Da funk back to da punk, come on!

The Greatest Electronic Album Ever Made: Homework – Daft Punk Part 3 of 4

Here’s Part 3 of our 4-part review of Daft Punk’s Homework.  Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 as well!

SIDE C:

9.  Teachers – They called the album “Homework”, right?  It only makes sense that Tom & Guy show their teachers proper respect.  In under three minutes, Daft Punk literally shouts out a laundry list of their creative and musical heroes over one of the freshest breakbeats on the entire LP.  This dirty funk-fest sees the boys naming checking everyone from Paul Johnson to Dr. Dre to Brian Wilson to future collaborators Todd Edwards and Romanthony.  It’s a very nice homage to some of Daft Punk’s biggest influences; the extended mix on the b-side of certain European pressings of the 12″ for “Around the World is great to play out if you can find it.

10.  High Fidelity – Compared to its preceding eight tracks, the second “half” of “Homework” is discernibly, well, different.  This one features the duos’ now trademark big kick and some nice perc arrangements but what comes next is truly a great example of just how ahead of its time this record was:

Sampling was certainly nothing new at the time the boys knocked this out in Thomas’ bedroom, but Daft Punk took it one step further, applying a seemingly schizophrenic approach to the cut-and-paste job they did on (never officially confirmed) “Just The Way You Are” by Billy Joel.  No sample is listed in the liner notes, but the glaring sax sample and the snippets of vocals, keys, and record pops do make it seem almost obvious after a few listens and the “chop-job” videos that have appeared on YouTube do come mighty close to what DP did way back in 1996.

The genius here is the fact that they are subtly taking a big chunk of early 80’s hip-hop production techniques which frequently consisted of creating a “sound collage” by using short snippets and snatches of an assortment of (usually uncredited) different recordings and sound.  The bits used here, albeit from one record, do work together to create an often overlooked gem on this album, and a prime example of Daft Punk’s “taking the rules and throwing them right out the window” attitude.

11.  Rock’n Roll – Sounding like the evil twin “Rollin’ & Scratchin'”, this is another monstrous techno cut with harsh, minimalist kicks, jaunty claps, hi-hats and a warping, twisting synth line that dominates with its relentless and repetitive squelch.  Not quite ready for prime time, but definitely a late-night gem especially when combined with a good acapella.  One of the more monotonous tracks on the album, this was clearly aimed at the techno-heads.

12.  Oh YeahDescribed by DP themselves as “a techno track that makes fun of techno tracks”, this one features vocals from DJ Deelat and DJ Crabbe from later Jess & Crabbe fame.  It’s a loud, bleepy, noisy response to all the electronic haters who said that techno music was nothing but loud, bleepy noises.  One of the few DP tracks I’ve ever not played out, the humour is spot on and you’ve got to give the boys credit for mixing it in over “Robot Rock” as part of their Alive 2006/2007 shows.

Well, there’s only Side D left to cover, so keep checking back for the conclusion to our 4-part review!