Photo by Tom Lawton.
The now defunct UK magazine The Face used to end each issue with a one-liner, but when I read the words “Vocals Matter” there sometime in the mid 90s, it deeply afflicted me. Was there really a need to point this out? In fact there was. A vocalist and a song were basic elements of House Music since its early days in the Mid 80s. Which was not really surprising, after all House was a direct continuation of what started in the mid 70s with Soul and then Disco, and instrumentals where the exception, and not the rule. Then Garage House already displayed its origins in its name, the combination of the music played in both New York’s Paradise Garage and Chicago’s Warehouse. But after its heyday in the first half of the 90s, Garage House’s popularity was gradually declining. The clubs got bigger, and the sounds followed suit. The songs, however, seemed to get weaker in the process, and eventually a good tune became the exception. It might be a bit simplistic to argue that it is much easier to produce a good track than a good song, but comparatively there are not many artists left even trying. I am publishing an ongoing chronological series of mixes consisting of personal Vocal House favourites from the past until the present, and I picked a few overlooked gems for this guide.
Dance Advisory Commission – Free Your Mind (Yesterday’s Mix) (12th Avenue Records 1991)
The sole release on this imprint operated by Ben “Cozmo D” Cenac. Produced by David Anthony, who revived this track for a release on Emotive the following year. But the original record has the better versions. Eternal self-liberation on the floor imperatives, carried by a subtle Hip House aftermath breakbeat, which is just effortlessly swinging.
Swing Out Sister – Notgonnachange (Mix Of Drama) (Fontana 1992)
The Def Mix productions cannot be overestimated in Garage House history. 1992 was probably the year that saw more Vocal led House releases than any other year, as the Majors employed an increasing number of club DJs and producers to sprinkle some nocturnal stardust and dancefloor credentials on their chart bound artists. And so you have the most consistent remixer of the genre, Frankie Knuckles, turning UK Blue-Eyed Soulsters into a showstopping symphony of baroque proportions. His way of arranging pianos and strings into lush elegance is really distinct. It is also totally timeless.
Darryl D’Bonneau – Say You’re Gonna Stay (New Generation 1992)
The original masterpiece, hidden on a mini-compilation by a label supposedly affiliated with New Generation, the home of most of the weird and wonderful Larry P. Rauson productions. The track had a second life on Jellybean in 1995, albeit in way less intense versions. The interaction of main and background vocals here is pure perfection, the vocal performance is anyway. The song is an eight minute plea for forgiveness that is beyond par. I would not believe anybody telling me that she actually did not forgive him after hearing this.
K. London Posse Featuring Dawn Tallman – Caught In Luv (Rhythm Mix Vocal) (K4B Records 1994)
From 1993 on Garage House was played to increasingly bigger crowds, and the sweet melodies of former years were now often replaced by a Gospel led urgency, and heavier sounds. Producers like Masters At Work, Mood II Swing or Louie “Balo” Guzman showed the way, and many producers followed. Including Kingsley O., who released a string of high quality records on his K4B label that paired Diva plus team delivery with considerably twisted dubs. Buying double copies to combine both to best effect became mandatory.
Loveland – Hope (Never Give Up) (Junior’s Factory Vocal) (Eastern Bloc Records 1994)
NYC’s Sound Factory was the temple of the new booming Garage House sound, and Junior Vasquez was its adamant high priest. His rules and requirements for his floor are exemplified by this remix, one of many he did in those years. On this occasion riding on the ever reliable Robin S template developed by Sweden’s Finest remix team Swemix/Stonebridge, but adding those tribal rhythms, those rave stabbing chords and particularly introducing that rollercoaster structure that was diminished to one or two drops in recent years. The vocals do not serve not much more purpose than barely holding it all together, but they are still needed.
Brothers’ Vibe Featuring Teddy McClennan – Can U Feel It (Vocal) (Jersey Underground 1996)
The Rodriguez brothers paying their dues to Larry Heard’s eternal classic of a very similar name. It may lack its puzzling blissful emotionality, but it manages to catch up as deep, dark and dubbed out companion and it kicks you mesmerizingly, with your eyes closed, into realms you were probably not yet ready to enter. And you do not even care if you ever get out again.
Urban Soul – What Do I Gotta Do (Eric Kupper Club Mix) (King Street Sounds 1997)
Roland Clark was an early voice of the New Jersey sound back to the very early 90s, his shattered falsetto perfectly accompanied by the dramatic melancholia of his productions. Eric Kupper, man of many a thousand beautiful moments in House Music history, expectedly manages to add further bittersweet intensity to the equation, and a direct route to wailing with the best of them. If you think that House most songs are superficial and one-dimensional, you might just listen to the wrong ones.
The Klub Family – When I Fall In Love (Main Vocal Mix) (Funky People 1998)
There cannot be enough praise for the contributions of Blaze to the canon of songs in House music. Few were as committed to the tradition of Soul within the genre, and few could update said tradition with a sound so distinctively their own. Thus they were an exception when House came into being and they remained an exception for the years to come. Sometime inbetween, they helped to pave the way to the more spiritual and conscious sound celebrated at NYC clubs such as The Shelter and Body & Soul, and then they ruled it. Never ever write them off.
Loftis #V Featuring Lafe – Dreamin’ (Joe Smooth Vocal Mix) (Loft Records 2002)
After a productive but rather short period on DJ International in the early 90s, Craig S. Loftis reappeared with this stunning record (the Blaze inspired “You Are All I Need” from one year later is also well worth tracking down). At that time Joe Smooth had vanished from my radar as well, but even if they had only done this one tune, I would be forever grateful. The way this track maintains a floating excellence over such a monolithic funked up groove is just incredible. And then comes the dub version, and you better watch out.
Big Moses – Deep Inside (Vocal) (Big Moe Records 2004)
Moise Laporte is best known for his sublime “Brighter Days” from 1996, but I cannot recommend this record enough either. I really despise a lot of “Soulful Garage” for its bland Pseudo-Jazz drenched noodlings but here all wrong musicianship temptations are kept in check for a well-balanced sophisticated groover straight for the Modern Soul floor. May the girls and boys keep on swinging, and may the faith be kept.
Photo by Annette Kelm.
In discussion with Tyler Pope on “Batucada Capoeira” (1998).
So how did you come across „Batucada Capoeira“? What triggered your curiosity?
A friend and band mate of mine! I had bought this compilation when it came out in the late 90’s and I was introduced to it that way. At that stage we were always looking for stuff that was rhythmic, and raw, and had energy. Stuff that wasn’t punk rock that had the same energy and essence of punk, and I think that is in Batucada. There were a some other great reggae and latin compilations on Soul Jazz we liked, and so I’m pretty sure thats why he bought this one. We dubbed the vinyl onto cassette and listened to it a lot on our first tour of the states in ’98. It grew on me the more we listened to it on the long van rides during that tour, and I was eventually totally hooked.
What attracted you to a sound that is so predominantly rhythmic?
I’ve always been drawn to rhythmic music, my dad was a drummer and there was always a drum set up in the house so it started with that. As a youngster I was into Primus, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and that whole funk rock thing. That music primed me for getting into soul and funk music and all other kinds of tribal rhythmic music. This Batucada compilation was probably the first stuff I really enjoyed that was only drums and thats why it’s special to me and why I chose it for this article.
The sound of a Bateria can be quite a complex wall of sound. What is the difference between that and percissive music from other countries, like Mbalax for example, or other African styles? Or are they even not that different?
There are different drums, instruments and rhythms in Bateria then in Mbalax and other African percussion music, and I guess that is to do with the European influence in Brazil. There are no snare drums in African drum music like Sabar or Mbalax, and the snare drum comes from Europe. Also I’ve never heard such a large group of drummers playing in such an organized way in African drumming. But the frantic energy of the drum music of both countries is certainly similar.
Not every track featured here is as frantic as the drum workouts usually associated with it. What do you prefer?
I like this compilation because it has some of more frantic workouts and mixes them up with the more minimal tracks. It makes for a more enjoyable listen from beginning to end in my opinion. Some of the other Batucada records that I have, that are just the big frantic drum workouts are fun to listen to for a track or so, but maybe not as a whole record
Was the compilation a first glimpse, and you investigated further from there? The tradition of Batucada and Capoeira in Brazil is rich and sure offers a lot to listen to.
I checked it out because it was on Soul Jazz, and at the time it came out other Tropicalia records were being reissued like Tom Ze, and Os Mutantes other real arty weird quality music, so I was wanting to hear more stuff from Brazil. I haven’t really gone too deep, or at least deep by my standards with Batucada actually, this comp never really gets old either so if I want to hear something like this I just listen to this record.
Capoeira is a form of martial arts developed by slaves. I always found music interesting that transfers otherwise potentially critical encounters between rival groups of people into a battle of dance moves, be it breaking, vogueing, or Brazil’s current Funk Balls. Yet the music of „Batucada Capoeira“ is comparably more dynamic than its counterparts. Are such aspects important for percussive music?
Yeah, I hadn’t thought about that but I also like music made for these types of encounters, or battles. I love a lot of the new Vogue/ballroom club music, and recently have been really digging some of the Jersey Club battle tracks. The records for dance battles are more beat driven, there is more focus on the rhythms, and of course they have to be super funky since they have to inspire the dancers. The tracks for battles also cut away at anything that wouldn’t be just for the purpose of the dancing. That focused rhythm track energy I really like. As far as the dynamic nature of this music it is because it’s actually people there playing the drums while the battles are happening, so the drummers are feeding of the energy of the battles and vice versa. Read the rest of this entry »
The next instalment of Acetate will once again exhibit selectors of world class calibre. David Kennedy aka Pearson Sound, who organises the night, errs towards the DJs who dedicate their time to collecting music, infrequently booking those who attempt to spin plates and produce music at the same time. The DJs’ heightened awareness of the vinyl record landscape seems to breed a uniquely rich atmosphere during the club night.
Alongside long time dubstep colleague, and one of the world’s most sought after selectors, Ben UFO, Kennedy has invited a bona fide head out to play in the Wire basement: music critic and Hard Wax staff member, Finn Johannsen. The German also runs Macro Recordings, Stefan Goldmann’s primary production outlet.
Finn is rarely seen by Brits out of his natural habitat of the Berlin record shop, and is normally only spotted in the by-line of an online electronic music article. So we thought we’d do a bit of investigative work and reverse roles. Here’s our interview with him:
What is the application like for a job at Hard Wax? How did you come to work there?
We get a lot of mails every week by people looking for a job at the store, but all current staff members were already regular customers or otherwise affiliated with Hard Wax before they started working there. Same with me. Six years ago I became father of a wonderful girl, and I realized that all the deadlines involved with freelance work did not work well with that. So I was thinking about adding some steadier work to my weekly schedule, and my wife suggested Hard Wax as an option. I tested ground and what I did not know at the time was that Prosumer was quitting the job, and they were looking for a replacement anyway. So I had a meeting with Michael Hain, the store manager, and Mark Ernestus, the owner, and started working there, all within a very short time.
It’s every young DJs dream to work in a record shop. Did you always know you’d work in one? What would you be doing if you weren’t there?
I worked in a second hand vinyl store when I was studying in the early 90s, but that was more to fund my own vinyl purchases. When I started DJing in the 80s I was not trying to get a job in a record shop, I only liked visiting them and it was that way for years. My focus at university was actually on film history, not music. But apart from a brief stint reviewing movies for De:bug magazine I never really did anything with that, nor did I really intend to. I also worked as an editor for art books a few years ago. But at some point I realized that it always fell back to activities connected to music, because it probably is what I know and do best. So I stuck with it. If I would not be there I would be doing something else, but it probably would have something to do with music as well.
What do you look for in a record when buying for Hard Wax?
Something new, or at least different. A personal signature. Ideas. Integrity. Attitude. When the record is referential I check if the references are used in a smart way, and if aspects are added that were not there before. I also take a good look at the proportion of value and money. I adjust my level of support for a release according to the level of how these criteria are met.
What led you to buy your first vinyl record? And what was it?
I started taping radio shows in the mid 70s, but I did not have enough pocket money to afford buying records then. But I already had a record player and I used to play records from my parents’ collection. When I was 9 years old, in 1978, I recorded Blondie’s Heart Of Glass and decided to buy it on 7“. When I entered the record store I just knew that I loved the song and her voice in particular, but I did not even know what she looked like. I was probably assuming that she had blonde hair, but not really that she looked that fabulous on the cover, and what she really was about. I probably learnt quite a few lessons about pop culture at once with that purchase, and soon I started spending nearly all the money I had on records.
We’ve just had record store day in the UK. Do you have any comment on it? Do you see it as a celebration or capitalisation of record buying culture?
It is the same in Germany, and I think it is the same all over the world. Which is why the recent negative implications of the event weigh in so heavily. Hard Wax decidedly never took part. We stated from early on that for us every day is a record store day, and that is basically it. But we feel the fallout from RSD as anybody else in the business nonetheless, especially the delays with the pressing plants, which affect our distribution as well, for example, and the releases we buy from other distributors. That has improved a bit lately, but it is still a tremendously hypocritical event, and that does not seem to improve. Nearly everybody’s trying to cash in now on a format that was willfully pronounced dead before, and nearly everything is blocked by back catalogue you can find around every corner, just in different layouts and for a much lesser price. Old wine in new skins. And the new grapes cannot be harvested because of it. It is totally absurd. There may have been some respectable thought implied with it once, but as soon as the major labels entered it predictably withered away into nothing. They want to gentrify vinyl into pricier artifacts instead, for customers that care more about the item itself than the music it contains. Read the rest of this entry »