As soon as the House sound left the local underground and went to the international charts, the Major record labels began scouting its most prominent artists for remix duties. The main motivation was to lend some credibility to mainstream and commercial club music, the same as it was in the Disco era that led up to House music’s pioneering days. A lot of the prolific remixers, particularly those already active throughout the early to mid 80s, could extend their career well into the following era. But there were a lot of additions too, DJs that began in the Disco era and did not give up on dance music when the classic Disco era ended at the end of the 70s, and of course new talent that just found their into the business by supplying the platters that mattered on the floor. And as it happened with Disco, House formed the basis for reworks of Pop originals that managed to surpass the original versions, either in truthful versions that just updated the beats and grooves, or more adventurous flipside dubs that stamped the self-confidence of the studio newcomers all over their source material. Here are some outstanding examples for the interaction of overground and underground.
Jimmy Somerville – Comment Te Dire Adieu (Kevin Saunderson Remix) (London, 1989)
Kevin Saunderson was hot property after the chart success of his project Inner City, but the A&R department at London probably did not enlist him to show off his underground signature of granite beats and excavating basslines, turning Somerville’s charming rendition of the Serge Gainsbourg classic into a Detroit Techno banger of the variety of Saunderson’s aliases such as E-Dancer and Reese. It’s a stunning soundclash of both original version and remix though, and both sides remain in character, and both benefit from each other. As it should be.
De La Soul – A Roller Skating Jam Named “Saturdays” (6:00 AM Mix) (Tommy Boy, 1991)
Not long after Frankie Knuckles and David Morales formed Def Productions they became to 90s New York House what Gamble & Huff were to 70s Philadelphia Soul, and turned in remixes in a sleepless studio schedule, week in week out. What distinguished them from most of their peers was that they managed to maintain a supreme quality standard while at it, for years. Here David Morales reworks De La Soul coming back from the Daisy Age with their feelgood hit for the weekend, offering three superior deep jams that are all equally brilliant. Buy double copies and just zip on by (spinnin’ and winnin’).
The Sugarcubes – Hit (Sweet’N Low Mix) (One Little Indian, 1991)
Björk the icon of clubland was not inaugurated with „Debut“, but with the remix compilation „It’s-It“ by her former band The Sugarcubes. The remixes compiled were a diverse set from which the Tony Humphries versions of „Hit“ and „Leash Called Love“ stood out (well wait, Tommy D’s remix of „Birthday“ is mighty fine as well). The record company even called them „those absurd large Tony Humphries mixes“, and deservedly so. While „Leash Called Love“ is pumping and rolling towards David Morales territory, a spectacular anthem in its own right, „Hit“ has the more typical sound associated with the New Jersey don, with all the unashamedly artificial string pads and tinny beats he so loved to use around that time, and everything about it is completely irresistible. „This wasn’t supposed to happen“, she sang. But it was.
Debbie Gibson – One Step Ahead (Masters At Work Mix) (Atlantic, 1991)
Debbie Gibson preceded the all-american stardom of Britney Spears by a decade, but when she surfaced in the late 80s the only thing that she could stick in my mind was the rather remarkable song title „Electric Youth“. I suspect Masters At Work felt similarly, as they kept literally no elements of the original song in what became one of their most beloved remixes (although there are admittedly quite a few other contenders in their vast discography). This is one for the true school Deep House fraternity, keeping you locked with a simple but unmatched hypnotic chord, while all the other sounds and rhythms come and go, creating a perfect trip that seems to last much longer than its 5 minutes plus.
David Bowie – Real Cool World (Cool Dub Overture) (Warner Bros., 1992)
Credible dance remixes for the original Star Man are surprisingly scarce, and this is arguably the finest. Def Mix’s Satoshi Tomiie at the controls, thankfully not repeating the cardinal error of most rock stars trying to connect with nightlife: mounting generic guitars on a limp dance groundwork. Instead he opts for a rather skippy groove, but his trademark keyboards are arranged immersed enough to keep up the tension for sublime 13 minutes. And don’t you dare touch that intro!
Jamie J. Morgan – Why (Extended Club Mix) (Tabu, 1992)
The contributions of the Buffalo collective to late 80s and early 90s club culture are not to be underestimated (associate Neneh Cherry did not reinvent herself with „Buffalo Stance“ for nothing). Photographer and director Morgan was another core member, and also had a few ventures into pop music. Eric Kupper, the studio wizard responsible for countless New York club classics, turns the original into a silky floating groove, with just about the right amount of floor pressure to not disturb the beauty and sentiment. As always when Eric Kupper works with this very mood, it is untouchable. And again, don’t you dare to touch that intro.
Pet Shop Boys – Can You Forgive Her? (MK Remix) (EMI USA, 1993)
There are many great remixes of Pet Shop Boys songs, but if there is one grudge to hold against them it is that it could have been so many more. Few successful remixers employed for pop artists had a contrasting signature sound such as Detroit’s MK, who turned source material into something completely his own with perplexing regularity. And as expected he turns the boisterous original into a mean and dark swinging groover. There are a lot of speculations on how Marc Kinchen chooses the lyrical content for his trademark vocal loops, but lesser minds would probably have gone for the „she made you some kind of laughing stock, because dance to Disco and you don’t like Rock“ bit. Instead he opted to accompany the breakdown with „Pain. She demands my pain. She demands meet your pain. She demands my bicycle“. This cannot be random, this is pure genius.
Daniela Mercury – O Canto Da Cidade (Murk Boys Miami Mix) (Sony Latin, 1993)
I do not know what led the A&R department at Sony to choose the Murk Boys to remix one of the most popular songs in the oeuvre of one of Brazil’s most popular female singers, maybe somebody thought at least it has something to do with Latin music?! However intended, it was a bold move. As per usual, Miami’s finest ignore whatever anthemic qualities they could have used with the original parts they were given (apart from a puzzling vocal loop worthy of MK), and strip everything down to their tried and tested booming grooves and monolithic basslines. Compare the original to this mix to get a glimpse of how radical and nonchalant you could treat your employers and get away with it. The intro? Do not dare to touch it!
Deee-Lite – Try Me On (Plaid Remix) (Elektra, 1996)
Deee-Lite assembled a diverse array of remixers for their compilation „Sampladelic Relics & Dancefloor Oddities“, but it was Plaid’s mix that seemed to kick them off their holographic hoopty just before they actually disbanded. This is not playfully psychedelic, it is REALLY tripping. Try to imagine the three of them throwing their wonderful stage moves to this eerie low riding sub bass adventure, it is just not happening. But times had changed, and times were not day-glo anymore. But Deee-Lite went out with as much style as they entered.
Mama Cass – Make Your Own Kind Of Music (Yum Club Mix) (MCA Soundtracks, 1997)
Hot on the heels of the soundtrack to „Beautiful Thing“, which consisted almost entirely of songs sung by The Mamas & Papas’ Mama Cass, came this 12“. Louie „Balo“ Guzman was more renowned for the harder variety of the New York House sound of the 90s, but then again a lot of his own productions and remixes already displayed the healthy amount of eccentricity required for the task of transforming a 60s Pop standard into a 90s club anthem. The way he molded the song into a working club track structure is beyond virtuoso, and the added instrumentation even adds to the song’s beauty. You may think this is really tacky (and flutey), but think again. If played at the perfect moment, this record can change lives. I have seen it happen.