The Tao of Doop
Photos by Wendy Huber
Labels, for the most part, are tools of the record executive to pad the ROI, to $ell more record$, and to boo$t the bottom line. When you attempt to label the sound of music, you always run the risk of being too broad. Or too narrow. Or missing the beat, altogether. Besides, someone will come along, push forth a little and voila is that the birth of a new genre, or just variation on the same theme?
Either way, I don't believe in the pigeon-hole model. It stifles creativity, not to mention it makes no difference to the underlying music. If it weren't for thinking outside of the box let's just throw the ideas of keys, harmonies, envelop for attack/decay, and other traditional music theories out the window I don't believe techno would have been born. Indeed, some of the most interesting sound, the part that "hooks" you, were results of experiments, mishaps, and other clashes that would have been discard by the "norm."
To broadly categorize this music, this sound as "electronica" is too vague (isn't muzak electronica?). And to split hairs over dub, mix, and remix...well, please, move into your ivory towers, for your debate is cluttering my space to dance. Nonetheless, some boundaries would help. Is this a definitive guide? No. Not by a long shot. I am still learning, and learning to appreciate. Think of these words, more as a threshold. Beyond which, because I am certain some will disagree vehemently with what I've written, I encourage you to explore and discover on your own. And toward that ultimate goal, I will share my map with you.
[Note: Incidentally, mix/remix/dub are often misapplied. You "mix" the original source tracks. You "remix" using the mix or mixes, instead of original source tracks. "Dub" came about when reggae artist King Tubby took the vocals tracks out of the instrumental backings. These days it's almost synonymous with no vocals. To make it shorter (for whatever reasons, too long, too explicit, etc), you create an "edit." At least that's what each meant technically in the beginning...these days, lawyers/royalties play as big a part as in the technical origins on what each of these terms mean.]
Before we begin, we have to talk about the last days of disco. No, I'm serious. In order to understand some of the impact, we must have a little history lesson. Eat your vegetables, even if you don't like it, it's probably good for you. Where I can, I've tried to connect the dots between time, the style, the DJs, and the places together. Apologize in advance, for some of my meandering....
Where were we? Oh yea...the 60's. Don't you love ABBA?
For whatever reasons, disco ate itself. (Was it the drugs? Was it the flamboyance? Was it the money? Was it too much success? What happened to our scene? As an old geezer, I find certain parallels, amusing...mainly, the disintegration of disco as mainstream music.)
Luckily, the final oozing breath of disco was picked up by a small collective of unknown DJs (Farley Keith, Mickey Oliver, Ralphie Rosario, Mario "Smokin" Diaz, and Scott Key...like I said...who?), who give dance and energy a radio outlet in Chicago. This was known as the HotMix 5, and it was a good thing. These are the founding fathers (literally) of everything to come whether you like house music or not, it deserves the respect and credit as influences on our scene. The birth of house music, so-called because where it was spun the Warehouse Club in Chicago, happened roughly around 1981. Original Chicago house is exemplified by the simple bass lines, driving four-on-the-floor percussion, and textured synths. It has evolved and changed over the years, but Chicago had and continues to have strong influences on the sound. [I would put Doc Martin's music as classic Chicago house. Of course, that's not all he plays....]
1982 rolls around. Jesse Saunders starts "mixing" early house records. The music spreads, and of course, being New Yorkers, they had to tweak it for that NYC sound. The first splintering of the still developing house sound. Named after the legendary Paradise Garage (of Larry Levan's fame), we start seeing deep house (Chicago) and garage (NY) tracks being released. The NY tracks, despite its club (hence "popular") origin, were quite good...artists of this sound include the likes of Armand Van Helden and Todd Terry.
Deep House, and its offspring, ambient house, tends to be less party-like than classic Chicago house. The songs tend to have a more soulful tone, and often with jazz or gospel'ish qualities. Of course, garage begets speed garage. Speed garage has got your basic house-y rhythm, add in slow deep bass lines (can we say hints of jungle? More on this later). These made up the most widely played format of the early 90's. But I'm jumping ahead, for deep and ambient house won't categorize for another 7 years.
By 1983, Frankie Knuckles was the residency without peer at the Warehouse (okay, maybe Ron Hardy did okay at the Powerplant...please note the sarcasm), while Farley Keith was tearing it up at the Playhouse (I wanted to insert this bit, just because). KISS-FM out of NYC cranks out a mixshow of its own. House is here to stay.
Despite popular, above-ground DJs, clubs, and shows, the first signs of the underground, and later rave culture starts to gel. CAVEAT: I will have to admit, being here in North America, I'm certain I'll have a certain North American slant to my perspectives. With the help of the Roland TB-303, acid house is pushed onto a hungry London audience across the pond. The acid house anthem is Phuture's "Phuture Trax" in 1985, the 303 provided the hard, unyielding bass line, and the music starts to drift from its house-rooted vocals. If "Phuture Trax" is too much of a classic wax for you, try Josh Wink or even the current wunderkind Fatboy Slim.
In 1985, we must also add in another city. Detroit. The first time the word techno starts being bandied about. The city's urban influence pushes the music toward pure rhythms, and that industrial-strength sound. The history of techno is somewhat under dispute see, DJs have always talked some trash...or is that record labels? The Holy Trinity of techno is Juan Atkins/Model 500 (of Metroplex fame), Kevin Saunderson, and Derrick May. We also start seeing the feedback/influence of the very European Kraftwerk and other British New Waves.
Other signs of big things to come? "Music Is the Key" is a bona fide smash on the Billboard charts. Club DJs continue to crank out quality and popular tunes. That diva-sound becomes another element used by the evolving house/techno sound. [Check out Liz Torres, "Can't Get Enough."] And yea...you knew I'd have to include this, the term "jack" is introduced into our vocabularies.
In the beginning, there was Jack, and Jack had a groove.
Are you with me still?
Philadelphia embraces house (and sprouts roots) in 1987. Acid House crosses over and puts one up on the Billboard charts, "This Is Acid" by Maurice. The scene gains further steam as house/techno spreads like wildfire in Europe. Everything gets the "British" treatment this was a pattern for the next six years.
In the meantime, everything continues to evolve and grow (and change). Musto & Bones is formed. Bones? You mean Frankie Bones? Sampling becomes even more prevalent. Oh...yea, house, meet hip-hop, and the cheesier cousin, pop. Hip house and pop house (and to some degree, even UK house) see light of day. Acid house completely takes over everywhere this is where I came in. Lots of happy, cheesy, and forgettable tracks were release in 87-88. People started seeing $$, and everything gets the mix/remix rubdown.
Even our quiet neighbors up north gets in on the action. Jellybean remixes Whitney Houston "Love Will Save the Day", while Canada enters the fray with Dionne's "Come Get My Lovin" (Andrew Komis). But that's okay, because all this while, garage gains even more steam underground, despite (as a result of?) the club being shut down. Let's add more splinters are you ready for the smooth and the fast, the hard house? Even the small islands like Ibiza earns a tag (Ibiza, or Balearic house).
1989 saw such trans-Atlantic hits as "Bang Bang You're Mine" by Bang the Party, and more divergence in the UK vs Detroit techno sound. And who can forget...(what were we thinking?) "Pump Up the Jam" by the Belgian Technotronics? As a result from the summer parties, X, the music, the people, the places...we are suddenly talking about a culture the scene, our scene. Along with the media, thousands of attendee have a field day as outdoor "raves" become staples.
Oh...Madonna gets "Vogue."
Oddly enough, as the sounds progress and mature, northern Europeans' continued quest for edgier sound pushes in reverse minimal techno emerges with high-speed breakbeat, and vocal samples hardcore techno. This is very fast, and (in my opinion) starting to get ugly. It is abrasive. It is chaotic. Of course, even this was not enough. The joke is that the Dutch was not content watching their windmill idle...so they started playing gabba...and let's not forget happy hardcore. Maybe it's because of the "happy" part, happy hardcore is fast and crazy, a comparative lightweight to the fast fury of gabba. Trust me, you'll know if you are listening to gabba.
Theories abound as to why this shift in paradigm, as house and techno gains above ground success, the underground tries to separate itself from the commercial success. Even as radio plays Italo house "Everybody, Everybody" by Black Box, the underground celebrates Deskee's "Let There Be House." The Italian strut spurs other development...etno house, Latino house, Euro dance...as cookie-cutter as some of these may be, and despite obvious record-mill success, (I'm not afraid to admit that) I like LaBouche/LeClic, Traci Lords, Juno Reactor, and the likes of Todd Terry.
While we're "bastardizing" house, let's throw freestyle house, HiNRG and NuNRG into the mix. Although for NuNRG, I think that was a purely marketing move by the parties representing Tony DeVit. *shrug* It cuts both ways.
A decade has passed since the HotMix 5, and the techno trinity is cutting teeth on five. Already second and possibly third generator DJs and artists, as well as sounds are ready to challenge for the crown. Record industry rears its greedy head and creates many one-hit-wonders. It's not that the artists stopped producing, record labels simply dropped them in favor "the next thing." Grrr...
To combat the corporate giants, more and more indie labels spruce forth, almost as fast as they are being bought out (and possibly squashed) by the big boys. Strictly Rhythm becomes DJ-household word. Meanwhile...the invasion from northern England continues...New Beat melds that British new-wavish sound and American techno/house, and drops Lords of Acid "I Sit On Acid" and KLF's "What Time Is Love" onto our laps.
WARP brings us LFO "LFO", and shortly after, Quadrophonia, The Orb, and 808 State befriends the west coast LA crowd rave, the "gospel" begins to spread. Peace and Love gets sampled into Peace Love Unity and Respect. Oh, hip house is declared dead (do we actually have to declare these things? And who to blame? C+C Music Factory?), but hip-hop infusion into everything is still very prevalent.
Perhaps it is getting too fast, to hard. What's on the other end of the spectrum again? Ambient house strikes back. Future Sound Of London releases Accelerator (ambience, and techno!), and not to be outdone, the Orb releases U.F.Orb. Where's Yanni? U.S. nightclubs still had few clues. Meanwhile, RCA dumps some money into a partnership--(Steve)Osborne and some Balearic DJ named Paul Oakenfold called Perfecto. And to think, it all started with some house music.
To me there only two kinds of dance music: Good and bad. To close our minds off to where a particular sound might take us? That's tragic...remember, it is about the vibe, and the energy. So soak up all the enjoyment. Now back to the timelines.
Ambient loses "house," but it is still ambient. And someone put the word intelligent in front of techno. Aphex Twin, Orbital helps to ring the registers with their respected intelligent works. On the flipside of the coin, while everyone loved garage/garage house and speed garage, the venues dry up and out. Is this the end of garage?
Italo house and other European development help incubate the progressive house movement, with that Oakenfold guy leading the way. The fast/slow dichotomy is good for business. Ravers continue to get hard(er)core, and I cannot fathom this, seem to bear little allegiance to the house roots (a rebellious teenager eh?). Rotterdam Termination Source releases "Poing" and we raved on, along with "Go Speed Go" by Alpha.
Summer of 1993 was heralded as the year of the North American MegaRaves. Does anyone remember SFRaves, and the history of hyperreal? There are now so many things techno- and rave- related that I'm having trouble keeping up.
As if on cue, both tribal house and jungle emerges into the spotlight. Tribal house have always been around, but I believe it was Junior Vasquez and the Sound Factory that brought it en vogue. And yes, Madonna's frequency didn't hurt. It is recognizable (discernable?) from other variants of house by the use of ethnic rhythms and mixes. Jungle pushes the envelope a little further, with tighter, faster breakbeat, and that raw sound of reggae'esque drum'n'bass at the foundation. DnB? Is that a separate genre?
Before I cover the splinter groups out of breakbeat, let's beat up "house" just a little more. Is it possible to attach any more modifiers in front of house? Sure, a couple more. Epic house. What is epic house? Sasha is epic house. The way he likes to push to a crescendo in his work. Now, if you're less into that "swelling" sound, and miss your rock roots, then no doubt amylhouse will appeal to you. Bass lines, and those guitar riffs make up amylhouse. Chemical Brothers (I don't know what the commercial success will do to their sound) is a great example of amylhouse. (I wonder what amylhouse has to do with amylnitrate poppers...hmm).
Last, but definitely not least, is dream house. Again, I feel this is less of a self-standing genre than the headline that captured the moment. First we all loved him, then we all sort of hated him (because it got overplayed), Robert Miles and that dream house anthem "Children." The song still evokes so much feelings, with such ageless ease even as of today. If the unwashed masses only knew how many rave icon litters the flick "Ever After"...Drew with glitter and wings? But I digress.
As the music continues to spread, the cities that helped define and shape the sounds find worthy challengers domestically and abroad. Each new generation of artists and melody makers integrate the best of the old along with technologies of the new. While Chicago will always be revered for house, and Detroit for techno, there is no mistaking the forces that are coming from Flordia, San Francisco, and the one-upmanship between northern Europe, and the south.
And the popularity came with definite lashbacks. I remember for a little while there, breakbeat was 'dead'. Then you didn't want to be associated with progressive, or even house. Music becomes trend commodity, and I think the quality suffered a little. Good works are abundant, but shady-hastily produced tracks outnumbers the good stuff. Like breaking tides, music surged and subsided. BPM went up and down. Techno peaked with aggression, and returns with melody-oriented works by Jam&Spoon, Underworld, and Fluke (thank goodness).
Maybe the ying-yang of zen is truer metaphor.
And the message of Unity filters out. The music no longer belongs to one city, one country, one sound. Germany, France, Holland, Belgium, US, Canada (and even some Pacific rims) all contribute to the success. Language is not a barrier, when it comes to music ("Encore Une Fois" by Sash!). New music brings new labels:
Daft Punk, the duo from France, moves the dance floor with aptly named "The New Wave," and tekfunk is born. Well, here's where I think labeling is getting a little silly, because tekfunk appears to be techno/house (not to be confused with house/techno) with funk. Of course, the Roland 303 just won't go away, so naturally we also have acid techno. Remember how breakbeat is dead? Blasphemer. If we can add funk to house, and we can add funk to techno, we can add funk to breakbeat and get funky breaks (okay, so it's not very creative, hence some people tried big beat, but funky breaks stuck).
Further sign of the international nature of the eletronica sound: Goa. It is definitely international, when an Indian island resort can lay their own claim to trance.
It's gotten so complicated. But one of the more common theme (common root of house?) is the relatively happy-theme of music. Of course, leave it up to the Germans to fire back with trance. Very repetitive rhythm. Definitely less "Joi" than house. Trance and deep progressive house raced each other to recruit artists under the banner: BT, Paul van Dyk, Orbital, Taylor, Sasha (hey...), and what's one without the other John Digweed.
The cyclical nature of the scene guaranteed the same set of modifiers (deep, acid, hard, whatever) that once applied to house, then techno, would eventually apply to trance, as well as all the future evolvement. It's just like a tree, there are so many new growth, new forks, and new nodes that they overlap and entwine. Smartly too, electro-oriented music keeps absorbing new and old influences to form a even broader/stronger base.
I don't even want to begin demonstrate my ignorance, by attempting to explain jungle, techstep, ragga, darkcore, and even Bristol (how is Brit-Hop different from UK Pop?) or what's become of ambient these days. I will simply point out some of the current recommended leaders of the genre: people like Goldie, Portishead, Massive Attack, DJ Rap, LTJ Bukem, Urban Takeover, and others.
Well, I'm drained now. It felt great to traipse down amnesia lane with some of the music I've enjoyed. It felt not-as-great to note the passage of time.
I leave with one final thought...the DJs have laid out this map, lined with music from all over, it is entirely up to you to decide which way to venture forth.
Music, is the common thread that binds us.
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