Now I am going to be a bit harsh here. I am going to have it both ways and praise and criticise in the same breath.
I have finally spent more than a cursory listen to the new Hot Flush label compilation “Back and 4th”. Without paying attention to the artist or title, the track that caught my attention most was Scuba’s “Feel it”. What stands out here (in a positive sense) is essentially the composition, a standard 4-4 house track that can suddenly switch into different plateaus of tension with the flick of a high hat or the retraction of the bass or a big drum roll.
However, on going back to visit the track again it suddenly struck me that I was essentially listening to Chicago House and another piece of music in the growing line of Trax Records-inspired tunes. This is no bad thing in a way, but it suddenly seems that the sycophantism for Chicago House has gone a little too far and that the saturation point has long been reached. After all, this is Paul Rose, Hot Flush label boss and renowned curator of the Sub:stance dubstep night at Berlin’s Berghain. Scuba or anyone shouldn’t be criticised for making house if they want to, but as a figurehead for alternative genres, it is seems more of a let down to feel he might be on a blitzkrieging bandwagon and not piloting the cart. That remains to be seen, but when I saw him back in January he played a whole set of house and techno and barely dropped a dubstep track, which seems somehow surprising. UK Funky’s proximity to dubstep and its flirtation with house is perhaps already a warning sign, not to mention dubsteps voracious assimilation of influences into its changing shape should not make this a surprise, but one wonders if it is the start of a decline in the innovation of dubstep or a new golden age of house?
But just to put Chicago and Scuba’s track in context, here is Adonis’s “No way back” from Trax Records in 1988. Even techno don Marcel Dettmann played this in a recent show. There are plenty of similarities with Scuba’s work: the rigidity of the drums and the flourishes and the the analogue colours on the production that eschews the more smoother contours of deep house, for example.
But of course it’s not just Scuba who’s in on the act. Trax Records have just released their entire catalogue as digital downloads for the first time just after releasing a poorly received remix collection. Meanwhile, in Amsterdam the genuinely great label Rush Hour Recordings has been re-releasing out-of-print albums and demo tracks by Virgo (Virgo Four) to great acclaim, including a monster box set.
Not to mention the just-released mix of Chicago House by Gene Hunt, apparently salvaged from rell-to-reel tape that must have been a nightmare to play out back in the day. The labels roster of newer artists also raid the Trax Records sound at times, with artists like Tom Trago
and BNJMN plundering for inspiration, though in both cases there is more to the artist than blind homage and if the music is good, one shouldnt complain even if it seems something of a fad.
Meanwhile drum n bass group Icicle have recruited seminal Trax Records vocalist Robert Owens for two tracks, “Step forward” and “Redemption” from their recent “Under the ice” album.
This has of course raised uncomfortable parallels with Photek’s “Solaris” album from 2000 which also featured Owen on two tracks, including the tender “Can’t come down”
Owen of course is THE voice of Chicago House and has released countless classics like “Bring down the walls”
And “Can you feel it” with Larry Heard, one of the most important house tracks of all time. Sample spotters will recognise some of the vocals from this signle were later sampled by the Revolting Cocks for the long version of “Beers, steers and queers” on Wax Trax.
But one big question that still remains is where is DJ International Records, the OTHER Chicago House label from the first golden age? While Trax Records have endlessly plundered their own catalogue for a host of compilations, rereleases and the like, DJ International have remained dead silent all this time.