With news just in that hipsters are beginning to distance themselves from deep house claiming it is “too popular” it’s time to ask some probing questions.
So, what is this phenomena known as deep house? Is it, as WikiPedia.org says “…a subgenre of house music that originated in the 1980s, initially fusing elements of Chicago house with 1980s jazz-funk and touches of soul music?” Well, that’s the roots of it. Maybe? What after?
“But it wasn't just American music laying the groundwork for house. 80’s European music, spanning English electronic pop like Depeche Mode and Soft Cell and the earlier, more disco based sounds of Giorgio Moroder, Klein & MBO and a thousand Italian productions were immensely popular in urban areas like New York and Chicago”, says Phil Cheesman. At the beginning of the 90s house and techno then made the jump across the ocean and evolved further according to Britain's/Europe's own influences.
Is this new deep house influenced by the old deep house we old free party people danced to in fields back in the late 80’s and early 90’s? Veritably it is. Is it the same as the music we danced to in the heady club days of smoky and sweaty back rooms of any night club dive we could get our hands on in the mid 90’s? Veritably so. Is it the deep house we played in house and squat parties and church halls and still play on beaches and in pubs? This new stuff sure doesn’t sound it “was first and foremost a direct descendant ofdisco”
Of course it’s all the above and all the above are the roots of what we play now. It’s a free flowing musical and cultural organism in complex flux.
How and why though?
Philip Sherburne from Spin.com speculates it’s “slower, moodier, and more sensual than most other club-music forms — heir to disco at its most mirrorball-blissful — deep house has survived for nearly three decades, staying mostly out of the spotlight, consigned to warm-up sets and after-hours reveries.
“But lately, it has bubbled back to the surface. A few years ago, that would have been unthinkable; deep house's moody pulses were drowned out in a cacophony of lasers and jackhammers and drops. But deep house's deliberately low profile is beginning to bear out the old meek-will-inherit-the-earth maxim.
“Warm, moody, sometimes hesitant, and often melancholic, deep house is the antithesis of mainstream EDM's harder/faster/stronger ethos, that capitalist ego-topia fuelled by cheap pre-sets and dodgy Molly, hell-bent on success. Deep house is contradictory, wracked with doubt, so full of blue notes it bleeds indigo. It's pro-sadness on the dance floor; pro-pathos in the mix.
“We'll be the first to admit that some of the attention has been misplaced. A lot of what gets flogged as deep house right now isn't really worthy of the name; it's mid-tempo, pop-dance fare with a 2-step twist, or it's snoozy, monotone background music tailor-made for SEO plays on YouTube channels emblazoned with soft-lit hipster cheesecake. In fact, "deep house" itself is a retrospective term; in their heyday, many of the first songs in the canon were simply considered "house," full stop. It was only later that a style assembled itself around the template those originators had set.
So what classifies as deep house today? Some basic guidelines: The four-to-the-floor pulse is imbued with a suggestive bit of shuffle and swing, with accents on the two and four. The grooves are more restrained than techno's, leaning back rather than barrelling forward. The tempo generally runs between 118 and 125 beats per minute, although there are many outliers. More than anything, deep house is rich in harmony and atmosphere, buoyant as a jellyfish, bursting with lush textures and phosphorescent tones. ”
DeepHouseHQ questions that 125 BPM: “Anyways, technically, deep house is a subgenre of house music: a slower, around 120-123 BPM with a characteristic bass pluck sound with pitched down vocals, psychedelic sounds capes, and groovy bass-lines. It is hard to define what form it actually should take, but the technical, scientific definition of around 120-123 bpm should give you a better idea.”
a blogger on SalaciousSound.com reckons. “First thing’s first, when we’re referring to Deep House in this current, context we’re actually talking about more than just Deep House. More realistically, we’re talking about tracks around 128bpm that . The term is now more than anything simply a reflection of the track’s atmosphere. Is it unfortunate that bedroom producers will tag their tech house tracks as “deep house!!” on SoundCloud? Absolutely. Can we do anything about it? No.,
“I hate to sound too counter-culture, but these labels really have no value outside of search engine optimization anymore. We have two options: 1. Be very annoyed all the time, or 2. Not give a fuck (or shit). Moving on.
“So why am I optimistic about all of this? Much like pre-North American dubstep, deep house has been around for much longer than most people give it credit for. Deep house is one of THE pioneer genres and boasts an enormous catalogue of originals and remixes; to stay fresh, new Deep House is going to need to evolve, and fast. Old Dubstep and new Dubstep differentiated themselves from each other with fresh sound engineering which appealed to a new audience, and I strongly believe that new Deep House will also find its silver bullet to make it more radio ready.”
Is “bulbous, rubbery bass in a club track” equal deep house? No not according to from MixMag.net. “What we need is a clear definition of the current sound that people are calling deep house but it isn’t.” thinks “Without getting pernickety, incorrect genre blanketing is a plague on plenty of new music. Whether it’s a bass producer being lumped in with dubstep, a juke producer being categorised as future garage or Burial being heralded as the saviour of night bus, ill-informed youngsters, out-of-touch music retailers and wannabe bloggers are bandying signifiers around with infuriating abandon.
Whether it’s the result of a lack of historical perspective, laziness or bandwagon jumping does not matter, but it needs to stop. In the case of my beloved deep house, for instance, it’s a genre not just defined by a slight sense of atmosphere, lazy jazz motifs, rounded edges or warm bass notes, it’s about so much more. Or it should be.
“Larry Heard saw the genre's potential to be about more than just physical jack trax. As a multi-instrumentalist from a young age, he was one of the first to bring a real sense of musicianship to stripped down, machine-made disco.
By incorporating elements of the soul and jazz he grew up on, Heard unwittingly sophisticated and intellectualised the genre and, even though he probably didn’t know at the time, deep house was born. The term was being used in the UK by 1988 and the Deep House Convention at Leicester Square's Empire in February of that year featured a number of seminal Chicago artists like Kym Mazelle, Marshall Jefferson and Frankie Knuckles.
If you add into the mix the gospel influences brought by vocalist Robert Owens when he worked with Heard as Fingers Inc in the 80s, you've a genre that not only sounds and feels warm, but that produced proper songs with painful and poignant lyrics. From there, the likes of Chez Damier, Ron Trent and Prescription Records perfected the deep house style we know today. It's deep musically, but so too emotionally, spiritually, sexually and, to some extent in the early days, religiously. It’s deep house.
“Of course, deep house is just the start of it. Once you're down here there's a spaghetti network of variations on the theme to explore. It's true they range from terrific to tiring, nostalgic to nauseating, but as well as a spiritual and sexual depth, there's cosmic depth; music from the outer edges of our galaxy that's not so much deep as totally bottomless.”
So, whether exploring the universe or the self, the known or the unknown, real deep house is something you feel in the blood in your veins rather than in the sweat down your face; it’s a feeling not a physical reaction.
Let’s leave the last word and the last track to pioneer RonTrent.
Methinks it was first and foremost a direct descendant ofdisco and jazz funk. And gospel. And Shulgin. And those pioneering black, gay clubs in Chicago and Detroit smashing down the doors so the ethic of a soulful non-sexist, non-racist togetherness is all we ever really want to dance about.
Oops, a little bit of politics in there…