Monday, July 28, 2008

Yet more UK funky house stunnaz for your consumption and enjoyment.

Perempay – In The Air
TJ Cases – Nothing Better Than Your Love

“In The Air” isn’t conservative, precisely – its beat is just too monstrous, its bass so malicious (but delicious too) – but this muscular vocal anthem nonetheless retains so much of the value of the house music that it has risen from. It’s a useful reminder that the appeal of UK funky shouldn’t be judged simply by how quickly it can run away from its origins. I love the deep, soulful vocal with its half-celebratory, half-claustrophobic catch-cry “There’s something in the air/there’s something in the air/I can feel it/I can feel it” – the resemblance to the similarly titled Phil Collins track is perhaps not coincidental!

But even considered as a “up” tune, “In The Air” is big: catchy but dreamy and vaguely disorienting all at once. It’s easy to forget that 2-step had a similar crop of tunes that caught this vibe – stuff like Chris Mac’s “Set It Off” or (of course) the Steve Gurley remix of “Spirit of the Sun”. As much as I’m enjoying the inevitable R&B-ification of vocals in funky, there’s a peculiar vibe that house divas capture on tracks like these that’s completely distinct and at times overwhelming. What is it? Maybe it’s that divas speak so eloquently for “all of us” – everyone on the dancefloor. As such there’s always a tinge of existential dread to their hysteria; a pleasure so intense you could lose your identity entirely. See also: Malice's lovely, kaleidoscopic remix of Quentin Harris' "My Joy."

I’ve said elsewhere that one of the moments in 2-step that funky reminds me of most intensely is TJ Cases’ tracks from 2001 – “One By One”, “I Like To Cut I Like To Play”, tunes with rollicking soca-beats (as per K2 Family’s “Bouncing Flow”) and cavernous deep basslines, plus TJ’s signature big-chested divas. As a kind of recap of everything that was great about 2-step from 1998 to 2001 it’s hard to think of a tune that can beat “One By One” in particular, and its dark, panic-attack pop-tronics were unsurprisingly revived in a big way for some of Davinche’s “R&G” productions like Katie Pearl’s “Mr DJ”.

So it’s hardly a surprise to see the producer return to capitalize on funky. “Nothing Better Than Your Love” is massive, albeit pretty straightforward: bouncy house beats, enormous descending bass riffs that verge on electro-house, hoarse-sounding diva exhortations. It reminds quite a bit of Fedde De Grand and Ida Corr’s big electro-house/pop crossover chart hit “Let Me Think About It”, one of the absolute best pieces of dance-pop of the past few years (don’t sleep on that one even if “Put Your Hands Up For Detroit” left you cold) – both tunes are just too joyful and fervent to deny. It seems that the litmus test for such straightforward house tunes to survive and keep abreast amongst funky’s restless pack is that they have to be… well, really fucking great, essentially.

Little Silver – Seasons; Pulse Remix
JME – Terminator; Blanka

Funky is coming up with all sorts of strategies for fucking with the 4X4 house beats. Foregoing soca grooves or broken beat funk, “Seasons” supplements its house pulse with a crashing snare break just before the second beat in each bar, which gives the tune a feel that is both lurching and impatient; this is syncopation designed not for dancing but against it (albeit in a way that makes you want to dance all the more compulsively – it’s like a sonic obstacle course), and the randomness of the obstruction in the groove conveys an air of senseless violence. Combine that with rattling percussion and a portentous Swizz Beats synth-horn melody, and “Seasons” resembles some sort of giant torture machine. Tunes like this are taking their cues almost entirely from grime.

Ironically, Little Silver’s actual remix of Musical Mob’s “Pulse X” is less obviously grimey, swamping the instantly identifiable bass pulse o’ doom with swathes of intricate tribal percussion. Meanwhile grime artist JME’s “Terminator” unsurprisingly fits directly into the emerging grime-house trend, sounding somewhere between early Skepta (go figure) and Lethal B’s “Pow”, gloomy horn fanfares doing battle with a chattering avalanche of tinny-sounding handclaps. But “Blanka” is something entirely different: dark but gentle, pretty but sickly, its ghostly tinkles of a melody pirouetting delicately around a squiggly, squishy, slippery drum pattern and the moodiest dread bassline since Grrove Chronicles’ “Stone Cold”.

Hard House Banton – Siren; Reign; The Music; Turn It Around
Not sure what the name of this group means. “Siren” is a big tune on the scene at the moment, partly because it’s a bit of a gimmick tune – computer error chimes, police sirens etc. But it’s not “gimmick” in the sense that “I Don’t Smoke” was – its sensuous snare-heavy house groove just slots too perfectly to feel like its defining itself against the scene. More “crowdpleaser” I guess – see also Daddy Funk’s “Rough It Up” with its morse code bleeping, like a funky house version of Roman Flugel’s “Geht Nocht”. “Reign” is better than either of these though, its marvellously agile springloaded groove and melodramatic multi-tracked ghostly sighs and ringing piano chords reminding me of the brilliantly ridiculous pathos you’d get on the more emotive dancehall riddims about five years ago. “The Music” is also great, bleepy action that sounds like early LFO at a carnival. Hard House Banton aren’t defining themselves solely by their imaginative instrumental tracks, though – like just about every big producer on the scene they have at least one sexy vocal track. “Turn It Around” is serious and mysterious, with a tense bassline and cut-up and looped vocals (“turn it aroundroundroundroundroundroundround”) perfect for brainfried end of the night delirium.

Aphrodisiax – Unfinished Business
Bearfoot Monk – Wearwolf

Perhaps more than anything else, the attraction of funky house lies in its impossible range – tracks sounding variously like a dozen different genres but united by a still ineffable something. This is where funky house is quite distinct from that moment in 2002 which Martin Blackdown often references: that moment when “garage” meant, variously, MC tracks, breakbeat garage, “sublow” and proto-8bar, dark 4X4 grooves, the first stirrings of dubstep and the last vestiges of 2-step. But in 2002 there was actually no reigning principle across all of these directions, which is part of why the scene ultimately split in so many directions (of course, Martin probably means 2008 is like 2002 insofar as lots of people are playing dubstep, grime, funky and bassline amongst and against each other – but as scenes these all remain relatively separate I think).

In isolation, the fractured, asymmetrical beats and tinkling melodies of “Unfinished Business” resemble IDM as much as house. “Wearwolf” sounds as much like Black Dog meets jittery nu-electro as it does house, groaning under the weight of its churning bass and weird trebly percussive sounds, including what sound like cash registers being cleared. Neither track really make sense until you hear them in the mix, where their rococo excesses seems to emerge out of and then collapse back into the more familiar groove patterns of other tracks. Aphrodisiax's "Keep It Moving" is almost as radical, its house groove pivoting around gaping holes and sudden percussive trills while a dubbed-out horn refrain lurks ominously.

On a recent Footloose 1xtra set, Footloose mixes straight from Canadian deep house producer Suge’s marvellously spooky “We Belong To The Night” (shuffling tribal drums, eerie synth washes, and the kind of muffled female vocal samples that Orbital often liked to use to signify suffocation in space or something) into “Unfinished Business”, and the resulting groove complication and intensification is absolutely stunning – it’s like “We Belong To The Night” actually fractures into a million percussive shards to form the Aphrodisiax tune.

In this context the house beat persists like a ghost haunting the groove. On ILM I compared these tracks to similarly wow-factor counter-intuitive grooves in 2-step – James Lavonz’s “Mash Up Da Venue” or Bump & Flex’s Dancehall Dub of Cleptomaniacs’ “All I Do” – but as Jacob Burns has noted, the crucial difference lies in how funky house (in the mix, at least) implies house even when it departs from it dramatically.

For sceptics this will be a sign of the genre’s inherent conservatism, but it shouldn’t be understood as such: think of it instead as the music’s structural security blanket. Much like the role played by the song in 2-step, house operates as an implied origin and final destination that underwrites all of the music’s adventures and experiments, its reigning principles attached to each track like a rubber band that (for now at least) it is more profitable to stretch than to snap. In 2-step the death of the song as the genre’s fundamental stylistic basis ultimately demanded a wholesale transformation into other genres (dubstep and grime being the results). Certainly much of the excitement of funky house’s development has stemmed and will stem from the troubled nature of its relationship to house; but the attractions of this particular constellation rely on there being a relationship to trouble.

Delinquent ft KCat – I Got You (Delio D’Cruz Remix); DMP vs Sadie Ama – These Were The Days (Crazi Cousinz Remix); T2 – Butterflies (Arms Remix)
The D’Cruz remix of Delinquent and KCat’s “Get Off The Wall” (or “Get On The Floor” – the correct title isn’t quite clear) has become one of my favourite vocal tracks, it’s fruity collision of quivering girly R&B vocals, stomach butterflies bassline and a fabulously decadent stop-start beat reminding me of Mis-Teeq’s sorely underrated “Eye Candy” (the track not the album). “I Got You” is much like “Get On The Wall” but with a more physical (perhaps less sprightly but more impacting) groove and fabulous carnival horns (their intensity towards the end is quite insane) that give the tune a slightly ruffer, less refined vibe.

Carnival flavours are a regular theme in funky house, perhaps because this has been the traditional point of convergence between house and Caribbean music (from “Hot Hot Hot” to Beenie Man’s “Jump & Wine” to “Calabria”). But the other factor is the curious attraction of cheap-sounding synth-horns to get that carnivalesque flavour, which have offered a way for producers to gesture to the past and the future in one movement, to sound grassroots and hi-tech simultaneously.

Jacob Wright noted on ILX that if speed garage was massively inspired by Todd Edwards, funky house might exist in the same relationship with Basement Jaxx. This is unverified (I’ve never seen or heard any tribute being paid or even Jaxx tracks being used in funky house tracks) but from a listening perspective it makes perfect sense. Of course the Jaxx don’t correspond to a single style, so let’s be specific here: if there’s an individual precedent it’s the pummelling electro-dancehall of the Jaxx Wild Dub of Ronnie Richards’ “Missing You” from 1997 – listen to it back to back with Donaeo’s “African Warrior” (sounding more essential all the time, incidentally) and tell me you don’t hear the connection. Basement Jaxx seemed to show signs of returning to their roots a bit on Crazy Itch Radio – the charming vocal house of “Hush Boy”, the dubious carnival chaos of “Run For Cover” – but they probably would have done a better job of it if they’d had a chance to be circularly cross-inspired by funky house. This is their chance, and I’ll be disappointed if they don’t seize it.

On a related note: a possible sequel to “The Whole Night”, the Crazi Cousinz remix of “Those Were The Days” seems quite keen to cover as many emerging trends as possible – girly R&B-ish vocals with a bit of cut-up vocalese action going on, post-“Calabria”/”Heater” gypsy vibes (with a mirage-like accordian melody threading through the groove) and even kinda bassline/dubsteppy wobbling bass, not to a mention a more upfront beat than is usual for these guys. Crazi Cousinz are emerging as consummate walkers of the pop/underground tightrope, much in the same way that Artful Dodger were able to in 1999 (speaking of which, the Artful Dodger’s funky house tune “One More Chance” is pretty tight) – polished and catchy, of course, but with superlative, inventive production, and grooves too strong for clubs to ignore.

Major Not£$ - Scream Out (Dub)
Mario – Mario Brings The Bloodclaart; Hornz

“Scream Out (Dub)” is built around the kind of ringing atmospheric synth tagline that lurks in those in-between (and, let’s say it, Balearic) places where trance and chill-out converge (it was kinda cool when Michael Mayer was pushing this sound about five years ago). But the rollicking tribal drums and ruff bassline quickly dispel the notion that this is about chilling out. Mario’s tense “Mario Brings The Bloodclaart” and “Hornz” fold this wispy bittersweet polyphonic back into the general carnival trend, with particularly stunning results of “Mario Brings The Bloodclaart”, where the oddly melancholy cheap synth-horns build into a gorgeous, tremulous harmonic crescendo – there’ll be tears in the yard before the dance is over.

Rose Norris – Live Life
A great example of how much funky house resembles dancehall circa 2003 with it’s totally omnivorous attitude to any musical idea that might work. “Live Life” is primarily a snappy uplifting vocal number, but it also includes a gloriously cheesy ragga rap and eerie operatic backing vocals that remind me of the outro for Jamie Principle’s “Your Love”. It’s those operatic vocals that grab you on the first listen, but “Live Life” is also a good example of how even the vocal end of UK funky house is slowly separating itself from typical house norms. I complained recently that US producer Quentin Harris’s recent album had too many tracks where the vocals felt oppressively square and on the beat, and there can be a slightly regimented feel to a lot of vocals in house music (a shame: Harris’s gorgeous remixes for Jill Scott reveal how otherworldly even relatively conservative US house can sound with a bit of R&B swing to the vocal). But in UK house the vocals are becoming increasingly, well, funky, their looseness drawing from 2-step, from lover’s rock and R&B. Although it’s as much a case of the syncopation in the rhythms injecting the vocals with a greater sense of verve. Either way, Norris does a lovely job here, her sly performance wrapping expertly round the bristling soca counter-rhythm – it’s the sense of affinity between the vocal and the groove that makes this so replayable.

Ear Dis – Sun Daze
T2 & Addictive – Butterflies (Arms Remix)
Spoonface – Yang Style; Wine Pon Dem; Boogie Time Riddim; When I’m Dancing

“Sun Daze” is a good example of funky house’s curious avant-isms (or one of them anyway): the assymetrical, unpredictable groove doesn’t invent a new rhythmic matrix, but simply extends the more complex, broken end of tribal house way past the former boundaries of rhythmic perversity. Ear Dis member Arms is smashing it on the remix front – his Booka Shade-ish remix of Tawiah’s “Every Step” being a highlight. But I also really like his grunty remix of T2’s “Butterflies” with its zapping laser gun syncopated beats.

Spoonface is in Ear Dis with Arms, but his solo productions are much more muscular than the mostly vocal tunes the duo make together – but even his vocal tune “Keep It Dancing” has incredibly distracting surround-sound drums on a heavy dose of steroids (ironically the diva extols the power of “such a simple little groove”). Highly reminiscent of the most in(s)ane aggressive dancehall, and also building on the foundation provided by Masters At Work’s “Work!”, “Yang Style” and “Wine Pon Dem” also make me flash on Jess & Crabbe, the short-lived duo who briefly threatened to transform French house into raucous ragga-house. “Boogie Time Riddim” is big and stupid nouveau speed garage, “Hot Hot Hot” horns decking it out with reggaematic synth melodies, a massive bassline and a random assortment of cut-up vocals in the closest thing I’ve heard to New Horizons since, well, New Horizons. Check the blatant EQ fuckery in the breakdown – I can’t think of a tune that sounds like it was more fun to make.

Dub Boy – Funky Underground
Vibe – The Way We Get Down
Kurupt Rek – Rock 2 The Beats

This track is totally hyper: rolling fractured tribal drums so exquisitely textured, so clatteringly physical that you could almost reach out and touch them. The last tune that had the feel of “Funky Underground” for me was David Howard’s brilliant 2-step anthem “U & I”, which was something of a rhythmic highpoint for the scene – both tracks feel like they’ve built their rhythms from samples of of a hundred ball bearings bouncing down twisting corridors. Unlike “U & I”, “Funky Underground” is an instrumental track, but with its bumping bassline, horn fanfares and triple drum track I’m not sure where you’d find space for a song. The dense, breakbeaty, two-drumkits-falling-down-the-stairs “The Way We Get Down” reminds of the Stanton Warriors before they went crap and were still using garage as an excuse to make captivating breakbeat-house. But it’s grounded by its bracing Ruff Sqwad horns and fragile flute hooks. “Rock 2 The Beats” is less precedented, its combination of Japan-style hollow-chime drums, exhaust-pipe xylophone bassline and soca meets broken beat groove the sort of thing that could only emerge from funky.

Fuzzy Logik – Twiss
A fabulous track, and yet another (like Malice’s remix of DJ Spen’s “Gabryelle”) that sounds more like early Nasty Crew than anything else I can think of. “Twiss” is all sharp asymmetrical beat attack and apocalyptic string riffs, but it retains an air of levity with a classic hardstep-style ragga vocal sample "gangsta turn and twist!" and a diva singing "pick you up and turn you around around around around around around around around!" at the top of her lungs. As with “Leader” (which comes with “Twiss” on the flip) it’s the way that each element plays off eachother that makes the end result so fascinating, so endlessly listenable.

But “Twiss”, more than just about any other track, also sums up the appeal of this music as a whole, its ecumenical combination of ingredients seeming to touch on ardkore, jungle, speed garage, 2-step and grime simultaneously. As such funky house could be seen as something of a grand recap, connoisseur party music for people who’ve followed the crazy journey the whole way along. But it also feels like the beginning of the story, an origin as much as a goal – if Burial is often sold as being a memorial for “the hardcore continuum”, funky feels unburdened by its history – its voracious appetite for ideas that will rock the dancefloor overrules any other consideration; the past emerges out of the future (and vice versa, of course) on tunes like “Twiss” only because these are ideas that are too good to die.

I could blather on endlessly – but I can’t help myself. There is simply nothing more exciting than this stuff.

More Good Stuff:
Roska – Believe In Love; Feeline (VIP Mix)
Da Hardy Brothers - Dance With Me
Diamond ft. Kele Le Roc – Nothing
Funky Akatreil – On & On (Dub)
Princess – Frontline
Babyface Jay - Brazilia
DJ Naughty – Fire Power
Unknown – Darqueness
Marc Ambience – Bad Habits
Scotty D – Liberty
Malice – Visions
Footloose – Just Leave (Roska Mix)
NB Funky - Nutz; Open Your Wings
23 Deluxe and Daniel Joe – Show Me Happiness (DJ NG Remix)
DJ NG - Tell Me (Geeneus Remix)


hi tim - thanks, glad you're back, can you recommend some nice commentary-rich audioblogs that offer up this stuff?

By Anonymous chris, at 8/04/2008 9:17 PM  

Yes, I've also been reminded of that old Ronnie Richards track...

By Blogger mike, at 8/28/2008 7:24 PM  

TIM! still writing about funky anywhere???

By Blogger an indian too, at 5/04/2009 4:29 AM  

Tim, a 2009 roundup is very necessary!!

By Blogger the anephric project, at 7/27/2009 3:25 AM  







By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11/03/2009 4:29 PM  

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