Friday 11 January 2013

Why I Love House Music Part Two:The Start Of My House Music Journey


In my previous post I Love House Music Part One:History Of House Music I covered a bit about the origins of House Music, the players (Djs, Artists, Producers) and a brief time line of the genre's humble beginnings to it's worldwide explosion, in this post I'll discuss my own personal experiences and why I'll always love House Music (following a few more background details) But before we get 'er going I would like to say one thing, this isn't a post condemning (present day) hip hop, but like older Reggae (70s) I will always have love for the hip hop of the 80s to mid 90s era. This is just my PG 13 rated, semi biographical journey from Hip Hop culture into the House Nation.

At first, the journey wasn't an easy one (hip hop has generally been a more aggressive form of popular music and great for unpredictable teens with raging hormones) having been into rap since first hearing the Sugarhill Gang's "Rappers Delight" in the mid 70s, listening to the great pioneer Rappers like Kurtis Blow and Grandmaster Flash before I was even a teenager, and having been a breaker in the early 80s, hip hop used to speak to me, for me, and for the Black community. Before hip hop went mainstream, it provided a platform to communicate the feelings on the numerous issues the Black community continues to face (poverty, oppression, bigotry, underemployment, mis-education, gun violence) it had a message. Today... not so much.

On a personal note, I left hip hop behind due to the rise in popularity of gangster rap in the 90s, then the whole engineered East Coast vs. West Coast "rivalry" thing was pretty much the final nail. Perhaps listening to more music (House) that was predominantly centred around promoting love and  unity, presenting a positive (party) vibe and a hopeful look at a brighter future made gangster rap unpalatable (or perhaps I had just outgrown hip hop all together)

But during the transition period (in 88, 89) it was in fact Hip House that helped my love of House Music grow and flourish, so let's take The Start Of My House Music Journey there with some relevant info.


Hip hop is a subculture that originated from an African American community during the 1970s in New York City, specifically in Morris Heights, Bronx (according to wikipedia) then later spread its influence to Latin American communities. While the term is often used to refer to hip hop music, in its broader sense hip hop culture is characterised by the four elements of rapping, DJing, breaking and graffiti.

Hip hop is simultaneously a new and old phenomenon; the importance of sampling to the art form means that much of the culture has revolved around the idea of updating classic recordings, attitudes, and experiences for modern audiences - called "flipping" within the culture. It follows in the footsteps of earlier American musical genres blues, jazz, and rock and roll in having become one of the most practiced genres of music in existence worldwide, and also takes additional inspiration regularly from soul music, funk, and rhythm and blues.

At its best, hip hop has provided an escape from poverty while giving a voice to oppressed and "poverty-stricken" people, particularly in inner cities and neighbourhoods suffering from urban blight, and showcased their artistic ingenuity and talent on a global scale.

At its worst hip hop has mirrored the worst aspects of the mainstream (American) culture that it emerged from: materialism, sexism, an internalized racism, violence, and antipathy towards intellectualism. I got out while the getting was good. No offence to those who still listen, I have a world of respect for true hip hop (which had to go back underground in the face of it's mainstream alter ego) But I just don't have the time or the inclination to try to pick up where I dropped off 20+ years ago. House Music is all I need.


Now I'll be honest, when it comes to hip house I can't say I love it today, but it did provide a bridge between what I did like in the early to late 80s (hip hop) and House Music (late 80s to present day) Again, while I grew up listening to my parents disco, funk and Reggae, I didn't feel/appreciate the simplicity of House Music until I, 1) heard it loud over club speakers and 2) saw a girl I was crushing on grooving to it at a school dance. My love truly began with those first dance steps. Where some have been said to feel and be pleasantly overcome by the Spirit in church, I felt the Spirit of House Music out on the dance floor, and it's been with me ever since.

According to wikipedia, Hip House was also known as rap house (although I never heard anyone I knew ever call it that) mixing elements of house music and Hip-Hop, Hip House rose to prominence during the 1980s in Chicago and New York.  In the UK, the first officially credited hip house track was 1987's Rok Da House by UK producers the Beatmasters featuring British female emcees the Cookie Crew. Like hip hop, hip house was not without controversy, with battling claims of who did what first.

In1989 a U.S. record called "Turn Up The Bass" by Tyree Cooper featuring Kool Rock Steady claimed it was the "first hip house record on vinyl." The Beatmasters disputed this, pointing out that "Rok da House" had originally been written and pressed to vinyl in 1986. The outfit responded by releasing "Who’s in the House?" featuring British emcee Merlin, containing the disc "Watch Out, Tyree—we come faster, this is the sound of the true Beatmasters". More claims to the hip-house crown were subsequently laid down in tracks by Fast Eddie, Rob Base with DJ E-Z Rock, and Toni Scott.

Hip-house became popular in nightclubs and garnered substantial chart success. The style complemented sample-based records of the period (sampling was so new there were no official copywrite laws in place to inhibit it's use) produced by artists such as S-Express and Bomb the Bass. Jackstreet Records 1989 Release of "Vitamin-C's" and "The Chicago Way" helped to bring focus to the lyrical prowess of Hip-House rappers.

With production by Reggie R and Dj Bizzy-B, Hip house's further crossover success would attributed to two ground breaking records: "I'll House You" by the Jungle Brothers (an Afrocentric hip-hop group from New York) and "It Takes Two" by Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock. "I'll House You" is generally seen as a collaboration between New York house-music producer Todd Terry and the Jungle Brothers. "It Takes Two" was described by Hip Hop Connection magazine as "...the first palatable form of hip-house for hardcore hip hop fans (quite possibly true)

Before moving on, I would like to note a few of my favourites not previously mentioned as well as notable maistream crossovers back then, "Come Into My House" - Queen Latifah, "The House that Cee Built" - Big Daddy Kane, "Kicked Out The House" - De La Soul, "Let it Roll" - Doug Lazy, "Now That We Found Love" - Heavy D feat. Aaron Hall, "Git On Up" - Fast Eddie (Feat. Sundance), "The Chubster" - Chub Rock, and "Good Vibrations" - Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch (not one of my personal favourites but he did have notable success enabling him to crossover from artist to actor|)


Whoa there... hold on a second. Although Industry Nightclub was the epitome, the apex of the 20th century Canadian House Music scene, we still have a little ways to go before we get to the late 90s underground club scene, but to be honest, I just couldn't find a picture of Focus nightclub (it's like it was before the advent of "in the club" picture taking or something) but let's go back to the early 90s and start there...

Now, my friends and I were not part of the popular crowd by any means, and once we were old enough (17) to want to start clubbing we lacked the confidence to go (to a club named Focus) on the regular night which was Saturday, we decided to start small and go on Fridays (to what was referred to as "white night") simply because it was all but dead (some nights it seemed we were actually the only ones in there, lol)

But then a strange thing happened, the original Focus closed down and reopened at a new location (formerly Club Z) and for some reason, Friday nights became the night to go. By then we were part of the House Nation and as such no longer cared about what others thought or may have had to say about our dance moves, not only because we had sufficient time to build our confidence, but because the environment was such that it didn't really matter. People weren't there to judge, they were there to hear good music and dance.

By the time those of our group who were 18 and 19 had started drinking (mostly to lower our inhibitions with the opposite sex) we were well into the club scene with Focus on Fridays, Basement, RPM or Inner City then Phoenix on Saturday's, Spectrum on long weekend and Caribana Sundays, but what solidified us as being full fledged "Housers" was the after hours "Warehouse scene" of the early to mid 90s.


Fingers Inc.

As a reminder, the term "House Music" is said to have originated as a reference to a Chicago nightclub called The Warehouse which existed from 1977 to 1983, and the Toronto Warehouse Scene was a tribute to House Music's pioneer club and the musical style inspiring a new genre. Patrons of the Warehouse scene related to the vibe of Deep house which was known for it's complex melody, hard driving beats, complex chords underlying most sequences, and a soul, ambient, or lounge vibe to the vocals.

Influences of jazz were most frequently brought out by using more complex chords than simple triads which are held for many bars giving compositions a slightly dissonant (temporary, transitional) feel. The use of vocals became more common in deep house than in many other forms of house music. Sonic qualities include soulful vocals, slow and concentrated dissonant melodies, and a smooth and stylish demeanour. Deep House Music rarely reached a climax, but lingered on as a consistent and comfortable relaxing sound.


Deep house was largely pioneered by Larry Heard (Mr. Fingers) of Fingers Inc. with tracks such as "Mystery of Love" and "Can You Feel It?" My favourite Fingers Inc. song was "Distant Planet" with vocals provided by the legendary Robert Owens.  Derrick May's "Strings Of Life" had similar impact on Deep House as it did on Detroit techno. Heard's deep house sound moved house music away from its "posthuman tendencies" (spacey futuristic quality) back towards the "lush" soulful sound of early Disco music.


Perhaps the most underground aspect of House Music culture was the Warehouse Scene. The parties (Warehouse Jams) were routinely after hours (12am - 6am) and were rarely at the same venue more than a few times. Due to the illegalities (unlicensed bar, non adherence to capacity and fire code restrictions) you truly had to be "in the know" or know someone "in the know" in order to find the street corner where a promoter would wait in the cold, the rain, or snow to inform patrons of the location for the night (who else but a lover of House would be so dedicated?)

Being "in the know" (where to find the promoters giving directions) it was also important to know which parties to attend (based on which Dj was playing) Back in the day, those in the know put the team of JMK (Jeremy Beckman, Mike Sitchon and Kenny Glasgow) at the top of the list knowing they never disappointed. One week the party would be at a place in and around Kensington Market, the next at Wellington, there was King St, Adelade (23 hop) Queen St, and Mowat St.

In a 2001 article in Now Toronto by Benjamin Boles titled "JMK Bring Back the Warehouse Attitude" the three Djs reflected on what the Warehouse Scene was like regarding the dedication of all (Djs, Promoters, Attendees) to keep the vibe going every week.

"We tried to legitimize as much as we could and in some ways ended up commercializing the whole warehouse scene," said Glasgow, "because we were getting numbers that no one, absolutely no one, was getting."

"Remember Mowat Street?" asks Beckman.

"There were, like, 800 people!" Glasgow exclaims (back then there was rarely more than the two to three hundred people that averaged a night out)

"It was the second week of February," remembers Sitchon, "there was a snowstorm outside and the lineup went on forever."

"I honestly think that was what inspired clubs like Industry," interrupts Beckman.

Part of the anticipation, what made the Warehouse Scene so great was in setting out for the night not knowing where the party was going to be (some nights would be a bust) Sometimes we'd have to go to the "hot spots" (quiet downtown street corners where promoters would give the secret location) Once there, prices would range anywhere from $5 to $25 bucks to get in, there would often be a mobile bar (even smartly set up in a cargo elevator) in case "undercovers" intruded or the spot was raided, some nights the party could go till dawn, some nights we would just arrive and the police would "bust the party" within hours or even minutes.

Funny enough, a "buss up" party wouldn't mean the end of the world, oft times there would actually be a few going on in a single night. And if not there was always "Jonny's Hamburgers" or "The Big Slice" (one of the two places we would end up by the night's end anyway) Regardless, we would be dressed sharp and ready for the next Warehouse adventure the following week. Good times.

In the Warehouse Scene was all inclusive (racially, sexually) attendees tended to range in age from early 20s and upwards, and in Toronto they came dressed to impress (leaving behind the straight leg jeans modified with extra material running down the outside legs and the smiley face T shirt)

commonly wearing straight leg or flared dress pants and a patterned (often paisley) button down dress shirt for a more classy (posh) mature look.

With classier dress came a more sophisticated dance style. Leaving behind the jumping "kick slap", voguing and jacking of the late 80s, the Warehouse dancer tended to perform variations of the James Brown, a blend of a Salsa style, foot sliding, tap dance perfected by weeks, months and years of attending Warehouse parties.


House dance style has roots in the clubs of Chicago and of New York. The main elements of House dance include Footwork, Jacking, and Lofting. House dance is often improvisational in nature and emphasis on fast and complex foot oriented steps combined with fluid movements in the torso, as well as floor work.

The major source in house dance movement stems directly from the music and the elements within the music such as Jazz, African, Latin, Soul, R&B, Funk, Hip Hop, etc. The other source is the people, the individuals and their characteristics, ethnicities, origin, etc. People from all walks of life partying under one roof provided exchanges of information (via body language) making house dancing a social dance.

*note: the dancing and music forms of Jacking itself were sexually charged in its earliest forms, with couples (often two men or two women) grinding their pelvises together.  "Jacking" music and dance most likely came from the multicultural roots in the early underground Chicago house. Both concepts of Jacking have their origins in various African and types of Latino and Hispanic dance culture, with a fair amount of influence from early European and American disco culture.

(In truth, the same/similar sexually charged form of dance has been present in African, Caribbean and Latin culture for centuries, which is part of what made "Spectrum" Sundays on Caribana long weekend go hand in hand with the House Scene for us)

In house dancing there is an emphasis on the subtle rhythms and riffs of the music with the footwork following closely (the more on-time one was with more than just the heavy beat, the more one's moves and style were noticed, appreciated and even duplicated or modified) making it the main feature that distinguished house dancing from disco dancing and the foot stomping that emerged as the current form of dancing that is done to electronic dance music as part of the rave culture. I recall when taking my friends (who were accustomed to the posh Warehouse Scene) to after hours parties in the 2000s, the lack of "sophisticated"dance style was their first observation. My response, the best and only response was the truth... "that just makes the dance style we have stand out that much more". They tended to agree.


My friends and I first developed a love for the art of beat mixing in '88 (possibly because of the influence a Dj could have on a listener) It is hard to explain the profound effect House Music has on those who consider themselves part of the House Nation, to a "Houser" no other music comes close to producing the feelings House does. Housers are part of a global community sharing a love of dance and appreciation of sounds ranging from simple to complex, and today there's every type of House to fit one's taste. Whether you like classical music, jazz, blues, soul, rock, alternative, electro pop, new wave, hard beats, soft beats, hip hop, industrial tech, today the House genre has it all.

Here's an alphabetical list of sub types of House Music within the genre itself, Acid house, Balearic beat, Chicago house, Deep house, Detroit house, Disco house, Diva house/Handbag house, Hardbag, Electroclash, Electro house, Complextro, Brostep, Dutch house, Fidget house, Moombahton, Electro swing, Swing house, Euro house, Freestyle house, French house, Funky house, Garage house, Ghetto house, Hip house, Italo house, Kwaito, Latin house, Microhouse/Minimal house, New beat, Pop house, Progressive house, Tech house, Tribal house and Vocal house (again, this is not including all other sub forms within the Electronica umbrella-that list goes on for days)

Wanting to Dj came from both the love of the genre, and feeling/experiencing the effect a good Dj could have on a party (that and wanting to make our own tapes reflecting our own tase and style)

Beat mixing: Old school vs. New school

Bar Babylon
It was about 88-89 when my friends and I developed a taste for beat mixing, starting off with the least expensive 2 channel mixer Radio Shack had to offer. None of us could afford to even consider asking our parents to spend $1200 of their hard earned money for a pair of Techniques 1200 turntables, so we did our best using regular record players and our fingers to slow down or speed up the music's tempo.

Although we wouldn't have the proper equipment till the mid 90's, we would make the journey to downtown Toronto (mainly Play De Records and Traxx Records) every few weekends and pick up the latest tracks, slowly building our collection until we were ready to do it right.

By the mid 90's, we owned either Techniques 1200's or the Gemini equivalent (which really wasn't) and I didn't have the experience of playing at a club till the year 2000. By then, with a culture which stretched out from Chicago and NYC to London then back again, House music would be transformed.

Coming soon,  I Love House Music Part Three:After Hours, The Journey Continues.

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