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Sunday, 22 April 2007

"Maybe you should be interviewing the drugs, they have a lot to answer for"

For anyone interested in House, this is something really worth seeing - Channel 4's "Pump up the Volume: A History of House". It's a really well put together documentary that covers all the parts that I'm sad to say, I missed out on at the time it was happening. Didn't stop me catching up though ;) Enjoy.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

I really think this documentary does a great job of capturing the spirit of house - 'let it all out, let it all go, be free', and I think it's that spirit that I've been trying for so long to capture in my mixes. It's also totally right in what it says about the UK being so keen to label different genres of House, something that I've also noticed myself and have tried to stop myself from getting too pigeonholed - hence me changing the name of the podcast from "Funky House Music, but not as you know it!" to just "House Music, but not as you know it!". At the end of the day, house music should be funky, that's how it started out. Why stick an extra label on top of it? Right now the big label on everyone's lips is Electro House. Last year it was Tech House. Before that it was Funky House. As far as I'm concerned, all that matters is that I play Good House. Maybe I should start it as a new genre/label just to make Britain sit up and listen. The beauty of this music is that you can totally play a really soulful track, and mix it with a driving dark dirty nightmare of a track, and apart from a few factors, there's every possibility that you can make them go together. Why do people have this problem with it that you have to play one 'brand' of House all night? I think this has a lot to do with the fact that when I've been going out lately, I get bored quite easily. No wonder: The DJ's been playing tracks that all use the same synth patch all night because he thinks that everybody's into electro this year. At first, I wouldn't touch electro with a barge-pole, but I've since come to realize that there are some quite funky electro tracks. What I do disagree with, though, is feeling like I've been listening to the same groove for an hour. And if I'm thinking that when I'm off my nut, there's a problem.

One of the big things that I noticed about the 'States is the fact that the DJ's tend to play only what they think the crowd wants. They play the current sound, go through the top 40, and nothing more. I'm starting to see it happen over here as well - everywhere I go I hear the same tunes. All the DJs are starting to sound the same! What happened to DJs searching out obscure releases no-one else has? Playing about with samples and warping tracks almost to the point where you can hardly recognize them? Playing classics and giving them the credit they deserve as seminal pieces of musical history, instead of consigning them to the 'cheese' bin? I feel like the internet has played a big part in this building lack of respect for music. Whilst it's increased the convenience of finding any tune we want within seconds, and purchasing (or not, as the case may be) it there on the spot, it's decreased our respect for the track as an entity within itself. It stops being a living being, and just becomes another number in iTunes, lost among a fog of countless others. I even find this myself with my collection, and the only way I've found to stop it is to constantly keep going through my collection, and sorting things into playlists based on mood, instruments, groove, vocals etc. This is the only way I've found of helping me at a gig so that instead of staring blankly at a list of 15,000 tracks, each one standing out no more than the last, I'm only seeing a list of tracks that fit the style/mood/message I'm trying to convey.

The other thing DJs have lost sight of is the 'party'. House was all about creating that feeling of being at a house party, no matter how many people were there. Now everything is about the DJ, the club, and bar sales. We don't go to a club any more to have a party, we go to 'see' the DJ. I don't care about seeing the DJ, the reason I go there is to dance to the music. Let's not forget that ultimately, the DJ is playing other people's records, so unless he's actually injecting some of his own musical talent and style into the mix, there's nothing elevating him above putting the latest "Clubber's Guide" compilation on. Most DJs are starting to use laptops now, and this is good, as for too long DJs have clung to vinyl like a toddler clings to a comfort blanket. Good, so long, that is that the DJ is doing something that makes use of the extra features and convenience that laptop DJing brings to the table. The last 3 times I've seen Pete Tong (Who's now using Ableton), I was almost bored to tears. He was doing nothing that you couldn't do 2 with 2 turntables. At the other end of the spectrum I've seen guys play the same loop all night. Because they can. There's a good reason why James Zabiela is one of the very few big-name DJs to come out of our generation (That didn't start out in production at least), and that's because he's one of the few people who are actually pushing what the technology can do, but at the same time, not losing sight of the fact that people go to a club to dance.

The only thing that really disappointed me about this series was the fact that there was no interview with Frankie Knuckles himself. How can you have a documentary on the history of House music, without having an interview with its godfather? Frankie is to House what James Brown is to Soul, what Elvis is to Rock, what... well, you get the idea. It just seems strange to me that they would intricately explore every aspect of the genre, and leave out the very thing that created it. That's like having the bible without Genesis. You can't just come in halfway though, or everyone's sat there going "Wha... so how did all these people get here, ay?"

Having said that though, the documentary has definitely confirmed some of the things I already thought about House, and given me some fresh ideas for my own tunes :) It makes me excited to think that we have so much new technology available to us to make these tracks now, I can't wait to see what the future of DJing has in store for us. It was also heartening to see that it wasn't just me that "Strings of Life" had such a profound effect on, it's amazing how one song can evoke so many different emotions all at the same time, and yet still have no lyrics!

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