Before the New Builds and Gentrification
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A Glorious Explosion: House Music in the Late-1980s and 1990s
WE do not really have tribes and factions...
IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images
in modern music. By that, I mean there are no real standout genres and movements that can galvanise and lead to change. I am looking around modern music and wondering, in such a mass, whether it is possible to find focus and any sort of spark. Maybe there is a thread from modern Pop that can weave a tapestry; perhaps a Rap bang that can lead to explosion; a little sound from Dance that is looking to move to the mainstream. I do not know but, when thinking back, we were spoilt for choice. I wanted to concentrate on House and Trance – the former especially – because, sadly, we said goodbye to The Prodigy’s Keith Flint earlier in the week. It is tragic and desperately sad that we have lost such a big figure in music. I recall discovering the Prodigy, full, by the time their 1997 album, The Fat of the Land, came out. They had created gold up until that point but I felt the 1997 was a more accessible record because of Keith Flint’s vocals. It helped bring Trance to the mainstream and, alongside the usual bouquet of Prodigy sounds (courtesy of their mix-master Liam Howlett), that record has stayed with me. One reason why I am so obsessed with music that came from the late-1980s/early-1990s is because there was risk and dare. It is something I will nod to in a piece I am writing later but listen to the pioneers and big voices from the decade – the fact they still resonate and inspire to this day.
I was only six when the 1990s broke but I recall, vividly, being entranced by the House music that came out during the decade. I have included Spotify’s ultimate collection of 1990s House bangers and, when you scroll down, many of us will sigh fondly having experienced the songs first-hand. Rave and Trance featured into my passion and I think there is not a particularly thick line between them. Maybe Trance and Rave were a bit more club-based and raw whereas House could bring in other genres. There are articles that unearth lost treasures of 1990s House; others that argue there was one defining year: 1998. Jim Poe, in a piece for Junkee, argued the case:
“The larger point is that whole era was amazing and unforgettable, and any given year is part of the tapestry of the whole. Comparing the great records of one year with that of the next lets you see the evolution of the music. Also, going through old records and making lists is fun as hell, and I don’t really need much of an excuse to do the exercise all over again. So here we are.
What was going on in 1998? The New York sound represented by artists like Masters at Work and Kerri Chandler was still the epitome. The French house explosion was at its height and dominated dancefloors worldwide. Chicago and the UK were big as ever. But the global sounds of broken beat, Latin jazz, Afro-house were beginning to transform the music, as was the rapidly consolidating sound of tech and minimal house. In Detroit, Moodymann and Theo Parrish were kicking off their own revolution of raw, uncompromising soulful house”.
I think, because the late-1980s and 1990s was so flexible and open to new movements, we saw so many great tracks emerge. My favourite House track from that time must be Inner City’s Good Life: everything about the movement in one passionate spellbinding cut. I love everything about House and, when you have a look at the Trance music alongside it – both started before the 1990s but hit their peak, I feel, at this time – we had this glorious time for music. The Trance music that arrived from German Techno in the early-1990s incorporated genres like Chill, Pop and Ambient and gave the people something truly immersive and hypnotic. I prefer the House variety because I feel it was the perfect balance of club-bound and chart-friendly. I often associate clubs back in the 1980s/1990s being these places teeming with great House and Trance music; a cathedral for like-minded souls to be liberated and lost. Maybe I am over-romanticising the time – and was too young to be involved in the clubs – but the music from back then, today, still thrills and finds new ears. Whether you love the House of Frankie Knuckles and 808 State or plump for Trance classics from Underworld and ATB, it is music that, at the time, resonated and struck but remains timeless and fresh. I do wonder whether, in terms of progression and zeal, we have taken steps back and things have become too processed.
I know there are offshoots and progeny of House and Trance in modern music. The more electric and sweaty (if that is the right word?) Trance scene shone bright through the 1990s and even into the following decade. There are a few examples of Trance today but it is a very different sound; one that does not have the same thrill and impact of the first bloom. The same can be said of House. I do not even know whether there are any many House acts, let alone in the mainstream – I could name you anyone! I think there is some good stuff in the mainstream but, too often, manufactured Pop and commercial artists are praised and raised above those with a bit more insight and invention. Pop has mutated and evolved and there is, I know, some genuinely great music around. I miss the glory of House and Trance because, in their way, they gave freedom and this incredible expression. The music was so sophisticated in its way but its aim was simple: to provide joy and ecstasy. It definitely did that. I prefer House music myself because I think there is a bit more range and the songs are more accessible to those who are new to the genre. I love the squelchy electronics and the huge beats. Take a House classic such as Black Box’s Ride on Time and the sheer energy it throws out.
I think modern music has definite brilliance but we have become so closed-up and conservative. There is very little at the forefront that has that abandon and sense of sheer pleasure. It is not nostalgia at work here: generations who were a bit too old or young to embrace House in the late-1980s and 1990s love the music because it seems completely ageless. A lot of the best House music reworked material from the 1980s and updated them for the 1990s; some were instrumental whereas you had some anthems with truly incredible vocal performances. There are a lot of great playlists regarding the best House anthems of the 1990s and it worth doing some searching and researching. I do think there is a genuine potential to reignite the House sound of the late-1980s/1990s and bring it to the modern realm. Maybe it will not have the same textures and promise but I do worry we have become a bit too unambitious and serious. I started by asking whether have movements today and if we can truly build some form of revolution. Maybe it will be tricky to form something House/Trance-like in the modern age but there are so many reasons why the best of the late-1980s and 1990s still sounds so good today. Have a listen to the great playlist below and, whether you recall House music from its birth and explosion or are coming to it late, you have to agree...
PHOTO CREDIT: @axville
IT is pure bliss.