A glimpse of house music's past so that it might never be repeated.
Sometimes it’s best not to look in the closet. You could waste time feeling around for the light switch, turn it on and swing open the door to reveal the dark cavern of secrets or you could ignore it. Sometimes the easier thing is to jet across the dark floor to where you’re confident the bed is and dive under the sheets. Just ignore the closet. Whatever lurks inside will remain there until sunrise—it always does. !K7 Records makes a habit of opening the closets of up and coming DJ’s, producers and electronic music scenesters. Their DJ Kicks series invites increasingly notable artists to create full length mixes of the songs that inspire them or interest them in some way. It really seems to be a free-for-all with very mixed results and judging from this latest release, there is little editorial control over what goes into it.
It begins with Mankind’s “Don’t Keep me Waiting”—a song that would most definitely have popped up on the playlists of American house DJ’s. If that sounds somewhat uncertain it’s because in 1994, the year it came out, “club culture” was well into its formative years. Dance music was still a genre tree with significantly less branches and music like this merely became one of the rings.
Most DJ’s were already moving in the direction of higher energy house, club and techno. As the cycle tends to go, mainstream artists incorporated what were already tired underground sounds into their music, and the underground responded by evolving beyond it or dieing. This particular species did not survive and we should be grateful. The rave scene was growing and like a black hole it sucked in the club kids leaving their clubs relatively empty. “Don’t Keep me Waiting” which is also the astonishingly boring refrain on the track of the same name would bounce unimpeded off the walls of these empty clubs. Sure, there were probably a few who remained in the dark corners but they were shuffling from foot to foot like human pendulums to the endless and often parodied Oontss-Oontss-Oontss loop. DJ Andy Butler and his gang seemed to have been similarly left behind.
“Can You Feel It” goes back even further to 1988 and though the sample from “Theme from S’Express” and heavy use of repeating loops, classic funk and the early days of rap will sound familiar—it’s just not particularly good. “The Acieed That Ate New York” at least offers a glimpse of where the future might go but now that we’re here, do we really need to retrace the mis-steps?
Clearly, however, the interchangeable members of Hercules and Love Affair found some form of inspiration in these songs and if you’ve heard the debut album then it’s immediately clear that they are recreating this era with a modern appeal. Their new stuff deserves that praise. But despite making a single appearance on the throw-back dance equivalent of American cheese, “Release Me”, there is no modern appeal on this record.
The album is repetitive filler all the way through and resurrects every overplayed club music trope that’s bored anyone since the late ‘80s. You’ve got the looping piano lines, the boom and the clap, the stuttered vocals, the ~130 bpm syncopated synth notes, the 303 and the samples of some soul sister crying out unconvincingly about “feeling so right”. These are the songs that instilled in people the idea that electronic music is just repetitive, uninspired pap—a stereotype that the genre has been working to overcome for decades. Hercules has given us a collection of skeletons that really should stay buried or at least reduced to comedic curios dropped into sets to get an ironic giggle.
Fierce Ruling Diva makes an appearance late in the record but aside from the somewhat updated production on “Allemaal, Allemaal!” we have again a band that are simply kin with Hercules and Love Affair in that they aim to recreate a sound that has long since been outgrown. It’s hard to sound old when you’ve got new values and equipment. That fact, for the listener, is merciful here. They’re inline with what we’ve come to expect and love about the DFA label but mixed into the larger context of this record the degree to which they fit in makes them less palatable than they might be on their own record. Anyone who wants to revisit this with fresh ideas should be supported and applauded. That also goes for anyone who wants to appreciate and aggregate the classics. But you won’t find either of those things on this DJ Kicks.
This record’s vintage house goes on so intolerably long that you become nostalgic for the present. Most of these songs were still born when they came out and the ones that aren’t are pretty terrible now. These are the cheaply licensed other songs that you fast-forwarded through on that copy of Dance Mix [Insert Year] to get to the two or three hits that really shook up the club. You skipped them then and you should skip them now too.