The wooden roller coaster holds a special place in America’s collective memory. The proud centerpiece of apple pie amusement parks became a standard for public entertainment in the early 20th century. However the advent of tubular steel tracks, which paved the way for boomerangs, corkscrews, and theretofore unimaginable designs, turned its predecessor’s simple dips into yesterday’s ya yas. While stakes became high for thrills, the wooden prototype has continued to captivate like a symbol of a pastime paradise. Its relatively subtle movements—yawning fan curves, rolling camel backs, and whooping drops—conjure nostalgia for a time when ‘things’ were simpler, manageable, and, well, lesser.
Thus, when a slow passing woodie is the first sound heard on House of Om Presents: DJ Sneak, the effect is to immediately connect the house maven’s latest mix with such summer pleasures. Sneak bridges the carnival and the club, the past and present of good times, by selecting techy, deep house cuts that are high on gloss and low on fuss, and blending them in an easy-on-the-ear, accessible manner. The slick and minimal set is a surprise for the Chi stalwart of soulful and garage-y tracks, but remains true to his pursuit of house music in all forms, not to mention the clean aesthetic of Om projects. However, like a devoted craftsman Sneak labors endlessly behind the curtains so the audience can enjoy a seamless performance.
Sneak opens nice’n easy with tracks that emphasize clear melodies and solid rhythm. Thomas Sahs and Merrick Brown’s take on DJ Spettro’s “Family in Mind” opens the set with an a cappella “Music Man” vocalese bit that invites the listener in before leading to a crisp, mouth-popping four-floor thumper with tabla-like whoops for drum hits, getting the body dippin’ in’n out. Sneak keeps the rhythm pulsing and the melody moving with his own touch-up of Lawnchair Generals’ “The Truth”. Splashy keys throttle an uprock track before giving way to another LG cut “You Got To”, which grinds to a groaning female vocal. Lil’ Mark’s “Life is a Dream” adds an up and down riff and a pancaked vocoder to cool and stabilize the mix, but eventually falls into a loop that creates a refrain out of the song title that mechanizes the statement to the point of Gilliam perversity. In this manner, Sneak establishes an immediate connection with his audience before moving into tracks with greater depth, texture, and subtlety.
Taking a step further out, Sneak focuses the body of his mix on rhythmic variations and sound cues from his acid roots. The Wisemen’s “X (what you want mix)” adds a quiet ping pong bouncing down a staircase of off beats. Vocals provide the next rhythmic accent as Joeski stutters a hook to the throb of a clipped bass and shuffling beat on “Find a Way”. A logical transition from the acid house legend’s contemporary work is No Assembly Firm’s “Acid Attack”, a slice of acid flashback with its Roland drums, tweeting keys, and classic “House” vocal sample punctuating the snappy track. Roomsa’s “November Jazz” drops the hammer back down on straight 4s, but a loop of dueling piano and sax bop lines add a hooky rhythmic counterpart. Troydon’s “Live and Learn” does a backstroke in a pool of bass, adding a low end balance to the treble-centric “Jazz”. Amidst all of the melody, JT Donaldson’s remix of Cpen’s “Puffin Stuff” adds a techy element and a rhythmic sprint. With vocals cascading like TLC Waterfalls and a keyboard line morphing from bouncing rubber ball to tightly wound rubber band, the track segues into the acid elements of Johnny Fiasco’s “Werk It”. Another Utensil release, Fiasco’s barebones track builds steam off minimal sounds: solid kicks and hi hats, ‘roided raindrop sounds, and a pitched-down chorus. In each transition, Sneak blends records to complement the next, while always staying conscious of building and deconstructing rhythm, texture, and mood.
Appropriately, Sneak leaves the hits for the closer. The gorgeous Inland Knights track “This Belongs to You” invites the dancer and brings the listener in with its constantly evolving sound. The track builds quickly, first by piecing together two saucy sax loops to add a jerk movement before echoing and phasing them out in favor of percussive scraping spoons in reverse, a sharp guitar punctuation. a honkier sax on the break, and finally a reconstructed beat of tweeting alarms. Of course, Sneak follows the mix’s highlight track with his new joint, “Funky Rhythm”; the Phil Weeks remix here places this ode to club-goers over a hiccupping bass. In his cool, clipped accent Sneak gives up props in even paces: “Speaker people / Head boppers / Pill poppers / All breakers / Uplockers / Big Chief Rockers / Hardcore Knockers / Phillie Rollers / Midnight Tokers / Green bush smokers / Girls wearing chokers / Bling bling players / Exotic dancers / No one can stop us / You can’t control it / Funky Rhythm.” In spite of the clean and clear tone, Sneak brings the mix full circle with this dedication to fringe society, those who will always live by the carnival aesthetic. By the time Chuck Daniels’ “Latin Trip” adds muted mambo horns, it becomes clear HOm is not about youthful histrionics, but a mature look at dance. Sneak pauses “Latin” to add one last wash of roller coaster wheee before fading out the track, signifying that the party will run into infinity; in the mind of the true dance music lover, it simply can’t stop, won’t stop, don’t stop.
Sneak exhibits his masterful ear and choice taste on HOm by using direct yet intricate records that speak volumes with little effort. Throughout, he maintains an understanding of the whole picture, each record playing a role in moving the mix forward. Although the records themselves are not the most exciting or bangin’ in his collection, the entire mix is a measurement of his DJ history and abilities. At the least, Om wisely selected an experienced and able artist to christen its intended series of house mixes.
// Notes from the Road
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