Was this supposed to be unheard of? In a time of freedom fries and cheese-eating surrender-monkeys, the task of mixing a quintessential journey through American house genres falls to a Frenchman? Luckily, the political climate failed to make any noticeable impact on the world of electronic music, where borders and boundaries have long merged across oceans and land masses. But in the interest of discovery and musical understanding, City 2 City attempts to chronicle and showcase house variants spanning the three megalopoli of the American scene: Chicago, New York, and Detroit.
DJ Deep is far from the least qualified to host the ride. Since the early 1990s, the Parisian DJ has soaked up American vibes courtesy of visits to the Sound Factory and Shelter in New York and hangtime with Detroit mavericks Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May, even picking a compilation title inspired by Underground Resistance’s legendary track “World 2 World”. But Deep’s particular roots in deep house have a strong impact on how effective the concept of City 2 City is ultimately carried through.
The compilation kicks off beautifully with Detroit pillar Carl Craig’s “Wonders of Wishing”, under his Urban Culture alias, a track previously heard on Craig’s own excellent “The Workout” mix from a few years back. A little drum shuffle partners a crispy hi-hat, some squarely throbbing beats and a soaring synths and echoing keys. Mr Fingers, aka Larry Heard, is another top name on show here, with Robert Owens providing those sultry vocals on the exquisite classic “Distant Planet”. Other highlights come courtesy of Lowkey’s “Rainforest” and Romanthony’s “Bring U Up”.
“I’ll have a Long Island Ice Tea, or maybe I’ll have a rum and coke. Maybe I should have both,” goes Jovonn’s New York garage-tingled “Cant Make Up My Mind”, with that gripping bar hesitation, drink name-dropping, overcoming clubtime timidity theme. It’s a slogan that fits just as well with the hot and thumping urban American clubs as seaside Balearic resorts. The music follows suit. Most of the tunes on offer have a strong identity, but these identities pretty much all fall under a starry-night, deep house party-vibe. Deep whispers and passionate (and sometimes a little unnerving) moaning are a recurring fixture on City 2 City—not least on Ron Allen’s twinkling “Whispers” and Pleasure Control’s “Fantasy”. This is by no means bad, but it is no longer peculiar to either the Detroit, Chicago, or New York scenes, having long ago been exported worldwide into the European clubland—and the ears of DJ Deep and the likes. Music from these three cities has become more than the city scenes themselves or their sum parts. The depth is global.
Which is also why City 2 City is less a tale of three cities than a common denominator between them, the foray into deep house revealing somewhat less than it could about the musical heritages of Detroit, Chicago, and New York. Mostly absent are the punch and machinal drive of Detroit’s finest, the lofty disco elements of New York garage, or the apex tightness and fat warmth of Chicago’s thumping beats. It makes for a slightly watered-down experience, when a more adventurous and evocative mix was expected. But there are still plenty of great deep house tunes on offer here to go around.