Various Artists: Bargrooves: Cosmopolitan

[14 September 2005]

By Tim O'Neil

I suppose that from a critical point of view the Bargrooves series might be regarded by some as indefensible. After all, isn’t truly vital music supposed to be above the whims of fashion and set aside from any transitory notion of “cool”? Aren’t we supposed to resent the upscale hipsters and yuppies and trendoids who clog the arteries of the international music scene? After all, isn’t there something necessarily disingenuous about anything designed specifically to be played in upscale watering holes?

Well, perhaps, and perhaps not. Regardless of their intentions, the producers behind the Bargrooves series actually put together some pretty fine house mixes. Certainly, the very name might bring up unpleasant connotations in the minds of some, but if they have to market the project with amorphously chic packaging, so be it. It’s true that you could very well expect to hear something like this in an upmarket meat bar or lounge of the type in which you and your thrift-store indie pals might not be caught dead—but you also might hear the same exact tunes at an underground warehouse party deep in the heart of Brooklyn or Chicago. Believe me, there is such a thing as cheesy house, and for the most part—despite the packaging,—this is not cheesy house. This is good house, probably some of the most consistently satisfying deep house you’re likely to hear right now.

The first disc, mixed by Bargrooves/Seamless Records honco Ben Sowton, serves as an excellent primer for the deep house genre. This is profoundly sensual music, dance music dedicated as much to the propagation of mood as to propulsive rhythms. These discs seem to have been designed with one ear towards a more contemplative home listening experience, and tracks such as Ad Finem’s “Joy” and Fred Everything and Roy Davis, Jr’s “Next Tom Me” certainly fit that expectation by presenting the genre in terms of moody, jazz-inflected ambience. Further into the mix the music ramps up towards a slightly more enthusiastic bent, with Shik Styklo & Virginia’s “Feels So Right” introducing a more aggressive garage-style beat that, consequently, builds to appropriately funky songs like the MN25 Full Phat Dub mix of The Coffee Kids’ “Dangerous Frequencies”—dedicated to amping up the already significant energy level.

The second disc, mixed by respected French/Swiss producer Rollercone, begins on a darker note. The Charles Webster mix of the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble’s “Running In The Streets” is a surprisingly spooky track, full of strange vocal bits and pseudo-tribal drums—but then, Charles Webster rarely disappoints. Rollercone, no stranger to the deep house world or the “exotic lounge” scene, also manages to inject something more unpredictable into the mix, something which emerges on tracks like Louie Vega and Ursula Rucker’s “Journey’s Prelude”. Rucker’s spoken-word performances are never unwelcome, and her presence adds a touch of class that is well-suited to the accompaniment of Vega’s spry, jazzy production. Rollercone’s own mix of the Limbo Experience’s “Illusion” introduces a hypnotically odd Latin flavor which continues for the next few tracks.

The disc ends with a positively ebullient example of vintage house wonderment, with the Kenny Dope mix of Reel People featuring Angela Johnson’s “Can’t Stop” coming on like a slab of classic freestyle, and Patchworks’ “Ain’t Nothing Like a Party House” providing ample memories of the early days of funky, disco-influenced Chicago deep house. Orestt Partridge’s “Steppin’” is another standout. I couldn’t find any information about Partridge online, but his track sounds like a strange but appealing hybrid of early ‘80s post-punk funk (a la LSG) crossed with ‘70s Herbie Hancock. Appropriately, the final track is Rollercone’s own “The List”, an example of peak-house funky house that almost manages to swerve into cheesy territory, but somehow veers away and back into the world of nigh-anthemic, deeply enjoyable deep house bliss.

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