[2 April 2007]
Most dance music aficionados agree that house music originated in Chicago. As the sound has progressed over the years and found a home in cities around the world, however, the music has morphed into something unrecognizable. Today, few self-proclaimed househeads will agree on what exactly house sounds like. Detroit house—or tech house—uses more Moog than the mellow, Zen house coming out of San Francisco. In London, superstar DJs make the club rounds with their individual brand of progressive, or smart, house. Many clubgoers in Germany consider house to be any electronic music that sounds different from the ever-popular industrial trance and hardcore.
Original Chicago house, however, has a distinct flavor. It’s a composition that local DJs and producers like Derrick Carter, Roy Davis Jr, and Glenn Underground continue to promulgate, pushing the boundaries without ever losing sight of the music’s background. Remaining true to the roots of Chicago style means overlaying a four-on-the-floor beat with gospel singing, tweaking hip-hop samples with clap-tracks, and blending animatronic voices with deep funk basslines. It also requires experimentation and diversions to keep the dance flow going. Derrick Carter does this by adding beat-less voiceover records, such as the reading from “The Biography of Ms. Jane Pittman” that opens his remarkable About Now mix CD. Roy Davis Jr. accomplishes this in his live PAs by bringing in saxophonists and other musicians as accompanists.
Agave, a label specializing in house music, recently expanded their compilation repertoire to produce a series of mix CDs that they say will capture just how brilliant house music can sound. Volume one of the series, Q Burns Abstract Message Mix does relay a solid, dance-able mix of Chicago house. An eminent 4/4 beat threads the thirteen tracks together without veering off a well-trodden path.
As a mix-master, Q-Burns Abstract Message puzzles these tracks together effortlessly, limiting vocals to make the cut smoother and switching between records with ease. His record selection includes several tracks produced by artists appearing on Agave’s artist list, including Johnny Fiasco, Hanna, and Jay West. With a track list including such internationally-renowned producers, the compilation has plenty going for it. Overall, though, the records sound bland—too similar songs pressed together. Despite the inherent quality of the individual tracks, Q-Burns Abstract Message doesn’t add his own spice to this mix, and the compilation comes off a bit dry. The parallels in the songs may have eased his transitioning work, but without a tweak or added zest, the tracks’ similarities also lend a monorhythmic feel to the mix that grows sterile before the mix is even halfway through. The result is a blurred blend of dance tunes with a repetitious beat that left me lethargic.
Q-Burns Abstract Message isn’t pushing his boundaries as a DJ with this mix, nor appealing to innovators. He is, however, offering a reliable house set for partygoers interested in bringing the club home.