What's my favorite record of all time? I didn't want to answer that question. I don't presume to know the greatest album of all time, or if such a thing even exist. Moreover, once my decision was made, I thought of at least seven other recordings I could've given this distinction. In the end, I uncomfortably settled on World Clique by Deee-lite.
I must make it clear that my final choice of World Clique is in no way intended to implicate Deee-lite as being my favorite musical act; they aren't. They are, however, one of my all-time favorite bands
My final choice of World Clique stems mostly from my upbringing. I have long held an appreciation of all things kitsch; from lava lamps to cheaply made, California-red polyester bell-bottoms. In other words, I adore the tastefully tasteless.
I believe my fascination with polyester started in my childhood. My father owned a collection of leisure suits that I spent hours playfully trying on. Also, I was raised on a healthy dose of disco; my father enjoyed genre greats like Chic, KC & the Sunshine Band, and the Trammps. Conversely, my mother listened to gospel music, though she took an occasional liking to artists like Vickie Sue Robinson, and the disco incarnations of soul singer Thelma Houston and eventual gospel singer Candi Staton. This curious intermingling of father's dance floor gems and mother's choir loft standards helped shape a majority of my musical tastes.
For me, disco epitomized a multicultural, pansexual dynamic that was, and still is, absent from popular music. I have long felt that the backlash against disco in the early '80s was undeserved. Also, I absolutely reject the notion that disco died; it simply evolved into other musical genres, most notably house.
(By now, you're probably wondering how all of this fits into my choice for favorite album of all time. Well, just bear with me a little longer.)
By the late '80s, I had accumulated an absurdly large amount of house music vinyl. Inner City, Ten City, and Jomanda were among my favorites. Though house music had, for the most part, kept me content, there was still something missing. There was blitheness -- a carefree quality that disco possessed in its earlier embodiment that house was sorely missing.
Deee-lite was already a popular group in New York's underground club scene. The group exploded onto the national stage in 1990 on the strength of their single, "Groove Is in the Heart". Originally a trio, the group consisted of lead vocalist Lady Kier, Super DJ Dmitry, and Jungle DJ Towa "Towa". A huge part of Deee-lite's appeal was their multicultural makeup; Lady Kier was born Kier Kirby in Youngstown, Ohio, while DJ Dmitry, born Dmitry Brill and Towa "Towa", born Towa Tei, hail from the Ukraine and Japan, respectively.
I first became aware of Deee-lite by way of their campy video for "Groove Is in the Heart". The video showcased Lady Kier, DJ Dmitry, and Towa "Towa" among an entourage of dancers adorned in kitschy, multi-color fashions and dancing with reckless abandon. Curious, I went to the store to purchase the album from which "Groove Is in the Heart" originated, World Clique, which also happened to be their debut. I was hooked immediately.
The title of Deee-lite's debut is a tad misleading as some have misinterpreted the name World Clique to have elitist connotations concerning the group's superior fashion sense. Fashion does indeed figure heavily into the Deee-lite mythos; prior to joining the group, Lady Kier was a student in textile design. Moreover, at this point, Kier designed the majority of the group's outfits. I believe the title, World Clique denotes inclusiveness, however, on a global scale.
In all honesty, Deee-lite was very visual, from the plethora of color displayed in their garments and cover art to the vibrant psychedelics showcased in their music videos. There was something far more substantial to Deee-lite than their image, however; they effectively combined disco, funk, house, and soul to create a sound that was enticingly ethereal.
World Clique plays from start to finish like a night on the town that begins at one of New York's trendiest clubs, circa early '90s. The album boasts guest appearances from Q-Tip, formerly of Tribe Called Quest, funk legend Bootsy Collins, and saxophonist Maceo Parker. The set runs the gamut from retro-funk tracks like "Smile On", "Try Me On... I'm Very You", and "Who Was That" to deep house grooves like "Deep-Ending" and "Build the Bridge". There's also a hint of ambient in the title track and "E.S.P."
Deee-lite later released two follow-up albums, Infinity Within and Dewdrops in the Garden in 1992 and 1994, respectively. Infinity Within was overtly political and boasted deep house and ambient grooves, whereas Dewdrops in the Garden, found the group fully embracing the then-burgeoning rave culture that they helped to usher in. They also added a new member on Dewdrops in the Garden, On-E. Both albums were innovative, but in no way as memorable as World Clique.
Through the years World Clique has continued to touch me with its prevailing themes of universal love and joy. I have been continually uplifted from the depths of sadness and doubt by each successive play of this album. It remains an integral part of my collection to this day.