House music that manages to stay soulful and contemporary but still remains true to its essential ingredients is not always easy to track down. Much as I love them, the likes of Blaze, MAW, and Kerri Chandler these days seem to owe their allegiances more to soul, salsa, and disco than to house. Other innovators, some of them no doubt appalled at what is being passed off in their name, have played down the house and techno elements to the point where they almost cease to exist.
For instance, pioneers like Glenn Underground and Larry Heard now make many records where the house element is retained only as a sensibility or a trace. Elsewhere, the fashionable West Coast deep house coming from Naked Music and Om is tailored to (and lapped up eagerly by) an audience that by and large had little patience with the minimalist sounds of Chicago's golden age. The result has been that the gap between soulful dance music and dancemusic in general can sometimes seem to be as wide as that between disco and heavy rock in days of old.
Enter Joeski and Onionz and a two-CD mix that is being sold on the back of the current upsurge of tribal and nu-progressive sounds that seek to straddle the divide between MAW et al and the FasterHarderLouder nonsense. And this set undoubtedly will appeal to those attuned to the darker, T enaglia-inspired sessions that offer the best alternative most big rooms ever get to trancedom. However on repeated listens, and this is something you will repeatedly play, believe me, Nu York Nite Life is much closer in spirit to the world of MAW than the blurbs would lead you to expect.
None of the selections here is devoid of that essential funkiness without which we are talking pop not house. Most are jazz-, Latin-, or soul-based to an extent that should come as a pleasant surprise to those expecting too "progressive" a set. Yes, it is relentlessly percussive but it is percussion that comes from the recognisable repository of the African diaspora. In other words this is bang up to date club music but one that draws its strength from deep waters. If deep house hadn't become so laid back of late this would bear that label. The difference is the level of energy. This has depth but also is propelled along by an engaging, take-no-prisoners pulse.
Joeski and Onionz are simply the selectors here of course. Their own productions are featured from time to time but their prime function is to give us a flavour of their well regarded sets and to ensure that the NRK standard of excellence in its Nite Life series is maintained. In fact, this is the ninth set and, for me, it ranks very highly in the series. It is also full of tunes that have not been overly aired, which is becoming harder and harder as DJ comps continue to pour out at a rapid rate. Only the inclusion of (the perfectly acceptable) Akabu/Linda Clifford "Ride the Storm" ranks as anywhere close to "done to death".
CD One goes for the more atmospheric, sustained mood approach -- courtesy of Jay Tripwire, Lithium, Metal Dogs, Gary Blade, Marino Berardi, and a number of other less than household names. Big guns Jon Cutler and Ron Carroll also feature, but Joeski's mix is all about mood. A tough angularity locked into a smooth, funky ride are the twin pillars on which the set is built. It has fewer highpoints than the more vocal and Latin influenced Onionz mix but is probably the more consistent offering. The evocative "Second Wind" by Rise Ashen and a disco-drenched "Move It" by SW stood out but nothing gets in the way of the overall flow. Think basement clubs and a just before dawn sensibility. Music to get lost inside, pumping enough to hit home hard but swirling and sensuous at the same time.
Onionz' mix tails off towards the end. This is a shame because from Taka Boom's feisty "Taka's Groove", through old school stylings like "R U Serious" (Pete Moss), to scintillating Latino work-outs from Priscilla Ordonez and Eddie Matos, the recipe is post-Vega Nu Yorican magic of the first order. A double dose of Batidos (Ron Trent and Jay Rodriguez' superior recent collaboration) alone ensured this collection a good rating with me as "Tempo Sol" is one of my tunes of the year. I was less impressed by Onionz' own work with Blakkat, etc., but I suppose they served to link the closing sections to the project's beginnings on disc one.
That is a small quibble because these two New York DJs have provided a powerful argument for the continuing viability of the supposedly restricted house format. They have retained the elements that made the music so exciting in the first place but their take is absolutely now. As an introduction to what is possible within the current buzz term "Tribal" this works efficiently. However it is as an enjoyable and adventurous outing in its own right that Nu York Nite Life truly scores. The 6400 Crew to which these guys, who have built up an enviable club rep over the past decade, are affiliated has been getting serious press praise over the past year. This will only enhance that collective's standing.
If you already like the shadowy funk of the new grooves this will be a welcome addition to your collection. However I would especially commend it to those who are tempted by the newer styles but have been dissuaded by the pace and the monotony of some recent examples. There is nothing here that is too hectic, mechanical or lacking in subtlety. What there is good, substantial dance music with a spiciness and a melodic sense that might surprise a few doubting Thomases. House music Lives.