The UK’s rich history of fucking with the House music template started in the late 80s and has since spawned a long and illustrious list of genres and sub-genres with a varying degree of resemblance to the original genetic material from which they came, a process often catalysed by the working-class. When Grime and Dubstep controlled the pirate airwaves in London from 2001-2007, you’d have had to squint really hard to see the House genealogy at all. This all changed in 2007 when UK Funky, with its sideways glance back to the pre-noughties Garage days, exploded in popularity and brought House music crashing back down to street level with its raw, sexy, tribal and sometimes abrasive aesthetic. But, after 3 years or so of explosive creativity, UK Funky unofficially died. Unbeknownst to most at the time however, House music would maintain its captivating spell on the London dance music underground’s imagination right up to the present day.
As Funky petered out in the couple of years after 2010, a different kind of House music was beginning to take hold in the London underground. This time, rather than looking to soulful and funky House as the starting block, inspiration came from the dark, minimal, often claustrophobic and narcotic sounds of the deep House scene, of which the Hot Creations label has been a leading light recently.
This tune with its schlock horror vocal treatment and chugging, rising and falling bass line encapsulates the mind/body disconnect of a trip.
Deep/tech House is now fully embedded as the sound of the streets of London. Some of those same producers, inspired by the phenomenon of male-only Grime raves to make UK Funky a few years ago, are now turning their acquired skills and unique perspectives to darker, techier strains of House. From when Garage hit in the mid-90’s up to the present day, London’s appropriation of House usually has 3 stages: first comes the imitation, then comes the mutation and finally comes the innovation. UK Garage took house from New York, copied it, sped it up, and injected bassline pressure, before breaking up the 4×4 beat in to the sexy, slinky, skippy 2-step sounds that defined the aspirational raving culture of a generation riding giddily on an economic wave, evidenced in an abundance of champagne, cocaine and Moschino. UK Funky, in reaction to a dysfunctional and male-dominated Grime scene whose events were getting locked down by the police, turned to the sounds of funky and soulful House that was more common in mainstream clubs like Pacha. Led by producers who, often without a care for the latest production techniques and unconstrained by the history of House music, quickly turned simple imitation into mutation by introducing r’n’b aesthetics, loose tribal rhythms and an appreciation for bubbling bass in to the funky House template. At the same time, young producers turned to grime tropes for inspiration, smashing the template to pieces in a crescendo of ruff, rugged, sometimes plasticky synths and samples, and a cacophony of rawly-processed and unhinged tribal drum patterns.
The shuffling scene, more so than UK Garage or UK Funky, has adopted with open arms the mainstream House scene. Most of the DJs are playing a whole host of established producers in their sets along with a bunch of younger producers coming from a more traditional House background. The scene treats House with more reverence than was found in UK Funky and, rather than setting itself up in contrast to the more mainstream, big room DJs, it’s actually acting more as a complement. Many people look to the demographic involved in the scene as the standard flag bearers for London’s dance music innovation, but a common accusation thrown at shuffling is that it sounds just like big room, Hot Creations-style tech House. The appeal of this style of House to a more street-wise crowd has baffled some, who wonder how such a polished and unoriginal sound has established itself as the new sound of the streets of London, from which the paradigm-shifting Grime scene once sprung forth. But, it doesn’t take much imagination to hear how the often melancholy and narco-paranoid atmospherics could be adopted and tweaked to suit an audience accustomed to the claustrophobia of a life lived walking the streets of London.
Take a tune like When the Night Falls by Storm and Lance Morgan:
Its intro is dripping with haunting decay and dread, punctuated by a discomfiting female vocal and propelled on by a taut, nervously tense bassline that incessantly propels the tune forward. It’s this tension that for me defines the unique nature of what the London producers are bringing. The scene is packed with tunes abundant with raw, nervous energy and latent with the threat to come off the rails at any moment, without actually doing so, like a runaway train that continues on forever. Dark bass line tension of this calibre is a product of London’s musical and cultural melting pot, and is informed by its often unforgiving environment. In short; it’s ruff, it’s rugged and it’s raw.
What’s more, even though the London producers and DJs are referencing House and it’s history with more reverence, there is still music being made that proves they are unconstrained and free of deference when they want to be. Just Say Nothing by Carnao Beats is a tune that is at once manic, paranoid and deceptively controlled in it’s execution. You’ll never convince me that tunes like Just Say Nothing (and Know My Name from the same Audio Rehab release) could have come from anywhere but London.
If this sounds like too much doom and gloom, then don’t get it twisted: there is a thriving and vibrant rave scene in London at the moment and House raves are packed and going off week after week. People in London are also finding their dancing feet once more, and this music is the soundtrack. Shuffling (or cutting shapes) is the name given to a style of dance that has been appearing at these House raves in London (N.B. I’ve been lazily using the phrase ‘Shuffling’ here as a way of distinguishing the sound of certain London based producers from the greater deep and tech House scene.)
The dance itself is a loose mix of flailing arms and legs, with a goofy element that at times calls to mind Carlton Banks of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Regardless, it’s great to see people getting in to dancing again after what felt like years of ravers that were either static, or charged on machismo. The goofiness of the dancing is part of the appeal as it perfectly encapsulates how attitudes have changed. This video is a prime example:
This is Grime MC Swarvo, the man responsible for ‘Forearm‘, a Grime tune that’s an ode to pugilist prowess, dancing with abandon in a car park. The stark contrast between macho grime persona and the above dancing is a great example of how London has matured in recent years and allowed more fun back into the raves.
The accompanying mix represents my selection of the tunes that most obviously hold some of the unique characteristics as mentioned above. As such, it should be viewed as a distillation of the elements of the music that I find most interesting. I also included one Jackin’ tune as a nod to the Venn diagrammatic relationship these two styles of UK House have (Jackin is from the North of England and poppier and brasher than it’s LDN cousin, but there are fertile areas of crossover between the two.) For a broader picture of what’s going on, I suggest you start by searching some of the producers and labels in the mix. If you’re looking for a radio show to listen to, then Mark Radford’s show on Rinse, 10pm-12am GMT/BST every Saturday night is essential listening. Radford also runs the label Audio Rehab which is the most vital source for the deep/tech house tunes coming from the London producers.
D’Vinci – Columbia (Freight Train Remix) [TooB]
Luke Larrell – Oh Yeah [AudioWhore Records]
Playtime Productions – Our Kind [Audio Rehab]
Carnao Beats – Know My Name [Audio Rehab]
RS4 – Make Me Feel [Audio Rehab]
Arun Verone – This is It [Free Download]
Shea Burke – Lonely Travels [Audio Rehab]
DJ Majesty – I Can Tell [AudioWhore Records]
NightShift – Memories [forthcoming Audio Rehab]
Tom Bulwer and Marlon Sadler – We Going Tech (Alternative Mix)[Audio Rehab]
Playtime Productions – I Want You Back [Recess Recordings]
Carnao Beats – Just Say Nothing [Audio Rehab]
Tom Zanetti – Darlin’ [Sleepin’ Is Cheatin’]
If you want to experience these tunes over a loud soundsystem then come to Push and Pull #4 @Logo, Xingfu Lu this Friday. Alta and I will be throwing down a mixture of only the primest, freshest cuts of UK club music, from Garage to UK Funky to Grime to Jackin’ to LDN house and anything else that passes the cut.
Come down and get your shuffle on!