Within electronic music the concept of ‘deep’ has always been one of the most elastic of traits, a quality that flutters on the breeze of meaning, at the mercy of the ebb and flow of whatever taste are in ascension at the time. Within house music, ‘deep’ as an end in itself, as the recognizable point of the music, probably came into being with the work of luminaries such as Larry Heard and later artists like Pepe Braddock or Ludovik Navarre. Each brought their own ideas to the mix, adding something – often almost indefinable – that reworked the meaning of what it was house could be.
Other forms of electronic music had their own deep revolutions. I’ve always thought it was profoundly noticeable within electro, particularly within the strains that emerged from Europe in the nineties where the stripped down, icy sound of producers like Anthony Rother seemed to take something of the cavernous emptiness of dub techno and feed it back over the original blueprint and the stark flow of Kraftwerk. In techno Plastikman pre-dated even electro’s new styling. The album Sheet One simply hangs in a vacuum of its own creation, the point of the music being not the 303s or the 909s, but the silence that surrounds them and the suggestion that there are forms out there within that silence that, unseen and almost unheard, are influencing how it all went together.
Gradually, though, as time has passed I’ve come to realise that the idea of deepness within electronic music is misleading. I suspect it may even be a dead end. There has been a massive move towards deep over the last couple of years both within mainstream and underground electronic music, and to me a lot of it feels as if it is missing the point. Sure, there are chord structures that ape Heard or Braddock, there are pulses of dub basslines which carve their way through the nothingness, and there are the echoed 303s blipping themselves against the wash of the vacuum, but this is all so much surface noise. It has always been a truism within music – and the thing that separates the genuine greats from everyone else – that the music is often the easy thing to emulate. What is more difficult, and the thing that seems to be so often ignored, is an attempt to understand the centre of the music, that place where all movement originates. In short, what is so often lacking is soul.
Soul is the great leveller. Without it all the jazzy fifths, all the crumbling drums and all the thick pads are just playing at it. It isn’t just deep house or techno that needs soul, of course. Dubstep or garage or acid or jazz or rock or any other music that lacks soul is bound to never be anything more than just a facsimile of an idea.
Claude Young’s Wind Up, a track from his Acid Wash Conflict EP on 7th City, has for me always captured a sense of soulfulness which feeds back into the music and creates an atmosphere, and an emotional state that does not require the traditional toolbox of ‘deep’ in order to feel it. At first listen it doesn’t sound as if that is one of the moods on offer. These days, when so much deep house and techno seems at pains to slow down the speed to glacial extremes, Wind Up feels thrillingly individualist, perhaps even combative, with its flying, forward momentum. But the speed of the beat brings everything together. The rhythm track – its kicks and its percussion, and the fills that border on becoming a melody of their own – brings a tautness and sense of drama that, while evocative of Ikon by May, or 8th Wander by Stacey Pullen, burns with a fire of its own. And for all its velocity it moves with a lightness that belays its weight.
It is the sythns, though, that add the true layer of emotion. Young wrote this whilst living in Edinburgh far from his native Detroit (the track is even named after a record shop in the city), and I’ve long had an image of him haunting the edge of the Meadows on a driech east coast morning with those magical, simple and descending chords already in his mind. But then, they are as full of the glimmer of Detroit’s heritage as it’s possible to be.
Through it all, it is the soul that shines. And that is the important thing. When we talk about the ways in which music is deep, let us remember what we are really saying is that is built on emotion and soul, and that without them, without that invisible core to guide the music and to provide meaning, all the perfectly planned sounds in the world are just patterns in a sequencer, no matter how correct the influences. This is deep, this is soul. High-tech and alive.