One of the funniest things about a lot of the deep house stuff that is currently doing the rounds is that not much of it sounds very deep. Of course, anyone bandying around terms like deep house is liable to be bombarded with all that current wisdom about how ‘that isn’t deep house, grumble grumble, deep house is Larry Heard, grumble grumble, mutter..’ It’s a good point, and one that is made so often on house forums that it rivals Godwin’s law for ubiquity.
As a genre name it has become a useful method on Beatport, say, for fooling all of the people all of the time. You can chuck any old EDM under the DH banner and people will lap it up because it automatically comes with a cachet of cool intellectual sophistication which allows its purchasers to talk down to people who haven’t made the transition from glow sticks and breakdowns. The fact that a number of EDM DJs are currently rebranding themselves as deep house jocks probably tells you everything you need to know – and more. Even decent stores like Juno seem to whack everything that isn’t pounding techno under the deep house banner, which further confuses the issue.
The problem is that even if we limit ourselves to discussions of ‘The Good Sort Of Deep House’ we quickly find ourselves having to define what it is we mean by ‘deep’. It has become a catch-all term over the last few years, used to describe anything that isn’t an out-and-out thumper or obviously experimental in nature. In truth, I’m not the best person to be talking about deep house because as much as I admired Larry Heard and a lot of the originators it was never really my thing. A lot of it past me by and there was always something else I thought more interesting.
My own take on it is that deep house should probably be something fundamentally different from house with jazzier chords or an air of wooziness. I think it should be a form of house that captures the sort of moods that usually aren’t on display in a genre so geared to movement and dancing. Yeah, using that terminology you could probably say Frankie Knuckles’ Baby Wants To Ride or Bam Bam’s Where’s Your Child are deep house – and who wouldn’t want to hear that Bam Bam number dropped in a big Beatport DH night just to see the effect it would have? Ludovik Navarre’s St Germain are obviously guilty of jazz bothering and borderline noodling, but listen to Boulevard; Navarre is a master of atmosphere and emotional manipulation. He has entire tunes built out of those skills and he uses them to plumb the very depths of mood.
Jason Fine’s Jack Yo Boddah is my favourite example of a tune that I think is proper deep house. It doesn’t wash the listener in sleepy sounds, it doesn’t resort to moody progressions to do the damage. It’s certainly slow, but it can be jacked up into a proper floor destroyer any time you want. What does it for me is its atmosphere. It is a prowling tune, and one that relies on seductive soulfulness to inflict its damage. From the drawled vocal to the endless growl of the bassline it is genuine sex-music. Not in a fraudulent ‘erotic’ sense, though, but in a primal and ancient way. My God, it’s deep; an abyss of abandon.
And I think that is the crux of it. Most music described as deep is anything but because it is so sexless, so caught up in a need to impress on the intellectual level it forgets about the body. Deepness should come from the soul, from the centre of ourselves. Not from the brain, not from the mind and certainly not from the focus groups of besuited men working for huge online music stores. If your going out to a deep house night tonight, take this with you and change some lives.