Last week I was discussing techno’s love of sci-fi and futurism and the role these things had in the formation of the genre. Whether or not they really had any actual influence, or whether they were rolled up into a sort of creation myth after the fact is, I suggested, by the by. It doesn’t really matter because techno’s love affair with all things futuristic has become entwined with its fabric; when we consider techno, these elements are part of what we now think of, regardless of how important such concepts really were.
House music never seemed to have any real need to cloak itself in an outside narrative with which it sought to explain itself. It simply got on with doing its own thing. I’ve often wondered whether this was one of the reasons that real techno heads could often be snooty and pompous about house music, that its lack of a deeper meaning (regardless of how artificial or otherwise) rendered it superficial, that its first and foremost purpose as club music for dancing to meant that it was some sort of idiot relation to techno’s higher art.
It’s a view-point I’ve often been a bit suspicious of, and aware that it’s actually a fairly recent thing; a result perhaps of the ongoing fracturing of electronic music into countless separate entities. For those of us who were reared on both, without making too much distinction between them, it might seem doubly strange, but in actual fact even we probably remarked on the difference subconsciously: We called it techno when we were with the lads, and house when we were trying to pull.
It’s maybe not quite as glib a way of putting it as it might seem, though. House has always been remarkably upfront in its purpose, whether that purpose is pure fun, or ass shaking or something occasionally darker. You don’t tend to drop the needle on Move Your Body, stroke your chin and ask what it all means. You know very well what it’s all about right from the first beat. That’s the magic of it.
I think if I had to pick a single tune to explain what house music is, and what it means, I would have to plump for Ralphi Rosario’s You Used To Hold Me, which is probably saying something about both the quality of this nearly 30-year-old tune, and the relative safeness of a lot of modern house. Safe is not an accusation you can lay on U Used To Hold Me, though. Parts of the tune, let’s be honest, sound a bit creaky. Tricks and stylistic moves that were once right up there seem a little bit old-fashioned now. Not that any of really matters, because it remains – and ironically I’m stealing from a sci-fi movie here – a goddamned sexual tyrannosaur, and it’s pissing pure pheromones right into your ear hole.
It’s a double whammy: firstly, the vicious, darkened assault of the riff, which locks down the buckling drums and pushes the tune into madness while amazingly keeping things so clinically tight. Secondly, the element that absolutely tears at your responses – Xaviera Gold’s blinding, sultry vocals. They’re not just a stand out moment in the careers of the two artists, but some of the best in the history of house. Gold judges the mood, the tone and – most, most importantly – the soul of the tune perfectly. From her wails and calls to the hard as nails spoken word section in the middle. Yep, they do the trick.
And this is why good house has never had any need to explain itself – it openly burns with emotion and embraces feeling in a way that a lot of techno is reluctant to. It’s not a music that can adequately be summed up with words or concepts. To really understand it, you need it to pounce on you and carry you off. Ralphi and Xaviera got this 30 years ago. It would be nice if more modern house – and techno – could rediscover this forgotten magic too.