BACK TO MINE House music has been threatening an all-out revival for the past few years now. Jonny Ensall asks Azari & III whether house really needs to make a comeback?
I s it too soon for a house music revival? That’s the question The List is mulling over ahead of speaking to self-proclaimed ‘house music afficionados’ Azari & III. The Toronto-based band, comprising producers Dinamo Azari and Alixander III and vocalists Fritz Helder and Cedric Gasiada, has followed in the footsteps of Hercules and Love Affair by putting a live spin on some of the classic elements of Chicago house. A typical Azari & III track will feature the bounce of a cheap Roland drum machine, a crisp piano loop or two and a fair whack of meaningless emotional crooning in the ‘you got me feeling so high / I need your touch’ vein – all the calling cards of the 80s and 90s house sound. Yet the band’s self-titled debut album, released in August this year, feels incredibly fresh.
This raises the question, why now? Is culture really recycling itself this quickly? As documented in Simon Reynold’s book Retromania, or even in the current abundance of so-called ‘vintage’ clothing, sometimes the past has barely even passed before it gets revisited again. Azari & III are quick to downplay suggestions of a full-blown house revival, or even that they are a ‘house’ act. The band (who prefer to speak as one voice rather than individuals) splutter as soon as the ‘h’ word is mentioned. ‘We’re influenced by everything from rock’n’roll, to shoegaze, to soul to funk,’ they say on the phone from Tokyo, where they’re touring their live show. Even trying to come to a definition of ‘house’ is pointless, they
suggest. ‘House music’s so wide. It’s more just a freedom of expression. Even [legendary Chicago DJ] Frankie Knuckles, with the Warehouse [the club where he was resident], where house music comes from . . . even he answers that question saying, “I don’t know what house music is!” It’s all just underground dance music.’
‘EVEN FRANKIE KNUCKLES SAYS “I DON’T KNOW WHAT HOUSE MUSIC IS!”‘
It is possible to pick out some things common to the house sound. The four-to-the-floor beat, most obviously – that now ubiquitous stomping rhythm that places a massive drum kick on beats one and three of every bar, usually combined with snare and hi-hat on the offbeats (hear it by saying, ‘Boots. Cats. Boots. Cats.’ over to yourself a few times). Then there are the aforementioned Roland drum loops, and the feel-good vocals and melodies. House took disco to uptempo new highs, and was played out initially by DJs like Frankie Knuckles to gay and black audiences in mid-80s Chicago clubs. But it didn’t stop there. ‘The influence of house music in the 80s moved from Chicago, to New York, to Toronto to Detroit,’ Azari & III explain. Before long it hit Britain, something
Optimo’s JD Twitch remembered in a recent Guardian article. ‘You had the tail end of Italo, and European electronic music, and industrial, and all of it was quite maximal, and rigid . . . these records from Chicago had more of a groove and swing to them. This stripped- downness was just so new at the time.’ House music now is far from new. It’s a constant chart presence thanks to the likes of David Guetta and Jason Derulo, who have taken the conventions of the genre into the realms of cliché, while simultaneously plundering house’s back catalogue. Azari & III are not impressed. ‘When you hear Jason Derulo sample Robin S, ‘Show You Love’ [for his track ‘Don’t Wanna Go Home’], it just makes your skin crawl. OK, on the one hand he’s bringing this track to a new generation of kids. But on the other hand you’re like, “Well that’s the worst way to do it. Thanks a lot Jason Derulo.”’
Thankfully the life of house music doesn’t depend on bloggers, or trends or even chart success. Azari & III argue it has roots in modern music that have kept it alive from the 80s and now, and will keep it rife for many decades to come. Like, er . . . hair products. ‘Look at shampoo bottles. Shampoo bottles haven’t changed since the 80s. They still come packaged in those tacky colours. Some things never leave their decade.’
Azari & III perform at The Arches, Glasgow, Sat 12 Nov; then play a DJ set at the Green Room, Edinburgh, Sat 12 Nov.
20 Oct–17 Nov 2011 THE LIST 81