Breaking into House

This is a republishing of a post I wrote for my now defunct music newsletter. Substack sucks so the post is here now.

I don’t know if you have heard but the house music genre is having a bit of a moment in the spotlight of pop music with massive artists like Drake and Beyoncé making their respective forays into the genre. The track that specifically reignited my interest in the genre was the lead single of Beyoncé’s latest album titled “BREAK MY SOUL”.

And even more specifically, the Switched on Pop episode about the song made me go back and consider my own history with the genre and what house tracks I have enjoyed in the past and it also made me go on a bit of a discovery bender and find new artists I haven’t listened to before.

For the past month or so I’ve been listening to a bunch of house and folks, to the surprise of absolutely nobody, I can say that I love this genre, it is exactly what I want and need right now musically speaking.

So let’s turn back the clock a little bit and look at my history with the genre.

Teenage House Party

This bit of the story is very hazy, it is hard to remember many specifics about the house music I listened to but it is important to mention the general vibes of the era.

During my teenage years (13-16 I would say), I was hanging around a bunch of folks on IRC who had eclectic taste in music and that extended to the wide umbrella of music considered “electronic”. I remember listening to a lot of Aphex Twin, woob and Boards of Canada to name a few examples.

When it comes to house, I do remember one person specifically (I don’t remember your nickname anymore sorry!) who was huge into what they called “big room house”, artists like Hardwell and Tiësto who would play sets at Ultra Music Festival events. I don’t remember any specific tracks probably because I was in my classic rock phase at the time (ask me about my Billy Joel tracks).

I didn’t dislike any of that stuff I heard back then but I wasn’t particularly into it either. The one track I remember most vividly from this time period is Martin Garrix’s Animals because of its incredible infectious beat. I still think its an absolute banger to this day.

Martin was 16 when he dropped this, fucking wild stuff.

Present Day, Present Time

After the brief forays into house from my teenage years, memories of house music don’t surface again until 2018 with a Japanese house classic, none other than Do It Again by Shinichiro Yokota and also a release by breakout Korean house artist park hye jin.

I found out only relatively recently that Yokota is considered a pioneer of Japanese house music. When I first heard Do It Again, I am about 90% sure my thought was “cool track, I like this” and then I added it to my Spotify’s liked songs and promptly. Similarly, I liked park hye jin’s debut EP enough to buy it on Bandcamp but didn’t dig deeper into the genre.

I wouldn’t come back to Yokota’s music until 2020 with a track called “Space Station – Earth Mix” by Shinichiro Yokota and Little Boots. However, like before I yet again added it to my Spotify liked songs and didn’t dig deeper and then forgot about it.

Fast-forward to January 2022, another Japanese house pioneer by the name of Soichi Terada dropped a new album called “Asakusa Light”, which was intended as a throwback to 90s house music. I was linked to the album in a Discord channel and liked the music so much that this time I did look deeper and found the genre ties between Terada and Yokota.

Developed over 18 months, Terada tried to recreate the mental and physical processes that led to the creation of his acclaimed earlier work. Those familiar with Terada’s celebrated, dancefloor-focused sound of the 1990s – a vibrant, atmospheric, and emotive take on deep house powered by the twin attractions of groove and melody – will find much to enjoy on Asakusa Light.

This concludes the “history” segments of this post. Now I want to talk about the present and namely the renaissance of house into pop music I mentioned earlier.

One Kiss is All It Takes

In late 2019-2020 I got *really* into Dua Lipa (my sister can attest to this lmfao), her second album “Future Nostalgia” which dropped in 2020 remains to this day one of my favourite albums ever. So while I was riding the Dua Lipa high I went back to another track hers from back in 2018. “One Kiss” featuring Calvin Harris’ production and the mesmerizing vocals of Dua Lipa.

Back then I wasn’t really interested in the fact that this was a house track, I was more interested in the Dua Lipa aspect of the track but looking at it with the benefit of hindsight this was a precursor to the house renaissance happening in the pop music of 2022.

Finding Love

What if I told you that 2022’s pop music’s forays into house did not in fact begin with Beyoncé or Drake but with a track from Hikaru Utada’s album BAD MODE by the name of Find Love? Seriously. Just listen to it and tell me that is not a house track peeking out of a stellar jpop album. Utada experiments with electronic sounds all over the album, like on Somewhere Near Marseilles and also the A. G. Cook remix of Face My Fears.

God those synths are heavenly.

Coffee, Black, One Sugar

My opinion on Drake’s latest album “Honestly, Nevermind” is strongly negative but one of the good things that happened after that album came out is that I discovered Black Coffee. No, not the hot drink but the South African house artist who when not producing for Drake makes some excellent house music.

His 2021 album “Subconsciously” is a stellar example of deep house, one of my favourite tracks off the album is “SBCNCSCLY” featuring the ethereal vocals of Sabrina Claudio. Another favourite of mine from the same album is “LaLaLa” featuring R&B legend Usher.

If you are looking for a jumping for discovering house music, using your streaming service’s “artists like this” feature from Black Coffee’s page is a good place to start!

Renaissance

Oh man this album. Beyoncé did it again folks, a album that I will be thinking about for years to come. When the lead single “BREAK MY SOUL” dropped I remember commenting that if Bey drops an entire album of music that sounds like this, its going to be incredible and that’s exactly what she did.

This album is a love letter to the house/club music genre in every single track. It is also a love letter to the black and brown queers that were the original pioneers of this genre back in the late 1970s and 80s and who continue to be a vital part of the genre.

From one of my favourite tracks “COZY”:

She’s a god (Ah-ooh), she’s a hero (Ah-ooh)
She survived (Ah-ooh) all she been through (Ah-ooh, ooh)
Confident (Ah-ooh), damn, she lethal (Ah-ooh, ooh)
Might I suggest you don’t fuck with my sis (Ooh)
‘Cause she comfortable

Julianne Escobedo Sheperd put it well in their review of the album for Pitchfork:

The deep house track “Cozy” features two Black trans women—Honey Dijon and actor Ts Madison—and seems to be a dedication to trans self-determination (“Might I suggest you don’t fuck with my sis”).

Julianne’s review is definitely worth a read in full, it matches a lot of my thoughts about the album.

When RENAISSANCE first dropped I was a bit ambivalent about it until my friend chosafine pointed out that this is really a album for the clubs. So with that framing in mind I have been listening to the album over the past week or so to really start to understand the album. Folks, I am glad to inform y’all that this album is definitely one that I’m putting on my 2022 AOTY list.

This album just emanates a feeling of sublime joy all the way through. It is confident, sassy, sexy and most of all it is just a really fucking fun album to listen to. Listening to this album conjures up images of crowded dance clubs and strobing lights and people having a good time and I’m just sitting here listening to this album with my headphones on at my desk at home. I am not one for clubs usually but I’ll make an exception for a visit to one if there is a DJ mixing this album in.

This album is great both for the music nerds (hey that’s me!) who have a lot of little references to dive into and think about and also the club heads who want to have a good night out.

Lots of terrible things happening out in the world right now and this album feels like a much needed cozy house flavoured hug.

Speaking of which, I have some more examples of the joyous power of house.

Fred again..

This set came out recently and I just love the good vibes all through the video, watching people having a good time in a Boiler Room set never gets old.

UNiiQUE

This short but sweet EP is just full of bangers and like RENAISSANCE just really fucking fun to listen to.

Sayonara..

Now that I’ve given y’all a bit of a tour of the house genre and a microcosm of my life story I will end it by giving y’all a playlist I made of the tracks/songs I talked about here along with a bunch more that I didn’t.