DJ Sneak - Back in the BoxThe graybeards among us, specifically those of us old enough to have been of partying age when this thing called house music first reared its wondrous head, can remember the shivering thrill the music gave upon first exposure. For myself, it wasn't at the Paradise Garage, the Choice or some other fabled club—instead, it was at the Aztec, an East Village booze-and-cocaine dive (and a rock-oriented one at that) in 1986. A friend was bartending, and he dropped a cassette tape he had acquired from another friend, who had picked it up from a gay club in Dallas. (Yeah, "a gay club in Chicago" would sound more authentic, but no matter.)
The first track was this bizarre, mechanical sounding, alien machine funk—Nitro Deluxe's "This Brutal House," I later discovered—and a rush went straight through everyone's body. "What the hell is this?" the inebriated crowd asked in united wonderment. Someone chimed up with "It's disco from outer space!" a phrase that I still whip out when explaining house to the unfamiliar. (Yes, such people still do exist.)
Anyway, the point is we often forget that good old-fashioned house, far from being a calcified, crusty old genre that's lost its ability to freak us out, can still pack a wallop. Judging from his double-disc mix-CD contribution (accompanied by the tracks in unmixed form) for NRK's Back In the Box series, it's a feeling that Chicago house lifer DJ Sneak remembers well. And he conveys that jolt without any concession to the latest trends; despite the press release's allusions to a Sneak renaissance "due to an infamous back-to-back session with Ricardo Villalobos," the mix is constructed with his usual workmanlike finesse. There's no minimalism, little in the way of anything vaguely "deep-tech"—this is a mix that's awash in the beats that made many of us fall for house in the first place, like Chi-town style thumpers, jacked-up boogie material, French filter cuts and bits of gospel.
And yet, in Sneak's hands, the lack of faddishness works—the moodier first disc even verges on the downright eerie-sounding at moments, regardless of the fact that it includes tracks by the shiny-disco-ball likes of Mousse T and Bob Sinclar. The release certainly has its less-than-electrifying moments—the inclusion of a banal Brand New Heavies remix, for instance, reminds us why some people think that house sucks. But then Sneak will go and drop in something genius like Global Communication's "The Way" or the Daft Punk mix of I:Cube's "Disco Cubism," and you remember the day that house music changed your life.
Chicago, like Puerto Rico, is a city rich with musical styles and sounds. It was in Chicago that Sneak found inspiration in underground house music, Warehouse parties and "old school" mix tapes from the early pioneers - Farley Jackmaster Funk, Ralphi Rosario, Steve Hurley and local radio station shows played on WBMX. View the full artist profile