Matt Unicomb speaks to a Dutch collective that's laser-focussed on house music's most essential goal: making dance floors move.
Founded in 2012, SlapFunk is a house label with a simple mission: to get dance floors moving. The brothers Samuel Deep and Julian Alexander run the label with their pal Nelson Yogh Niemel, and have put out 16 records so far. Each release is rhythmic and punchy, built around powerful basslines and driving grooves, winning over dancers with crafty drum programming and catchy samples. SlapFunk tunes are reduced, every element geared for maximum impact on a busy dance floor.
"We're not here to educate people," Deep says. "When I play, I want people to dance, and that's what we try to do with the label. It's pure dance floor music."
He's speaking through Skype from the kitchen table of his Utrecht apartment while his three-year-old twin boys play in the background. "Maybe they can play back-to-back one day," he says. "Or even back-to-back-to-back-back with my brother and me."
"They can be a family house band," says Niemel, SlapFunk's second founding member. "I'll do the triangle on the side."
Niemel and Deep have known each other for 16 years, and the same goes for many of SlapFunk's associates. Niemel now handles bookings for the label's DJs through their in-house agency, whose roster also includes Anil Aras, Julian Alexander and Locklead. "We met on the streets of Utrecht," he laughs. "We weren't allowed to visit clubs so we'd hang on the streets smoking joints—nothing special. I've been rolling with Stooge Wilson [another crew member] since I was three years old."
They got their start in electronic music in the late '00s by throwing illegal parties in Utrecht, a city of 345,000 located 40km southeast of Amsterdam. The group used the profits from one party to pay for their first release, 2012's Raw Joints EP, which packed booming tracks from Malin Genie, Daniele Temperilli, Anil Aras and Deep. "Techno was big back then," Niemel says. "We came in as a more mixed-coloured group compared to the whole white techno thing."
Once it came to releasing music, SlapFunk had more success abroad than in the Netherlands. Their earliest fans were in the UK, a region that influenced the label's garage-tinged style, and France, where Jeremy Underground's My Love Is Underground was showing a new generation of clubbers the power of jacking house music.
"The first records were really '90s house-focussed so they were big with guys like Jeremy Underground and Brawther," Deep says. "In Holland the sound wasn't as big—it was more about tech house." Testament to SlapFunk's versatility, Deep's "Oldskool Project," tucked away on the B2 of Raw Joints, also appealed to DJs performing on bigger stages. "Loco Dice did his Under 300 tour in the Trouw basement. I gave him the record, then a month later he played that tune at Time Warp."
SlapFunk is currently more popular than ever. Many of its records sell out, including some that are impossible to track down—even on Discogs. They have also finally picked up a dedicated local crowd in the Netherlands.
"Music always comes in a circle," Niemel says. "Back in 2008 it was all about minimal, then there was disco and techno. Maybe it's time for our sound. The 24-hour culture has also helped. Normally a party would end at 5 AM, but in my opinion a party only starts to get good then. Right now we can go on for longer, which makes the most sense for this kind of sound. I love disco, but I can't listen to it for 15 hours straight. This is perfect afterparty music."
"I think the scene has changed a lot," adds Deep. "People are into everything in Amsterdam. People will go to a house party, a techno party, a disco party—whatever. They're more open now. I think that's why we've become more accepted."
Deep is the group's best-known DJ, with a schedule that takes him abroad for gigs most months. With a small but dedicated fanbase, he's been living off music since 2013, in no small part thanks to Utrecht's rents, which are cheaper than those in Amsterdam. A former resident of Zoo Project in Ibiza, he specialises in a reduced and rolling sound, a style that reflects the music on SlapFunk. It has roots in the UK garage he's been listening to since he was 14 years old, which he'd hear on BBC Radio 1Xtra broadcasts that made it to the Netherlands. "I think SlapFunk is a copy of my DJ style," he says.
"He's the DJ," adds Niemel. "So of course he knows best. At least better than I do."
SlapFunk's records mostly come from Dutch artists, many of whom are longtime friends of the founders. The sound ranges from slamming warehouse bangers, including those found in early records like the first Raw Joints compilation and Deep's Native Tribe EP, to the more recent headier fare, like the tunes on Anil Aras's Slap City and Levi Verspeek's Lomdit, both of which contain some of the deepest tracks in the SlapFunk catalogue. "It's not too happy, not too dark," Deep says. "Simple but effective."
But to call the label's sound simple is misleading. Sure, most SlapFunk tracks have only a few moving parts, but each has a special flair. When your music is this stripped-down, the basics need to stand out. Recent EPs by William Caycedo, Anil Aras and Levi Verspeek have nailed this approach, perfecting the sound of earlier tracks by the likes of Malin Genie, Daniele Temperilli and Stooge Wilson. It's a style pioneered by US producers like K-HAND and Paul Johnson, both of whom showed the power of minimalism and a killer groove. And like those old masters, SlapFunk's sound has evolved over time. "There used to be a piano every now and then," Niemel says. "The sound has changed a little bit. It's now more dry and straightforward."
The SlapFunk crew have seen the effect their tunes have on a dance floor, having thrown regular labels nights for the past few years. A string of sold-out nights in Amsterdam helped them win over the local crowd. "The vibe on the dance floor is amazing now," Niemel says. "People really come to party. We're really lucky. It used to be different—we've done parties with about 40 people on the dance floor. But I think everyone starts like that."
The SlapFunk crew's roots give the crew a solid foundation. New members have also joined the group, including Julian Alexander, Deep's younger brother. He debuted on SlapFunk as part of the Get Slapped EP in 2015, and has been a key member ever since. The brothers also DJ and produce together under the name Ingi Visions, and have a track on Deep's upcoming MOOV! EP. "It's nice to have that connection with your brother," Deep says. "We've become best friends."
These kind of friendships are at SlapFunk's core. Their lean, party-rocking sound reflects their easy-going outlook, which stretches back to 2009 and the illegal parties they hosted in Utrecht. They're not out to push boundaries, but when it comes to slamming house music, few do it better. In the words of Deep: SlapFunk is there to make you move.
Samuel Deep serves up a one-hour cruise though SlapFunk’s signature sound, moving through jacking house tracks from Anil Aras, Levi Verspeek and Malin Génie, along with some forthcoming material from the label.
Chris Carrier - Apple Fried (SLPFNK009
Anil Aras - Anbush 46 (Malin Genie Remix)(SLPFNK013)
Forthcoming Julian Alexander on SlapFunk
Lopaski - E-motion (SLPFNK014)
William Caycedo - Beats 4 Daze (SLPFNK014)
Levi Verspeek - Tamtam (SLPFNK016)
Daniele Temperilli - Kasjoe (SLPFNK007)
Forthcoming Ana Poiesis on SlapFunk
Dan Gough - B-Jam (SLPFNK011)
Malin Génie - Alemal - (SLPFNK002)
Chris Carrier - Pink Planet (SLPFNK009)
Malin Génie - Alll about the Original(SLPFNK002)
Forthcoming Samuel Deep on SlapFunk (SLPFNK017)
Forthcoming Ana Poiesis on SlapFunk
Forthcoming Pascal Benjamin(SLPFNK018)
Forthcoming SE62 On SlapFunk
Forthcoming Ingi Visions (Julian Alexander & Samuel Dee) on SlapFunk
Levi Verspeek - Hmmm (SLPFNK016)
Forthcoming JAMM on SlapFunk
Ferro - Macbuk Ho (SLPFNK011)
Malin Génie - Four Drops (SLPFNK002)