Revisiting a high watermark for a sound that dominated the early 2000s.
This scuffle is reflective of a debate that took place in clubs and record shops in the early 2000s, a debate that, as one of the leading names connected to this sound, Peace Division were central to. That people had such strong opinions shows, firstly, how popular so-called tribal house and progressive house had become, and secondly, just how recognisable the sound was.
"It took ages for heads to understand or warm to our sound," Clive Henry, who was half of Peace Division along with Justin Drake, told me over email. But warm to it they did.
It's strange to think about it in retrospect, but this type of dark, druggy club music was being hammered by Pete Tong in his early Friday evening slot on BBC Radio 1. Hooj Choons, then one of the biggest dance labels, pivoted from mostly releasing trance to pushing tribal and progressive house from artists like Medway, Halo Varga and Parks & Wilson. The UK dance music press were big supporters. fabric had recently opened in London, and was becoming an exciting new home for stripped-back club music. And Danny Tenaglia, who was closely associated with tribal house, was one of the most respected and popular DJs in the world, inspiring utter reverence through his extended sets at the Miami Winter Music Conference.
There might have been more popular Peace Division records released in the early 2000s, but for me, Feel My Drums / Lottie's Vogue is the 12-inch that best captures what Henry and Drake were doing, and the kind of mood house music was in back then. "A lot of it was sample-heavy and quite basic but came alive through a good system," Henry said of the Peace Division sound. "Tribal house," as Peace Division were often called, is a bit of a problematic term, suggesting vague notions of otherness and exoticism while raising questions of cultural appropriation. But you can perhaps understand why it stuck. "Feel My Drums" is the type of track that allows Westerners to imagine, while bathed in the darkness and fog of a nightclub, what it'd be like to get lost in a ritual drum circle.
The kick, bassline and percussion are perfectly and powerfully aligned. "Feel My Drums" works on principles of club music minimalism, where the shrewd introduction of a hi-hat or an incidental sound counts as a major event. The titular vocal refrain, delivered as if from the bottom of a K-hole, would never be to everyone's taste, but it spoke directly to the deranged atmosphere Henry and Drake were going for. There's a breakdown, a simple thing that gradually reduces to a siren-like call before the groove makes a thundering return. But really, as the guy keeps reminding us, this cut is all about the drums.
Apparently Henry and Drake wrote "Feel My Drums" and its B-side, "Lottie's Vogue," in a day-long creative spurt in the immediate aftermath of "another legendary Tenaglia party" at WMC. Their haste might help explain why they used a sample of Robbie Tronco's "Walk 4 Me" without thinking to ask permission. When it came across "Lottie's Vogue," Henry Street Music, the label that held the recording, didn't come after Henry and Drake—they simply rereleased the track themselves and billed it as "Walk 4 Me 2001 (Lottie's Vogue Mix)" by Robbie Tronco. I'd argue that the sample isn't even that integral to the track's appeal. Like the A-side, "Lottie's Vogue" is all groove, bass and hedonistic attitude.
It would be unfair to hold up Feel My Drums / Lottie's Vogue as symbolic of an entire era of house music, a time when yes, things did become stale and the endless percussion loops eventually lead to nowhere. (Some journalists theorised that the colour and excess of electroclash a couple years later was a direct response to tribal and progressive house.) But I think this 12-inch still shows that when applied this well, the instincts of this wave of artists were sound. It was an exploration of house music in seriously raw form.