Finn Johannsen revists a vocal house classic from Underground Resistance, the game-changing collective better known for techno.
To Underground Resistance's early fans, it wasn't surprising when the Detroit outfit released club music with vocals. Mike Banks produced the garage house group Members Of The House, which released a 1987 album and a string of acclaimed vocal EPs. The first release on UR's main label, Your Time Is Up, featured the singer Yolanda and a take on the sound Kevin Saunderson made popular with Inner City, backed with remixes that hinted at what the determinedly underground techno sound would become.
When they released "Living For The Nite" in 1991, again with Yolanda, it was already clear that vocal house was an integral part of UR's sound. It worked with their rolling, pumping grooves. But the success of their pure techno overshadowed these moments, especially when the European press portrayed UR as a Detroit techno counterpart to hip-hops's Public Enemy, noting the masked personas of Mike Banks and Jeff Mills, and their unmasked political attitude. Different strands of the UR sound were eventually channeled into separate outlets, and thus Happy Records came into being, serving as the label for house productions from 1992 to 1994. (It was followed by the sister label Happy Soul.)
Happy Records soon established itself with positive releases produced with frequent collaborators like Niko Marks, Yolanda and Bridgett Grace, the latter a former vocalist of the 1989 club hit "Take Me Away" by the UR predecessor True Faith. Her "Love To The Limit" was a fine example of how well Banks's production worked with an anthemic vocal. And yet those accomplished records, even if they were recognisable as UR productions with a distinctive signature sound, could still be placed in the early vocal house canon of 1992, before house music reached the huge crowds of later years.
In 1992, vocal house was not as punchy as it would become. Most garage records paired their sweet melodies with swinging, elegant grooves. Usually, the "main mix" of a track was that tune in all its glory, while the more daring ideas were kept for the dubs and instrumental versions. But then Davina's "Don't You Want It" arrived, produced by Mike Banks. It was a mighty tune that worked within the conventions of vocal house while also shaking its foundations.
First, there was the intro, where dynamic chords were waiting to be teased by the DJ. When I heard the intro for the first time, it reminded me of David Morales's mix of Black Sheep's "Strobelite Honey," albeit on another level. The track unfolds into a hybrid of uplifting, soulful garage and UR's deeper techno sound (heard in tracks like "Sometimes I Feel Like" and "Jupiter Jazz"), adding layers of bittersweet pads and dramatic starts and stops.
And Davina? Unlike most vocal tracks, she isn't heard until a heavenly break around three minutes in. The track was already perfect, but the magic really happens when she begins to sing. The lyrics neglect conventional verse-refrain structure, instead choosing a direct, personal conversation with the dancers. At seven minutes, the track certainly isn't short, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who's sad when it fades out.
The high point for any producer is to make a track that reaches classic status. It's even better when that recognition comes from different scenes and styles. "Don't You Want It" works within almost any context, from small night to a large rave, uniting more crowds in instant happiness than almost any other. As soon as you hear it, you will definitely want it. And more of it, again and again.