It’s also got to be one of the snobbiest labels ever devised – calling your own music 'deep' is tantamount to calling everyone else’s music ‘shallow’, and unlike say ‘hardness’ or ‘minimalism’, the opposite of ‘deep’ has little value.
But ‘deep’ is currently in vogue (see ‘Month to Month’ and any of a number of recent interviews for details) therefore it is clearly time for some sort of MAW retrospective seeing as they were considered pretty much THE definitive deep house act of the '90s. This compilation is under the guise of Strictly Rhythm, but in fact comes from the ever commercially savvy Defected records who are reviving the veteran label.
What today’s clubbers may not know is that this '90s version of ‘deep’ was a very different beast from todays model with its warm, fluffy cocooning sounds and spacy vocals. ‘Back in the day’ it often meant hard, crunching beats, wailing divas and an emphasis on ‘live’ sounds or jazz samples.
A lot of this was due to ‘deep’ house defining itself against and opposite to ‘rave’ and techno music. Deep house was, in theory, house with roots, house that recognized that it came from disco and that supposedly eschewed drugs and European techno hedonism for a more urban, controlled and sexual experience. At its height this rhetoric often seemed to be harking back to a mythical era of music where a rainbow-hued mix of people danced to soulful vocals and natural sounds.
Kenny Dope’s disc is very much on this tip, conjuring up the archetypal image of a deep house club, as we imagined it back then – small, sweaty and sexually charged. However what this disc also aptly illustrates is that despite ‘deep’ being discussed as if it were a philosophical and mystical quality, most of the time producers tended to treat it as a stylistic exercise. So if your record had the same sounds and tropes as the other ‘deep’ records, well then it must be ‘deep’ too. The result of this is that tracks like ‘Beautiful People’, which I and many other garage nerds gushed over in the '90s, sound pretty corny today. Back then we noticed that it had a bumpy New Jersey rhythm and a diva with the right credentials. With the perspective of time what I mostly notice now is how awful the song is and how clichéd the delivery.
That’s not to say that Dope’s disc doesn’t deliver some of the time. Hardrive’s 'Deep Inside' is as enervating as ever and Danell Dixon’s 'The Horn Song' is still weirdly appealing with its plonking melody. In general the beats here are as raw and biting as ever, which is great, but unfortunately the mix is so stuffed with theatrical vocals that it feels a bit like being dogpiled by all forty members of Sounds of Blackness. This is interesting though because it illustrates how notions of what a ‘deep’ or ‘authentic’ vocal is have shifted. In the '90s ‘cheesy’ vocals were defined by the shrillness of pop-trance and happy hardcore, whereas ‘deep’ vocals sounded like Aretha Franklin. These days, as the black American influence has faded from house, authenticity is more about restraint and positively indie-ish vocals, such as on ‘Dark Soldier’ or voguish Feist remixes.
Overall, Little Louis Vega’s disc is more successful as a mix, probably due to his more cerebral and euphoric take on ‘deepness’, which is far more in line with the way the genre is now seen.
It starts gloriously with India’s bewitching ‘Love and Happiness’ vocal used over Armand Van Helden’s ‘Witchdoktor’, with the former’s yearning dreaminess perfectly complementing the tribal stomp of the latter. The mix continues in much the same vein with eye-closing moments aplenty balanced with more jacking touches like the apocalyptic kick drums in ‘Curious’ by Sun, Sun, Sun. Other stand-outs are the immortal ‘Generate Power’ (Wild Pitch mix), a tune that anyone interested in the current crossover territory between house and techno needs to hear, and the Mole People’s ‘Break Night’ which still sounds utterly contemporary and would fit right into a Sebo K set.
There are of course other moments that are not so successful due to the tracks having aged rather less well. I’m not implying anything, honest, but a lot of these moments involve Erick Morillo. Two of the most excruciating were the lame rasta samples on the appallingly named ‘The New Anthem (Funky Buddha mix)’ and the final track ‘Jazz it Up’ which is a corny and cheap exploitation of jazz signifiers.
Despite all the iconic tracks it includes, I wouldn’t rate ‘Strictly MAW’ terribly highly as a listening experience, particularly as the Kenny Dope mix can be quite hard on the ears. However as a document and an exercise in nostalgia it is invaluable. MAW were not the untouchable gods they occasionally seemed to be at the time, nor were they the lame purveyors of limp jazz-house that some modern critics accuse them of being. Like all artists they suffered from the problems of their day, but they also managed to frequently transcend them and that is what really counts.
Tue / 28 Aug 2007
CD 1 mixed by Louie Vega
1. Love & Happiness (Yemeya Y Ochun) (Dub Intro) - River Ocean Feat. India (Louie Vega)
2. Love & Happiness (Yemeya Y Ochun) (MAW Remix) - River Ocean
3. Congo (Ministry Anthem) - The Boss (David Morales)
4. The New Anthem (Funky Budda Mix) - Reel 2 Real
5. Curious (Vocal Mix) - Sun, Sun, Sun
6. Carnival 93 (The Mardi Gras Mix) - Club Ultimate (Erick Morillo production)
7. No Cure - Hardrive (Louie Vega & Kenny Dope)
8. Found A Cure (Mood II Swing Extended Original Vocal Mix) - Ultra Nate
9. (Who?) Keeps Changing Your Mind (The Night Mix) - South St Player
10. Break Night - The Mole People (Armand van Helden)
11. Generate Power (Wild Pitch Mix) - Photon Inc
12. Zulu (Change Mix) - Circle Children (Armand van Helden)
13. Get Up - Krimp
14. Jazz It Up (Extended Jazz) - The Erick Morillo Project
CD 2 mixed by Kenny Dope
1. I Get Lifted (Duck Beats) - Barbara Tucker
2. Reach (“Little” “More” Mix) - Lil Mo Yin Yang (Louie Vega & Erick Morillo)
3. Let's Get Together (Hard Dub) - Logic
4. We Can Make It (Underground Network Mix) - Sole Fusion (Louie Vega)
5. Dancin (A “Little”–“More” Dub) - Erick "More" Morillo
6. Who Dares To Believe In Me? (Da Bass Beats) - The Believers (Roy Davis Jr.)
7. Freedom (Make It Funky) (Color 3 Lil Louis Zohz Sub Dub) - Black Magic (MAW production)
8. Deep Interlude - Kenny Dope
9. Beautiful People (Underground Network Mix) - Barbara Tucker
10. Deep Inside - Hardrive (Louie Vega & Kenny Dope)
11. Luv Dancin' (Egotrip Mix) - Underground Solution
12. The Warning (Inner Mix) - Logic
13. The Horn Song (Original Mix) - The Don (DJ Pierre)
14. Follow Me (Dub Mix) - Aly Us