Deep House in America - Is It The Next Big Sound?
Music fans are fickle. Popular music is constantly changing, and dance music is no different, as it is subject to the quickly evolving and constantly increasing demand for “flavors of the week." In fact, dance music may be subject to even more fluctuations as to what is considered “popular” at any given time, simply because of the fast-changing nature that characterizes its scene. One live set, Essential Mix, guest mix, or even a single or EP release is enough to bring an entire genre to the forefront of popularity in dance music, as we have seen time and time again.
In 2010, Swedish House Mafia’s Essential Mix recorded at Creamfields ushered in an era where progressive house reigned king, as the three Swedish producers settled on the throne as the kings of progressive house. In 2013, Hardwell’s Ultra Music Festival set allowed big room house and electro house to firmly supplant all others as popular music within EDM. Looking back even earlier, Daft Punk’s legendary Alive set at Coachella in 2006 put the entire dance music community on alert - as most, if not all, industry executives will reference this set as a major turning point in bringing dance music to where it is now.
Now, in 2014, dance music is starting to see the rise of another genre, albeit a genre that’s typically been considered underground. With the release of their highly anticipated album Settle, UK garage producers Disclosure have begun to usher in the era of deep house, whether they intended to or not. While Disclosure brought attention to deep house in America, artists like Oliver Heldens and Tchami are leading the charge with their hybrid future house sound, effectively unseating big room as the next popular sound in dance music.
Both big room and deep house originate from house music. House music originated in the 1980s in Chicago, and the name “house music” stemmed from the type of music that was typically heard at the club The Warehouse. The Warehouse in Chicago was notorious for being frequented by African Americans and homosexuals, two of the most oppressed classes in American history, and thus, house music became an escape for these two classes.
Chicago transplants like Frankie Knuckles and Jesse Saunders introduced house music to the Windy City and house music drew on influences like disco, Detroit techno, and European acts like Kraftwerk. House music is typically characterized by a four-to-the-floor beat, moving away from the faster BPM realms that were more typically approached by techno. One of the earliest house tracks “I Feel Love” by Donna Summers and produced by Giorgio Moroder helped house music peak in popularity in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Such a beat allowed people to dance to a house track more easily, and thus, it was able to be played out in many clubs.
With house music becoming more and more popular in Chicago, UK record scouts set their sights for the Windy City as the next destination for dance music. Three labels were key in the rise of house within the UK, Rhythm King, Warp Records, and Network Records. While house music was an extremely fast-spreading genre of dance music in the UK in the 1980s and 1990s, it was never mainstream, rather firmly planted in the underground. UK house music could be characterized by a more minimalistic approach than American house music at the time - rhythm was provided by a drum machine, off-beat hi-hats were present throughout, and a synthesized bassline that emphasized its repetitive nature.
Meanwhile, as UK house music developed abroad, American house music was also beginning to shift, as producers tried to create a more sophisticated sound to go beyond the minimalist nature of house music. In 1990, Madonna released a house single “Vogue” that is considered by many to be the record that first brought house music into the mainstream in America.
EDM has changed and grown, and more and more subgenres have continued to develop too, coming together to form unique sounds and genres within themselves. The popularity of house music throughout the history of dance music, as well as the easily pliable and repetitive beats that characterized house music, allowed it to stay relevant throughout the history of EDM. Subgenres like electro, techno, others combined with house to form electro house, tech house, big room house, and progressive house. Each one of these unique subgenres draw from the two genres that compose it.
For example, electro house is often characterized with a 4/4 beat, plays at 128 bpm, and a pulsing, energetic bassline, while deep house showcases a blend of Chicago house music elements with soulful jazz and funk music. The influences of jazz music allows deep house to create more complex chords than simple triads, allowing it to differentiate itself from the many other types of house music, such as electro house.
So what’s so appealing about deep house that is helping its meteoric rise in popularity in America?
In reference to a recent editorial about the impact “EDM” has on the dance music community, deep house’s rise in popularity, quite clearly, is the result of casual dance music fans going further than big room house and exploring the plethora of subgenres that electronic dance music has to offer. The assertion that big room house is dead is not a wild one, as lack of unique production and a stale sound has started to bore many dance music fans.
Deep house seemingly has an answer to both of those issues. Fast-rising future house producers like the aforementioned Oliver Heldens and Tchami are pairing deep house with a pliable and unique sound that gives it a re-imagined and festival-influenced twist. Tchami exercises his deep house sounds on tracks such as "Untrue" and Heldens presents his favorite deep house tunes in his weekly "Helldeep" series, but it's their future house releases that have gotten the most attention. Plus it's not just fans and newcomers who are jumping on the deep house bandwagon - veteran, superstar producers and DJs as well as industry executives also believe that deep house may be the next big sound. Skrillex tapped into the deep house sound with his single "F*ck That," Doorn Records labelhead Sander van Doorn has also collaborated with Oliver Heldens on a track titled “THIS,” and Dim Mak boss Steve Aoki recently revealed to Mixmag that he was working on deep house tracks that would be released under a new alias, rather than his typical electro tracks.
Beyond Aoki and Doorn, founder and President of Ultra Music, Patrick Moxey, also believes that the next big sound will be deep house. In an interview with Speakeasy, Moxey stated “the great thing about electronic music is every time people want to put it in a box, it changes. Any time one part of it becomes commercialized, new parts start to reinvent themselves. It’s a constant process of refreshment.” Moxey’s belief about EDM could not be more true.
As dance music begins to venture into uncharted territory within the mainstream, it risks being commercialized and boxed in, in ways that it was never before. Yet, one of the most defining characteristics of dance music is that it doesn’t live by the mainstream. EDM defines itself through its music, its culture, and its community, and the rise of deep house in 2014 is another way that dance music is pushing back against becoming commercial.
What will follow deep house? No one knows for sure, but as history has shown time and time again, another revolutionary set or release will thrust a budding genre into the spotlight, and it will shine.
Cover Photo: Sos Adame