Friday, 19 June 2009

Jus-Ed, Levon Vincent, Dj Qu, and the return of New York House

Not since Masters at Work and Nervous were still a force to be reckoned with has New York had such a buzzing and necessary house scene as it does now. The city, not known for offering much in the way of reliably consistent electronic fare, does nonetheless have a long history of affiliation with house. Levan's epic dubbed out disco sets at the Paradise Garage were always in stark contrast to the Jackin' beats eminating out of Chicago, just as they were with the more self-consciously cerebral and middle class sounds that a certain Belleville Three would make their own in Detroit, and Levan's legacy undoubtedly lived on through the 90s (particularly so in the case of Masters at Work, less so in the case of Nervous whose sound always approximated more the Jackin' Chicago aesthetic). Essentially, what is important to acknowledge is that between this triumvirate of electronic cities, a vast network of sonic experimentation took place that came to define not only the respective cities, but the musical direction those cities would take.

Thus, out of the ashes of Cybotron and the Belleville Three in Detroit came Jeff Mills, Richie Hawtin, John Acquaviva, Carl Craig and the rest of the Detroit second wave. In New York, the stroy is more complicated. With the death knell of disco sounding louder than any soundsystem in New York could manage, the scene split both musically and geographically. The sound that remained in New York became more tribal, based on ancialliary percussion, foreign and exotic samples, and a less agressive beat. The young sample mavericks of New Jersey retained the lyricism and soul of Leavn's disco re-edits, but chose to cut them, splice them, rework them, leaving us with what we now know as garage (I doff my cap to you Todd Edwards).

Cue the wilderness years. Apart from a few guys who managed to leave the States behind for the pastures new of Europe (the M.A.W. heavy-hitters of Armand van Helden, Kenny 'Dope' Gonzalez, Louie Vega, and Roger Sanchez, Danny Tenaglia, etc.) and a couple who kept plugging away at things in New York, living off past glories (Francois K), the scene seemed to pretty much die. Perhaps this was to be expected - it is no surprise that this epoch coincided with New York's next great musical dalliance, signalled by the arrival of two earth-shattering albums, 'Ready To Die' and 'Illmatic'.

Fast forward a few years, and with disco revivalism still an increasingly potent force to be reckoned with, and with no Hip Hop to get excited about in New York thanks to the dominance of Crunk, Chopped and Screwed and the ATL/Houston/New Orleans/even Bay area mafia, a (relatively) new generation of house producers have been recalibrating their weaponry, and are now making a full frontal attack on dancefloors around the world.

In many ways, it is Jus-Ed who has set the tone for this new breed of New York house. The basic components available to Levan are still present, the way Levan could play the same record for half an hour, drawing out a dub, then a re-dub, then the original mix, then another re-edit, and whipping crowds into a frenzy, but it is all a lot more stripped back. To a certain extent, Detroit and New York have fused, and it is no surprise that a lot of these releases are reminiscent of Omar S, Kerri Chandler or Patrice Scott tunes. Therefore, we get vocal soul samples, but often they are brutally re-rendered and placed in an off-kilter, minimal techno surrounding. Its useful to mention minimal techno and techno at large because there is a real awareness from these producers of what is going on in Europe. It's no surprise that Europe is where they make most of their cash, and there is a real appetite for this stuff at the moment.

DJ Qu is another of the stalwarts of the scene. He also releases material on Underground Quality (Jus-Ed's imprint) and retains that deep, dub-inflected soultech, which often seems so indelibly yoked to the precision and teutonic savagery of German house and techno.

However, whereas Jus-Ed and Qu have both been around for a long time, Levon Vincent is relatively new on the scene (this is actually not true, he has been around for a while, but it wasn't until his self-imposed exile in Indiana that his releases really started turning heads). 'Games Dub', released on 'Minimal Soul Part 2' by Underground Quality may well be one of the best songs I have heard this year. Jus-Ed is the Ezra Pound to Vincent's Eliot and I expect seriously big things of him.

So where does this leave the ever-changing house scene in New York? Well, in short, in a thouroughly healthy state. Personally, it has never been any other way for me. Whilst Tenaglia et al chose to ply their trade in 'Beefa, I was quite happy to slap on a Masters at Work boxset, or tune in to some Todd Edwards, maybe kick back with some Louie Vega, and it was exactly that loyalty which allowed me to tap into this new wave with such abandonment and joy. A begrudging high five does have to be extended to the DFA crew who have also shown the loyalty that allows those mentioned above to exist as a vital part of the zeitgeist (with releases by 'House of House' for example who are little more than Jus-Ed with a pop sensibility), but the future looks undeniably bright for nu-New York house.

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