Sunday, 15 September 2013

What is "deep house", the disagreements, and the reasons why.


Faced with a ridiculous Wikipedia article under the title of "Deep House" that actually goes down the route of trying to make concrete some old Frankie Knuckles (etc.) fan's eulogy that "Only Frankie Knuckles and related DJs ever made real deep house music", I have to do something.

I had to write. Hating making or adjusting Wikipedia articles myself I add the text of this article to the talk page for Deep House in Wikipedia only. Someone may come across it and think something of it, it may help. Maybe it would even convince someone or some people to adjust that article and the many other fallacies that have grown up around the term "deep house" in The Web.

I'm someone who doesn't spend much time caring much personally about what that site, Wikipedia, says. It's a site I wish very much wasn't there - a dictionary created by anyone, anywhere, anytime based upon what they feel like defining, and worse. The worse is that is generally policed by Nazi professionals of within the anyone, anywhere, anytime class (since that is the only associated class) who may or may not have any idea what even small words truly mean, but they'll fight to the death to have their meaning and not others' displayed. I'll never believe some of the lexical creations these Nazis can come up with to put others down and reinstate their often truly ludicrous and illogical meanings.

What is "deep house", the disagreements, and the reasons why.

I'm hoping to resolve this age old dispute over the meaning of the term "deep house". I hope that if people reading can think about what I'm saying here, they can come to accept it. I think it's quite important. No, it's more than quite important.

I can find the disagreements about the meaning of "deep house" very funny, and I often did, from a long time. While it also led to a lot of annoyance and anger. Many people have their own definitions of what it means, and really the truth is that, in times and in different places (often multiple places so as that it seemed general), these meanings were pretty accurate.

(I do realise that some of the disputes over the meaning of this term comes over something on the other side of the fence to my finding the disputes funny. They can come from a sheer fatigue and unwillingness to deal with those who take categories very seriously.)

Early trance (not later, faster, formulaic trance), Chicago house of disco origin, soul house, funky house, minimal dub house, even acid house (as included in a wider genre) have all been named "deep house" by various people (often a lot of people) through the years. One important thing is that some people who named a genre of house music I've mentioned as "deep house" did mean that that genre was exclusively deep house. But other people naming a single genre of house music did not mean that that genre was exclusively deep house.

Personally, I can't come to terms with the Chicago-isation and R&B-isation of the meaning of "deep house" in an exclusive sense. That's my personal gripe, while that is most of the definition which happens to appear on the Wikipedia article currently. The article is rather ridiculous, and attempts to define deep house by elements such as analysis of melody, using a funky, R&B based Chicago house model (which itself is actually only one part of what is distinctly Chicago house music.) I can't agree with it, while it is a perception that has got around in later days, I'd say since the mid 90s at the earliest. Before then, I believe people were more aware what deep house meant.

Before I go back in time to recall and describe the most sensible meaning of deep house, I'll say one more thing. Why should Chicago house be termed "deep house" exclusively? This is silly. Chicago house is the proper term for Chicago house. And Detroit house for Detroit house and so on. It was (and is and will be) a very important thing to outline the real meaning of "deep house". I remember, as house music got more followers in the 1980s, and as time went on, people began to think "deep house" meant a certain thing or things, including myself for a while. People turned up at certain clubs, maybe having travelled far for the night, to go to a nightclub which was to be playing "deep house" music, but to find a type of house music they didn't like and maybe they left the club.
Here I'll give what became an accepted definition amongst most people going to clubs and DJing, I think, by the early 90s, after 6 or more years of developing underground house music.

"Deep house" is a really loose term. It does not mean specifically Chicago house. (Though I also understand in a sense why some people made and make this mistake because the term "Chicago House" was also sometimes used to identify most to nearly any serious house music at all, linking it to the roots of house in Chicago, as distinct to the peculiar house music idioms of Chicago that could be very distinct to those of Detroit, New York and New Jersey for example.) However, if "Chicago house" is a term used to describe distinct house music idioms associated with the life of the city Chicago itself, as it is most used and correctly used, it is only one small part of what "deep house" is.

(Whether going on a tangent or not, one thing I want to say here is that not all "Chicago house" music - the house music coming from the city Chicago itself - was the R&B tinged or funky, soul disco tinged style some people try to make it nowadays. Though identifiable in clear ways, Chicago house was a quite varied spectrum of club music. For example, look at much of the music of L'il Louis, of Chicago, who many have called the father of house music. His music has a much more electro based foundation rather than R&B, funky disco based foundation which evolved with a style of electro music. The music of L'il Louis is foundational and central "Chicago house" music. Though it may be closer to styles associated with Detroit house music, for example, music of Kevin Saunderson of The Belleville Three, than to house which developed from R&B or funky or soulful disco music, which, for example, Dj Frankie Knuckles and Dj Leonard Remix Roy are more known for.)

Going back to the wide genre of "Deep house", it does not specifically need to have a soulful basis, or be vocal house, or have any funk or R&B root tinge. I know that is a particular preference some people have for the meaning of "deep house" but it's not accurate. Just like the others house based on funk or jazz funk is simply funky house, or jazz house or jazzy house, or jazz-funk house.
The point is that these CAN all be identified by the term "Deep House".

Deep House means serious house music. Yes, it means Chicago house, it means Detroit house, it means New York house, it does also mean original British garage house (later UK garage or UK garage house may be distinct, I don't know). Deep house means French house music, it means Balearic house music, it means electro house, it means minimal dub house.

The point is that it is serious, house club house music. That's all. The term arose in places to distinguish clubs that were reasonably serious house clubs from discotheques that liked to advertise and promote their nights by saying they played, for example, up to date dancefloor sounds and house music. This could make a club night seem to many house fans that it was a house club they could go to, but in actual fact, it was an old era style, or chart music style discotheque that happened to play some popular, usually charty house tunes.

That is how and why the term "Deep house" developed in most places.

(As well as distinguish serious club music from standard discotheque music, the term deep house also partly came about within a need to distinguish the music of clubs and the clubs themselves that were serious, niche nightclubs which adapted to the growth of dance music and house music by incorporating a more house sound, or elements of a house sound. Many R&B clubs, hip hop clubs, soul music clubs, jazz funk clubs incorporated the popularity of house music in the style of their music. These clubs could incorporate some deep house music also, but these clubs were distinct from deep house clubs.)

There were some DJs and scenes which became particularly associated with the term "deep house" and, like others, I myself made the mistake at times of attatching a personal meaning to the term. Personally I associated the term with an area of house music that was more dub than vocal but also at times had vocals, that was kind of very early trance house music which for example Paul Oakenfold played in his very early years (nothing like later, formulaic trance music which Oakenfold also became soon known for). It was electro house, it was lighter rave or heavier techno but not fast techno and slow enough to be recognized as central or core house music, and it could include the fringes of acid house.

So, for a while, when I forgot the purpose of the term, this was deep house for me and many others. While many others still in the UK who associated their music exclusively with the term deep house thought the term meant exclusively garage, and others exclusively more R&B rooted Chicago house. And so on.

The truth is, though, it meant all of these.

Mostly the mistake came about by not realizing the term was a wide term. Then, however, there were in fact other reasons. Firstly, it became not uncommon for DJs and promoters and people connected with a scene or club(s) to say things like "This is deep house." Many DJs and clubbers went a lot further and said things that seemed to be defining things, such as

"This is the real deep house music", and,

"This is what Deep House means", and things like,

"Other DJs [in the city / elsewhere] don't play deep house. This is the only place where you will find real deep house music.", and,

"That other stuff is not deep house music. They get it wrong. This is real, deep house."

Of course, confusion may easily come about anyway when a DJ or producer or promoter or clubber wishes to emphasise a deep feeling intended in the club music they are making, or that they go deep into house, or into a feeling, or deeper, or will bring the clubber deeper than other DJs etc. This can have nothing to do with the particular genre anyway, and many DJs and producers and so on have just been describing that their music is thought to be "deep", whatever house genre it would fall into.

"Deep house", properly, though, just meant serious house music, the music of serious house clubs or where a club played some serious house music. [The term was also used to make clear to potential guests that a mixed club night would indeed play serious house music among other things.] It could even at times include nights of mostly acid house music, though generally acid clubs listed themselves as playing acid. But, even then, the term deep house could apply because, to many people, it distinguished the club as a serious house club.

At the time what became known as handbag house clubs were growing more popular. That was most often not thought of as deep house. There were many clubs which played remixes, house style remixes of popular songs and called themselves house clubs. They were not deep house clubs. Some of the house music played at such clubs was not deep house and some may have been, or, otherwise, simply these clubs didn't play any deep house. The Disco Mix Club DJs gave many nights and sometimes or often (depending on DJ) this could include quite a lot of house music, but, largely, I thought this was still not quite really deep house music. Some DMC nights did include deep house music. (DMC remix record releases, though, did tend much more to be deep house music from the late 80s and especially into the 1990s, as well as some being non-deep house and disco club tracks. The DMC compilation albums of the late 80s and onward, however, were usually a very good example of what should never be mistaken as deep house.)

In the very early 90s when trance house music turned from the best part of house music in the centre between techno house, lighter electro house, acid house, Balearic house and other styles (and very occasionally soulful house and funky house) into a completely new type of club music, I had to conclude that that probably wasn't deep house. I don't know. It just became so far removed from standard house music. Later trance became music that was most often very little like early trance house music. The thing with serious house music up until around 1990 / 91 (and this includes quite a good lot of what was called rave music for a while, also), it was usually possible to be identified as being part of the same thing, in different styles. House was so varied, but it was so clear and identifiable, also.

I guess some people would disagree with me. Some people will still say that the really fast trance music with the typical breaks in the middle and, typically, white race women vocalists is still house music. I'm not sure about that. It probably isn't to me. But, if it might still be house music, and even if people think of it as serious house music (I can't), I just can't see this stuff as deep house.

From around '90 (or just before in certain quarters), some things began to change and the biggest change seemed to be the new trance music. It was very different. Some core (and even foundational) deep house DJs such as Oakenfold actually followed the change (to my dismay) and copied the immense change that happened with the type of house called trance - which transformed into something completely new.

Now I can hardly see the later trance style as house music at all. From around the same time, you may be able to say the same thing about a lot of rave music, and harder techno music. These three scenes all had styles which developed far away from what was reasonably recognizable as core house music. Yes, there was still rave music that was clearly house music, and the same for trance and techno (the three were core parts of house music previously), but in all three scenes the style got more divorced, usually much faster and very formulaic with very similar sounding tracks often. This was the more popular element of these scenes. While at the same time, this was exactly when underground house music began to lose its grip. Then, quality, serious rave, techno and trance which was identifiable as a core part of the earlier house scenes, actually became a great deal harder to find in clubs and records, if you were looking for it.

To finish - "Deep House" meant and I think still means and should only be regarded as meaning serious house music. I know that so many people (really loads of people) went to a particular club or a few particular clubs playing the same type of music, a single type of house music and meanings seemed to seem made from that. They identified the meaning of "deep house" as being that type of house exclusively. It's a mistake, though. The term is a general term for serious house.

While I don't think I'm personally able to make a direction or anything like that, the last few paragraphs before the paragraph just above I've gone on to include, are only to outline my own feelings about 3 types, or 3 scenes in dance music which developed noticeably away from the traditional, core house music elements (rave, trance and some techno scenes). My feelings are that those later developments in dance music could not be called "deep house". I don't know if there would be significant disagreement on that. (I guess that some DJs and clubs were playing a mix of the newer styles within those dance music and the older, clear "deep house" tracks. However, in my experience, especially with trance, generally there was a real breakaway from the past and there was not much significant incorporation of the old "deep house" style, feeling or attitude at all.)

Of course, there was still a good amount of techno, rave and original style trance house music made from around 1990 and after which was easily core house music - serious house, or "deep house" (but harder to find).

I hope this helps.

I feel it's important, to clear up the confusion. To think that "deep house" refers exclusively to one type of serious house music, whether Chicago house, or soulful vocal house, or minimal dub electro house, is inaccurate.

"Deep house" just means serious house of the kind that emanated as core house music from the explosion of house music from the mid to late 1980s.

Finally, to people involved in or around or informed by a scene from the early days, you will find that, to them, deep house still will only ever mean the particular music of that scene, the particular style of music alone. So, yes, the description of the Wikipedia article of "deep house" as a Chicago, more melodic, soul and R&B based house music will always be identified as correct by those people who live deep in the jelly of Chicago house music.

Larry Heard himself may indeed validate the current Wikipedia article as being true of deep house. (Indeed, many people would but they wouldn't bother to mention that they don't mean that that is an exclusive definition of the term deep house.) Larry Heard and others may actually feel rather strongly that the current Chicago orienatated, soulful, melodic house basis of "deep house" is the exclusive definition of deep house music.

Without wanting to say they are wrong (though they are), the point in such communications such people inextricably linked to a particular scene or style of music make, is to express exactly their own, all-consuming involvement in or attachment to that scene or style. In actuality, when such a figure gives such a limited definition of deep house music, all they are in fact doing is what the old DJs used to do, in saying, "This is the real deep house music, the others don't have it." To them, it is true and perhaps always will be, "deep house" only means their particular style or styles of house music. Thus to many Chicago people, "deep house" is Chicago house and soulful Chicago house alone. This home grown affectionate legend has managed to get itself passed on to others in the world who have accepted it, but in a wider sense, it is really inaccurate.

The current Wikipedia definition would find it very difficult to include L'il Louis in its definition of deep house, for example. While L'il Louis is called by many "the father of house music", a founding father of Chicago house music and is known himself to have stated numerous times that he plays deep house and that his music is deep house, that music of that Chicago house veteran mostly won't fit into the current Wikipedia article description. One thing about Louis I remember is that he has openly described how some (or, probably, many) people in Chicago have believed that deep house is a different style of Chicago house music to his own, and how he accepts that these people have their own definition of deep house and Chicago deep house. Louis has said that while his music is deep house and Chicago house, "it ain't that", in his own words, meaning this style of house music that the current Wikipedia article attempts to fashion in an exclusive way as being the true meaning of deep house.

I think it's very important to realize just how strong the individual claims are of particular scenes from people involved in those scenes, and, funnily, other people from the other side of the world who have believed them. They are really strong. But, the claims are many.

Again, I've said it many times in this text, and I'll end with the true definition of deep house, yet again, though it may disappoint many people involved in many different styles or scenes or house music. Deep house music is not any exclusive style of house music, but simply means serious house music.

The best thing to remember is this:

"Deep house" means just serious house of the kind that emanated as core house music from the explosion of house music from the mid to late 1980s (or, in a very few places in the world, such as parts of Chicago, Illinois, the origin of house musics before the mid 80s ).

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