Wot Do U Call It - Bygone Beats/Vintage Rave/Depression House?

Call it bygone beats, retro rave, or vintage house, there's a new trend building in clubland which is mixing up the music of the 1920s/1930s/1940s with electronic music. The biggest example of this is Serbian producer Gramophonedzie's Why Don't You?

Super Berlin-based producer Jesse Rose's Touch My Horn is another example:

And Jem Stone of pioneering breakz label Fingerlickin is behind this Teleparp track, and is missus is responsible for this quite beautiful animation to accompany it too. The biggest label behind this is Brighton's Freshly Squeezed, and in strange twist of fate, I interviewed the guys behind the label for a Mixmag feature on the trend (see below) only to find out that a couple of my sister's mates are working for the label. Small world, especially in the country's first Green constituency *drum roll* Brighton, where my sis lives. Check Freshly Squeezed's Black Cotton/White Mink compilation as an intro to what's gwannin'.

Here's the feature what I did for the March edition of Mixmag on the emerging scene, which looks sets to grow and grow:


It’s the opening night of Distortion, Copenhagen’s flagship electronic music festival and the wooden floor of a sports hall is a slippery mess thanks to the sweat and spilt drinks of 2000 ravers dancing to Carl Craig’s cosmic funk and M.A.N.D.Y.’s blurry electro.

In a smaller side room a cheeky chap wearing a Trilby, braces and shirt with sleeves rolled up is waltzing frantically with a woman in 1950s Hawaiian livery (short tight skirt, red head scarf and shirt-knotted above the navel). Whoops and hoots go up as a circle forms around the couple while grainy black and white footage of Hollywood pin ups including Marlene Dietrich and Ingrid Bergman, plays on a screen behind the clapping DJ.

The soundtrack here is swing, the breathless dancefloor variant of jazz (120bpm upwards) that emerged in 1930s Depression-Era America, set to electro and d&b. The combination of dance music of yore and today, and guys and girls in period garb dancing in tandem concocts, concocts an atmosphere that’s heady, exhilarating, carefree and just a little bit silly – something you just don’t come across in big-room raves.

Producer/DJ Gramophonedzie’s Why Don’t You, a house record sampling Peggy ‘Fever’ Lee (Positiva/Virgin), is set to bring this jolly spirit to discerning dancefloors and Joe Public. It’s already wowed Ibiza and is a fixture in the laptops of taste-making illuminati including Dennis Ferrer, Carl Cox, Norman Jay, Roger Sanchez and Jesse Rose.

Gramophonedzie (Marko Milicevic) has shaped a club banger fit for daytime radio, by chopping Peggy Lee’s smoky purring tones from her 1942 1m-selling version – a fix up call to a bygone wasteman with no job, greenbacks, prospects or woman - over shaking accordion house. The unlikely fusion of 1940s jazz and 21st century house, works so well, you wonder why it’s not been done before.

Where did the inspiration come from? ‘I’ve been making music for ten years and all my favourite house records, in fact all big house records are sampled - Daft Punk, Armand Van Helden, Chicago house,’ explains the 30 year old from Belgrade.

‘I’m really fond of jazz, blues and swing, so that’s the inspiration behind the record and the fact my girlfriend really, really, really likes the Peggy Lee track, so I had to make it work,’ he laughs. ‘I also wanted to explore something new – these days I’ll listen to 200 house and electro tracks and buy three. Everything sounds the same and is pointless electro or house, it’s not doing anything new.’

Gramophonedzie’s reimagining of retro dance music in a contemporary club context is his personal stand against house masquerading as pop and soundtracking stadium raves: ‘We’re in a different era of dance music now, you go to McDonalds and get a Happy Meal with a toy figure of Bob Sinclair. I don’t see guys like David Guetta or Deadmau5 as house music, they’re pop music,’ says Milicevic. ‘Many house producers stick to big room and festival music, my music comes from clubs and is for clubs.’

This isn’t the first time retro music has been sampled in recent memory: both Jive Bunny’s up tempo rock’n’roll mash ups scored a hat trick of UK No.1’s (1989) and Doop’s eponymous Euro-house meets Charleston also topped Britain’s charts (1994), smack of novelty. More credibly Chicago crew The Greenskeepers developed ‘G swing house’ a few years ago.

The big difference now, is rather than producers simply sampling ye olde sounds, a micro scene dubbed ‘electro swing’ is flourishing in Britain. It seems a logical progression from the recent clubland trend for period dress up nights celebrating the fashion (flappers, pin ups, showgirls and mobsters) and music of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.

The ‘electro swing’ scene is in its infancy, with key nights in London (Polkananny, Raison D’Etre, You Need This, Black Cotton, Lady Luck), DJs (Nick Hollywood, Chris Tofu, El Nino, Lady Kamikaze), bands (The Correspondents, mix up Charleston, cockney, ragga and d&b) making festival appearances (Big Chill, Bestival, Secret Garden) last year and this.

Electro swing’s first landmark moment is the White Mink: Black Cotton compilation featuring electronic artists drawing on vintage music, including esteemed Berlin based house maverick Jesse Rose’s big band-influenced Touch My Horn.

‘Gramaphonedzie’s Why Don’t You’s one of my favourite tracks - it’s putting the fun back into house music and bringing back the energy. The last couple of years have been all about deep dance music, whereas there seems to be a shift towards more musical, and fun dance music, and swing and Charleston are carefree music,’ explains Rose, from St Lucia.

Rose enjoys the challenge of making a dusty sample work on modern dancefloor. ‘This music is on crackly 78s which makes it really hard to sample but at the same time it makes you do something interesting with it and be that much more inventive,’ he explains. ‘It’s easy to sample a disco record – you get the vocal and put a beat under it but with a crackly sample you’ve maybe got to chop it up between the crackles and twist things up.’

Nick Hollywood the DJ and producer who compiled White Mink: Black Cotton over the last year and is busy putting the second edition together wonders if the current popularity of music born between World Wars and in the Great-Depression is because of its resonance with the credit crunch and current hard times.

‘The Wall Street Crash, the two World Wars, and prohibition, parallels the financial turbulence of now and the attitude then was ‘hey let’s just forget all that and have a good old party – it just feels right for our times, and people seem to be connecting with the mixture of hedonism, escapism and glamour.’

Gramophonedzie, however, is in thrall to the unique sonic qualities and aura of jazz swing and blues: ‘These old records have so much soul, the way it was recorded was different – all of the musicians were in the studio with the singer and it would be done in one take and somehow that atmosphere and spirit comes across in the music, and that atmosphere and soul is lacking in new music.’

Gramophonedzie’s Why Don’t You is out now on Positiva/Virgin

White Mink: Black Cotton is out now on Freshly Squeezed