Class of ’99, Vol. 1
What was the best year for Chicago House? It depends on who you ask. I would probably choose 1996, during the “second wave” that brought the sound back to the center of electronic dance music. If you asked me to choose the best year for Chicago raves, I would choose 1997. But 1999 holds a special significance for me, because the final year of the 1990s was also my last year as a teenager, and it was the last year before Chicago’s anti-rave ordinance effectively killed the scene in May 2000. Y2K marked an abrupt end to the 90s youth culture that I loved so dearly, and remember so fondly. However, I would argue that those of us who ‘graduated’ from the rave scene ’99 are fortunate, because its sudden implosion preserves this period as a discrete, distinct point in time.
The Class of ’99 series is meant to revive the sound of Chicago’s second House era, and to capture the spirit of ‘Y2K’, from 1995 to 2000, when Chicago rave culture was at its peak. The tracks are digitized from my vinyl collection, accumulated during my time as an amateur House DJ.
About this volume
By 1999, the ‘raver’ moniker was considered passé and was dropped in favor of the vague and noncommittal ‘party kids’, or ‘party people’. “Do you go to parties?” became a euphemism for “are you a raver?” But unlike the detached, jaded irony of so many teen subcultures, rave had a spirit of sincerity, and of enthusiasm. Why not just own the word? My closest friends and I absolutely lived for these parties back then, and for a time it was my whole world. Those of you who came of age in this period know that what we had was something that can never be recreated, and is hard to convey to those who weren’t there. So this one is dedicated to all my ‘party people’, wherever you are.
Party People showcases 18 classic Chicago-style House records, exploring the French Connection and making its way back home through Köln, Glasgow, London, NYC, Jersey and Detroit. The cover art for this volume comes from a Y2K-era ravewear company called Fine.
Angelo Tinsley — Get Down With Me (1981)
I know nothing about Angelo Tinsley, except what I can find through a web search (he's apparently a now-retired public school music teacher, who still performs publicly). He's quoted on Bandcamp, which offers this track for download:
When I worked on "Get Down With Me" there were no other individuals associated with the recording. I used a Casio toy drum machine and a Roland SH-101 synthesizer that my dad bought. He gave me 300 Dollars in one Dollar bills he earned from his street hustling numbers racket and I bought the synthesizer from a childhood friend I knew from piano school. The entire song was finished in two hours, adding some extra keyboards laying around the studio.
Those extra keyboards sound to me like a Hohner Pianet and an ARP Solina, but I'm just guessing. Yeah, it's a novelty record, but low-key I actually like it a lot. You can buy this as a 7-inch on Discogs.
Robert Armani — Arrow (1997)
Credit goes to my buddy Mike for finding this one, under a pile of records in the warehouse behind Barney's records on the West Side. Dance Mania put out a lot of low-effort Booty House, along with the occasional choice cut like this one from Chicago's own Robert Armani. Barney's distributed Trax and Dance Mania records, and they had this huge, disheveled warehouse where we would spend hours excavating records, often in water-damaged sleeves or flawed pressings. I found a Johnny Fiasco record there I had been trying to locate for years, but I could only spin the first few minutes of it because there was a big glob of vinyl stuck to the record, toward the middle.
Known for hard, unrelenting Techno, Robert Armani revealed his soulful side with this minimal gem.
Shaboom — Nokturnal (1996)
Paper Recordings always felt like a 'prestige' label to me. The graphic design on their releases all seemed to adhere to this very disciplined style guide, and the music itself was similarly consistent and uniform in its very mature, understated production. I didn't collect a lot of vinyl from this label, partly because little of it ever jumped out at me, but I think that was probably the point of Paper Recordings: to release filler material for DJs—but a more sophisticated kind of filler.
I first heard "Nokturnal" on Paul Johnson's I Need Another Plan mixtape, which everyone seemed to have and which formed the soundtrack to so many carpools and get-togethers. Download this or get the vinyl.
Mateo + Matos — In My Soul (1999)
Solid release by New York's Mateo and Matos. This EP marked a departure from their Glasgow Underground material, toward a more lush, densely-produced sound more suited for Chicago's Large Records. I Used to Spin all four tracks on this release, which you can purchase for download. You can also get the vinyl for about 10 bucks.
Blue Boy — Dub-A-Dutch (1999)
Strange record by the elusive Lex Blackmore, who released almost nothing but scored a massive, unlikely hit in 1997 with a downtempo track called 'Remember Me'. 'Blue Boy' is almost certainly a reference to the infamous LSD episode of Dragnet, which provided so much sample fodder for the early Rave scene.
The -izzy slang on this track comes from the breakdown in "Double Dutch Bus" by Frankie Smith, and you'll drive yourself crazy trying to understand what they're saying, so here it is in English:
Me got somebody plays double dutch!
Bring her in!
An undoubtedly irritating record, I never owned this Ohrwurm but I had it on a mix CD by David Alvarado.
Disco-Tex — Come Easy (1996)
Synthfunk mashup from the faceless "Disco-Tex" (not to be confused with the original Disco Tex & His Sex-O-Lettes). As heard on Mark Almaria's Creamy Groove Machine tape, this one samples Love Don't Come Easy, by The New Jersey Connection, and Jerk Out, by Morris Day and the (mothafuckin) Time. The result sounds like Prince mixed with Prince, and while "The Artist" had no involvement with The New Jersey Connection, "The Time" were almost entirely a figment of Prince's imagination. Prince grew up with Morris Day and wrote, played on, and produced his singles, often without credit.
This was the case of a number of Prince's childhood friends: an earlier version of 'Jerk Out' shows up on an album by Mazerati, another Prince vehicle fronted by his friend Brownmark. How many Minneapolis acts had Prince writing and performing from behind the curtain? Andre Cymone, Jesse Johnson — the list goes on and on.
Daft Punk — Around the World (1997)
There is no single LP from this era that was more important than Daft Punk's Homework. For a House DJ, owning a copy of Homework was like owning a copy of Thriller, or Dark Side of the Moon. It was practically mandatory. Homework was released in the U.S. on Virgin records at the beginning of 1997, and suddenly Chicago was the center of the universe for raves and electronic dance music. Daft Punk were from Paris, but were 'schooled' in Chicago, where Thomas Bangalter's records already had a following.
On "Teachers", Daft Punk shouted out everyone that inspired them, and almost every name dropped was from Chicago. They even shouted out very obscure, specific figures that were popular in the Midwest rave scene, like "DJ ESP" (A.K.A. Woodie McBride). "Teachers" lent worldwide exposure to the DJs we were seeing every weekend, like Paul Johnson, DJ Sneak, and Derrick Carter. As a teenager, knowing people who knew Hyperactive personally, and then hearing him on the record, I knew that '97 was the year our little scene was going international.
The best party I never went to was We Are Family, at Route 66 on the South Side. Everyone I knew, who did go, said it was the best rave ever. In my recollection, this was a Halloween party, but the Internet says it went down on April 11, 1997. The video for "Around the World" was getting airplay on MTV's Amp, and the duo apparently brought all these costumed dancers to the party, giving it a bizarre Cirque du Soleil vibe. You'd be on the dancefloor and there would be spacemen and mummies all around you. My best friend was there, on acid, and he claimed the pinheads kept following him around, and that they would come up and tap people's shoulders and then run away.
You will have no trouble finding this album, which is available everywhere.
«Rinôçérôse» — Sublimior (1999)
Daft Punk sparked an explosion of enthusiasm for French House among Chicago's crate diggers. The more obviously French your record, the more likely it was to sell, so it probably helped if the name on the record was French-sounding — like Les Rythmes Digitales — or, like Dimitri From Paris, your name literally said you were from Paris. «Rinôçérôse» chose to add as many diacritical marks to their name as they possibly could, and then they quoted their own name in French Guillemets, lest there be any doubt about their country of origin (though you would be forgiven if you guessed 'Vietnam').
Unfortunately for «Rinôçérôse», their LP didn't seem to really take off, at least in Chicago. I was always suspicious when electronic acts tried to incorporate electric guitars, which almost never worked (System 7 being a notable exception). But when I revisit Installation Sonore I'm struck by how many great cuts are on this LP. Out of 10 tracks, the first 8 are excellent. If you listen to Daft Punk's sophomore album, Discovery, it's clear that they're building on ideas established by this album. And since Discovery laid the groundwork for other dance crossover acts, like Cut Copy, VHS or Beta, Ratatat, and Justice, Installation Sonore may have been a more important album than was obvious at the time.
Cassius - Feeling For You (1999)
Cassius started out as Hip Hop producers, and their work for MC Solaar was exceptional; however, by the end of the 90s they were cashing in on the French Touch craze in a way I found forced and cynical at the time. Astralwerks, the Universal subsidiary that signed Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim, released Cassius' lackluster 1999 in that same year. The album scored a couple dancefloor hits, including the title track and this one.
They did produce one tolerable 'DJ Tool' mix of "Feeling For You" that omitted the obnoxious "Cassius in de houze!" plug that was present over the album version (and several other tracks on the LP). This version came out with a really fun video featuring authentic-looking American ravers, and a narrative that seems to acknowledge they were self-consciously selling-out — so I'll give them credit for that. They also rightly credited Gwen McCrae in the liner notes, whose L.P. you can buy on Discogs. You can buy this version of the Cassius track on the single.
Mike Huckaby — The Stranger (1997)
To someone who didn't come up in the House scene, a record like this probably doesn't sound like much. It's hard to convey the importance of these sparse, repetitive house tracks, in the context of the time and place they were played, how they would just sear themselves into your brain. How do I explain the significance of a record as harsh and atonal as Turn It Up? Part of it goes to the old Jazz adage that the notes you aren't playing are more important than the ones you are. This is especially true for DJing, because the fewer tones you have on two records, the less likely they are to clash harmonically in a mix. Also, drugs: I think crystal meth contributed to the rise of Hard Techno and of Tech Step Drum & Bass.
Mike Huckaby was part of a school of Detroit DJ/producers that included Moodyman and Carl Craig, who straddled the line between Techno and House. Always a party favorite, Mike Huckaby died of a stroke in 2020. R.I.P. Mike Huckaby.
Todd Edwards — Stronger (1995)
Todd Edwards was, I would argue, the best House producer of the Nineties. Honestly—and I say this as a House aficionado—the quality of many House records depended heavily on the original Disco samples, which were often re-appropriated with little improvisation. Not so with Todd Edwards, whose samples were isolated on such a granular level, and reconstructed so ingeniously, that he basically created his own subgenre.
That said, "Stronger" is not representative of Todd's "UK Garage" sound. This one uses a more straightforward acapella of Loleatta Holloway's "We're Getting Stronger", and some other samples I don't recognize. Still a great record.
Cheesy D — Get The Cash And Run (1996)
Another French record from Basenotic Records' Bakchich series. I actually had my own recording contract in 1999 (long story) and I used to spend hours in the studio, trying to get that flange sound. It's like a cross between a flange and a phaser. A hallmark of the French sound, Bangalter and Guy-Manuel used it, Alan Braxe used it, and so did Bob Sinclar, and others. Was it a pedal? I never figured it out.
Cabrini Greens & Cornbread — Club Lonely (1997)
"Cabrini Greens & Cornbread" was one of two collaborative releases by Braxton Holmes and Dewey B. I think a lot of people picked this one off the wall for the novelty of the name alone, a reference to Chicago's now-defunct housing project. This one samples "Welcome To The Club" by Blue Magic.
Hardsoul — Fantasy (2000)
This is the one and only edit I have in this whole series, meaning that every other record plays out as it was committed to vinyl. This one has the vocals edited out, because they're superfluous and out of key. I was actually looking for a track off James Christian's Electrified that uses the same sample, but I could never find it. I tried messaging James Christian directly, and for a while I was going back and forth with a guy on YouTube who claimed to be his cousin. My friend Reyna told me she went nuts trying to track this down back in the day, and ended up ordering an expensive platter from The Netherlands that wasn't the right record, after all. So unless someone can tell me in the comments what this record is, I'm going with the edit.
Plastic Park — Music’s Hypnotisn’ (1998)
I don't remember any records by either 'Plastic Park' or Alexander Purkart. According to Discogs, Purkart had indeed released nothing prior to this, and Plastic Park had one obscure 12" called Who In The Funk Do You Think You Are? I might pose the same question to "Plastic Park meet's [sic] Alexander Purkart". Why didn't you just join Plastic Park, Purkart?
This 12" is easy to obtain. Roy Ayers is great, and you can easily find "Running Away" on his Lifeline album, or any number of compilations. If you want "Do It To The Music", I would recommend the West End Story compilation.
The Black Science Orchestra — New Jersey Deep (1994)
This record was notable for its heavy rotation, despite neither side having a proper, 4-to-the-floor House beat. Released in '94, this is the earliest 'Broken Beat' record I can remember.
"New Jersey Deep" is basically a remix of "Funkanova" by Wood, Brass & Steel. The Altered States E.P. is available on vinyl. When I owned a copy of "Funkanova", it was on the highly-recommended Jumpin' compilation.
Naked Music NYC — It's Love (Joshua's Vocal Mix) (1998)
Ray Denes was the producer behind Naked Music NYC, and founded the record label of the same name, where he produced as Blue Six. Naked Records was, at the time, instrumental in House's transition into Broken Beat and House Fusion. I picked this up as part of Mark Farina's Frisko Disko compilation, and so can you. The remix is by Joshua Iz of Chicago's Iz and Diz.
Charly Brown — Freaked Out (1997)
Spacey dancefloor filler from Guidance Records, one of the quintessential Chicago House labels. This one samples the amazing "Trip To Your Mind" by The Hudson People. "Freaked Out" is available as a single, and if you want the Hudson People record, I would suggest the Disco Spectrum compilation.
Davidson Ospina — Love Rhythm (1996)
I ripped this one from my buddy Mike's collection. This was one of his front-of-the-crate, go-to records. I always liked this cut, but never owned it myself. I do not know the sample source for this one, so Leave me a comment if you know it, because I've always wanted to know.