It’s time for another look at a classic tune to figure out what makes it tick. This week we’re diving straight into the zeitgeist with some classic house music. Right about now, it’s almost impossible to escape the influence of those classic 1990′s swinging house tracks – from Bicep to Ejeca and Detroit Swindle, everybody is channelling the spirit of New York house and garage. So what better than to look at one of the undisputed classics of the 1990′s New York scene?
If anyone’s wondering what happened to Hard Drive, and why they never seemed to do much else, that’s because it was a side project of two much bigger names; Kenny Dope and Louie Vega – aka Masters At Work. This track was even engineered by Erick Morillo! Masters At Work were two of the originators of that jacking, swung, garagey sound in the 90′s, and Deep Inside has their fingerprints all over it.
Let’s start with the melodic aspects. MAW tracks often have a lot going on melodically, but it can be deceptively simple – and that’s the case here. The whole track is based around a simple two chord pattern. That’s a trick MAW used throughout their careers, from house bangers to the jazzier stuff they did later on, and this is a perfect example. You hear the two chords almost from the very beginning; two simple chords played high up on a Rhodes-type piano, both minor, but cunningly implying a switch to major on the second chord. That’s it. Soon, they’re doubled up with what sounds suspiciously like a dodgy nylon-string guitar sound – normally something to be avoided, but in this case it really works! These chords then roll through the entire track, mixed pretty quietly, with only a couple of breaks.
If you listen carefully at the start, you’ll hear a little three-note embellishment at the end of the second chord. This is then extrapolated into that ‘bleep’ riff that becomes a major feature of the tune. It’s only a three note riff but the lowest note changes each time, to keep in line with the chords. It’s a simple square-wave synth sound that again, rolls through most of the track. The bassline is similar – sounding like a square wave ‘donk’, it’s not a particularly interesting patch, but if follows the chord changes as it goes along. The first note in each pattern is the root note of the chord, and the pattern basically uses the octave and the 5th note of the scale. All of this is very simple stuff; a three note riff, a bassline playing octaves and 5ths and two chords repeating for minutes at a time, but combine them as sweetly as this and the results are very effective indeed.
The drums are more complex – as you might expect from a track which helped define the jacking, drum-heavy vibe of the times. The basics are as you’d expect – a 909 kick, clap and hi-hat combo. But in amongst this are a whole host of other sounds. There are other splashy claps and snares layered onto the backbeat, to give it a lo-fi stomp. There’s a ride cymbal loop layered in there, very quietly, heavily swung and not quantised to the same shuffle as everything else. Indeed, a lot of the drum hits are very loose; some are not quantised at all. This helps give a real organic vibe to the drums, and keeps you listening all the way through. There’s a tambourine on the off-beat, there are rough-sounding snares placed immediately after beat 3 to get the beat to jack harder, there are some shakers that are so off-grid they might even be in triplet time; Kenny Dope was well known for his innovations in drums, often getting two drum machines playing together in different time signatures. A lot of the percussive sounds are very quiet, but it all helps to build up a cohesive and interesting overall sound. You can hear that the drums were probably bounced down to audio pretty early on; a lot of the drum fills simply involve cutting the entire drum track out, or chopping them with a cross-fader (slightly out of time at one point).
But of course, this track would never have become such a classic without a suitably iconic vocal sample. It’s from a Barbara Tucker track which came out around the same time, and it’s absolutely huge. Whereas the rest of the track is quite restrained – subtle percussion in the beat, simple melodic ideas and so on – the vocal sample is belted out by someone who was clearly giving it some in the studio. But there isn’t a lot of it – just two main phrases; “Deep down inside” and “We needed love”. The first of these two essentially just accents the beat – it’s on every beat, there’s a touch of delay (which isn’t tempo-synced, to add to the overall organic feel), not doing anything clever, it just sounds fantastic. It’s a great sample, programmed simply, and mixed big; loud, clear, front and centre. And it makes all the difference!
So, if you want to be making chunky, swinging house of the kind that is dominating Beatport right now, this is the place to be looking. It needs an organic, live feel, simple melodies that are just enough to sustain the groove, and a sample that everyone will recognise. Now that can’t be too hard…. can it?
Categories: Classic Tracks