Rediscovering progressive house. Why don’t they make music like this anymore?
1999 to 2001 was the golden age of progressive house music. On the one extreme was the saccharine melodies of trance. On the other extreme was atonal repetitive jackhammer techno.
During this period, prog house managed to strike a delicate balance between those two extremes, resulting in some of the most exciting electronic dance music known to man. The best tunes are often infectiously melodic, underpinned by deep bass and kick drums, and sprinkled with sci-fi sound effects like future anthems designed to serenade Type One civilisations across the Andromeda Nebula. The best known proponents of prog house were Sasha and Digweed, the famous DJs behind the legendary Northern Exposure mixed CDs. Other luminaries of the scene were Anthony Pappa, Dave Seaman, Nick Warren, Satoshi Tomiie, Danny Tenaglia, Danny Howells and Steve Lawler, all of whom have compiled DJ mixes for the Global Underground CD series at one time or other.
Towards the end of 2001, the sound of prog house started to become more tribal, less melodic and therefore dull, thereby slowly losing its appeal to the clubbing community.
By 2005, most of the prog house DJs – including Sasha and Digweed – have moved into techno, and prog house releases no longer have the sparkle that existed at the turn of the century. Below are some of the best prog house mixes from the golden era.
SANDRA COLLINS – “CREAM”
With her model like looks and mean turntable skills, Ms Collins is one of the best known underground DJs in America. Underlined by intense but funky pulsating bass from start to end, this marvellous mix holds no punches. Best savoured at 3.00am, while going insane at a dark basement rave with a thousand other clubbers. The highlight is tracks 6 and 7, aptly titled “My Mind Is Going” and “Derangement Of The Senses”. The latter track especially is a masterpiece of twisted future sounds intertwined with deadly beats.
DAVE SEAMAN – “RENAISSANCE AWAKENING”
A double CD compilation mixed by Dave Seaman (the DJ, not the footballer), CD one is the perfect prog house showcase. Opening with soothing ambient breakbeat of Matt Jackson’s “Circulation”, its bright sounds serve as a warm up before the descent into darker moods beginning with Zero Gravity’s “A New Sensorium”. Tough 4/4 beats ride the sonic plains, a harbinger of the gathering storm, building pressure and peaking at track 5 – Silvio Ecomo’s classic tribal prog “Standing” – upon the onslaught of brutal stampeding drums. The journey continues, taking in infectious vocal house (Meeker’s “Save Me”) and ending with shimmering keys accompanying the fragile vocals of Sophie Moleta in Human Movement’s “Love Has Come Again”.
JOHN DIGWEED” – BEDROCK”
It is difficult to choose the best from Digweed’s mixes during the golden age of prog as they are all very good. To me, “Bedrock” has a slight edge over the rest. “Bedrock” is the name of his club night in London, which is still running more than a decade later. It is also the name of his record company and music making partnership with Nick Muir. Digweed’s inaugural “Bedrock” mix is a two CD affair, displaying his exemplary skills at sequencing a perfect musical journey, replete with drama and excitement. CD one is housier, featuring the irresistible Latin funk (Science Dept’s “Repercussion”) and sing along vocal house anthem (“True” by Morel). The beats get harder in CD two, exemplified by Voyager’s epic “Time Travel” and Sandra Collins’ “Flutterby”. Bedrock’s pounding prog classic “Heaven Scent” brings the party to a satisfying close.
JIMMY VAN M – “BEDROCK”
Jimmy Van M is an American DJ, and one of the early ones to play prog house in that country. With mixing skills comparable to Sasha & Digweed, it is no wonder that they appointed him to be the opening DJ for their massive Delta Heavy tour in the States in 2002. Mr Van M compiled the second in the “Bedrock” series of mixed CDs (the first was by Digweed, above). The best moments are on CD one, beginning from ECVM’s atmospheric “Circuit Breaker”, sounding like the calm in the eye of a black hole punctuated by the dull echo of distant cosmic storms. Intensity and pressure builds slowly via Yum Yum’s “Heavy Fluid”, and climaxes with an orgasmic explosion of tabla percussion in Bill Hamel’s “Barotek”.