A Brief History of New York House

Boyd Jarvis, one half of Tony Cook And The Party People.

A new series in partnership with The 108 Sessions, that profiles the alternative histories of significant music movements in the US. For more, read Mr Beatnick on L.A. hip-hop.

It’s no coincidence that Wolf Music, a label which has released over half of Medlar‘s output since 2011, has adopted the Soundcloud handle @nysoul. Both the label and one of their star members have a sound that’s heavily indebted to the more soulful end of New York’s house music heritage, from it’s soul and disco origins, proto-house minimalism, Chicago influences and swung beats. All became prominent features at different points of its forty year development, with characters like Arthur Russell and Masters at Work playing pivotal roles alongside labels like Strictly Rhythm and Easy Street. Countless histories of New York house will salute the aforementioned and Medlar doesn’t deny their impact, but his brief (alternative) history take a path less trodden.

The 108 Sessions joins the dots between L.A. hip-hop, New York house and London with Peanut Butter Wolf, Mister Saturday Night and Ruby Savage. Free entry at Mick’s Garage on on 22nd July. RSVP at Resident Advisor, more info on Facebook. Medlar’s latest EP, NRG on Delusions of Grandeur, is available from Phonica.

Listen to the playlist on Youtube below or on Spotify.

Where does your love for NY house stem from?

Dancing like a dad with an air saxophone.

What marks out a NY house record, compared to the rest of the genre?

I guess New York and New Jersey house and garage generally tend to be more rooted in soul and R&B than the more futuristic-sounding Chicago and Detroit scenes. I think many people would think of a vocal track with some chords and swung beats, popularised by Masters at Work in New York and Kerri Chandler down the way in New Jersey. Personally now I veer more towards the mid 80s proto-house sound when I think of New York house.

What NY house record has left the biggest impression on you as a producer, and why?

Something by Arthur Russell, or Boyd Jarvis, or Metro Area, or something.. I literally have no idea!

Medlar’s Brief History of New York House

First Choice – ‘Let No Man Put Asunder’ (Frankie Knuckles Mix), from Let No Man Put Asunder EP [Salsoul, 1983]

The 1983 12″ release of ‘Let No Man Put Asunder’ includes mixes by Shep Pettibone and Frankie Knuckles, as well as the acapella which has ended up on too many house tracks to count, so is deserving of a place in this list. Ron Hardy’s famous, relentlessly loop-y edit of the Walter Gibbons version no doubt played a big role in giving the emerging house sound over in Chicago a nudge in the right direction.

Tony Cook And The Party People – ‘On The Floor (Rock-It)’, from On The Floor EP [Halfmoon Productions, 1984] 

An early track from the duo of Boyd Jarvis and Timmy Regisford, ‘Stomp’ caught the attention of Prelude and, with the label’s help, was re-recorded to become ‘Visual – The Music Got Me’, a bona-fide proto-house classic (recently reissued by Ransom Note with some excellent new remixes by Nick the Record and Bawrut). ‘On The Floor’ is another production by the duo and was similarly ahead of its time, neatly demonstrating NYC club music’s transition from disco to a harder, simplified sound made for dancing.

Fallout – The Morning After (Sunrise Mix), from The Morning After EP [Fourth Floor Records, 1987]

By this point Frankie Knuckles, Ron Hardy and other Chicago DJs, would play disco records alongside the emerging new wave, industrial, imported electronic sounds and unreleased re-edits. By the mid 80s local kids were experimenting with drum machines and synthesizers to try their own take on what they were hearing and it wasn’t long before the ‘House Sound Of Chicago’ was influencing artists back in New York. Lenny Dee was more known for techno in NY but here delivers a perfect house track. It doesn’t hold the same classic status as most of the picks here but ‘The Morning After’ melds the tracky-ness of a trax release some soulful organ minor chord stabs; a key ingredient that would later become a staple of the New York (and New Jersey) sound in the 90s.

Metro – ‘Guardian Angel’, from Journey Thru N.Y. Underground EP, Republic Records [1990]

Ronald and Rheji Burrell were also inspired by the new minimal tracks coming out around the mid to late 80s and, following a stint with a major label, were given the opportunity to experiment with a more underground sound on Nu Groove, a label set up specifically for them by Frank and Karen Mendez. The label covered a few bases but rarely veered from the stripped down, generally instrumental house tracks made by the two brothers, most of which still sound super fresh today. I could’ve picked so many tunes but this 6 track EP by Rheji is all killer.

NY’s Finest – ‘Do You Feel Me’ (Club Mix), from Do You Feel Me EP [Bassline Records, 1993]

Another New York house legend, Victor Simonelli took the piano hook here from ‘Moment Of My Life’ by Inner Life (the supergroup project from Patrick Adams, Leroy Burgess & Greg Carmichael with vocals from Jocelyn Brown) and combined it with skippy, swung drums typical of most 90s house from NYC/NJ; the rhythm that would also go on to define the next era of the garage sound over in the UK. The fact the acapella is from a Powertraxx Records release, a subsidiary of West End, means it’s another one that ticks a lot of boxes.

Jex Opolis – ‘First Stomp’ (NYC Dub), from First Stomp Remixes EP [Good Timin, 2017]

These days Golf Channel, L.I.E.S, Beats In Space, Lets Play House amongst many more are all pushing different strands of house music. Jex Opolis is a Canadian artist relocated to the Big Apple. I first heard this in a set from London up-and-coming DJ Iona and absolutely love its musicality, percussion-heavy Latin vibe and drawn out structure. I’ve criminally ommited Arthur Russell, Masters At Work, Strictly Rhythm, Easy Street and loads more essential stuff from this list, but there’s no way to get it all in!

The 108 Sessions joins the dots between L.A. hip-hop, New York house and London with Peanut Butter Wolf, Mister Saturday Night and Ruby Savage. Free entry at Mick’s Garage on on 22nd July. RSVP at Resident Advisor, more info on Facebook. Medlar’s latest EP, NRG on Delusions of Grandeur, is available from Phonica.

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