Sunday, December 26, 2004

What Is Dirty House?

“I think the dirty house sound of San Francisco is a response to the super-clean, smoothed-out deep house that was prevalent for so long,” says DJ Monty Luke when I probe him about the City's sleaziest new dance trend. Change has come with a thud again to a city used to earthquakes, only this time it’s not building foundations that are shaking, but the town's music sense . Call it electro-house, disco-punk or bleep-funk–however you refer to the gritty dance groove taking over Fogtown’s tastemaker watering holes, one thing’s for sure–it’s dirty.

With inspiration taken from Detroit electro, Chicago acid house, Italo-disco, early-90s Strictly Rhythm singles and rock bands playing around with pawn shop drum machines, dirty house is a combination of the best of old and new dance music, re-formed via a loose, sexy attitude. In the same way that radio rap has strayed from strict syncopation in favor of slightly off-time handclap beats and dragging bass-lines, house has drifted away from polished music and toward slapdash sounds. And San Francisco has been right there in the forefront of dirty house labels, producers and clubs. But if you really want to hear what this music is about, stroll down to any number of recently opened alcohol dens, especially those without signs in front.

In a notoriously drunken city with a nonchalant dress sense, dudes at bars rock hoodies under vintage jeans jackets over blue Dickies with low-top Chucks and sit back-to-the-bar chugging pint glasses of vodka-anything. Girls sashay in self-sewn stripped skirts, long-sleeve thermals, sheer tunics and re-made housecoats looking casual-fabulous right down to their thrifted pointy shoes. Its in the bars where these kids meet–Arrow, The Top, Amnesia, Rickshaw Stop and Rx Gallery (not to mention a new proliferation of warehouse jams around the city) that dirty house has taken hold. Travis Kirschbaum (a.k.a. DJ TK Disco) reckons the music is “a darker, edgier side of house–kind of a backlash to whole late-90s deep-and-jazzy thing, [which] all started sounding the same.” He surmises “I think the kids just want something new.”

Although primarily an underground phenomena, one of the refreshing things about the dirty house scene is how it’s proponents reject elitism in favor of a “one nation under a groove” attitude. Case in point, Luke has a residency at 1015 Folsom where he drops some dirty cuts. Whereas electroclash music seemed pretentious and artificial, dirty house is populist, funky and all encompassing. Kirschbaum adds, ”At the end of the day it's all just house music. The last thing we need is for another sub-genre to come along and segregate us even more. I mean we're all in this together right?”

The dirty house movement has come together globally, represented by labels like Germany’s Get Physical and Gomma, Scotland’s Soma, the UK’s Electric Avenue, Freerange and Session joining France’s Tigersushi and American imprints Modal, Environ, Gallery and Grab. Each of them uniquely heralds this mishmash of Talking Heads bass loops and distorted Roland synths. Dirty house DJ sets are a sloppy, anything-goes hodgepodge of music that includes artists as diverse as Brooks, Chicken Lips and Booka Shade, to !!!, Kid Creole and Yazz.

(Booka Shade)
this is an audio post - click to play

SF has plenty to brag about too, with bands like the Invisibles, Paradise Boys and Boyskout adding synthy house beats to their rock repertoires, labels like producer Ben Cook’s Rong Records or Garth of Wicked’s Greyhound, plus DJs like Solar , Jeniluv, Charlotte the Baroness, Anthony Garlic and Phillip Sherburne who are all blurring the boundaries between house, techno and 80s-inspired dance music.

Other producers such as Layne Fox, Broker Dealer (pictured above) and Charles Spencer have their own approaches to dirty grooves and have represented it well on local and international wax. But SF’s dirty house sound shouldn’t be dissected for too long, better to just toss back a stiff shot and get sweaty to it on a weeknight. This music is about music, not about obscure tracks or who you know in the “scene”. As Luke succinctly proffers: “You can get real ill and dirty by simply mixing the right cuts together.”

: Hear a great cross-section dirty house downloadable music clips at Syntax Recordings , a division of Syntax Music Distribution.