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Coda: Gil Scott-Heron Does House
1990 House from GSH, Gratitude & Usual Ramblings
Last week’s post seemed to resonate with many. A few people reached out sharing their favorite tracks, covers or GSH originals and many new folks subscribed. I have no idea how word got out, but last week saw the biggest uptick in readers in the short history of Press Test. Big shouts to everyone that’s boosted PT and a hearty welcome to all the new subs <3
There wasn’t much cooking this week, but with all the new eyeballs I wanted to send out a little something to show that I do my best to keep the content machine chugging. This week is a quickie riffing on a House 12” by GSH.
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Gil Scott-Heron - Space Shuttle [Castle Communications, 1990]
Last week I rattled off a number of House records that sampled Gil tunes. In my blurb about Danny Morales’ “Peace Won’t Come” I said “Work For Peace” (the GSH original Danny lifts vocals from) was Gil’s only foray into electronic music I was aware of. I’m glad I left myself that out because ERRRRRRR - wrong! PT reader and IRL homie, Petey K. hipped me to this killer 12” from 1990. There’s a several versions with varying tracklists (probably because of uncleared samples on the Deep Club Dub mix), but all have the excellent Space Shuttle (Full Vocal Version).
There’s an interesting aspect to House from this era. UK and Italian producers were taking inspiration from the deep synth melodies of Larry Heard and combining them with swinging, snare-happy Garage rhythms to make their own – often more polished and structurally sophisticated – take on American house, advancing the genre for all. Chicago and NY were married overseas and the Deep House sound was codified. That may be a Toasty Take, but listening to the music of American Deep House legends, you’ll hear they were still making Freestyle, Hip House and Jak in 1990. Delving deeper into the tangential abyss, one could attribute the aforementioned polish and sophistication to the better-equipped studios in London, Milan, etc. Throughout the ‘80s, Atari struggled to break into the nascent home computing market in the US, where Apple and Microsoft dominated. They did succeed in Europe with machines like the STe, Falcon and Amiga becoming popular in home computing, gaming and music production. Running MIDI trackers like Cubase, producers had a visual interface (much like Ableton’s Arrange view) in which to structure their music into sophisticated arrangements. Computer sequencing would catch on later in the US, but hardware sequencers (like Akai’s MPC series), which catered to loop-centric tracks, ruled the market.
MIDI sequencing early House drums & piano with an Atari STe & Cubase 2:
There’s also contributing factors of culture and class. In 1990, Europe had an established infrastructure for the production of electronic music thanks to the popularity of New Wave, Italo, Post-Punk, Neue Deutsche Welle, New Beat and Euro Pop. Studios with high quality gear and the engineers to run things had been producing electronic music in some form for a decade. Compare this with American electronic music of the 80s – Freestyle, Electro, Acid House, Detroit Techno – all of which were primarily made in spartan home studios by amateur enthusiasts without the means to buy time in a professional studio.
This is all just my very obtuse way of saying that Space Shuttle, a UK-produced 12”, is a cutting edge record that sounds like American Deep House before American Deep House even got off the ground. (Obviously Gil’s vocals are a huge part of the aesthetic success). I’ve also been listening and playing a ton of this 1990-ish UK House (this mix) and fiddling with my own UK-style home studio (Atari STe running Cubase 2, Akai S3000XL, etc), so this is all occupying a lot of my mental real estate. Mea Culpa!
The Jungle Recipe: Atari, Cubase, Akai S series sampler and some synths:
Some versions of Space Shuttle include the proto-Hardcore, jak’n rave tune, “War is Very Ugly”. Frankly, I have a hard time believing GSH was picking out the breakbeats and rave stabs here, but I guess he could have come up with the melody to get the writing credit. It might also be the engineers take on a remix of the excellent B-side track, Space Shuttle (Deep Club Cut). It borrows its bassline from Mr. Fingers’ Can You Feel It to flip the original mix into a deeper, more Chicago indebted beaut.
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