House music is having a moment in the sun in 2022, as we documented back in July. But one strand of it that’s much less mentioned, and when it is maligned or misunderstood: deep house.
What is Deep House Music?
Deep house music is as old as house itself. The tempo of Deep House is well below house’s usual 120-125 bpm.
From the very beginning in Chicago, pioneers like Larry Heard (aka Mr Fingers) and Marshall Jefferson, as well as making straight-ahead dance music, were making a version of the sound that was a little slower, a little more repetitive, a lot spacier.
Where these deeper tracks had vocals, they leaned towards laid back soul or blues rather than the disco which informed the more obvious dancefloor tracks.
Deep House Artists
Artistes like Ron Trent, Chez Damier, Derrick Carter, Moodymann and Theo Parrish in the US reinforced the sound and others abroad ran with it – notably in the UK, France, Italy, Germany and particularly Japan.
Over 30-plus years it has created some of the most finely crafted, emotionally potent and often spiritually committed music in any genre.
However, that has not come without issues.
Being more subtle by definition, true deep house is suited to smaller parties with the emphasis on high quality sound systems and musically erudite dancers. And given that it has always been all about perfection of craft – learning one simple thing and doing it well – rather than the rapid innovations championed in other club styles, it’s never going to be the hyped new thing.
Meanwhile, critical attention always took house’s cousin techno more seriously.
Worse still, the name “deep house” itself is one of the most misused around: it has regularly been used to mean any kind of four-to-the-floor beat that’s less hectic or less pop-aligned than whatever the current dominant sound is.
And in the EDM era of the 2010s, mainstream dance was more hectic and more pop than ever before, so almost anything could pass as deep house – leaving a generation baffled about what it even was.
However the same things that keep it in the background also make real-deal deep house resilient. Its most dedicated practitioners just keep on keeping on.
There’s no wonder it has found a welcoming home in Japan, as that do-one-thing-well ethos resonates with the culture of craftspeople from calligraphers to sushi chefs to knife makers who dedicate lifetimes to getting their process right.
Fred P. Credit: Marie Staggat
Which is why we should celebrate those fiercely dedicated creators. Just look at New Yorker Fred P who has a new EP Out All Night out this month. Under his own name and as Black Jazz Coalition, he’s made over 100 records in 16 years – and this will bring his total this year alone up to four EPs and two albums.
The three tracks on Out All Night demonstrate just how this level of practice leads to exquisite sonics.
While the way each starts with a straightforward four-square kickdrum might suggest this is more functional music for DJs, listen closely and from the start each glitters with character. The elegant subsonic bass tone of “Deeper Meaning”, the misty chords of the title track, the birdsong and claps that seem to hang in the air in “Keep Flying”: each intrigues from the off – and then each track unfolds into rich layers of warm, embracing sound with a totally distinct mood in each.
Andy Compton. Credit: Marcus Way
Or look at Andy Compton. The producer from the English West Country, now resident in Bristol, now has over 150 releases with his 45th full album Into My World dropping Nov 4.
That album is a perfect illustration of his style. It’s less abstracted than Fred P with vocals, diversions into downbeat styles and more recognisable “real” instruments – soulful sax, electric piano and guitar abound along with the drum machines and synths.
But it’s still unmistakeably deep house at heart.
Even when the tempo is well below house’s usual 120-125 bpm Into My World pulses along with the exact same hypnotic intent and melancholic yet spirit-lifting groove that has powered deep house patiently since the mid 1980s.
Both of these releases in their very different ways are gorgeous records whether you’re dancing or relaxing, on huge speakers or headphones. And both reward ultra-close attention, or work fine as mood music.
Each may be just another addition to a vast catalogue in one way, but don’t let that hide their… well… depth. This music may never be the hippest, or the most attention grabbing, but it is still reassuringly potent.
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Cover Credit: Marie Staggat
Writer | Joe Muggs
Joe Muggs is a writer, DJ and curator of many years standing, covering both mainstream and underground. His book 'Bass, Mids, Tops', covering decades of UK bass music, is out now via Strange Attractor / MIT Press, and you can subscribe to his newsletter at tinyletter.com/joemuggs.