Monday, 17 September 2012

Review: Deep Dish – Penetrate Deeper

Ah, the joys of second hand record shopping. The Vinyl Exchange in Manchester’s northern quarter has long been one of my favourite pre or post-party haunts, with some of my favourite albums found on the cheap in the shop’s eclectic second hand dance section. It was on a sunny Saturday afternoon coming down from seeing German tech-trance legend Oliver Lieb that I flicked through and found Penetrate Deeper, which is one of those compilations you Read About And Mean To Check Out.

I’ve never really been much of a house-head (although admittedly I seem to be reviewing a lot of it right now, huh?) but this 1995 compilation is one of those releases that transcends its genre of origin, attracting a certain breed of journalistic adjective. Seminal. Ground-breaking. Classic. You get the picture, don’t you? It’s one of those records that makes you feel vaguely incomplete until you finally get round to hearing it, usually with the shrugged and slightly anti-climactic conclusion “Yeah, it’s pretty good.”

I’m not entirely sure why Penetrate Deeper has such a classic status, as I’m not versed on the vicissitudes of the ‘90s deep house scene, but even I can read the inlay and recognise that this was the springboard for some of the biggest names to emerge from the American dance scene in the 1990s. Deep Dish obviously went on to become deep-prog titans in the second half of the decade, achieving cross-over fame and then splitting up into the hilariously antithetical entities of Sharam and Dubfire. It’s also hard to ignore the recurring name of Brian Transeau on the tracklist, who obviously became BT shortly afterwards; the darling child of Sasha who helped change the direction of UK progressive house before going on to remix N*Sync, score films and eventually become an insufferable pop-trance twat. Then there’s the stealthy presence of John Selway (as one third of Prana) before he became one half of Smith & Selway, creator of a string of classic dance records and remixes over the past 15 years. I bet nobody could have predicted those disparate career paths when this compilation touched down back in ’95. “The best is yet to come”, reads the inlay, not realising that so too was the worst.

I cannot honestly say whether or not Penetrate Deeper was as ground-breaking as its fans will claim, but whether or not this sound had been done elsewhere first, it’s easy to spot the origins of Deep Dish’s trademark sound: pounding, rhythmic and hypnotic deep house awash with rubbery dub bass textures and jazzy chord stabs, the kind that would layer so well with progressive house in their sets. You can also hear the genesis of Transeau’s pioneering “epic house” formula here: all you need to do is thrown in some hippy chants and flutes and layer everything with trancey pads and you’ve got his 1995 classic album Ima, which made Sasha so weak at the knees he spent most of that year playing little else in his sets.

The compilation itself makes the most of a fairly limited set of material: the album may run at 14 tracks but they comprise of only 8 originals, with remixes of almost everything used. It’s also two separate 32-minute mixes: after Carl Craig’s remix of Relativity is rudely faded out (even though they had five minutes of disc space spare at the end!) it starts again, with sampled ocean waves signalling the start of a second mix, and alternate remixes of tracks we’ve already heard once. A little cheeky perhaps, but the various mixes offer enough variety to stop it all sounding overly samey. Of the two mixes, my favourite is definitely the second: the flow is tighter, the mixing busier and the remixes used are generally superior. Listeners unfamiliar with the ins-and-outs of ‘90s club production may find things a little dated and linear. This is pure house music, consisting of carefully fettled loops that are stacked and layered and brought in and out of the mix in neat phrases, over and over again. The two DJ mixes don’t really go anywhere, and don’t particularly intend to. This is “house music, all night long”, a never-ending groove of filtered, dubby funk.

Altogether, Penetrate Deeper’s reputation may transcend its genre of origin, I’m not entirely sure the music itself does. It’s always difficult for a 17-year old release (and counting – hello to future readers from the space year 2123!) to remain impressive in such a fast-moving and intrinsically technological genre as dance music, and sometimes you need to be immersed in the genre in question to look past the slightly yellowing stylistic edges. Of course, deep house fans should make every effort to own this, if only to look impressive name-dropping it at after-parties. For everyone else – if you see it for £5 on a second hand rack like I did, it’s a very solid, funky dive into a different era of house music. Just don’t go chasing it around on the Internet for double figure sums.

Genre: ‘90s Deep House
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 7/10


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