2022

Dance Music for Listening volume 2: The 90s

Volume 1 of Dance Music for Listening was all recent music. As I thought about volume 2, I realized that much of the dance music I like to hear at home came out in the 90s. So this one is exclusively music from that decade, with the exception of one track from the early 2000s. I heard some of this music at the time, the rest I discovered later.

Usually I try to avoid tracks that are overexposed. Many sources are available for music with sing-along familiarity; I like to offer an alternative, music that is mostly or entirely fresh to your ears. Some of these tracks might break that rule, depending on where you were and what you were doing in the 90s. Two of them were top 20 pop hits in the UK. Those and a few others were played frequently in bars or clubs in various parts of the world. However, I think it’s safe to say that most of these tracks were not on the pop culture radar at the time.

One 90s sub-sub-genre that remains popular with dance music fans and collectors is “Italo House”. As you probably guessed, it’s house music made by Italian artists. Track #1 is a well known example. Track #11 is another example, which would have been more obvious had they used their main working name, The True Underground Sound Of Rome.

Steve Cobby, from Hull, England, has been amazingly prolific since the early 90s with a variety of pseudonyms and collaborations. Fila Brazillia is probably his best known project, a collaboration with Dave McSherry that released 10 albums. I feel a little guilty about playing a very early track – it might even have been their first single – because it is not quite representative of the inventive, fearless, catchy, semi-electronic music on most of their albums. But it’s such a good track, and has some unexpected sounds of the type that show up in all their music. Today Steve releases solo music under his own name. Fila Brazillia reunited to make some new music in 2020.

Ron Trent was part of the second wave of Chicago house artists in the early to mid 90s. (We’ll hear a representative from the first wave at the end of the mix.) This track was made with a frequent collaborator from Detroit, Chez Damier, and released on their own label, Prescription Records. Both are making music in the 21st century.

It isn’t possible to talk about 90s dance music without saying something about The Orb, a shifting collective anchored by DJ and producer Alex Paterson. Their 90s sub-sub-genre, although they probably would not want to be labelled, was “ambient house”. Thumping beats, which could suddenly disappear into a musical fog, met prog-rock influences like baffling titles, elaborate concepts, and some very long songs. They even made an album with Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour in 2010.

And it isn’t possible for me to make a mix of 90s dance music without including Pet Shop Boys!

This mix might exist because of track #7, simply because I’ve always wanted to put in a mix. I fell in love with it when it was released. Nobody in the group is named Adam; it’s a British duo consisting of Sally Rodgers and Steve Jones. If you’re listening to this in cold weather, you’ll enjoy the spoken word section in the middle about summer nostalgia.

Going back to first and second waves of musical innovators, Carl Craig is part of the second wave of Detroit techno artists. This track is from 1997, from an album with the provocative title “More Songs About Food And Revolutionary Art”. He remains active as a producer and DJ.

If you think track #10 sounds like New Order, that’s because it is. Well, half of them. After two of the members did side projects, Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris decided to do their own with the humble name “The Other Two”. Gillian, who is a silent, stoic synthesizer wiz with New Order, turned out to to be a wonderful singer.

And here’s Kraftwerk. Although their best-known music was made in the 80s, in 1991 they released The Mix, with radical reworkings of earlier songs. In the case of “Pocket Calculator”, the result is much more rhythmically complex than the original.

We end with the dance music giant Frankie Knuckles who sadly passed away in 2014. To call him part of the first wave of Chicago house music is an understatement; the term “house music” comes from The Warehouse, the predominantly black and gay club that took off because of Frankie’s unique music selection as the star DJ. He was also a prolific remixer and producer. “The Whistle Song” from 1991 is probably his best known production, and for good reason.

In 2004, the street where the Warehouse once stood was renamed Frankie Knuckles Way, thanks to the efforts of an Illinois state senator named Barack Obama.

  1. Don Carlos – Alone
  2. Fila Brazillia – Mermaids
  3. Ron & Chez D with Angelique Nicole – Don’t Try It
  4. The Orb – Close Encounters
  5. Pet Shop Boys – Before
  6. Kaito – Intension
  7. A Man Called Adam – Barefoot in the Head
  8. 808 State – Orbit
  9. Carl Craig – Dreamland
  10. The Other Two – The Greatest Thing
  11. The Bermuda Triangle – Marine Sulphure Queen
  12. Kraftwerk – Pocket Calculator (1991 version)
  13. Soichi Terada and Manabu Nagayama – Love Tension
  14. Electribe 101 – Tell Me When the Fever Ended
  15. Frankie Knuckles – The Whistle Song (Sound Factory 12″ mix)

Listen to this mix at Mixcloud.