Ever since the breakout success of their ecstatic “Rushing to Paradise (Walkin These Streets),” a full-blooded rollercoaster of a house anthem, House Of House have kept a surprisingly low profile. In a year when deep house was dragged kicking and screaming from the underground into global dance music conscioussness, the theatricality and the sheer emotional exuberance of the track ensured that it featured prominently in most late-summer DJ crates. The duo, made up of Saheer Umar and Still Going’s Olivier “Liv” Spencer, have a slew of remix projects scheduled for 2010 which kicks off with one for The Juan Maclean to complement their A Mountain of One “Bones” remix from 2009. In this insightful interview with both guys, they finally break the silence about their hit, where they’re going from there, and just how important New York is to their sound and that of the many game-changing house acts emerging from the city at the moment.
How did such an epic song like “Rushing to Paradise,” with enough content for three songs come together?
As unsatisfying of an answer as this may be, it just kinda turned out the way it turned out. We try to just approach the creative process organically, by having a starting point that’s a collection of our influences, but eventually giving way to nature. We try to allow the story to tell itself, and an essential element to letting that process take shape is trusting our instincts. Making dance music is (in a way) like reading a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book: While you may start at one place, if you don’t trust your instincts and feel the music you’re making, you could end up being chased towards a cliff by a pack of stampeding rhinos.
Have you done much sampling in your House of House tracks?
Next to none. While we don’t feel that sampling is necessarily “bad” or “lazy” (or whatever negative connotation that’s been tethered to it), we just find it simpler to play the parts ourselves. So, save a few drum sounds and vocal snippets, we try to have the wealth of material come directly from us.
The sound of early house and disco is easily recognizable in your music. Were they strong influences on you growing up?
House? Without question. I think almost more influential than mid-to-late 80’s Chicago house is late-80’s to early-90’s New York and New Jersey house. The tracks were deeper, more solidly structured and the overall sound was richer, but there was also a harder edge in the drum programming. New York in the early-90’s saw house music being closely linked to hip-hop. I mean, look at “How Do I Love Thee” by Queen Latifah. That’s practically a house classic. Or take a record like “Looking At The Front Door” by Main Source and compare that to Earth People’s “Dance.” There is something of shared sense of melody and rhythm that both records have. The way parties went down when I was teenager was that you’d have your hip-hop room and you’d have your house room and usually, you’d see the same kids dancing in both rooms. At that time, house still maintained a heavy sense of machismo yet there was also the dichotomy of have the gay vogue scene being just as heavy of an influence, but unfortunately, that’s not the case so much these days. So, even though on the surface it may be difficult to detect, hip-hop is definitely a big influence on what we do in House of House.
“Rushing to Paradise” was such a huge hit. Where do you go next from there?
Country music? Or a maybe we’ll do a Man is Bastard-style noise band. Nah, that’s totally not my answer.
“Rushing to Paradise” was released on Whatever You Want. How did that come about, and are there any more plans to release again through them?
WEWW is a great label with impeccable taste and a discerning ear for detail. We’re open to exploring all horizons for releasing our music. We just want to keep challenging ourselves and striving for to the next plateau.
Is there any chance of a House of House/Still Going collaboration?
We’ll have to check our tea leaves and get back to you.
So far you’ve done remixes for The Juan McLean and A Mountain of One. Are you picky about doing remixes, and do you have any more lined up soon?
Picky indeed. Sometimes remix treatments are applied to perfectly good songs that just don’t need it, so we try to approach with caution. But if there could be an interesting direction we feel we may be able to take the source material, then that is something we can get excited about. We’re just really careful about what we put our names on. But yes, there are more on the way.
The Juan McLean remix in particular features a far more sparse, aggressive sound than previous HoH outings. It seems almost to have a UK funky feel in terms of drum patterns. Is this a new direction for you guys, and is the new bass music coming out of the UK registering with you at all?
We listen to and play lots of techno in our sets, so it’s not so outside of the realm of possibility for us to put out some harder material. I’ve always appreciated musical developments coming out of the UK. I also have always found it funny that within minutes of a new strain of electronic music mutation that takes shape, the UK has already given it a name and dedicated a segment in NME about the new “movement,” albeit only hours old! It’s tough not to find that somewhat endearing. Nonetheless, there are some seriously interesting developments coming out of the “bass” scene. The “jocky warble-bass” dubstep stuff is kinda of ubiquitous and clowny at this point, so the more nuanced, subtle and soulful side of that scene is where I feel you find the real meat of the artistry.
You’re both New York-based musicians. How important is the city’s musical past, particularly in terms of house and disco, to your sound?
Almost more than anything else, this city is the main drive behind what we do. The musical history here is so intensely rich, so layered and multi-faceted, it’d be down right offensive to NOT be inspired by these surroundings. There is nothing more “house” or “disco” than New York. We built dance music culture.
How do you rate the scene in New York at the moment in terms of parties, atmosphere, and musical appetite?
Rudy Giuliani was a real funny dude. Apparently he enjoyed ruining everything that made New York “New York.” He resurrected prohibition era cabaret laws (i.e. no dancing without a license) which put some serious hurt on the club scene. So, as much as I’d like to place blame on rich real estate developers, trust fund babies and clueless hipsters for taking the edge off of this city, it really all points back to Giuliani. The guy basically sold all of the the soul of the city. And for those of us who care, I think it’s all of our jobs to take it back and restore the order.
I’ve noticed that you’re big fans of the Underground Quality stable of artists, throwing a Levon Vincent track into a set, or supporting the latest DJ Qu release on Deconstruct. As a label and roster of artists most readily associated with New York, in the same way, as say DFA are, do you think there is overlap between your sound and theirs, and what about their sound do like so much?
We definitely are feeling some of the stuff coming out of that camp, especially Fred P. He’s sort of like the sleeping monster on that label. His output is not as high profile as some of his label mates, but it definitely deserves to be. Though, I’m not so sure there is an overlap of sound or one particular “sound” that is dominating New York at the moment. That’s the best thing about it. Everyone is trying to come from a different place and it makes the pool of records to pick from all the more interesting.
What other artists are really making waves for you at the moment, or pushing the envelope?
In the electronic/dance realm, I’m really excited about the stuff coming out of the Mordant camp. I’ve been listening to the Vindicatrix and Mordant Music LP’s pretty much non-stop. The Emptyset record from last year is pretty brilliant. Peter Van Hoesen is doing some great techno along with Samuli Kemppi, Traversable Wormhole, Ancient Methods and Sandwell District. Theo Parrish is a genius and still keeps everyone else playing catch up. STL’s approach to music is really respectable and garners damn good results. Really excited that Terre Thaemlitz resurrected his DJ Sprinkles moniker and is consistently putting out music again, because it’s some of the best stuff around. Redshape is still killing it and pushing things. And even though they only have thre records out the stuff on W.T. Records is quite nice as well.
You’ve toured relatively little over the last year, is that a conscious decision, or can we expect more traveling in 2010?
Mainly it was a matter of circumstance more than anything else. We’re both ultra busy all of the time, so it can sometimes be tough to nail us down. But this year, we’re dedicating ourselves to touring as much as we can. So definitely expect a lot more traveling in ’10.
Release-wise, what else can we expect from 2010?
We’re currently polishing off some more remixes but the main focus is just working on new House of House material. So, you’ll be seeing more releases coming out of our camp for sure.