That a reinvention of music conceived 25 years ago, issued on a sub-label of an offshoot from one of Europe’s most defiantly underground operations, Crème, sounds more relevant than pretty much any other contemporary release sounds like the ultimate contradiction. It could also be seen as a damning failure on the part of dance music producers to move on and look forward and not to keep returning to the same tried and tested formula, were it not for the fact that the people behind Chicago Shags, Danny Wolfers aka Legowelt and Brian “Orgue Electronique” Chinetti, have been bringing their own vision to the primal sound of Chicago jack for years. If you don’t expect this release to open up a new chapter or start a fresh narrative, then Chicago Shags’ latest effort contains all those endearing qualities — warmth, soul, rawness — that most modern producers have squeezed out of their work, leaving it cold and emasculated.
Opening track “Irrational Excess” sets out the tone for most of the EP: a sampled vocal from a horror B-movie is repeated over a buzzing, distorted bass line that builds to the sound of driving, clanging percussion, while a gurgling acid hook and the dank kettle drums that, despite sounding lo-fi, drive the track. The approach differs on “Disorderly Orchard,” but the mood remains the same. There, malfunctioning computer sounds masquerade as the central riff, while razor sharp drums and incessant toms give it that unmistakable swing. “Lost In A Blue Night” sounds like the pair have rediscovered Bobby Konders’ back catalog: a predatory bass line and stuttering, venomous hats provide the menacing backdrop, but there are also gloriously dreamy, liquid synths, offering the same emotive escape as was the U.S. producer’s wont.
This duality is also audible on label owner TLR’s edit of “South-Side Will Rise.” The bass purrs and the synths have that jittery sense of displacement that was pervasive on many early Chicago and Detroit records, but the accompanying vocal, which says “You cannot frighten us/we are immune to fear/we are immune to harm…” delivers the kind of unifying call that, for a very brief period, made house music a deeply threatening political force. Those days are long gone, and it’s hard to imagine corporate entities like the Tiestos or Hawtins of this world uttering anything vaguely controversial. But out on the west coast of Holland, two men and their music boxes still soundtrack that revolution lost in time. Here’s hoping that some of their listeners will take inspiration, and apply house music’s thinking to the next seismic shift, wherever and whenever that may occur.