Wrote about Baltimore house as part of my weekly writing slot with Egg London. Go clock it.
Having been around since the late 80’s, Baltimore house music has always put people on the fence. Either loved or misunderstood – it was a unique style of producing that put the West Coast on the map in terms of dance music talent.
The Baltimore style was typically a cut and chop way of remixing, it was all about sampling funk, soul and hip-hop and pasting them over clever break beats. Odd synths, simple repetition and bass-heavy drums created patterned tunes that brought thousands of different elements together into one track. It’s dance music for gangstas with attention deficit disorder. When done well, it’s confidently one of the most mesmerising genres out there – but done poorly, as it has been done in the last few years, and it can be a terrible listen.
In the last few years, the sound of Baltimore house has had it’s loyal following. With everyone from Kanye to local London producers giving it some love – a new audience is participating in trying to recreate the old sound and spirit. It has opened the door to a new legacy of labels in the UK re-releasing a fine selection of classic records. Dress 2 Sweat being one of them and has been winning love with everyone from Pearson Sound to Ben Pearce for a few years now. It’s through these producers that real Baltimore is creeping it’s way back into British club land, this time with finesse and style.
It’s the frenetic pace and energy of Baltimore that is most exciting – and it’s the classic artists, like Scottie B, DJ K-Swift and DJ Spen, who have kept it alive for the last 20 years. From mo-town to cartoon characters, American prime ministers and obscure TV programmes, it was the sampling that made Baltimore what it is. With new white labels being discovered every single day – it’s music for the real dedicated music collectors out there, and the more we learn now, the further the steps we can trace back go.
DJ Spen has long embraced the sound of Baltimore. As a DJ who’s always had genuinely eclectic flair – Spen’s chunky tech grooves show a deeper, more soulful side to the history of house music. These records weren’t club classics, but they were unique, different and incredibly exciting for audiences. More recently, Spen has been behind Quantize Records, a step away from the hip hop roots that made him a solid part of the Baltimore scene. Whilst he might have been the first guy ever to bring a hip hop production group – aptly named the Numarx in 1986 – to Baltimore, it was with the single ‘Girl You Know It’s True’ that first gave Spen his real success.
He then went on to create remixes for some of clubland’s biggest names in the late 80s and early 90s, such as Diana Ross, Everything but the Girl, Ann Nesby, and Shaun Escoffery. While at his label, Basement Boys, Spen partnered with Teddy Douglas, Thommy Davis and Karizma all created works that are still considered house anthems.
Since then he went on to form his own imprint, Code Red in 2004, and also became part of successful production outfit the MuthaFunkaz, teaming up with Defected Records along the way.
One of the true veterans of the scene, his music encompasses everything that house music, and typically the Baltimore sound, originally stood for. His music is still infected with his US roots and in particular the early days of funk and disco, bringing a real energy to the dancefloor.
You can catch the Baltimore master at work this Saturday at Egg, when Spen will be spinning alongside Defected’s Sam Divine and the Wolf Music camp.
Saturday 29th March 2014
Lineup: DJ Spen, Sam Divine, Medlar & Wolf Music