If you were clubbing, listening to the radio, reading music magazines or even going to your local record store (don’t get all dewy eyed at those last two mentions) in the late 90s, up to the early 00s in London, you were mainly confronted by a barrage of UK Garage. It was hard to avoid it, however, as it is now and how it will always be in the House Music scene, you will have a ying to the yang and a very strong sound back then, was Soulful House music.
I’m of the opinion that music, much like fashion, goes through cycles and eventually a sound will come back round again (so Dubstep will probably be back in 2025) and although many artists, DJs and fans within the soulful scene will claim, it’s never gone away, which of course is correct, it has not been as prevalent, as it was back then. The phoenix very much sounds like it is rising from the flames and Soulful House is once again ascending to greatness.
If we take it back again, to the period I mention above, you would be spoiled for great nights out, events like Bobby & Steve’s ‘Garage City’ (the word garage, pronounced ‘Ga-rarge’ rather than ‘Ga-ridge’ taking the word from US Garage, as opposed to the UK version, that was of course a whole different creature) events like Soul Heaven at Ministry of Sound with such esteemed guests as Blaze and Masters at Work: Little Louie Vega and Kenny Dope. If you listened to pirate radio stations like House FM, you would hear about 80% of the music being played, being Soulful House. In fact, it even crossed over to the national chart at one point with Dennis Ferrer’s mix of Blaze and Barbara Tucker’s ‘Most Precious Love’ on Defected Records, a huge advocate for the sound. It wasn’t just a London thing either, things were going great guns in Miami, New York and over in Japan.
Being a soulful house head at heart, I personally felt that it was hit by artists not being able to monetise their productions in the same way as they could with vinyl sales. Listen to pretty much any epic Louie Vega remix, something like Elements Of Life and he would (and still does) use a variety of musicians. Real instruments, often a handful of vocalists, recording in a more traditional manner. As a newer soulful house producer, someone like Sean McCabe, it could seem quite daunting to enter the fray, knowing that to get close to that sound, you are X amount down, before it’s got anywhere near Traxsource. You can say ‘Music/Art isn’t about the money’ but there’s only so long you can keep hiring session musicians and adequate studios to record said musicians, before your bank manager will come knocking. A daunting scenario perhaps, but soulful house producers are keeping at it. The old guard are mostly still there, people like Joey Negro, DJ Spen and Ralf Gum and relatively newer producers like Black Coffee, Lay-Far and Opolopo are receiving great traction, not only from the quite niche soulful community, but by the wider house music audience.
It was a great shame that Southport Weekender, one of the most prominent supporters of the soulful sound stopped holding their events last year, but seek it out and you shall find. There are some amazing alternatives, like Suncebeat, which is held at the same place as Defected will be holding a 5 day event this summer, in Tisno, Croatia, along with Andy Ward’s Vocal Booth weekender and a recent UK festival that is staking its claim on the Southport crowd, 51st State Festival. More importantly, these events are attracting a fresh younger crowd, that is paramount to the resurgence of the sound.
Another component that could be instrumental in pushing the soulful sound to a new audience is the launch of Sam Divine’s Soul D’Vine offshoot label. Since launching D-Vine Sounds in 2014 it has had countless Traxsource Top 10 tracks and all-round success. Sam along with label A&R and fellow DJ Jessica Bays, have a passionate, eager and most importantly young following, who connect with the pair. If they are pushing Soulful House music from Soul D-Vine and music by the greats I’ve mentioned, along with mainstays like David Morales, Quentin Harris and Copyright in their sets, then one by one, they can convert new disciples to the soulful scene which will breathe life in to Soulful House.
I’m well aware that even writing this article, will ruffle some feathers, if any of the old guard get to read it. Whilst their eyes roll back to their normal position, the resurgence is taking place around them and things are evolving, whether they feel it’s needed or not. Dare I suggest, it may be nice, for a scene often lauded for its ‘love and happiness’ to embrace the resurgence and look forward to a new dawn, a new day, it may feel good?