Styles & Forms | Tribal/Progressive House | Dance
Drums are the basis of tribal house. While the percussion may be simple and repetitive, its appeal lies in a certain primal, driving energy, stemming from the rhythmical drumming antics of tribespeople in pre-industrialized societies.
From Middle Eastern prayer call to Brazilian batucada rhythms, many musical styles are culture-specific. However, the West often lumps together this rich variety of cultural nuances, rather insultingly, under the tag of ‘ethnic’. Nevertheless, some of these sounds have made their way onto buttons on keyboards and drum machines. A true tribal track respectfully utilizes such sounds, which are derived either from the authentic tribal rhythms of indigenous cultures or sampled from the field.
After house’s US inception, American producers like Murk, the Latin-tinged Masters At Work or labels such as Strictly Rhythm were early exponents of tribal house. The first wave of early 1990s progressive house in the UK, meanwhile, was largely centred around acts like Spooky and The Drum Club or others on William Orbit’s Guerilla label or Leftfield’s Hard Hands imprint. The exquisite use of field sample sounds on Leftfield’s Leftism album remain a principal reason as to why it’s so often dubbed the best dance album ever.
With its slightly trippy, dub inflections and multi-level percussion, ‘progressive’ was intended to signify a thoughtful development for house music. It was more refined than hardcore rave or marauding jungle, and it began to dominate London’s West End clubs.
Progressive’s first incarnation produced live dance bands such as Underworld, Leftfield, Fluke and The Aloof. By the mid-1990s, genres such as hard house had eclipsed it but as the 1990s progressed, however, a transatlantic synthesis of underground producers from the States, such as Deep Dish and Danny Tenaglia, along with UK DJ superstars like Sasha and John Digweed, was developing.
With his reputation as the DJ’s DJ, Italian-American New York DJ Danny Tenaglia was a linchpin in this late-1990s musical synthesis. Even as late as 1999, DJs like Sasha, Dave Seaman and Danny Howells were allowing themselves to be categorized as deep trance. But the explosion of big-riff commercial trance into the pop charts led to a necessary distancing by these serious jocks from what they saw as undesirable cheesy pap and a move towards Tenaglia’s dark house strain. Progressive house Mk II, taking tribal inflections and overlaying them with various modern sounds and effects, crystallized around the millennium into the international dance scene.
In 2001 progressive supplanted the Hoovers and horns of hard house as the UK dance industry’s favourite genre. Some argued, however, that its subtle, stripped-down sound was not suited to the big venues prog DJs found themselves playing in. Others complained that a prog set from the likes of John Digweed – with its extended breakdowns and seemingly identical, dinosaur-lumbering loops – was pompous prog rock for post-ecstasy accountants. Still, the ability of its versatile DJs and producers to move between genres, and the vision of labels such...
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