The first Canadian house records I ever got my hands on were some tunes on the legendary Big Shot label when I was living in Ireland in the early ’90s. There was something about the Canadian approach that really caught my ear. It sounded like a fusion of NY, Chicago, and Detroit with a little quirky twist. I went on to be obsessed with the likes of Hi-Bias, Strobe, and the early releases on Nick Holder’s DNH label. The article below is about 3 of the labels that I felt were doing it in 1996.
My only regret about this article is that I didn’t get a chance to talk to John Acquaviva about his excellent Definitive Recordings label, which was home to the great Barada, Tranquil Elephantizer, Cantina, Blunted Dummies, Dance Fever, and Robot Man releases. I also didn’t talk to the Stickmen, which is funny considering that I used to call their office from a pay phone in Ireland in 1993 because I was so into their first few releases. Ha ha, the folly of youth in the pre-interwebs age.
Hayden Andre has this to say on his press release, “What you do makes a difference. Mind over matter. The mind, the most powerful tool. Where the mind goes, the mix will follow.” Strong words from a producer who, like Nick Holder, has been round the block and then round another block just up the street. Hayden started off nine years ago in that Toronto hotbed of talent, Big Shot Records. There he met Andrew Komis, Fiorucci and Ova, and Ron Allen. When Big Shot closed its doors Hayden and Ron started Strobe Records. This label successfully put out 14 vinyl releases and one CD, among these the classic ‘The Voyage’ by Subculture (a collaboration between Hayden and vocalist and sometime Nick Holder partner Marcus Turcotte), ‘Tribal Life’ by Hayden Andre Project, and ‘Got 2 Have Your Love’ by Helen Sharpe. Ron and Hayden also put out two quality techno releases and an album track on Plus 8 under the Psyance monicker.
Then, sadly for many vinyl junkies and deep house heads, Strobe also shut up shop. Now Hayden heads Asahtah Music Recordings (AMC Inc.) and has projects with Marcus Turcotte — a fabulous mix of ‘Come Back’ from the first Subculture EP — and Paul Anthony Knight, whose vocal talents and sax playing abilities have graced some Crash Records releases. AMC Inc. has one division, Shelltoe Records, which will concentrate on hip-hop, reggae, dancehall, progressive r&b, and calypso. So basically, this year Hayden Andre Brown has his work cut out for him. He claims that in order to inspire, one must first be inspired. His inspiration has come from many sources. Derrick May, Wynton Marsalis, Detroit’s legendary Music Institute, Juan Atkins, Wu Tang Clan, and Prince.
Nine years on and Hayden Andre Brown is still putting music out there for the undergeround, still spinning records. and still able to phase underground dancefloors through mind expanding, sonic dimensions.’ 96 could be the year when this Toronto veteran gets the payback for some of the sublime music that he has given us down through the years.
Over the last year this label has consistently put out forward looking house and garage while others just stuck to the same old formulae. Somehow Crash have inherited the Toronto magic that has been handed down from Big Shot, Hi-Bias, Strobe, and On The Move. The factors that create the Crash sound are mysterious, just like the factors that launched prolific Canadian producers like Andrew Komis, Ron Allen, Hayden Brown, and the sadly missed Michael Ova. But there is no doubt that Crash have it and this has been chronicled in ten high quality releases from label owners and producers Dino and Terry Demopoulos, Detroit’s D’Pac and Yogi, and newcomer Kevin Johnson, who gave us the weird and wonderful Trip Disco EP.
Like the classic Toronto labels, Crash has effortlessly achieved that often strived for, but seldom achieved, balance between the soulful and the experimental. In other words they have managed to absorb the influences of Detroit, Chicago, New York, and Europe while still maintaining an incredibly unique sound. Last year’s stunning “Two Faced” EP, that featured the combined talents of Dino and Terry and D’Pac and Yogi, rolled the metallic edge of the motor city into the deep, driving feel of classic disco, and cut Pierre’s Wild Pitch sound into morsels of compulsively surreal groove to create a platter that will be played for many years to come. A similarly glorious fusion was achieved with the Dino and Terry/95 North collaboration ‘Spread Peace.’ Phillip Ramirez graces this disc with his divine pipes, 95 North work their flawless NY feel while Dino’s ‘DTU Dub’ truly is future house epitomized.
Recent releases by Mindchime featuring lsi Samuel and the last D’Pac And Yogi effort as Different Shades Productions show that the momentum of this exceptional label is showing no signs of slowing. The next phase for Crash is a new off shoot label called Vinyl Peace Recordings featuring the talents of Toronto perrenials like Vince Ailey (who gave us the Mystic Phases releases on Toronto Underground) and Kevin Johnson.
Nick Holder is another example of Toronto eclecticism, his productions take in excellent disco loops, hard, tracky house, smooth garage, and atmospheric techno. Also Holder is no newcomer, he started providing the dance music community with quality material in 1991 with his first EP on DNH, which included the joyously bouncy techno of “Soundwaves” and “Beyond The Bounds.” These were later licensed by Hi-Bias and put out on the first Z-Formation EP. While attempting to get his DNH imprint off the ground he put out the ambitious double pack EP, ‘Digital Age’ on Strobe. This featured his more technoid side with a selection of heavily electronic, Detroit-tinged house. With help from Strobers Ron Allen and Hayden Andre Brown he successfully got DNH fully operational and since 1992 has been putting out house music with a unique, quirky, but always danceable edge.
His first efforts were obviously influenced by the Detroit classics, but had a happier, bouncier feel. “I was inspired by a lot of the Detroit stuff, Juan, Carl Craig and Derrick May, that was what inspired ‘Soundwaves.’ After that I did another track for Hi Bias called ‘Frenzy’ which came out on the second Z-Formation’ EP.” ‘Frenzy’ also carried that strong techno feel, but this time the inspiration seemed to come from the North of England and the deep, bassy experiments of Nightwares on Wax, Unique 3, and Sweet Exorcist. “Yeah, I’ve been told that by other people as well. After that I was finished with Hi Bias and I put out ‘Digital Age’ on DNH, I only put out a few copies and then Strobe, Ron Allen and Hayden, picked it up. Hayden and Ron hooked me up to some distributors and I took it from there on my own. The next release was another techno project, but it didn’t really get released (laughs), there’s only nine copies of it in existence. So then I moved into producing house and the first house release was ‘The Summer Grooves’ EP.”
This EP included the irresistible ‘Our Groove’ and from this platter onwards Nick Holder started getting attention. However, amid the quirkiness of his work, the tension between techno and house remained very apparent. “Yeah, yeah, that’s true ‘cos my mind is stuck somewhere between house and techno. At the moment I have lots of techno stuff completed, but it won’t be put out on DNH. For me the music that falls into that middle category is the deeper stuff like ‘Erotic Illisions’ and ‘Echoes and Vibes’ from the ‘Deep Experiments Vol. 1’ EP. I did that with Marcus Turcotte who did the vocals on Hayden Andre’s Subculture projects. I like the track sound too, there’s always room for a track sound, a track is a DJ tool more than a full production, it’s good for beefing up another track.”
DNH is now up to 24 releases, Nick Holder could hardly be called prolific, merely because you never see the guy in the music magazines that should be dealing with his kind of underground output. However, when it comes to production Nick is a busy. busy man and his presence is always felt on underground dancefloors whether it’s for the sublime depth of his Deep Experiments projects, the superior disco loopage of Nick Holder Project, or the heavy, but groovy trackwork of Track In The Box’ by Toronto Track Company. So far this year we have the ‘No Sell Out EP,’ ‘Fruit Loops’ on Definitive, a ‘Fruit Loops Vol 2’ on the way and a project on Berlin label K7, who also used his ‘Erotic Illusions track on theirr ‘X Mix 5’ release. Perhaps we might even get a chance to see what Mr. Holder looks like because by this stage we have ascertained that he sounds pretty bloody good.