Todd Terry really needs no introduction. His New York sound appeared at the dawn of house music culture in the late ’80s. It was a furious and extremely fun amalgam of hip-hop, freestyle and house, laced with samples lifted from the club classics that had driven NY and Chicago for over a decade. Whereas Chicago’s acid tracks and Detroit’s early techno tunes provided the abstract, pioneering approach that heralded ‘a brave new world’ of sound, Terry’s tracks were carnivalesque roller coaster rides of drum machine beats, freestyle basslines and riotous collections of samples.
His approach was no less pioneering than anything from the mid west. His sound provided the perfect accompaniment to the euphoric vocal tracks coming out of New Jersey, New York, Chicago and Detroit (Members Of The House, for example). The messages of sisterly and brotherly love found in “Promised Land” by Joe Smooth, Shawn Christopher’s “People Of All Nations” or “If You Should Need A Friend” by Blaze were often followed by Terry classics like Orange Lemon’s “Dreams Of Santa Ana” or “Can You Party” by Royal House. The fun-filled craziness of these tunes created the peak from which djs would descend into the darker and more abstract segments of their sets, where you would find Phuture, Bam Bam, Reese & Santonio and Rhythim is Rhythim; sonic equivalents of off-world cruisers reaching into the outer limits of the night and your mind — add slight echo here ;).
Todd Terry’s music created the template for several styles of ‘rave’ music that evolved from ‘acid house.’ The type of keyboard stabs found on Black Riot’s “A Day In The Life” became standard fare in the more frantic and heavier styles that followed in the wake of 1988’s “Summer Of Love” and were emulated in records coming from Brooklyn, Brussels, Birmingham, and Bologna. But, just when everyone thought they had Terry’s sound pinned, he turned around in the early ’90s and created a slick, minimalist form of garage that, along with Morales’ Red Zone mixes, paved the way for the progressive house that ruled dance floors globally for a good portion of the ’90s. Thankfully that often lumpen sound was balanced with the fantastic records still streaming out of the United States Of America.
When I interviewed Terry back in 2001 my last question was — and I told him it could be off the record — “What is your biggest regret?” He told me somberly that not being able to hear his own music on the radio in his home city of New York was his biggest regret. And the sadness in his voice really drove the point home. Without Todd Terry yer rave toons wouldn’t sound like they do, so as PM Dawn said on “Shake” from their debut LP, “Everyone thank Todd Terry.”
A GODFATHER OF THE GROOVE THROWS LIGHT ON HIS NEXT SECOND COMING
By Chris Orr
In the 1990s, there was hardly a week when a Todd Terry remix wasn’t on the dance charts. His radical reworkings of pop and rock songs led British journalists to dub him “Todd the God.” But, Todd Terry is feeling anything but Godlike. “I gotta get much better; he says calmly, sitting serenely in the lobby of the Serrano Hotel in San Francisco, right before he is to take the stage after a West Coast absence of a few years. I gotta learn more. I’m not catching up to it as fast as I should.” Terry is not talking about dance music, but about the internet. Though as anyone who’s seen a club erupt to his euphoric songs will attest — from “Day in the Life” under the moniker Black Riot to his remix of “Missing” by Everything But the Girl, which catapulted the group from indie cult status to mainstream radio airplay —Terry is anything but a beginner when it comes to music.
He has gone from freestyle and hip-hop to house and, in 1998, in what may be his most radical direction change yet, to drum ‘n’ bass with the album Resolutions. Although it was embraced by the genre’s main players in the UK, Terry’s response to the acclaim is characteristically low key. “The drum ‘n’ bass thing was just a little project I did on the side. It got blown out of proportion. I wanted it to be a real underground thing. I’ve done Latin, hip-hop, house. It just came with the times, really.” It’s a response that he echoes when asked about his string of hit remixes. “Always go with the times,” he says. “At that time [early ’90s], remixers were just taking elements from the vocal of the original productions and putting their own music with them. As I move further down the line, it may seem that I’m getting lazier, but actually it’s a little bit smarter to cater to the song; stick to the artist’s format and just add a bassline and a beat.” Now he’s changing again, “because I have to cater to a different type of DJ. DJs play faster and harder now, so I have to temper my productions and remixes to suit these people and their sound.”
The next step in his education, then, is less about the music than about the music business. Although considered royalty in Europe, he is virtually unknown in America. He still lives in New York, but plays primarily in Europe and the UK. So when he decided recently to launch two labels — In House, which deals with underground sounds, and Sound Design, which features more accessible tracks with vocals — he signed with UK club music entity Ministry Of Sound. It takes a lot of thought to run a label, and I couldn’t run a label out of New York ’cause they don’t play the music on the radio; they don’t play dance music. You can fight and fight and fight, but they (the radio stations] ain’t givin’ it enough. There’s no real market for dance music in this country because of the bad job that radio has done. I’m finally fed up with it. I’m really fed up.” So Terry is resigned to being famous everywhere but where he lives. Not that he minds. “I like it wherever the feeling is. Wherever it’s at, I don’t mind being there. Wherever they want it, I’ll play.”