Progressive House - The Grin Kids Redux
So its always a fairly time consuming thing going through the Facebook group, and with 8000+ members we're never short of content. From time to time things jump out at you and something that caught the attention of the admin was a link to a track that had been posted by member Gordon Haddow, now Gordon had been on my radar for a while after supplying me with a couple of remastered prog classics one of which I featured on a PHC Hotmix (Shakespears Sister - Black Sky). The track posted had the title 'Cowboy Boots' and it was dubbed a 'lost' Cowboy records B-Side, cue lots of interest and discussion.. what transpired from the track was the release of a very impressive EP... PHC decided to hook up with Gordon and talk all things Progressive Redux..
Oh and make sure you check the mix link at the end... its a belter!!
So a while ago in the ProgressiveHouse Classics Facebook group you posted up a track that you had been working on called 'Cowboy Boots', at that time it was dubbed 'a lost Cowboy Records B side'. What inspired you to work on recreating the sound of the early/mid nineties and then coming up with the Grin Kids EP ?
I had just finished work on another project and needed a bit of a musical palette cleanser. So I turned to a folder which had a couple of “remake” projects in that I’ve had on the go for a few years. These are tracks I have sourced original sample material for and have been attempting to rebuild from the ground up purely as a technical exercise. The tracks include Papua New Guinea by FSOL and a track which, still... I cannot fathom the drum programming or source the string sound used throughout it, also in my opinion was so far ahead of it’s time that I think it would have been incredibly hard for a mix engineer to get the best out of the final mix, that track is Nasty Rhythm by Creative Thieves (Sasha’s M.F.I. Mix). After once again battling to untangle the layers of percussion in Sasha's masterpiece of early 90’s studio tweaking I wiped the board clean, created a template with a Korg M1 a TR-909 and a few sample tracks and went to work with early 90’s prog house very much on the brain.
Were you a fan of the original Progressive House scene back in the early 90's ?
Maybe not the scene but very much so the music, It was the soundtrack to my formative teenage years. Endless tapes of house and hardcore from London and Liverpool supplied by older siblings which me and my friends consumed while usually playing Sonic 2 on the Megadive buzzed off that amazing new Pepsi Max drink! It was 1995 before I finally went to Cream and there was a choice, Saturday nights with Oakey or get down and dirty with Full On on a Friday. Techno and U.S. house won out in the end and that is why there is a huge gap in my progressive house knowledge going forward. You’ll find I don’t tend to post any tracks past 1995 on the group page. Some of my favourite dance tracks ever are progressive house tracks from the early 90’s which is why I was drawn to the PHC community in the first place.
Can you explain where the title of the EP comes from?
I believe Grin was a collective or brand that came out of 3 Beat Records in Liverpool. They had a night in town and sold mix tapes through the shop and mail order. The DJ’s on the roster included Vertigo and Welly who’s tapes are still a masterclass in how to construct an hour and and half mix on vinyl. These guys had full access to the entire 3 Beat inventory which would make sense that examples of the best music of the time appeared in their sets. There is a beautiful and messy musical transition between 1990 and say, 1993 when the mainstream sound of North Western dance went from raving at the Quad in Bootle to getting dressed up for a Saturday night in Cream and I think there is still a lot to learn from that era in an age when so much dance music is homogenised and built on imitation rather than innovation. Anyway, we were kids at the time, this is EP number 001 so there’s the name, simple.
It’s been hard to pick out a favourite from the EP myself as each track offers something different and they are all fantastic, Do you have a favourite ?
It’s probably Zero Jesus as I was determined this EP would have a classic Korg M1 piano drop somewhere! plus I think I nailed the vibe of the early 90’s not necessarily through imitation but rather through use of specific instrumentation and mixing techniques, tracks of this scope were certainly not knocked up on a bedroom rig back in the day but with hardware emulation being so powerful these days I think it’s finally possible to be faithful to the sound without spending big money on studio time.
Looking at the titles of the tracks are there nods to particular labels ?
Oh yes, 'Lost in Belgium' is a nod to the Rising High/Hart House sound of Hardfloor and the likes which turned out as more of a vague memory than referencing any tracks in particular. 'Cowboy Boots' and 'Don’t Stress' speak for themselves and 'Zero Jesus' is a reference to the legendary Zero G Datafiles series of sample CD’s from the early 90’s which appeared in… well… everything pretty much. There are touches from the original CD’s in the track but there was so much copyright infringement back then I have to be careful. Anyway these days you can buy an entire royalty free ethnic percussion pack or some vocals for example for twenty quid so there’s no real reason to go back to Zero G.
Can you give us some idea of what you used to recreate the sounds you have on the EP? , Do you have any favourite synths or drums ?
Quite simple actually. The Korg M1 is the heart of the early progressive sound and even though I have an actual M1 behind me as I type this I will be referring to software in all cases just to be clear, this EP was made entirely “in the box”. The M1 made by Korg themselves has been available in software for well over a decade now and appears in all tracks on the EP.
All drums are D16 Groups’ Drumazon which is the best Roland TR-909 emulator on the market and layers of sampled percussion loops just as it would have been back in the day. Also form D16 Group I use Phoscyon which is their TB-303 emulator which supplies any acid riffs. My favorite analogue bass synths are Strobe 2 by FXpansion and Artuias’ Mini V Minimoog emulation. Then there’s the mixing, which goes well beyond the scope of this chat but I have been as faithful as possible to the hardware of the day down to chosen reverbs and modulation, dynamic processing, down sampling loops to match Akai sample rates etc. etc. I think I’ve done ok retaining an organic analogue style sound but that’s for the listeners to Judge.
Oh and for anyone who’s interested I use Cubase 10 Pro, Ableton LIve and I’m windows based.
What sound might we expect from yourself in the future, will you look to expand on sound of the Grin Kids EP ?
I already have a couple of tracks in the line. I would definitely like to bridge the gap slightly between modern production and the early 90’s style. I like a good hook and a chord progression and a track that genuinely progresses and takes you somewhere over it’s duration so if nothing else I can promise that for the next EP!
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Gordon. We look forward to the next instalment...
Listen to and buy - The Grin Kids EP
Listen to production influences - Gordon Lost - live in the mix