The inexorable rise of Vancouver’s Mood Hut and its associates has been one of the most striking narratives in the last year or so of dance music. On paper it’s strange – here is a group who push no sonic boundaries, their music a slow brand of house soaked in boogie and disco, whose tracks never move at a pace faster than a gentle meander. Yet they’ve captured the attention of DJs, home listeners and critics in a fashion generally reserved for the trailblazers of an exciting new scene (the likes of which we haven’t seen for a few years now, all things considered). The quality of music, if you’re into warm, lazy house excursions, isn’t really up for consideration. They’ve definitely got something. The more interesting question is why so much adoration has been poured on such an unshowy, ostensibly backward-looking sound.
The output of the collective has been satisfying and coherent, from the Steppers’ first two playful singles Bubble World and Openin’ Up to Jack J’s gorgeous solo record (which spawned one of last year’s very best tracks) via the blunted house explorations of Hashman Deejay, all generally released on Mood Hut or close affiliates Peoples Potential Unlimited or Future Times. Theirs is a breezy Sunday afternoon music, composed of warm live-style drums that rarely break a sweat accompanied by bulky square basslines and soft unhurried melodies that drift serenely by.
On their latest single Pender Street Steppers have delivered exactly what we all wanted, more of what only they can do. The Glass City is a confection of gentle percussion including a tambourine, a guiro and a cheeky tom fill, steered by a fluttering melody and a broad bass bounce. Golden Garden plays on the same themes to different effects, slower and busier, accompanied by birdsong and loving details to reward the careful listener, such as the subtle doubling of the flute melody or a momentary skip in the rhythm which adds a very human touch.
Disco edits and lo-fi boogie house are a dime a dozen these days, yet there is a certain cynicism that often comes with these forays into the past, something opportunistic and incongruous about welding these liberated disco melodies and vocals to the mercilessly quantised beats of modern dance music. If they don’t go for a computerised update of euphoric divas and strings, today’s producers often come up with disco loops which add nothing to the re-salvaged originals, resulting in a growing glut of indistinguishable feelgood bangers.
This is where Mood Hut seems to significantly differ from their peers. There is no digital gleam to their sound: it is well-worn, evoking the tired smiles of a group of friends who can do nothing but sway after a long night of dancing. Yet their sound is clearly set apart from the current onslaught of disco remakes in its minimal approach to musicality. Here there are no soaring strings or euphoric piano lines. The Hut plays with flutes, muted brass and curious foundsounds, resulting in something which sounds neither new nor old but rather outside time, not overly reverent to their inspiration nor wildly innovative. More than anything, their sound is genuine, its good vibes shorn of scepticism, put out just to light up faces and put a tingle in the feet of mellow dancers.
A. The Glass City
B. Golden Garden