House Hunting #46 – Chez Damier

Aiden checks out the local digs in his vinyl vicinity...

House Hunting #46 – Chez Damier

Aiden checks out the local digs in his vinyl vicinity...

So after my crate crusade to Crazy Beat Records in Essex it’s back to normal proceedings this week and checkin’ out my local digs in my vinyl vicinity. I popped in to The Little Record Shop (gotta love that being next door to my flat) and another big drop of black crack was in the wax den… Make sure you jet down as a load of house just touched down from the transatlantic trinity of Chicago, New York and Detroit including a few hallowed house hotplates I’ve stocked in there – we ain’t speculators just a cheap date that’s open to offers!

I didn’t scope out anything this time so as ever schooled shop owner David on some house history. I’m killin’ him here but he’s learning… Anyway as my day off had to get the groceries in so jetted up to the salubrious surroundings of Muswell Hill to rinse a month’s wages in Planet Organic – are you havin’ a f**kin’ laugh a tenner for that bottle of coconut water and pack of raw cacao-covered nuts TONYA PUT THEM DOWN! I swear she spends more in there then I rinse on records – imagine all the records I could cop if we shopped at Kwik Save (RIP) with some No Frills flavour… Now when I’m in Muzzy Hill my house radar goes into sensory overdrive as just up the road in the deeper depths of East Finchley is Alan’s Records. The sun was shining so a quick jaunt to my fave London wax haunt wasn’t gonna hurt – I had to check it out as in the previous week my main man Miles scored a boss house haul with a couple of KDJ joints in the mix…

Upon entering the shop was a hive of activity with an armada of Alan’s devoted diggers on a rack raiding mission – can’t beat the hustle’n’bustle of a proper record shop… I immediately clocked that all the house racks were overflowing – this the most burstin’ full I’d seen them for time so had to get down for some pure flickin’ fervour. My house radar naturally navigated me to the Chicago House crate first – the jack juice flowin’ in this one with loads of Jack Trax and Jackmaster comps so if a Chicago rookie no better place to start. Anyway, nothing grabbin’ me so next stop the New York house racks. As ever the usual NY necessities were there on legendary labels like Nu Groove and Easy Street however on diggin’ deeper a distinctive cover instantly caught my attention which was the company sleeve of Kevin Saunderson’s Detroit institution KMS. I was now in trainspotter territory with the original sleeve and I suddenly remembered Miles gave a tip that a certain KMS 12” was in the racks so checked the label and yeah that was the one – ‘Can You Feel It’ by house hero Chez Damier aka Anthony Pearson. This the hard-to-find first pressing and though there are loads of later pressings that can be identified by the label colours whether it’s the purple, red, orange versions or the track title replacing the ‘You’ with ‘U’ (get a life!), this was the original grey label pressing complete with pink KMS logo complete and clean labels so my OCD house hunting quota met! Yeah I know anoraks anonymous but I ain’t no serious selector just a choice collector…

That was only the third crate though… As we deviated for quick dose of diggin’ I was conscious my wax widow was waiting so flicked furiously – nothing else really on my radar but I did clock Theo Parrish’s ‘Solitary Flight’ on his Sound Signature stable (original pressing), loads of Basic Channel (the ‘M’ series by Maurizio and some of the Main Street releases) plus a couple of original Metro Area EPs including ‘Miura’ – never felt the hype with this one but you don’t see this record everyday… There’s loads of Paradise Garage flavour too via the disco racks all piled up and cascading all over the shop – Alan said there were two guys who spent £800 on a proper house haul in there so don’t hang about… Anyway, the Chez 12” was £15 which considering the condition and being an original pressing was a fair price and I had to cop – as he’s sorted me out with loads of deals and discount it was only right I paid him the full amount for the record. After all, it’s a proper piece of house history…

My first introduction to Chez was via my Walkman weapon ‘Rhythm Zone Vol. 1’ tape (“A galaxy of imports for under a fiver”) which I copped in my youth in the local record shop Nervous Records which was just up the road in my hometown – I was enticed by the naff early 90s trippy artwork and thought the music might be like the armada of ambient tapes my Mum had. Anyway, the second track was the killer KMS anthem ‘You’re Mine’ by Reese aka Kevin Saunderson with the version on the tape being the ‘Detroit Mix’ produced by Chez Damier and Marc Kinchen under their Power 41 pseudonym. As fate would have it this was also the soundtrack to Tonya’s teenage years on her ‘Deep Heat 3 – The Third Degree’ tape so we were destined to be together by the power of Chez! Time to roll back and reminisce…

So time to compose a love letter to Chez… His initiation into house started from an early age when even before it’s birth he was helping out in a record store at just 11 years old – no better place to soak up some musical education! A couple of years later at 13 when the closet the most of us will get to a club is the school disco, Chez was already frequenting clubs as he was taken in by the Windy City bohemia with the local artists, stylists and fashion designers influencing him to live music as a ‘lifestyle’. Disc-jocks like Herb Kent were a major influence as he would mix disco with punk rock and the emergent Italo records which was unheard of at the time plus he experienced Frankie’s fabled Chicago institution The Warehouse. Fast-forward through the high-school years and after graduating Chez made the move to East Lansing, Michigan to pursue a major in Communication. However, wise beyond his years with a wealth of music knowledge, the foundations were already built and it was only natural that the lure of the Motor City would come calling…

Chez had already experienced club culture in the city years earlier via Detroit DJ deities Ken Collier and Greg Collier – who I guess you could say were the Motor City equivalent to a Larry Levan or Frankie Knuckles. Anyway, ’87 proved to be a pivotal year that shaped Chez’s musical path… Through a friend he met Derrick May who in turn hooked him up with Alton Miller. In Alton, Chez had found a kindred spirit who also had the same vision that Detroit needed a club sanctuary that was comparable to Chicago and New York. George Baker was also brought into the fold who was fresh outta FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) in New York and had also experienced the evangelical Larry Levan at the Paradise Garage. After a false start with an auto-garage on the Detroit college campus (which would have been christened ‘The Gate’), they managed to secure the Music Institute in Downtown Detroit which quickly evolved into an influential institution. Its launch was aided by the Techno laying down it’s foundations in the Motor City which was fronted by the holy trinity of Juan, Derrick and Kevin – whilst Chez and Alton were hosting the ‘Back To Basics’ night every Saturday, Juan and Derrick along with Darryl Wynn ran the ‘Generation Next’ party on the Friday night which was the perfect outlet for their demos and productions.

At this time Chez was writing his debut song ‘Just A Matter Of Time’ which he was constructing with Al Maalik. Al approached Kevin Saunderson in releasing a compilation entitled ‘Techno-1’ showcasing the wave of techno comin’ outta Detroit – that would include his and Chez’s debut composition. Though Kevin’s KMS imprint was in its infancy he agreed to Al’s proposal and brought in unsung hero Eddie Fowlkes to record and ‘Magic Juan’ himself on the mix. The resulting production is a driving Detroit rhythm that is synonymous with the era also showcasing Chez’ songwriting sensibilities – his yearning vocal intertwining effortlessly and elevating it above the usual techno fare. As well as the Belleville Three, the comp also features early productions from other visionary virtuosos such as Marc Kinchen, Darryl Wynn, Art Forest and Derrick Carter – it ain’t one of those rare Detroit records so you can cop it for a few quid a whole lotta history for so lil’ money!

Kevin got Chez on board to do some A&R for the label and it was only natural that he got in the studio and progressed in production. A load of his early releases surfaced in ’89 including his Power 41 productions with Marc Kinchen like the Urban Mix of ‘You’re My Type (Make Your Body Move)’ by Juan Atkins’ side-project One On One, the Forward Mix of EMB’s ‘Dear John’ (you’ll either love or hate the vocal on that) and their remix of ‘Do You Love What You Feel’ by Inner City aka Chez’ mentor Kevin and Paris Grey. Speaking of Inner City, Chez actually contributed to their ‘Paradise’ LP with the track ‘Set Your Body Free’ – laying down the melody complete with lyrics and his vox on the hook. 

After these initial remixes at the turn of the decade he evolved into a label mainstay at KMS. In ’91 he released ‘Deep Trip’ as techno triptych 3 Down along with Kevin Saunderson and Donna Black – no doubt influenced from the UK rave scene with the breakbeats and that synth riff from The Nightwriters’ ‘Let The Music (Use You)’ givin’ it some hardcore XTC. However, it was the label’s next release in ’92 and this week’s House Hunting find that would really propel Chez. When he was in London town last year to play Thunder, my man Manu interviewed him right here on R$N in which he elaborated on how he gave Marc Kinchen his first joint. In that hash haze Marc laid down a mix that would give birth to the ‘M.K. Dub’ (that bassline, those strings!) – laying down the foundations of what would become his signature style and being the remixer de rigueur of the early 90s. Forget his new s**t and raid your records I’m sure you’ve all got a M.K. Dub nestled deep in your collection… Anyway, bringin’ it back to the record and as well as the Dub you’ve got the original that if you listen closely samples the Masters At Work Dub of St. Etienne’s ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ to great effect. On the flip you’ve got the b-side bomb ‘2½ Step’ which sounds like an early prototype or precursor to his face-melter ‘Forever Monna’. Check ‘em both out here…

A few releases later under his Ontoni alias he released ‘Badd Minded’ which was a dedication to the Music Box messiah Ron Hardy. The ‘Still At The Box’ mix my choice cut (when that bass drops!) as it’s a pure sweat-on-the-walls, relentless rhythm that will punish dancefloors – evoking the spirit of Ronnie and his frenzied sets that would send the dancers to fever-pitch. It was also a favourite on Detroit’s ‘The New Dance Show’ too pitched up proper for some full throttle jackin’. Later that year he released another anthem in the form of ‘I Never Knew Love’ complete with Mark Kinchen returning with his magic M.K. dub formula – the record also features the Carl Craig reconstruction of ‘Help Myself’ which he collaborated on with Austin Bascom (aka Abacus of Prescription and Guidance fame) and D’Pac Patel. The next KMS 12” to be released was the mythical ‘KMS 049’ – if you ain’t heard of this record then you ain’t house! Both sides are all killer no filler whether it’s the A-side’s rolling rhythm casting you into a hypnotic haze or the b-side’s diva falsetto stoppin’ you in your tracks before the cascading chords and spiralling strings swoop down complete with a woman’s pitch-shift vox interjecting and hollerin’ "Oh my god, you ain't movin', you ain't dancin' girl… You ain't dancin'! Come on!” You can imagine all the queens really losing their s**t in joints like the Sound Factory to this one… Let’s get down to all these killer KMS joints here…

In tandem with his KMS days Chez was affiliated with Vicious Music which was run by DJ Tone aka Santonio Echols of Reese & Santonio fame. Tone launched the label with the Vicious Crew 12” and collaborated with Chez on ‘Dehjavu’ – sampling Marc Kinchen’s Area 10 anthem ‘Burning’ and reincarnating it into a raging rhythm with some of that UK hardcore flavour. He also remixed Tone Nice’s ‘Keep On’, contributed to the Serious Grooves EP (not to be confused with the label) on the track ‘Weekdays’ and produced D’Pac Patel’s ethereal ‘Everybody’ – forget the Serious Grooves release all about the original pressing on Vicious. As well as his records on Vicious Chez also featured under his Bangy Boy guise on a couple of records released by fellow Music Institute alumni Alton Miller, collaborating on tracks such as ‘I Like Havin You’ and ‘Keep Holding Back’. These were released on Santonio’s other imprint Cyren America Records, and in the same year Santonio’s brother Antonio Echols launched the Serious Grooves stable in which Chez hooked up with Stacey Pullen and released the house Holy Grail ‘Forever’ on the hallowed house hotplate that is the ‘Classic EP’ – his collaboration with 20:20 Vision’s Ralph Lawson ‘A Dedication To Joss’ ain’t half-bad either. Have a listen to all of ‘em below…

After closing the KMS office in NYC where Chez was based, he moved back to Detroit and on a visit to Chicago this would prove to be a pivotal moment in Chez’ house path as this is when he hooked up with Prescription brother Ron Trent. Having met Ron through mutual friend Carl Bias (of Quest and Master C & J fame more on him next week…), they hit it off instantly and were inseparable kindred spirits… Now with Kevin Saunderson’s KMS studio at their disposal before pursuing Prescription they collaborated on the KMS 051 EP (‘The Choice’ – all about the diaphragm-bustin’ ‘Full Dosage’ Mix) and KMS 054 EP (A1 proper mournful melter and will melt any dancefloor) with both records retaining the deep majesty of Ron’s earlier productions but with Chez’ influence and vox he added another dimension with them being more club-orientated with one eye aimed squarely on the dancefloor. We can’t forget the remixes either – their first record producing together was remixing Inner City’s ‘Share My Life’ which was a precursor to the Prescription sound that began to form and evolve. They also remixed Donna Black’s ‘Find Sum In U’ (produced by the aforementioned DJ Tone) on Serious Grooves plus released a slew of remixes on KMS including remixing ‘Now Is The Time’ by Kreem aka Kevin Saunderson, reinterpreting Sonya Blade And The Funky Home Dogs’ ‘House Of Love’ with some of those trademark dubs, turning in a few mixes of Alton Miller’s ‘Its Gonna Be Alright’ 12” and rereleasing their killer dub of Naomi Daniel’s ‘Feel The Fire’ on KMS’ UK subsidiary – originally released on Carl Craig’s Planet E offshoot I Ner Zon. Can’t forget their remix of Round One’s ‘I’m Your Brother’ on Maurizio’s Main Street too fierce bassbin breaker! Check out the key KMS records and remixes here – if you ain’t got ‘em then KMS have reissued practically all their back catalogue for all you rookie rack raiders and reissue renegades…

However, it’s the hallowed house heritage of Prescription that Chez along with Ron are probably best well known for and is often referenced when talking about these house disciples. The term ‘Deep House’ is bandied about a lot and I f**kin’ hate it but if one label personifies the deeper realms of house then it’s definitely Prescription – if you’re a ‘house head’ or ‘deep house’ fan and you ain’t got a Prescription record then we just ain’t gonna get on… I’m gonna keep this dose of Prescription brief as this story has been told hundreds of times but can’t write about Chez without a lil’ reference. Though there are countless classics on the label including the ‘Hip To Be Disillusioned Vol.1’, ‘Foot Therapy’ and ‘Grand Lodge Of Luxor (Thebes)’ EP’s that are a feature in many a discernible DJ’s set or hardcore house enthusiasts collection, personally I think the afterhours ether of ‘Morning Factory’ perfectly captures the essence of the label. Inspired by their visits to the Junior Vasquez’s Sound Factory, as with a lot of their other Prescription records when in the studio they ‘synthesized’ their experiences of club soundsystems. It is true when you hear a Prescription record on a decent system they sound otherworldly with their deep, ethereal aesthetic… Though some may find it insignificant that the records have philosophical and spiritual meaning behind them trust me when you’re on that dancefloor and a Prescription joint is dropped it’s a feeling that takes you to a higher plane of the house sanctuary. Again these have been reissued whether through Ron on his Prescription Classic Recordings or Chez’ affiliation with German imprint Mojuba so no excuse – get a deep dose here of a few of my fave Prescription platters here…

They also hooked up with Derrick Carter and Chris Nazuka at their Red Nail studio – recording joints for Derrick’s Blue Cucaracha label such as ‘Sometimes I Feel Like’ as Last Session (also released on Prescription via the Hip To Be Disillusioned EP) featuring Chez’ old sparring partner Alton Miller on vox plus ‘Never Mind’ with Chez recording the vocal under his Noni alias (the name drawing inspiration from Ron’s daughter named Noni). After a few years of running Prescription with the closure of the KMS studios and wanting to pursue different projects their partnership had run its course. Ron relocated to New York forming his USG (‘Urban Sound Gallery’) project in tandem with running Prescription whilst Chez went on to solely run their new incarnation of Prescription – ‘Balance Recordings’. Chez brought into the fold other Chicago cats such as providing a platform for Glenn Underground’s disco-tinged trax under his C.V.O. (‘Chicago’s Very Own’) alias and Joshua Iz releasing a couple of EP’s as Circulation. Though Balance was short-lived to me it was a natural progression from the Prescription vision with that inimitable Chicago flavour yet timeless aesthetic… Personal faves include the Sylvester sampling ‘Mighty Real Groove’ by C.V.O and Circulation’s ‘Emotions Unknown’ (which samples Chez’ hook from ‘I Never Knew Love’) – of course not forgetting Chez rereleasing Forever Monna with extra mixes in contrast to the earlier Serious Grooves pressing. Here’s those choice Blue Cucaracha and Balance joints…

Come ’97 and as life took hold Chez took an extended break from music. Things lay dormant for several years with intermittent involvement such as appearing on Derrick Carter’s Classic stable with ‘A Hope (Over U)’ on the Mo Pschidt EP in 2000. However, a few years in 2004 Chez was inspired to write and record again he appeared on Brett Dancer’s Track Mode imprint with the ‘Spiritual Warfare V.1’ EP and collaborating with Leroy Burgess on ‘Your Love (Lifted Me Up)’ plus hooked up with Frankfurt’s Motorcitysoul and recorded ‘Keep On Turning’ as Kids In The Streets which evoked the spirit of Balance and Prescription. Fast-forward a few more years and in 2009 Chez joined Don Williams’ Mojuba imprint releasing the ‘Time Visions’ EPs on the label’s Good Old Days offshoot – reissuing some of his classic joints such as ‘Sometimes I Feel Like’ and ‘Teach Me, Keep Me’ plus with previously unreleased exclusives such as ‘Why’ and ‘Soul Minimal’. Last year Mojuba released the third edition of the series (complete in picture cover!) with his hard-to-find tracks such as ‘Don’t Try It’, ‘A Dedication To Joss’ and ‘The Feeling’ – complete with Mojuba mainstay Oracy doin’ an edit of ‘Forever Monna’.

Anyway, at the same time he joined Mojuba Chez relaunched Balance under the new banner of Balance Alliance. Kicking off with the ‘Unite Therapy Volume One’ EP (featuring Larry Heard), the label served as platform for Chez to bring other artists/producers to the fore who he mentored and was inspired by with alumni including Brawther and Glimpse & Giles Smith of Secretsundaze. As well as Balance Alliance, there are a series of Balance subsidiaries including the more recent Balance Music, Brawther’s Courtesy Of Balance Recordings, extended affiliate Finale Sessions (ran by Michael Zucker) plus the latest addition to the family Inner Balance which released the Fragil/Traintaeum EP this year by Chez’ Portuguese pupil Jorge Caiado. Let’s not forget the original Balance stable which Chez relaunched five years ago and has been an outlet for his Parisian protégé Brawther who released his ‘Endless’ LP this year featuring all the tracks off his previous Balance EP’s that have fallen prey to the Discogs speculators… Anyway if you ain’t a crate crusader then a lot of these are available via the usual online suspects so easy to pick up.

So, what I love about Chez is that you can’t categorise his records – it ain’t Chicago House this or Detroit Techno that... His production perspective took elements from Chicago, Detroit and New York ultimately giving his tracks an international influence but with a feeling that transports you straight to the intimate confines of the dancefloor… Don’t forget he’s a serious selector too so make sure you catch him if in town – I was lucky enough to see him at Thunder and Electric Elephant last year where he dropped superior sets and true to his word joined us on the dancefloor! So I think that covers it with my love letter to the teacher – though he never sees himself as a ‘legend’ or ‘house hero’ I’m sure he’d agree that he’s left a lasting legacy that never ceases to amaze and inspire the next generation…

AIDEN d’ARAUJO

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