House music is an art form that is built on the back of collaboration & community.
Whether it be an unwitting “collaboration” between Loleatta Holloway and a 16-year-old producer who would never dream of clearing a sample, a pop artist looking to the underground for a club mix of their next big hit, or the combination of two House music heavyweights coming together to create a track that embodies the “Spirit of House,” it’s all fair game in the world of music.
But, it’s when the latter takes place that we really start to get excited…
It was July of 2019 that we caught wind that Chicago legend Gene Farris had rubbed shoulders with none other than House music hall of famer ATFC at our annual party at Studio 338. Not only had they been chumming it up in the VIP, but we had also heard whispers of a studio date on the horizon as well.
Naturally, we became curious. Almost too curious.
If that’s even a thing.
Here, we have two very different artists, from two opposite ends of the globe, united only by their collective love of all things House. That, and of course, being a part of the Toolroom family.
They didn’t tell us much. All we knew was to be on the lookout for a demo. Imagining what a collaboration between two producers of this caliber will sound like is like trying to predict who will win the Superbowl, when the next CDJ is coming out, or what type of swanky new ride our very own Mark Knight will pull up to the office in next.
You can always guess, and while you might get close, you’ll probably be wrong. And that’s okay. Luckily for us, it was not more than a few weeks later that “The Spirit of House” was freshly bounced out of Logic Pro and sitting in our inbox.
And, it didn’t take us long to realise we had one of the hottest tracks of the season on our hands, and just in time for Miami’s Winter Music Conference.
But, to be honest, “The Spirit of House” is so much more than another crowd-pleasing, summertime banger (though it certainly is that). It’s a testament to the music we all know and love, a reminder of our musical roots in Chicago, and perhaps even a sign of where our genre is going in the coming years.
Better yet, it’s a way of letting younger audiences feel a bit of nostalgia for the past that they may have missed out on. Just because you weren’t around in the days of Ron Hardy, Frankie Knuckles, and Little Louis does not mean that you can’t feel a little bit of the legacy they’ve left behind.
What Is The “Spirit of House?”
You’ve heard it a million times. House is a feeling, a spiritual thing; it’s not just music, yada, yada, yada…
Though these statements have been rinsed to death in the music community, they remain as true as ever in 2020. In fact, there are a few good reasons why so many people feel that House music transcends a musical genre alone. Perhaps it’s because it’s scientifically proven that the heart rate of humans tends to hover around 120 to 130 beats per minute whenever we’re most excited and aroused.
Or, maybe it has to do with the fact that House music, particularly Chicago House, has its origin in African American, LGBTQ+ communities that were largely ignored by the cultural mainstream. At a time when society wasn’t so friendly to these groups, they had House music to look forward to each weekend.
In fact, clubs that played House music were one of the most socially progressive spaces in existence during the early 1990s. And, they almost certainly some of the funnest, you can trust us on that. But, for those of us that did not get to live through this magical time in music history, we have three records that take us back to the earliest examples of the spirit & soul of House music.
Three Records You NEED To Know:
My House – Chuck Roberts
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve almost certainly heard “My House” by Chuck Roberts. Whether it is the cheeky Mark Knight bootleg that’s known for shutting down clubs worldwide, or even the original version in all of its glory, this may be the most famous House music acapella ever.
“In the beginning there was Jack … and Jack had a groove and from this groove came the grooves of all grooves. And while one day viciously throwing down on his box, Jack boldly declared ‘Let There Be House’ and House music was born.”
And so it goes.
While you may be familiar with the main chorus of the track, perhaps the most poignant line sits at the tail end of Roberts’ verse: “You may be black, you may be white, you may be Jew or Gentile. It don’t make a difference in our house. And this is fresh!”
This is fresh, indeed. In fact, it’s what House music is all about to this very day.
CELEDA – Music Is The Answer (Dancin’ And Prancin’)
Here is another absolute classic tune that’s been remixed, mashed up, bootlegged, and chopped more times than we can count.
Similar to “My House,” it offers a similar message of hope, inclusion, and diversity.
“Music is the answer to your problems. Keep on moving, and you can solve them.”
But, “Music Is The Answer” is another record where you’re best served letting it ride until the end of the verse, or you’d miss our favourite bit…
“Hey, boys and girls. Like you and me, our love is the answer. This is our life, and we are free…cause love is the answer.”
That’s right. Love is the answer. Sometimes in life, it really is as simple as that.
Sterling Void & Paris Brightledge – It’s Alright
Here’s another Mark Knight, late-night favourite. Unsurprisingly, it’s also an example of when House takes a bit of a political stand as well.
“Dictation being forced in Afghanistan. Revolution in South Africa, taking a stand. People in Eurasia on the brink of oppression. I hope it’s gonna be alright, ‘Cause the music plays forever. I hope it’s gonna be alright.”
Interestingly enough, here we are in 2020, thinking similar thoughts. Between Brexit, a new political administration, and a world that’s changing faster than anybody could have ever imagined, we really do “hope it’s gonna be alright.”
In any case, each of these tunes highlights the immense power that House music has, not just as a genre of music, but also as a means of uniting us all in the spirit of togetherness.
At Toolroom, Community Means Everything To Us
Between steamy nights on the dance floor in Ibiza to early mornings at our offices in Maidstone, “The Spirit of House” is something that lives inside of us all. Whether it be punters coming to dance the night away at one of our parties, or 9-5’ers tuning into Toolroom Radio on their commute to the office, we live to think of our fans as one big, global family.
Our fans are diverse in their ages, experiences, and tastes. As such, we love finding records that bridge the gap between the past and the present, and ATFC & Gene Farris’ “The Spirit of House” is the perfect record to do just that. The duo take you on a musical journey to yesteryear, without ever having to leave the club. They combine the dreamy piano riffs of yesteryear with earth-shaking bassline, and top it all off with an irresistible vocal hook from none other than Gene himself.
Needless to say, this is a track that you’ll certainly be hearing all summer long. We can promise you that.
Recently, we caught up with the minds behind this legendary tune to talk shop on collaboration, production, and of course, the true meaning behind “The Spirit of House.”
Here’s what they had to say…
So tell us, guys, what does the “Spirit of House” mean to you?
ATFC: It’s a basement, a red light, a banging sound system, and a feeling.
GENE: The first thing that comes to my mind is Chicago, of course, my city, the home and the birthplace of House Music. I think of the legends that started it all: Ron Hardy & Frankie Knuckles.
How did you two find working with one another?
ATFC: Gene is an extremely likeable person, so it was very easy to get a vibe going with him. We hooked up during a Toolroom writing session, I played him my backing track, and he jumped in the vocal booth and laid down the “Spirit of House” vocal idea. Simple as that.
GENE: Working with ATFC was amazing. He’s such a great guy and brilliant in the studio. The workflow was great, completely natural, and fun. We had a blast together talking about our influences and the kind of records that we fell in love with, so I hope people can feel some of that within our record.
How did the two of you first meet?
ATFC: Gene has been on my radar for a long time, of course, since early Defected days, but when we met in London (and had the same sense of humor) it made sense to work together.
GENE: I first met ATFC at the Toolroom Party at 338 in London, and we hit it off right away. We knew it would be exciting to explore working on some music together.
The tune is layered with swirling piano arpeggios in addition to some nice M1 crushers. Did you sample those sounds, or did you play them yourself?
ATFC: There’s a mixture of sounds from everywhere, but no samples! It’s all original and played in parts.
GENE: ATFC came up with some brilliant ideas, and is a king with house piano chords.
And when producing house music of this type, do you suggest reaching for the sampler, or the M1…or something else entirely?
ATFC: Whatever suits the track. I’m all for borrowing, playing, stealing, hiring. Whatever!
GENE: I think the most important thing isn’t the instrument you reach for; I think the ideas are the most important thing. Of course, you need “The Spirit,” and great ideas.
Many people will often say that House music was born in America, but that it “grew up” in the U.K., or at least had some time to develop. Being that you’re American and ATFC a Brit, would you say there’s much truth to that?
ATFC: The fact that Gene is an authentic Chicagoan adds weight to a track called “The Spirit Of House.”
House has been around long enough and infiltrated enough countries to have been touched by all of them stylistically. Plus, it has been transatlantic for a good while now. We all understand each other pretty well. I can make a banging beat, and Gene can vibe on the microphone like no south London boy can. I like to think our track has a unique sound because it’s got a touch of London AND Chicago!
London and Chicago, we love that. Gene, what’s your take?
GENE: I would say that extremely accurate! Chicago is the birthplace of House music, but I believe London took things to the next level back in the day, with the industry side of things and clubbing. It still one of the best places in the world for great parties. I always enjoy my time in the U.K. when I’m here.
Can you tell us a little bit about what’s inspired you to make such a piano-heavy tune?
ATFC: When making a statement about House Music, it made sense to use a piano riff. It had to be done. Certain sounds just “work” in certain styles of music and, second to the kick drum, piano is arguably the next most “classic house” component of a track.
GENE: I think Piano House and Funky House music is making a huge comeback at the moment. If you listen to most of the big tunes on the radio, a lot of them are Piano House influenced these days. That certainly gave us encouragement to show our side of it.
Tell us a little bit about some other classic sounds/samples you’re fond of using in your tunes…
ATFC: “Classic” sounds only become classic because they work and are reliable.
I get inspiration from all over, and don’t really think about whether something is “classic” or not. If it fits and does a job, I’ll use it. Samples help start the process, and I move from there. I suppose the Spirit Of House was a little different because of the title; I had to use a piano for the main riff.
GENE: I love sampling live music in my productions at the moment. I believe that with sampling, you just get a very warm, organic sound that you really can’t get from plug-ins.
There’s no denying that Mark Knight has taken a fancy towards both of you, seeing to it that both of you make frequent appearances on Toolroom. For our newer audience, could you tell us a little bit more about your history of working with the label?
ATFC: I was there at the very beginning of Toolroom when it was still, literally, in a “tool room.” Mark, Stuart, and their father Ken Knight came to visit me in my office when my wife and I owned Onephatdeeva. They asked for advice about starting a label, and we’ve had a great fellowship since then. Over time, we took different paths but have remained good friends and partners.
GENE: I met Mark years ago, and we’ve always supported one another and have become great friends. This year is my first year properly joining the Toolroom Family, and it’s been amazing. They’re wonderful to work with. As of today (March 2020), I’ve already had three releases this year on the label, with more still to come. I am beyond excited to be working with them!
Our Academy students are dying to know, what are your three favorite VSTs as of late?
ATFC: Loopmasters, Loopcloud, the Soundtoys suite, and, check out a company called Airwindows.
GENE: My favorite VST’s at the moment are from UAD. I love the Avalon 737 Compressor Plugin, Oxford Limiter, & Oxford Inflater. All really good go-to stuff.
The Spirit of House is a track that combines today’s tough, Tech leaning trends with a whole palette of sounds that would grab the attention of any real House head. How do you feel about combining elements of old and new? Is that something you’re particularly fond of doing?
ATFC: When you’re nearly 50 years old in a young person’s game, it’s one way of keeping your head above the crowd. But, it’s natural to draw inspiration from new as well as old. It’s impossible for me not to. I can’t help it.
GENE: I think that it’s great combining old school elements and new school elements when making music. You never know what the outcomes are going to be, and that’s where the real magic can kick in.
On that same note, do you think it’s important to educate younger audiences on the history of this music?
ATFC: I think so. Who else is gonna do it? My 17-year-old son was playing a Boogie Down Productions track in the car recently, and after it finished, I told him to search “The Champ” by The Mohawks (the sample featured in the record). He was interested to hear how the sample was used and where the sound came from. Through following lines of connection and musical history, you deepen and enrich your knowledge and understanding. It applies to many things – not just music.
GENE: I do – it’s very important to know the history of the music that you’re in love with!
At Toolroom Academy, we often tell new producers not to jump on classic sounds like the M1 piano right away, as it can sometimes sound overdone. In this track, however, you’ve made it work in a way that’s both tasteful and nostalgic. Do you have any tips for younger producers who want to experiment with the M1?
ATFC: It sounds like YOU’RE the one with an M1 obsession!
Okay, guilty as charged. How about you, Gene?
GENE: I just say have fun and don’t overthink things. If it sounds good, it just sounds good. Good music is good music.
Gene, how do you feel Chicago has influenced your sound? Did you grow up there? Tell us about your history with the Chicago scene.
GENE: I think Chicago has completely shaped my sound and me as an artist. I’m a Chicago boy, born and raised. I started DJing in the Chicago scene in 1990. I was heavily influenced by Ron Hardy, Frankie Knuckles, DJ Rush, and Green Velvet.
These were my heroes and mentors…
I believe Chicago has one of the best scenes in America and the world, if you haven’t been, you have to come and experience our city and all it has to offer.
ATFC, what are your thoughts on how Chicago has helped to shape House?
ATFC: It’s the birthplace of the style of music that has given me a career, so it will always have a place in my heart – even though I’ve only ever connected through its airport! My first love was hip-hop, and I “found” House relatively late in about 1993/4. The House sound of New York was much more of an influence on me, but Chicago House is N.Y.’s tougher, older brother.
If there’s one thing we learn about the House scene, it’s that it changes. How have you both managed to remain so relevant over the years in an era where careers will burn out quicker than ever before?
ATFC: I’ve always tried to stay true to myself as a producer and DJ. I’ve never really followed trends or jumped on musical bandwagons. That has meant that some periods have been tough, but over the years, your career lasts longer, and you retain integrity, which others lose.
GENE: I focus on being current and consistent. I DJ regularly around the world, from Chicago to the U.K. to Europe to Asia to Australia, so my sets have to be fresh. I take pride in putting on great shows and good new music and a few quality classics. A lot has changed since both of you have started in the scene. What would you say the most significant difference you see in the scene today vs. in the past ten years?
ATFC: I’m not sure much has changed in ten years. Twenty, yes, but not ten.
Interesting, can you tell us more?
I suppose Calvin Harris beating Michael Jackson’s record for the highest number of top ten hits off the same album was a pretty big deal. It shows how far DJ/producers have come in recent times. Of course, our digital world has exploded, but, essentially, it’s still simply about playing music for people to dance to on the weekend.
GENE: I would say one of the biggest things I see is the size of the sound systems venues and lighting has gotten massive! It’s like playing concerts now instead of just underground parties. Even the small venues have sound systems and lighting rigs that would’ve been used in the bigger clubs back in the day. It’s quite impressive. What’s next for the both of you in 2020? Are you particularly excited about any releases, parties, or upcoming gigs?
ATFC: I have another three singles in the bag for Toolroom, one of which is another collab with Gene. I’m playing for Defected and Hed Kandi at Eden Ibiza, and an Australasia tour with Hed Kandi. There’s three more singles forthcoming on Armada SUBJKT, collaborations with The Cube Guys, Raumakustik, Moguai, and Oliver Knight. I also have upcoming releases on both Big Love and Quantize. Honestly, there’s too much more to mention!
GENE: I’m excited about everything else I have coming up this year. I’m gonna have releases every month for the rest of 2020 and few more on Toolroom this year that I’m extremely excited about. I’m also gearing up for WMC in Miami this March, as I’m playing three shows out there on for my label, Farris Wheel Recordings. Plus, I’m playing the Beyond Wonderland Festival in L.A. for Insomniac & Exchange, one of the most popular clubs in the city. Last but not least, I can’t wait to play some shows this summer with my Toolroom Family, so keep your eyes out for those when they announce.