Tense Nervous House Music

Tense Nervous House Music

House is just the most despised form of dance music isn’t it? It’s so easy to sneer cos it’s the commercial backbone of the industry; just product. All the feeling is supposed to have been leached out of it. I suspect House music’s critical stock has never been lower. It therefore seems to me to be the best possible time to reappraise it. That’s one reasone for this mix, titled Tense Nervous House Music. It’s an antidote to turgid false-positive handbag while still being capable of slamming hard. Taking its inspiration from the darker end of “real disco” it attempts to redefine the term “funky house”. But there are other impulses.

A while ago I put up a mix of music that related to some of my more spiritual interests, in the shape of the Industrial mix (http://www.grievousangel.net/The_First_Taste_of_Hope_Is_Fear_Ambient_Industrial_1980-1987_Mix.zip). Then, in April this year, I went to Gozo, where I went to the amazing Neolithic temples (the oldest freestanding structures on the planet), and read Frank Tope and Bill Brewster’s fabulous book Last Night A DJ Saved My Life. I became obsessed by disco-influenced (is there any other kind?) house music, and I came to believe that Disco and all its descendents might well be the ultimate pagan music. My kind of House music springs from the same impulses as indstrial. I started compiling lists of records that would express this feeling and quite quickly I came up with the selection contained in this mix.

For I’m fed up with the boring stereotypes of what witchy, pagan music should be. It’s always the same old genres: goth (eurgh), folk (which is OK), antedeluvian rock (zzzzzzz…) — nothing that really captures the feelings I have as a pagan. And over the last few weeks, I’ve become obsessed with the idea that the ultimate pagan music is DISCO. It, and all the genres that have sprung from it, especially house music, for me represent a much more vital spiritual force. Disco’s pulse, its abandonment to pleasure, its delivery of physical transcendence via the agency of rhythm, combine to make it a far more Dionysian experience than I gain from the musical genres usually associated with paganism.

Furthermore, positing Disco as the ultimate pagan music challenges paganism’s cultural stereotype (hippy-goth clothes, patchouli oil, Stonehenge posters…) and helps to remove pagan ideas from from simply being part of what can be seen as a lifestyle package. I should point out that I don’t at all mind that others find pagan resonance in other forms of music. Certainly a genre like folk can be hugely evocative of pagan experience (and I’ve played in folk bands myself, so there’s no prejiudice here). But so too can Disco and its descendents, and for me, it is a more poweful medium. My intention in this regard is not to propose a new lifestyle package for paganism; rather it is to divorce it from all lifestyle packages. Paganism has been historically associated with particular cultural forms, but that historical association need not constrain our visualisation of what paganism is, nor our experience of it. If paganism can be encapsulated within Planxty and Sandy Denny albums, I believe it can also be encapsulated in Masters At Work DJ mixes and volcanic filter house twelve-inches.

To explore these ideas further I’ve done a mix of disco-infused house music which, for me, powerfully evoke pagan ideas and feelings. I think it demonstrates how the dancefloor experience can parallel that of ritual, and to that end I have labelled the sections of the mix to show how they represent the phases one might find in a ritual. This is not to say that the dancefloor experience is necessarily a ritual experience in itself (though it can be), nor that this mix need be seen as “ritual music”. But if a folk singer can recall the sensations and imagery of British nature magic, so a DJ mix can recall the experience of magical ritual without actually being a ritual itself. (Of course, the concept of the mix as a ritual is a long-established element of DJ folklore, so these distinctions while worth making are not hard and fast.)

As you can imagine, the influence here is not happy-clappy commercialised disco, but dark, twisted, freaky disco, the “real disco” evangelised by the Loft and the Paradise Garage which formed the roots of proper house music. Here, it is tense, nervous, expectant; the feelings I associate with rising magical energy.

There’s some well-known records here and I doubt that any of them will be unfamiliar to the dedicated house head, but the way they’re combined here creates a tense, jittery, grinding version of house, albeit much softened by melody. I don’t apologise for it being, occasionally, banging. Here then is a headache-inducing collection of dark and zappy house whose construction is partly influenced by pagans experience. I’m aware that, on paper, this might sound like a terrible idea, but it sounded pretty good in my head on the beach in Gozo, and it sounds even better to me through the speakers here in Sheffield. Numinous codswallop? Probably!

In any event, this is probably the last mix for a while, cos I’m moving house. Tense Nervous House, geddit? Moving house is a headfuck!

It’s now zipped, so it’s downloads only. (Windows: right click and save as, Mac: option or control click and save as.)

Tense Nervous House Music
45 minutes 7 seconds
192K mp3



David Byrne and Brian Eno: Jezebel Spirit

There are two senses of banishing here. One is that this record is a clearing of the space for the mix, so it can do its work. One is that the music contains a tape of a Christian exorcism, which is essentially the banishing of the spirit of the goddess Jezebel, and yet that banishing is contradicted by the inductive voodoo disco of the music. It represents the reversal of Christianity’s attempt to expiate the goddess current, which is that aspect of everyday life we’re trying to temporarily reverse with this mix.


Norma Jean Bell / Moodymann: I’m the Baddest Bitch

Moodymann’s brilliant chugging disco house is chocolate-dark as much because of the lite jazz funk horns as in spite of them. Norma Jean Bell channels and invokes the Jezebel spirit identified by Byrne and Eno: “I’m the baddest bitch – and you belong to me”.


KenLou: The Bounce
Jedi Knights: One for MAW

It’s time to let them in the elements. Masters at Work’s sizzling Latin house stomper brings in Air and Fire, Jedi Knight’s positively beaming One for MAW brings in Water (those delicious lush guitar and synth lines) and Earth (that super-squidgy bassline).


Deep Dish: Stranded (Danny Tenaglia’s GrooveJet Dubby Edit)
Deep Dish: Stranded (BT Vs DD: Grievous Angel’s 777 Edit)
Shaboom: Bessie (DJ Sneak mix)

The powers are up and grooving and now an old personal current of mine, the 777 current, can come through, can be invoked. 777 is sensitive, twisted and demanding but ultimately very compassionate, and this is reflected in the extensively edited Deep Dish tunes here, which are vast psychedelic freak-outs ground down to rapacious shards. The other side of 777 is contained within Shaboom’s Bessie, which is utterly transformed by Sneak’s devastating industrial house cut-up. It’s harsh, driving, almost inhuman, and while it’s definitely “funky disco house”, it sounds nothing like that description. Sneak’s mix of Bessie is liminal: it’s just on the other side.


Dajae: Day by Day (Grievous Angel Edit)
King Unique: Hell
Mongobonix: Mas Pito

We got juice now. We’ve summoned a vast underworld Disco deity showering glitter and lasers onto the circle, a 500 foot high afro-ed and silver-suited horned god of the dancefloor. His music is twisted, Chi-town house, evil banging hard groove and massively hyped up latino jazz.


Q Burns’ Abstract Message: Innocent (King Britt vocal mix)

Mongobonix took us down a little, or rather raised up from the depths of King Britt’s Hell to Mas Pito’s mountain-top fusion. But it’s Innocent that really grounds the energy. You’re taken back to earth, to placidity, but you’re in a very different place from where you were at the start. Innocent is one of the weirdest, grooviest, best house records ever made: it’s got really strange, intensely jazzy, constantly shifting melodies that are utterly beguiling, it has the best Moog solo in all of house, and it’s also one of the three or four best songs in the whole of house. Innocent is magnificent.