Album of the week: Various Artists – The Tuffest of the Tuffest

We’re getting back to the roots of House music. The further we’ve travelled, the more we’ve lost touch with the origins of the music, and where House music might be the most popular it’s ever been, it’s also become something of a musical cliché where common tropes have been distilled down to their most basic foundation in a self-referencing caricature of itself. At its most popular we’ve lost touch with the dynamism of the original sound of House music.

In the eighties the sounds of House music were converging around everything from the synth-wave from Europe to Funk from Detroit, and as it migrated to this side of the Atlantic, it kept picking up influences from Hip Hop in New York to the Bass soundsystems operating in the UK. By the time it landed in the UK, played in sets alongside all these other influences through the steady hands of DJs like Mike Pickering and Graeme Park, it had taken on a life of its own, with everything from Afro to Acid eventually informing the productions.

One of the few labels promoting this sound in the UK was Warrior Dance, a label whose short-lived existence between 1988 and 1992 had almost been resigned to the history books, if it hadn’t been for the dedicated record- and music enthusiasts who have helped enshrine the legacy of the label.

Founded by Tony Addis, an “African dreadlock” working out of his Addis Studio in London, which Addis established to “help solve people’s music problems” in the community in 1980, Warrior Dance made a significant impression on House music.  It might have been built on the foundation of the  popular dance genre, but with everybody from UK’s hardcore to Drum n Bass scene referencing Warrior Dance as early influences. Warrior Dance’s seismic influence endured, regardless of the fact they haven’t released any new music on the label since 1992.

It was only a matter of time in this day and age that another label would pick up these releases and re-issue them. After reissuing a few of seminal cuts from the label’s back catalogue, they’ve put together a compilation  of some of the label’s finest moments including a previously unreleased cut by James Harris from which the record takes its name.

This is late eighties/early nineties UK House at its most versatile. Those seminal sounds from that era including angelic vocals, lysergic bass-lines and jacking beats are all accounted for, but for Warrior Dance these distinctive tropes were mere platforms from which to build their esoteric sound as a label. West, and east African influences transposed to West London in the eighties are prominent on Housemaids “Je T’Aime” and No Smoke’s “Adele Cry” while UK soundsystem culture is firmly in place on Addis Posse’s bulbous bass-lines for “Let the warrior’s dance.”

Between breakbeats, acid bass-lines, R&B vocals, rapping and the polyrhythmic sounds of the African continent the compilation perfectly encapsulates that versatility of early House music. Coming out of a studio that mainly manufactured dub and reggae sounds, that UK bass culture is a big part of its appeal, but it was the open-ended manner in which they approached House music that still set those records apart from anything then and since.

It’s ironic that a record like this will be one of the most exciting House releases of the year, but it says something of the current state of House music. We’ve lost a bit of that ingenuity and dynamism that labels like Warrior Dance first brought to the genre and a re-issue like this will go along way in feeding that versatile nature as new audiences find their way to the music.