Wednesday February 8th, 2023
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The Evolution of House Music and Egypt’s Underground Scene

Would you like your ears comforted or challenged ?

Staff Writer

Red lights, unmasked frequencies and good energy are what contribute to the magical experience provided by Panorama Bar – the top floor of Berlin's infamous Berghain club, the mecca for techno and house hedonists. This venue has, of late, popularised the raw side of house inside a niche in Europe, as it was created in Chicago and then evolved. This includes sub-genres like disco house, acid house, the 'real' deep house, and other sub-genres that require a more mature taste than the regular EDM listener.  

During the period between 2011 and 2015, there was a huge trend around 'pop' house music released by labels such as Innervisions and Diynamic. Of course, I refer to this as 'pop' house inside the realm of underground house music, and I'm not referring to mainstream electronic genres such as EDM and trance. A sub-genre of 'pop' house that has been trending is dark melodic house, released by labels such as Life and Death. It is defined by a specific palette of sound design and an aesthetic focusing mainly on composition and counterpoint. Drone baselines, arpeggios, and synths created from saw waves, beats that barely have any groove to them and, finally, a huge focus on long breakdowns constitute songs in the style.

Every track is built in almost the same way, with every sound in the sub-genre synthesised generically, trying to sound like previous songs released in the genre. House, as it was created in the 1980's in the United States, didn't need these aspects to move the dance floor. Every track had a different arrangement and artists were influenced by each other rather than copying. But where does one draw the line between copying and being influenced? Dark melodic house sets are considered very smooth; due to the tracks having the same form. They managed to gain recognition in just a couple of years, having an aesthetic which is quite different than true house. 

Back at its original form, house emerged from DJs who edited disco tracks by adding fatter beats created with drum machines and deeper baselines using synthesisers. Before that, disco started to be seen negatively in the United States due to people preaching that it was the music of the devil. And one day, a mass of people gathered in a stadium and burned a lot of disco records. Following this event, less and less bands and labels were recording and releasing this genre of music. That is how house music was born. DJs would take drum machines and synthesisers as well as sample old disco records and try to recreate the beautiful genre that is disco. House then evolved by combining it with genres such as jazz, dub reggae – which later gave birth to the dub house and techno sub-genres – and others. DJs would sample anything they could find. They were influenced by the soul of disco and the emotion it conveyed, and interpreted it with their own sounds and influences such as Motown and others. 

Many sub-genres emerged from this merging of sounds, such as afro house, jacking house, and more. But this style of deep house, including the dark melodic house popularised by labels such as Afterlife, came later and relied on a specific form, with producers rarely playing outside the box, which unfortunately resulted in a generic sound.In house, one can start a track with a loop and then expand it into a musical journey without using an abundance of elements such as dark melodic house, simply making small changes along the way to give life to synthesis or a sample. One could make an argument that the message being sent in this type of house is mainly aimed for the mind rather than the body, making each listener 'trip' inside his mind due to the focus on melodies and the lack of groove. But the message became so predictable due to the thousands of producers trying to send it in the same way.

On the other hand, the message(s) in true house can be sent in various ways. The hedonistic essence of it aims to make the dance floor come together and appreciate the energy created by the crowd rather than independently in each person’s mind, to create a harmony not solely in the individual but in the collective. Creating a journey of the mind is more the goal of techno, which does a better job than dark melodic house, providing diverse psychedelic journeys still sustained by a beat relying heavily on speed, bass, and psychedelia. Techno is not defined by a specific pallet of sound design, but rather by a plethora of industrial, percussive and melodic sounds. This journey is mainly created for the individual, being truly hypnotic and psychedelic and going deep into the realms of technology to create something that has never been done, constantly exploring new ground. Dark melodic house is a commercialisation trying to stand somewhere between house and techno, providing a predictable journey influenced by both, but not really reaching the artistic goal of either. 

Which brings me back to the original house sound. In the Egyptian underground house scene, there has been DJs and producers staying true to this sound – and trying to diversify in the many sub-genres of it. While it is a re-emerging trend, this new breed of DJs are not just sticking to what the public wants to hear, but they are also able to curate a diverse journey spanning across the different spectra of the genre, from disco to acid to minimal to tech house and whatever else they’re feeling during their set; not limiting themselves to one sound.
DJs who have been pushing these sounds are Ahmed Samy, Aly Bahgat, Zeina, Aroussi, Nosrat, Baher, Bash, Sabh, Azaar, Mazen, yours truly, and a couple others. This has in a way split the Egyptian scene in half, making these DJs steer away from the generic tech house sound heavily popular in some Cairo parties and curate something more mature. You find that these two different sounds attract a different crowd. The musical aesthetic found at mediocre parties in Cairo is one which is less mature and less diverse than it’s counterpart. Promoters such as Caché, Maged Abd El Messih, and others, are the main pillars booking these DJs, thus promoting the sound, providing something new in Cairo away from the Deep/Tech House scene. And we look forward to this season, as we heard there are new promoters entering the scene who also want to change the game and challenge the ears of party goers. There are two kinds of listeners at clubs. Those who want to be musically challenged and those who want to be comforted. Some want to hear something familiar, and others seek to let the DJ challenge their ears.