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Boo Williams
Home Town Chicago (Reissue) Harry Sword , December 5th, 2011 10:29

If the cultural markers of vintage Detroit techno hinged on Afro futurism, revolutionary fervour and hardware fetishism, then those of Chicago house were, by comparison, simpler: sex, hedonism and sweat. First generation producers - Frankie Knuckles, Gene Hunt, Ron Hardy – are rightly amongst the most revered names in electronic musical history. Producers of the second wave, however – Boo Williams, Gemini, Paul Johnson - while having their faithful adherents, have remained underground.

Williams himself has been making sexy and understated house music since 1994. Displaying a lush tactile drive, his sound is tied to a deep musicality and, while the rawness of first generation house is present and correct, his tracks are also imbued with an emotional resonance that makes them sound more relevant now than ever. And, as 2011 has seen the sounds of Chicago appropriated across the entire electronic spectrum, this reissue of his second LP (the first on new imprint Another Day) could not have come at a more pertinent time.

Indeed, this year alone, DJs such as Hessle Audio’s Ben UFO and Numbers’ Jackmaster have cut a neat line in unearthing obscure Chicago gems, and nestling them amongst the plethora of new bass music in their sets. At the same time, producers from Blawan to Dave Huismans (in both 2562 and A Made Up Sound guises) to Kassem Mosse have drawn audible inspiration from the city, while imprints such as Rush Hour have continued apace by maintaining lovingly curated reissue schedules. And that’s before we even consider footwork, the current sound of the city radiating outwards thanks to various releases on Planet Mu.

It’s into this newly reverential climate, then, that Home Town Chicago is reintroduced. Comprising eight pieces, the LP operates both as heartfelt tribute to the musical heritage of Illinois, and a collection of majestic – and occasionally indulgent – dance floor forays, most of which hover around the 10-minute mark.

The title track itself unfurls with crisp claps, squalling P-Funk-era synthlines and the crunked up sound of an 808 on full pelt, the combination of which - rough beats twinned with progressively melodic undertones - makes for thrilling listening.

‘Devil Music’ is a haphazard proposition in which abrasive metallic hats and jarring synth leads compete for space. Further down the line, metallic bongo fills are incorporated but, really, the oscillated synth actively works against the grain of the track - by the end of its ten (long) minutes you can visualise collective jaws unclenching, and befuddled dancers heading barwards. Far more convincing is the classical styling of ‘Make Some Noise’, the slick and immediate bounce of which cruises along beautifully.

Yet there is more at play on this record than the immediate; and this, perhaps, is why Williams remained rather hidden from view in the 90s - too introspective to appeal to peak time players, too energetic for early doors. That said, when amalgamating the twin engines of his sound to full effect, his music displays devastating grace and power. ‘Old School Flavour’, for example, is a near-perfect exploration of the most satisfying markers of proper house music - sprightly stabs, reverberating chords, ticking hats and cement-laden kicks, all rendered with total focus and aplomb.

Elsewhere, ‘Smokin Acid’ focuses on a heady acidic bass line that moves along under stumbling beats, audibly disassembling and moving out of time. But while generally (when compared to Hunt, Knuckles et al) the roughness is tempered by resonant virtuosity, it’s the touchingly fallible human notes in the music - beats slipping, the wrong frequencies maximised for a second or two, a bum note here or there – that are the most thrilling.

Indeed in the age of the perfectly quantised beat, and the obsessively compressed mixdown, the fallible live touch is what is all too often missing in electronic music. In the case of ‘Home Town Chicago’ though, you get the sound of adult night music in all it’s decadent, amyl scented glory. Harsh, moving and restless, this is a rather compelling LP, and ripe for rediscovery.

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