TOP TEN LISTS: Retakes of a Life – Whitney Houston In the Mix (Top Remixes to Remember Her Music By)

By: Jason Shawhan

Whitney Houston’s music was a gift that she gave for all to hear. But the beauty of her many remixes is that dance music was occasionally able to give back; there is a tension and a vibe in many of the great tracks that reconfigured her voice for late-night consumption by disco light that weren’t always there in her official output. With Whitney, there is always the voice. In the way that every Michael Jackson song was defiantly his (with his proprietary percussive noises and snaps), Whitney’s voice and its arrangements (which she often did herself) made these songs her own. So finding the right sounds to bring That Voice into new realms could sometimes be a challenge.

But as Alba’s timeless anthem says, “Only Music Survives.”

With that in mind, I’d like to take you on a brief tour of some of Whitney’s outstanding moments on the dancefloor. By no means is this comprehensive. These happen to be my favorites. My hope is that it might give you an excuse to re-experience an old favorite, or hear something for the first time you might never have heard before. Regardless, respect to Miss Whitney Houston. Here’s hoping everybody finds that someone to dance with (who loves them). Here they are, in no particular order.

 

  • “My Love is Your Love” (Jonathan Peters)

I’ve never found a middle ground with Jonathan Peters mixes. Dance mixes, by nature, often aim for a middle ground that will attract clubgoers while not pissing off fans of the original song, and if, in the process, they achieve something transcendent and magical, that’s just gravy. Jonathan Peters mixes were never about the middle ground, and sometimes they didn’t work at all. But when they did (Jessica Folker’s “To Be Able To Love,” Luminaire’s “Flower Duet,” Paula Cole’s “I Believe In Love”), it was dazzling. And his mix of “My Love is Your Love” is the first Whitney track I listened to after hearing of her untimely passing. It is cosmic and beautiful, with a lush arrangement. It uses periodic sequences of dissonance to build into the big moments of beauty, and I’m in awe of it, more than a decade on. Of all of the remixes that have been done of Whitney Houston’s songs, this is the one that feels like the perfect blend of artist and new sounds.
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  • “I’m Every Woman” (Clivilles + Cole)

C+C gave a preview of what was to come in the X-Beat era of 90s house music with this track. A double vinyl set with three different ten-minute mixes, the gem here is the Clivilles and Cole House Mix II, which runs through the album version (with some Cathy Dennis pads), drops down to a lounge-y interlude, then kicks in around 6:14 with some serious deep house damage. C+C use some devastating loops and set the tone for what would become the New York sound of much of the 90s- deep, dubby, and cavernous.

  • “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength” (Daddy’s Groove, Peter Rauhofer)

Here was a chance for mixers to use some of the newfound grit in Whitney’s voice. Daddy’s Groove and Peter “The Artist Formerly Known As Club 69” Rauhofer both go for expansive, big room house mixes. But Daddy’s Groove use almost trance-y build-ups, which contrast nicely with Rauhofer’s chilly pinpoint synths. Either way, one sensed the immediacy and importance of the record, Whitney’s first after a long time away.

  • “It’s Not Right (But It’s Okay)”  (Thunderpuss, Johnny Vicious, Direct Hit/Robert Coleman)

Here’s the song that birthed countless remixes and hundreds of drag queens. It’s sassy, confident, and angry, and it’s an instance of dance music making a major step back into the mainstream. Thunderpuss (Hot Tracks’ Chris Cox and Kon Kan’s Barry Harris) mixed this track and knocked it out of the park, until pop radio had to reach out and take notice of what remixing was doing. It was a remarkable achievement for them, and a nice turn of events for a song that initially started out as the B-side to Houston’s “Heartbreak Hotel.”

But Thunderpuss was just one of the many mixes of this track. Peter Rauhofer (as Club 69) did a mix, KCC did a bootleg that ended up being picked up by Houston’s label, Arista, and there was a bootleg that got played in my club of choice at the time that mixed Whitney’s vocals with “Got the Groove” by SM Trax. So there was a lot of ground to be covered here.

Direct Hit, one of the remix services at the time, did a mix of the track for their Sector series that married Whitney’s voice with a track built on the syncopated relentless handclaps-and-synth-cowbells of Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” and some killer organ stabs from the Alex party records. It was a great assemblage of 80s and 90s sounds and it was the most fun of all of that era’s mixes. Robert Coleman, who did the mix, crafted something very special indeed.

But remember what I said about this being an angry song? Well, Johnny Vicious lived up to his name on this mix, and he created something unique. Clubland was moving away from the clanky Tribalism of the X-Beat sound and into the big room Circuit Party vibe. Vicious found a way to blend the clashy pummel of those X-Beat beats with the massive synth noises that drove the circuit sound, and he built a monster out of them for this song. I remember when the promo 12” singles went out, and one was advised to let the whole, 13+ minute Johnny Vicious Momentous Mix play out for maximum effect.

And it was like nothing else. Vicious’ mix brought the anger at the heart of this song front and center, taking one of Whitney’s anguished side notes from the breakdown and making it part of the musical backbone of the piece. The drop out at 6:44 is sublime, building itself back up into a completely different attack on the synth sequences. But even that plaes to the moment of drama he’s got in store… At 11:10, when he brings out the defiant rejoinders of the song “pay my own rent,” etc., it hits hard. And then at 11:32, he goes into a sustained note that sinks into your spine and you get the emotional heart of this song in such a visceral way that you just have to say “Damn.”

  • “Million Dollar Bill” (Freemasons)

A lovely poolside margarita of a song. I’d always wanted to hear what would happen when James Wiltshire would finally get to remix a Whitney track, and the end results are just beautiful. I like to remember in this kind of joyful place.

  • “I’m Your Baby Tonight” (Yvonne Turner)

Slightly housified from one of the first female, and most unheralded of full-on remixers. This was big enough to become the standard album version outside of North America. It was 1990, so a world that embraced “Vogue” would definitely feel inclined to accept house beats from its biggest names. Yvonne Turner would also remix tracks by Yazz & The Plastic Population, Lisa Stansfield, and Oleta Adams.

  • “I Look to You” (Giuseppe D)

Giuseppe D always has a gift for contrasts, and here, he finds a lush and supportive synth sound to elevate Whitney’s vocals, occasionally stripping things down to the gentle piano that periodically runs counterpoint. There are a lot of things happening in the track, but always in service of the song and its emotions. This is one of D’s best mixes, easily up there with Lutricia McNeal’s “Stranded” (which, if you don’t know it, you need to remedy that).

  • “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” (The KLF, DJ Earlybird)

This is the track that made the Roland TR-808’s synth cowbell sound immortal. The original dance mix, by Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero (a-ha’s “The Sun Always Shines on TV,” Jennifer Rush’s “Heart Over Mind,” Madonna’s “Open Your Heart”), as was customary at the time, didn’t stray too far from the original version, and was a massive hit in clubs, on the radio, and in boomboxes.

Almost immediately, it popped up again in a rather unexpected place. The KLF, or, as they were then known, The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (or, furthermore, The JAMMs), made a track out of house beats, orchestra hits from Isaac Hayes’ “Theme from Shaft,” bits of the Mission: Impossible theme, and heaping chunks of Whitney’s recording of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” Known as “Whitney Joins The JAMMs,” the end result managed to not result in too many lawsuits, and it also put Whitney’s voice into some underground places it might not ordinarily end up.

A few years back, DJ Earlybird did a mash-up of Whitney with Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” which is a great record to throw on at a party. There’s an alternate version that brings Sean Paul into the mix, but I prefer keeping it focused on my divas. Call me old-fashioned…

  • “Same Script, Different Cast” (Jonathan Peters)

This remix is what a knock-down drag-out war between divas and synthesizers would sound like. Frenetic, busy, overwrought, and always getting higher and louder until finally everything explodes- and it is never anything less than enthralling. The last chorus, where everything modulates up again- it’s madness, but it all works. Sometimes in a remix, less is more. This is not one of those times. Recognizing the kitchen sink attributes of the duet, Peters and his team went all-out. This remix shines like a mushroom cloud made out of mirrored disco ball panels. Whitney and Deborah Cox’s vocal performances here were simply titanic. You have to go back to the 70s, to Donna Summer and Barbra Stresiand’s “No More Tears (Enough is Enough),” to find that kind of take-no-prisoners diva power.

  • “Peace and Harmony will Save The Day” (DMC/Kevin Sweeney)

“Peace and Harmony” was originally an Italo-inspired Brothers in Rhythm track that sampled a couple of lines from Whitney’s “Love Will Save The Day” and matched them to a new Dina Carroll vocal. Fortunately, DMC decided to fully bring in Whitney’s vocals, and the end result is hands-in-the-air Italo at its most ebullient. As with the Sector Mix of “It’s Not Right,” it’s fun to hear mixes which place Whitney’s voice in the context of 80s club sounds that would have been a bit too much for her image at the time.

  • “You’ll Never Stand Alone” (Jimmy from Jersey)

Often misattributed to genius remixer James “Jimmy Gomez” Wiltshire (who did later remix Whitney as part of the Freemasons), this unofficial take by underground mixer Jimmy from Jersey (Lebo M’s “He Lives in You,” Faithless’ “Hour of Need”) is simple and direct and it works beautifully.

  • “How Will I Know” (Divide & Kreate, Junior Vasquez)

Whitney’s breakthrough uptempo hit was initially remixed by Jellybean Benitez, the man who turned countless records into nightclub smashes in the 80s (E.G. Daily’s “Love In The Shadows,” Maria Vidal’s “Body Rock,” Alphaville’s “Jet Set,” as well as tracks by Divine, The Talking Heads, Fleetwood Mac, and producing Madonna’s “Holiday”). But it didn’t get supremely turned out beyond its original, recognizable form until 2000’s Greatest Hits collection. In what was widely seen as a controversial move by much of the industry, all of Whitney’s uptempo hits were presented in remixed form. This pissed a lot of people and fans off, but it served as a remarkable show of thanks from Whitney to her fans in the dance music community. Among the new mixes done for that project were several “Junior Vasquez” mixes, including a remarkable take on “How Will I Know.” It was bouncy, big room house, but with all of the fun and joy of the original song kept intact and, in fact, amplified. Using the background vocals as a counterpoint in the intro even added some great tension to the song, and it stands as one of the greatest achievements on that compilation.

Immediately after Whitney’s passing, an a cappella of this song started making its way around the Internet. It was a pristine example of Whitney’s voice and what it could do, but it also posed the question to at-home producers and mixers throughout the world “What can you do with this?” Sweden’s Divide & Kreate (they made that amazing Kanye West/The Knife mash-up a few years back) put Whitney’s vocals over the magical, melancholy track of Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” and made something unearthly; they find the melancholy in the song and turn it into something even more than it was before.

INTERVIEW: Mason (ADE 2011)

Dutch production duo Mason is best known for their club track “Exceeder” which became the pop hit “Perfect” thanks to vocals by Princess Superstar. They’ve gone underground with a series of tracks that have gained much play from DJs around the world. 2011 saw them release their debut artist album They Are Among Us, featuring collaborations with everyone from Roisin Murphy an Sam Sparro to Kurtis Blow and DMC. To take their show on the road, the duo Iason Chronis and Coen Berrier have constructed a unique interactive multidimensional experience. Mason proves that there’s definitely more to Dutch dance music than trance and dirty house.

DJ Ron Slomowicz: I hear that you guys worked with Roisin Murphy.

Iason Chronis (Mason): Yes, that is true. We just released our album They Are Among Us. We have been doing very club-focused records for the last seven years with a DJ following, and we thought it would be a nice challenge to make an album with more of a pop approach. We basically made a wish list of artists that we would like to work with and sent out our ideas and sketches. A lot of them were really up for it because they liked the music. This includes Roisin Murphy, Run DMC, Kurtis Blow and Aqualung. It was really inspiring and a big challenge to work with these kind of people. Since they are so talented at what they do it made us want to work even harder.

RS: When you work with them, do you send them a track and they write a topline to it? How do you collaborate?

Coen Berrier (Mason): It is actually different every time. Sometimes we go physically into the studio and record. With Roisin Murphy that is what we did. She was very impressive by the way. She actually wrote the lyrics there on the fly. At first, we were kind of worried because she didn’t prepare anything. It actually turned out really nice, which shows how much talent she has. She came in with a big scrapbook that had all kinds of cutouts and news articles in it. Sometimes we just work from eMails or the artist will come to us. There is one track that we actually wrote the whole top line and then asked someone to sing it. It can work either way. With the Aqualung track, for instance, he just delivered the vocals and we built the track around that.

Iason Chronis (Mason): The nicest way is to be in the studio together at the same time so that you can go back and forth with ideas and leave the studio when you are finished and satisfied.

RS: You also worked with Sam Sparro, correct?

Iason Chronis (Mason): That is right; we did a track with Sam Sparro in collaboration with DMC. It is called “Corrected” and it did really well here. He is a great vocalist, so it was pretty cool.

RS: Your artwork and logo is a cartoon kind of creation, who drew it and what was the inspiration of that?

Iason Chronis (Mason): Our label is called ‘Animal Language’ and it started out as our logo. It started as one little animal, but since we kept doing Animal Language parties and releases, our designer Ifo kept making more of them. It is now a whole life form; there is a whole world out there of all these animals that just keep getting nicer and nicer.

Coen Berrier (Mason): His company 310k based here in the Netherlands. They do very great stuff. We are actually about to release an underwear line with these animals on them. It is a nice gift for the holidays.

RS: You have a new single called “Le Big Bob.”

Iason Chronis (Mason): That’s right; it is our new release on Animal Language. It is not from the album. It has an electro, pop funk track, with remixes by Arveene & Misk, that are also on our label, as well as Disco of Doom, Luke Walker, and In Flagranti.

RS: What kind of track is it?

Iason Chronis (Mason): It is fun; we don’t like to take things too seriously. We aren’t the type of producers that like to make the boring two-minute intro, bassline, a one-minute breakdown and outro kind of track. It is just a fun, crazy track. Many times, they are just sketches that they would be used to play live or in the DJ sets. When we see what works we just make it into a proper release.

Coen Berrier (Mason): The video is actually worth checking out; it has a nice kind of food porn thing going on. We ran into some guys at a marketing company in Holland and they use a lot of commercials from big restaurant chains. They have all sorts of salad tossing, ice cubes falling in slow motion, and shrimp being broken in half with the juice falling out of them, so it is real fun.

RS: Talking about visuals, do you have a new live show that you are working on?

Iason Chronis (Mason): Yes, we have produced together for over a decade. I always DJ on my own because Coen doesn’t DJ, so we really want to bring our music together live on stage. It is more challenging than DJing, so we teamed up with a bunch of technicians and created a system that we do with Ableton. It has all of the different sounds, lights, and video attached to it so we can do an interactive show. We play instruments and a lot of gear alongside of it. It is just our own music and material, it is a lot of fun.
Coen Berrier (Mason): We have developed a system that syncs up our live set to all of the club lighting and video screens. We have a special video and lighting track developed; it is a special plug in Ableton that recognizes what sounds we play. We can actually slow down a track, video, and lights. We can even reverse a song and have the lights go backwards.

Iason Chronis (Mason): We can combine ten tracks and all of the lights from the tracks go together. It is a very modern system.

Coen Berrier (Mason): It is like we are the DJ, the musician, and the VJ at the same time. It is pretty spectacular.

RS: Do you use Ableton when you produce, or just when you DJ?

Iason Chronis (Mason): Ableton is for a live show and in the studio, we work with Logic.

RS: Are the visuals that you use in your show things that you find, do you use software to generate them, or does someone create them for you?

Coen Berrier (Mason): There is a guy from DeeperEnd TV that developed a system with a bunch of other people. He came up with the whole idea and concept. He uses interesting algorithms. He took elements out of different tracks, and used them to create certain visual patterns to combine them all together. We can play different elements from the track. For instance, the kick has a certain visual; the lead and bass sound have a visual as well. When combined, they give every track a unique look that fits the sound. There is also color so the lighting all moves in time. It is pretty spectacular when you see it. There is a video about how that works on our site and also on the Ableton blog. It is nice to have Ableton on board; they support the new plug in that we have built. Make sure to check that out.

RS: Where do you think that you fit into the rise of the Dutch movement, International scene? Where do you think the Dutch scene is going to go next?

Iason Chronis (Mason): Holland has had all different scenes parallel doing well over the last years. You have the trance guys, the dutch house guys like Chuckie and Afrojack,  and the techno people like Shanadoo and 2001. I don’t think that we fit into any of those scenes. It is nice because everyone supports each other. It is nice that Holland is on the map on all of these different levels. For a small country, we have quite a big dance scene, so there are always things bubbling up. Right now Dubstep is big in Holland.

Coen Berrier (Mason): I think that is a natural progression for this kind of Dutch movement to cross over. There is a big tradition in dance music here for the last decade. The Trance guys are always on the top of the DJ list. Holland was established as a house music country. I think that America is ready and it helps that people like Chuckie have more of a hip-hop background. I think that is helps in crossing over the sounds. It is nice that the States are finally ready for this kind of music.

RS: Did you guys ever meet Princess Superstar? What was she like?

Iason Chronis (Mason): Yes, we did, She is nice and goofy; I think that she is a real artist. She does all kinds of things; she does really obscure and freaky records. As you probably know, we did a commercial record together. We both like to play and listen to really obscure stuff. I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point you find a Mason and Princess Superstar record together. It would be like the newest, deepest, weirdest, obscurest, hard rock.

RS: What would you like to say to all of your fans out there?

Iason Chronis (Mason): I hope to see you guys at one of our new live shows. We are really excited to present it to the world. To all of you guys producing don’t forget to do your own thing. Don’t try to be the next this or that. Follow your own line even if it’s not popular or trendy. Make the kind of music that you believe in. That is the only thing that there is.

Coen Berrier (Mason): Keep it real.

Interview conducted October 2011 during Amsterdam Dance Event.