We continue our feature series in which we ask producers, DJs and electronic artists to pick out the records that define their ‘house’.

Ahead of his appearance at Ministry of Sound for Glitterbox on Saturday 25 July, Joey Negro goes deep with his personal selections.


James Mason Rhythm of Life


In 1985 my career prospects weren't looking good.  Since leaving school as soon as I could in 1980 I had spent the following years alternating between unemployment and fairly pointless college courses. I was enjoying music, socialising etc., but treading water as far as any sort of career, as I just didn't have a clue what sort of job I could do, though pressure to get something beyond temporary summer employment was mounting.

All my spare money was going on records (new and used) and around this time I recall hearing a few tracks from James Mason's now classic Rhythm of Life album, one being the ‘Sweet Power of Your Embrace’ at an all-nighter in Colchester, and ‘Slick City’ on a regional soul/disco show so the LP had become top of my wants list. If you were a dance music fan (especially living outside London) James Hamilton’s weekly Record Mirror column was essential reading, with its reviews, news and charts. It was there I read about a record finding service ran by a DJ called Steve Goddard. Back then I was desperate to talk to anyone who was vaguely "in the scene" and exchange musical tips and knowledge, so I called up Steve and asked about the Mason LP. 

I seem to recall we had a few long chats about music, a couple of months later Steve contacted me and said he thought he had found a copy of the album and wanted £15 for it (quite a lot back then). I'm not sure where I got the money but I sent him a cheque off and a few days later the LP arrived in the post, but with one big problem, it was missing the cover. There was a note apologising offering £2.50 credit off next purchase but it wasn't quite what I had hoped for.

Getting an album with no sleeve is a big compromise, so I rang up Steve to tell him I wasn't happy but before I got onto that he told me he'd just landed a job running the dance dept. of a new record megastore in Oxford Street, London. He also mentioned he was looking for a couple of knowledge assistants and would I be interested in the job. I was pretty bloody interested I can tell you! I went up to London for an interview a week or two later, but as it turned out Steve decided not to take the job (as he'd been offered a big rise to stay where he was) and recommended me as the department manager, which with a bit of elaborating on my CV I unbelievably managed to get. The record shop was called Smithers & Leigh and was situated at the Marble Arch end of Oxford St, and only lasted just over a year.

Thankfully, I managed to jump ship to Rough Trade distribution after 9 months. However, it was that job at the record store that got me started and still wonder if I’d have managed to catch a break if I’d not called up Steve and had his help?!


Fingers Inc. ‘Mystery of Love’

I don't know if there was one record that got me into house as the music gradually unfolded around me. Though some people might see me as Mr. disco/soulful house I’ve always been quite open minded to most styles of music. When the first proto house tunes started appearing in the mid-80s I was probably more into electro and early hip hop like Mantronix than anything else, though certainly not exclusively, as there was so much good music coming out and I was always digging for old stuff too.

A couple of tunes that stick in my mind are Chocolate ‘That East Street Beat’ and ‘Music Is The Answer’ from Colonel Abrams - both 12" from New York which I heard on the radio and seemed rather fast compared with current trends but I liked them. Back then most UK DJs didn't mix and records just weren't produced to be blended like they are now. It was more just cutting from tune to tune, which can still be effective, and in some ways was less constricting as you'd hear much more of a mixture of tempos and styles across the night. 

When the first wave of proper house music came in, it was almost viewed as 4/4 electro and also appealed to the gay hi energy crowd, who'd always been into the faster grooves. To be honest I wasn't convinced by all of it, but one of the earliest house 12" I did buy was Chip E "Like this" in 86, its very basic and a bit out of tune with some weird hum now and then but it has that raw energy and underground vibe that sounded so fresh. I didn't realise that the bassline was a lift of ESG "Moody" until a few months later.

It turned out many of those early house tracks were low budget electronic re works of classic tunes played at the Warehouse Club by artists likes of First Choice, Cheryl Lynn, Cymande, etc. Thing is, a large proportion of those songs were much more known in the USA (probably particularly in Chicago and NYC) than here, so we often didn't instantly hear their inspiration as we didn't have the same reference points. We had our own classics here in the UK, many of which were actually American records that did nothing in their native land.

Anyway, back to the topic, if I was going to pick a favourite of the first three or four house records I bought and the one that 100% converted me, it would probably be Fingers Inc. ‘Mystery of Love’, it seemed so moody with the long intro of synth strings, rolling bassline and then Robert Owens wailing vocals appearing later.

I'd still rate Larry Heard in my all-time top 10 of producers, the guy's made some great music that I loved then and still sounds great now. I carried on buying both hip hop and house until the early 90s, when I just seemed to lose interest in the former. I have to admit I've also got bored with house at a few points over the last 25 years; thankfully it’s never lasted long.


Dennis Ferrer ‘Hey Hey’

As a producer myself, "a record I wish I'd made" isn't down how much I like it but more about admiring the way something is constructed and produced. There are loads of disco, soul and jazz funk records I love to death and of course it would be nice if they were my work, but I understand fully the process by which they were made. It's normally a team effort, starting with a strong song, then add an amazing vocal performance, get the best musicians and arrangers on board. Not to say it's easy, it's not and there's plenty of examples of records that have much the above and don't quite hit the spot.

The main thing I dig about ‘Hey Hey’ is that it manages to get the synergy of a techy rhythm track with a vocal topline spot on. I've tried a few times and it's not straight forward!! Depending on your musical persuasion you can easily make the end result too soulful or too techy or too commercial - or just too something or other that means it doesn't quite hit the bullseye where a few genres of dance intersect. Worst case scenario you completely miss by being too soulful for the techy guys but too tech for the soulful crowd, too commercial but not a "hit", so basically hardly anyone likes it. The backing track from ‘Hey Hey’ is incredibly energetic yet missing two things that 98% of dance tracks have. Firstly, a bassline, the low end rhythm being generated by the 808 toms and secondly, a snare or handclap on the 2/4, very rare for this not to be present on a track that goes anywhere near the mainstream. 

Ok so you've got a kick ass techy rhythm track but finding the right song and singer is quite a mind boggling task, and as always a little bit of luck is required for you come up with a killer topline. What impressed me about the "hey hey" hook is it's so simple, so instantly singalong and to my ears not cheesy. If it had a spoken word talking about house music or a diva vocal hollering away promising to "take you higher" I wouldn't be writing this but what's brilliant about "hey hey" is it's not a clichéd lyric but can be instantly understood by anyone, no matter what your first language is, let's face it we all understand the word "hey".

I've no idea who wrote what topline wise but I assume it's mainly the work of the Noisettes singer Shingai. I can remember the first time I played it out and it wasn't a particularly good gig or crowd, they'd definitely never heard it before but it was one of the biggest tracks of the night. Ok, so it got very overplayed, like any hit. Successful songs become tired no matter how good they are and I recall many classic disco hits felt cringeworthy in the early 80s when you only heard them in pop clubs. I can also imagine the techno snobs wouldn't like it, but I've got nothing in common musically with people who self-consciously only like "underground" music.

I hear Dennis doesn't like to play it himself these days. To a degree I can understand that as I hate playing my own hits like "American Dream" and "Make a move on me". I enjoyed producing them, glad I made them, made a lot of money from them but I'm sick to death of them these days. I groan when anyone requests them and am dismayed when they are posted to promote a night I'm performing at. They don't really fit in with what I play now anyway. Back to ‘Hey Hey’, I think once the dust has settled it will be considered one of the best dance records of the era.

Joey Negro plays Glitterbox on 25 July at Ministry Of Sound alongside Cerrone, Purple Disco Machine and more – full line-up and tickets

Glitterbox is at Space Ibiza every Friday from 12 June - 25 September - full line-up details and tickets

Defected presents Glitterbox Ibiza 2015 is out now (3CD / Digital) on Defected Records - order from iTunes and DStore