STRINGS OF LIFE: 20 Essential House Music Guitar Tracks
WORDS: NICK GORDON BROWN
At first glance, the guitar and electronic music are not natural bedfellows. The cliched image of the swaggering rock star and his noisy bluster does not sit well in a medium which, dare we say it, leans more towards the spiritual and cerebral. Take a moment for reflection, however, and the pivotal role the guitar has played in many a house track and dancefloor stormer shines through. Indeed, its roots go deep into club and dance music culture, be it the rhythm of funk, the groove of disco or the gently plucked ambience of chill out; all these influences have been filtered (often literally) into the house music songbook. At a time when parties worldwide have been put on ice, our celebration of the guitar’s role in clubland envisages a perfect summer’s day of chilling then a night of partying, an experience we hope we can all share again sooner rather than later.
Over the course of several decades, the beach bar has played a crucial role in helping many artists find an audience, providing an environment in which their plaintive songs, mood music, deeper than deep house or electronic soundscapes make perfect sense. This in turn led to chill out rooms / zones in clubs and at festivals respectively; and bespoke soundtracks for many a pre- or after-party. The guitar is particularly at home in this habitat. We kick off with two stalwarts of the chill out scene, Coco Steel & Lovebomb and A Man Called Adam. Together their Balearic CVs take some matching. ‘Yachts’ is a CS&L track remixed by AMCA, and released on the latter’s Other imprint. It samples easy listening mainstay Klaus Wunderlich, and we love the accompanying video.
Jumping forward to the present day, genre-straddling multi-instrumentalist Tom Misch has clearly been listening to the inspirational guitar work of Nile Rodgers and George Benson, as evidenced on the beach bar-perfect ‘South of the River’.
As recording artists, a live act and DJs, the Crazy P collective are rightly revered as disco-fuelled party starters. However, their sound is multi-faceted. The mournful masterpiece that is ‘Heartbreaker’ is modern soul music at its best. Delicate guitar work is present throughout, but the highlight is the unexpected New Order-style solo just before the 4 minute mark.
Rounding off our Beach Bar selection, from 2019 it’s the eerily beautiful ‘Bittersweetener’ by Duckmaw, prime chilled electronica whose memorable guitar motif helps it stand out from the crowd.
Over the years there have been many tracks by rock bands that have, whether by accident or design, found themselves a home on the more discerning dancefloors. It takes a DJ with a true sense of adventure to programme such tunes; and an editor with a finely tuned ear to splice them to maximum effect. When you get two such DJs / edit maestros teaming up, it’s no surprise when the resultant revamp is supreme. The natural funk of ‘Voices Inside My Head’ by the Police, with Stewart Copeland’s metronomic drumming, Andy Summers’ taut guitar work and Sting’s ethereal vocal, had long made it club friendly, and there are a number of edits floating around. However, it was when DJ Harvey and Ashley Beedle, two of the scene’s most respected figures, got to grips with it, that we got the definitive version. The perfect start to our pre-party session.
Soul-stirring: take two deep house masters, add an uplifting vocal extolling happiness, and top off with some Latin-styled guitar work. This is a recipe all too rarely tasted, so we should be thankful that Ron Trent, Quentin Harris and Cordell McClary came together in 2005 to deliver this.
Let us dip back to 1988 for some Balearic bliss that so caught the mood of that heady summer, but still sounds fresh. Spanish DJ Raul Orellana hit on the idea of a flamenco guitar-driven club track. The result, ‘Guitarra’, is joyful (it pre-dates his Iggy Pop-sampling ‘Real Wild House’ crossover hit by a year).
Afrobeat is known for its rousing guitars, a fact not lost on a mainstay of the genre, Dele Sosimi, who earned his spurs working first with the legendary Fela Kuti, and then his son Fema, before enjoying solo success. His funk drenched 2015 cut ‘E Go Betta’ is here transformed into a prime slab of afrohouse by South African electronic producer Ryan Murgatroyd (known to the Defected community for his 2013 release ‘Bantwana’s Piano’).
Well programmed warm up sets are so crucial, and here we have some heavyweight selections to set the tone. Dennis Ferrer and DJ Spen need no introduction to Defected fans, so we know we’re in the safest of hands as the latter delivers his fresh out the blocks choice edit of ‘Reach 4 Freedom’, the anthemic closing cut from Ferrer’s 2006 album, The World As I See It.
Very few artists currently surf the musical zeitgeist more successfully than Folamour. The Frenchman’s broad musical palette, as exhibited in both his wonderfully unpredictable DJ sets and always gripping productions, has struck a chord with so many. ‘Ivoire’ is his silky smooth yet effortlessly funky contribution to our guitar-driven setlist.
Things are hotting up. Time to add some more Latin flavour to our truly cosmopolitan brew. None better than one of the Dominican Republic’s most prominent cultural exports, ChiChi Peralta, whose infectious ‘Un Dia Mas’ was put through its dancefloor paces for Francois K’s ever eclectic Wave Music label in 2001. At the remix controls, transatlantic house master Matthias ‘Matty’ Heilbronn.
Staying in 2001, and the summertime classic that was (and is) ‘Guitarra G’ by G Club presents Banda Sonora. Drenched in flamenco guitars, and with just the cheekiest of steals from Ashford & Simpson’s ‘Bourgie Bourgie’, this gem from the early days of Defected always comes with guaranteed sunshine.
Back to the present day, and with the late 2019 release of the Kiwanuka album, Michael Kiwanuka only added to his ever-growing reputation and fanbase. When an artist is on the crest of the sort of wave that Kiwanuka occupies right now, the correct choice of remixer is critical. Enter stage left the one and only Claptone, whose interpretation captures the perfect balance between respect for the original song and serious dancefloor punch. We feature the full length version with its piledriving intro below; you may also want to check the video that goes with the edit here.
Time for a quick change of mood. Every night needs a little edginess, and here is where we’ll find it. Guitars still present and correct, but this time with just a tad more menace. Where better to start than with an Alfredo favourite from his seminal 1980s Amnesia residency, a track that legend has it was equally big on the early Goa rave scene, and which undoubtedly helped spread the concept of the ‘no musical boundaries’ Balearic beat outlook. The Residents were musical outliers, avant gardists perhaps most famed for their identity hiding headgear. Nevertheless ‘Kaw Liga’ struck a chord on the floor.
Germany’s WestBam was one of Europe’s earliest house masters, a genuinely innovative DJ and producer, he would play a major role in Love Parade. Alongside many a seminal house and techno release, many of WestBam’s early tracks revealed his roots in alternative music (which he has revisited throughout his career).’Alarm Clock’ is a leftfield classic, its centrepiece being a guitar riff sampled from influential post punk band Gang of Four (a few short months before Andrew Weatherall used the same sample in his celebrated My Bloody Valentine remix).
Few straddle dance and indie dancefloors more imperiously than Erol Alkan, doyen of the alternative club scene. His list of collaborators, be it remixing, producing or DJing, is a who’s who of experimental dons. From 2005, we bring you his ‘Glam Racket’ remix of Glaswegian art rockers Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Do You Want To.
‘Funky Guitar’ by the Italian production dream team FPI Project, here moonlighting under their TC 1992 moniker (see also TC 1991 and TC 1993!) was one of the first Italo house sample-based tunes that was created to sound less like a cut & paste mash up, and more like an original track. Based on samples from ‘What It Is’ by psychedelic soul gurus Undisputed Truth (with a cheeky drum solo stolen from the Jackson 5 for good measure), this particular funky guitar guaranteed dancefloor mayhem in the early 1990s.
Back in the here and now, Purple Disco Machine is a man who knows how to sprinkle magic guitar dust over a remix, as with his take on 2019 anthem ‘Joys'.Roberto Surace’s cut is successfully transformed from minimal house banger to discofied party stormer, initially with a clavinet-influenced Stevie Wonder style riff, before the guitar hook takes centre stage.
The temperature’s rising, it’s filter time, and a lesson in how to tease and stretch out a guitar riff over ten minutes of dancefloor bliss. Ladies & gentlemen, Mr. Pete Heller.
For a flamenco-filled finale, there is only one crack team to whom we can entrust this task. Call for Basement Jaxx.
One more tune
Two classics morphed into one, a visual as well as an aural treat, a mash up of epic proportions. The Doobie Brothers were always the funkiest of America’s 1970s rock royalty, with many a floor-friendly number to their name. Sure Is Pure’s superlative remix of their ‘Long Train Running’ closed many a set in the 90s. It does so again here, only in tandem with one of the most loved dance tracks of all time, ‘Get Lucky’ by Daft Punk, guitar courtesy of the inimitable Nile Rodgers.