Today I am listening to a new take on dance music classics: Pete Tong and the Heritage Orchestra – Classic House.
Playing electronic music live
Electronic dance music has always been about drum machines, samplers, synthesisers and computer-based production. Beats are programmed, notes are drawn, imperfections edited out – rarely is anything played live. Even so called live acts are merely triggering off preset patterns at the right time. As Deadmau5 famously said “We all hit play”.
That has begun to change over the past few years as a number of electronic artists seek to push themselves out of their comfort zone and go live. In 2015, the BBC Proms went electronic and performed a number of Ibiza classics using a live orchestra. The response was emphatic. This spawned off a number of imitation live concerts – not a bad thing in my opinion.
Pete Tong and an orchestra?
So what is Pete Tong doing with an orchestra? I have, on several occasions, bemoaned over Tongy’s mixing skills after hearing him crash endless mixes together in a club. There is no denying Tong’s pedigree as a selector of good music but shouldn’t he keep practising his mixing rather than picking up a violin? Thankfully Pete Tong’s role seems to be limited to choosing the tracks here.
Phew! So what is this all about?
After the success of the Proms event, the natural progression is to try and record it onto an album. Tong put together a list of 77 classic club tracks that he thought should be considered and handed this list over to James Buckley and Chris Wheeler. Buckley is a young conductor while Wheeler is the Artistic Director of the Heritage Orchestra. The orchestra itself is rather special in that all the musicians are fans of club music and have been doing their own live thing for a while.
Buckley and Wheeler whittled down the 77 tracks to 20 choosing those that they thought would best work in the context of an orchestra.
Listening to Classic House
I must admit that this is not what I expected. My preconception was “this is classical music” and so would be all mellow, chilled and relaxing. Not so! There are still beats aplenty here. Think of this album as a reinterpretation, using live musicians where possible. The unmistakable melody of Moby’s Go becomes sweeping symphony of real instruments. The piano riff on Where Love Lives sounds so much better than the original – its real!
The orchestra plays alongside the usual beats that you would expect from dance tracks. It is not all instrumental: there are vocals on Waiting All Night and Good Life to name just two. My highlights are Rachel’s Song and Medley (featuring a mash up of Strings of Life, Knights of the Jaguar, Nightmare and Cafe Del Mar).
Don’t play this expecting to relax – you will want to get up and bop around the living room!
If you have been into dance music at all over the last 30 years or so then you will enjoy this album. Pete Tong’s influence keeps the track selection mainstream, but thanks to the treatment given to the songs by Buckley and Wheeler it is not cheesy, but credible. Electronic music has, at times, struggled for credibility with naysayers claiming there are no skill, no real musicians or artists. This album shows that dance music can be live and can showcase the talents of the original artists as well as the musicians who have successfully reinterpreted it. Relive some classic memories in a new context.