Published: Sunday, 25 October 2015 20:20
Written by Alex Tippett
An underground Vancouver label, Mood Hut Records has only just began releasing its sun-soaked and marijuana-addled house grooves on vinyl and electronically. Until fairly recently, a significant portion of their releases were exclusively available on cassette and recordings were stubbornly hard to find. Thankfully however, Mood Hut has finally decided to join the 21st century and those of us who don’t happen to live in Vancouver can join in on the fun. (A few of their cassette mixes have been released by the label on www.libramix.org, but most of them are still unavailable online) Like much of the Vancouver electronic scene, Mood Hut releases aim for a certain level of “chill,” their tracks never approaching the energetic heights of more traditional dance-centric house music. Rather than teeth-grinding ecstasy, Mood Hut releases with their typically electric instrumentation and throbbing bass lines conjure up the same kind of hazy summer nostalgia evoked by bands like “Real Estate.”
Penderstreet Steppers – The Glass City
The Penderstreet Steppers are one of the three main Mood Hut affiliates alongside Cloudface and House of Doors. While there are other artists and side projects whose records are released with varying frequency, these three groups and their side projects form the core of the label. The Glass City, released as the A side on a recent Penderstreet Steppers 12”, is a good example of the modern Mood Hut sound. Unlike early releases which leaned quite a bit on the fuzzy cassette shtick (often to great effect), more recent releases have moved towards a crisper production style that accentuates the variety of textures that often appear on a single track. On this track in particular, I find the juxtaposition of the wooden güiro (that instrument you scratch with a stick, you probably played it in elementary school music class) and soft whooping vocal sample quite enjoyable (the best example is probably around the 3:30 mark). Despite the relatively crisper production style however, there is still a tape haze around most of the track, which alongside the pensive piano samples help to capture that feeling of wistful melancholy.
Jack J – Something (On My Mind)
One half of the PenderStreet Steppers, Jack J is probably the most well-known member of Mood Hut Records after his 12” on the Future Times label was released to widespread critical acclaim. (That release happened to include the track Thirstin’, which is my favorite track by a Mood Hut artist and was my song of the summer this year https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JkfvlQ75WUg) To me, it seems a large reason for that success is that Jack J’s records are the most obviously pop-oriented releases on Mood Hut. Unlike some of the other artists on Mood Hut, Jack J totally rejects many of the stylistic tropes that dominate house music and make house music often less approachable. Something (On My Mind) for example relies heavily on instrumental samples that sound like they could have come from a funk or soul album, eschewing the synth heavy style that is often found on other house tracks for a more organic and inviting sound. These instrumental samples are complimented by the same crisper production style found on other
Aquarian Foundation – Vhembe
Aquarian Foundation consists of House of Doors, Hashaman DeeJay (a frequent Mood Hut collaborator whose Boiler Room set with the Penderstreet Steppers is one of the best I’ve seen https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sddQi6opHwY ) An older track from Mood Hut, Vhembe clearly demonstrates the influence of cassettes on early releases by the label. Dripping with static, Vhembe is much more indebted to the traditions of outsider house than the pop sound embraced by the Penderstreet Steppers and Jack J. Both however share an affinity for a broad variety of traditional instrumentation, with bells, handclaps, and a broad variety of drums all making an appearance at some point. In Vhembe however, these come alongside the same kind of looping synth samples that has been traditionally found in house music, making it pehaps a less engaging listen for those not already engrossed with house music. The synth samples here are incredibly engaging though, thanks to both their analog qualities which lends them a certain sense of immediacy, as well as their impressive ingenuity.
Cloudface – Otcho
Cloudface is one of the three main Mood Hut affiliates and the Devonian Garden EP that this track is from was the first official release from Mood Hut. Like Vhembe, Otcho is another Mood Hut track that clearly showcases the influence of cassettes in its sound. Unlike later releases which would skew towards a more distinctly pop and dance template, Otcho and the rest of the Devonian Garden EP is more heavily influenced by ambient electronic music, making it a for more relaxing listen. Judging by the few early cassette releases that I’ve heard, this kind of ambient experimentation was at one point much more prevalent within the Mood Hut crew.