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Hot Keys – Full Moon Cycle EP review

Microhouse is one of those subgenres that inspires confused expressions in all but those who are really into it. While the Hawtin-spearheaded tidal wave of minimal techno swept through clubs the world over last decade, leaving a sizable stain on everyone’s memories in the process, its funkier counterpart was all but forgotten about. It didn’t really go away as such, but rather moved with the times. Even in the beginning there wasn’t a huge amount that was “micro” about it, as delirious layers of short samples bumped around in a dense garage shuffle. Instead the sonic palette was widened, and for labels such as Circus Company the artists would reach out to live instrumentation to express the same sentiments started by Herbert, Losoul, Ark and Pepe Bradock.

If there was one unifying aspect to some of the most prominent microhouse, it would be the Frenchness of it. Even for non-Gallic producers, the bricolage aesthetic and flamboyant humour sounds born to go with a bold red wine and some heavyweight cheese. As such, the key labels (perhaps bar Perlon, which is a law unto itself) came from France and Canada, and in this release you find a perfect distillation of those two hotspots for niche house music.

Karat records has been serving the sound for longer than most, from early releases for Noze, Cabanne and Portable through to a continued exploration of experimental house. This now manifests itself in the signing of Hot Keys, a duo from Vancouver with very little information behind them but a quite staggering quality of production. “Boomer” begins with dubby scrapes echoing around the width of the track erratically, while the beat dutifully ticks away in an unfussy shuffle. It’s at the midway point that things pick up with an acid-meets-boogie lead synth dripping in funk. Still that dubby backdrop prevails and comes back to haunt the more direct melody out front, creating a wonderful duality between a party rocker and a head nodder.

“Full Moon Cycle” is a more overtly deep affair, opting for a slower tempo and some moody sampling. There’s an abundance of kick drop outs and meltdowns (the word breakdown doesn’t quite seem to cut it) that show a refreshing disregard for the rules of maintaining a groove, not to mention the false drops before the track picks up again in earnest towards the end. It’s loaded with atmosphere and the kind of sensuality you can only get from abstract slices of breathless vocal. As the name might suggest, “House Of Business” is less ambiguous in its intentions, and represents perhaps the most quintessential microhouse moment on this EP. The beat comes in slim and tight, but embellished with irreverent hiccups of vocal. Once the clipped keys and saxophone licks start skipping around the place, the scene is set for some truly scatty good time music.

There are those who would no doubt argue that there’s a kitsch quality to this kind of dance music which does not stand the test of time, but when so many producers homogenise their sound into a uniform monochrome of the current trend, tracks that brim with personality and joie de vive like these do are ignorant of time passing. There’s a child-like glee in those nutty samples and bouncy grooves, and yet in the canny use of jazz in particular the music gives away its maturity. It’s a good balance to have because after all, who wants to take life seriously all the time?

Oli Warwick


1. Boomer
2. Full Moon Cycle
3. House Of Business