WORDS BY TRACY KAWALIK
Passing by a sea of shuttered up joints that have prohibited dancing for the last twelve months, it might feel as though the halcyon days of collectively belting out vocal hooks in euphoric sonic bliss, sweat-drenched, above a backdrop of spine-tingling production and 120 BPMs was another lifetime ago.
But not all is lost. Clubbing might have been momentarily on pause, but at Defected and on the house scene as a whole, a new wave of vocal talent is moving the genre to a fever pitch, readying us for a summer back on the dancefloor.
These front runners are behind the biggest records of the year and stealing the spotlight alongside the top DJs and producers on the planet by delivering powerful spirit-raising hooks and lush vocal sermons. More than that, they're doing so when it's needed the most.
Amid the madness of the last year, a musical release among the masses fueled by the uplifting flex of house music has never felt more vital. But this isn't the first time around that house vocalists have propelled punters out of dark times and into soul-drenched choral ecstasy.
A hefty credit is owed to the likes of Loletta Holloways' Love Sensation', Ultra Nate's 'Free', Crystal Waters' Gypsy Woman', Barbara Tucker's 'Beautiful People', Paris Grey on Inner City's 'Good Life' to name a mere few. The likes of male icons like CeCe Rogers and Robert Owens, Byron Stingily and Jamie Principle. Not to mention the Martha Walsh's and the Jocelyn Browns for taking us all to higher ground.
Not only did these vocal powerhouses do that time and time, decade upon decade again with their records, but they paved the way for artists to step into the spotlight the way they are now. And because of that, a hefty sum is owed.
Perhaps Mixmag said it best when they explained in their Black Out issue this past November that few sounds can garner viscerally electric reactions across several generations in the same way house music does. "With its warm gospel vocals and jumpy beats, house has become a signifier of what the Black British experience means. Knowing precisely what's coming when you hear the bouncing opening notes of Rosie Gaines' 'Closer Than Close' or the stirring wordless vocal introducing Robin S on 'Show Me Love' is almost like a rite of passage into Black British adulthood."
Sadly, a fair few house heads among us can't name the vocalists behind their records on heaviest rotation. And for many vocalists of the genre, gaining superstar notoriety on par with the DJ and producer has come, and still does... with a fight. Despite defining the sonic aesthetic of the genre from its inception until now, many Black artists have been hidden behind the scenes, uncredited, erased from music videos and exploited.
For instance, Martha Walsh might have lent her vocals to Sylvester's 'You Make Me Feel', and was later ranked by Billboard as the "58th Most Successful Dance Artist of All Time", but she was also named by Rolling Stone as "The Most Famous Unknown Singer of the '90s." After being side-stepped by record execs for not having a "marketable look", skinnier models lip-synced to her voice on records and live performances for decades without her permission. First on globally lauded tracks like Black Box's 'Ride on Time' then second on the majority of C&C Music Factory's output including platinum-selling 'Gonna Make You Sweat'. All until Walsh stomped them out in court and won lawsuits against both for failing to provide vocal credits for songs she recorded, committing fraud by using models to lip-sync her music. Then wrapped it all up by sparking federal legislation that made vocal credits mandatory on CDs and music videos, and was crowned The Queen of Clubland.
No one can say what the scene would look like without influential activists like Walsh who cemented her fame by making her presence known, or the ferocious vocalists today that are doing the same on the scene. But one thing is for sure, Defected's never been one to play by industry standards.
Fast forward to 2021, and the label is more passionate than ever about championing the voices setting the house scene alight within their own imprint as they are outside home turf and across the globe. Off the back of a handful of huge house releases, here are the phenomenally skilled new-gen, whose records you need to add to your library, play on max and get to know as we get ready to return to the dancefloor.
DOPE EARTH ALIEN
Dope Earth Alien tore apart dancefloors and made her presence known at the top of 2020 by delivering her slick vocals at a breakneck pace alongside UK producer/DJ and Circus Recording's biggest star Janson. On their collaborative banger 'Switch,' Dope Earth Alien commands dancers to "follow the drum" when the beat drops! While her rhythmic finesse and intoxicating cadence are hypnotic, to say the least, her abilities should come as no surprise, as the vocalist is also a former contemporary dancer. Dope Earth Alien's vocal swag on 'Switch' caught the attention of DJs like Honey Dijon who played it on heavy rotation and BBC Radio 1's Annie Mac. She’s also been working with Jansons on the follow up single, coming on Circus Recordings ‘Medicine’ which is out next month.
Jansons featuring Dope Earth Alien 'Switch'
From the moment Atlanta singer-songwriter Hadiya George's breakout vocals "Why you always got to play the fool, that's why I wrote this song for you," strike across the flawless production, deep grooves and melodic keys of Honey Dijon's first record from her forthcoming album 'Black Girl Magic', it's clear Hadiya George's dancefloor debut will be one of many in the works. A tremendous rising talent in her own right, outside her work with Honey and not to mention a feature on Horse Meat Disco's 2020 album Love & Dancing, Hadiya’s debut single ‘Hot Flavor’ is now out on Melvo Baptiste’s new label The Remedy Project, complete with remixes from Godmode and Kaidi Tatham.
Hadiya George - Hot Flavor
London's own incomparable solo artist, songwriter and feature vocalist Andreya Triana isn't new to this. She made her presence known collaborating with Flying Lotus, Mr Scruff and Bonobo. As well as been remixed by the likes of Nightmares on Wax, Mount Kimbie and LA's revered female DJ, producer and musical genius Tonkimonsta. Over at Defected, you can catch her across a string of tracks on The Vision's 2020 debut album including their modern anthem the blissful, funkified smash hit 'Heaven'.
The Vision featuring Andreya Triana 'Heaven'
Irish singer and songwriter Roísín Murphy knew Moloko had the makings of a dance hit when she was writing 'Sing It Back.' But sadly her partner Mark Brydon chose to tone it down and release it in a more experimental direction on their second album. Unsurprisingly Roísín was underwhelmed with the result. Todd Terry was commissioned to rework the track... still a no. Then miraculously, a German DJ called Boris Dlugosch got in touch with a demo that blew her mind. She pleaded with her label to put it out but having paid handsomely for Todd Terry, that was a "no" from the bosses as well. Like its first release, Terry's version was a dud, while Dlugosch's became the talk of Miami Music Conference. Not only was the record an instant hit but it has since featured on over 100 dance compilations. The success of which combined with Roísín's unprecedented creative vision catapulted her solo career with incalculable force and lead to her critically lauded debut album 'Overpowered.' The album clocked numerous nominations and awards while Roísín delivered a host of phenomenal live gigs and high-concept videos, magazine covers and club worthy records in between. Her hotly anticipated album 'Roísín Machine' came out at the end of 2020, and revealed some of her best songs to date.
Roísín Murphy 'Something More'
If you feel like you've heard Detroit soul sensations Dames Brown before, it's most likely because you tore apart many a dancefloor to the triple threat's gospel-drenched vocals on Sophie Lloyd's disco masterpiece 'Calling Out.' Lloyd's antidote to the pervading doom and gloom of the news such as 'Calling Out' and follow up 'Raise Me Up' alongside Dames Brown hold rank as stand out dance floor hits of the last five years. But outside their work with Lloyd, the vocal trio are regular collaborators of Amp Fiddler and adored performers at the Defected Croatia festival. Also appearing on The Vision’s ‘Down’, which is released as a single in March 2021, they are working on their debut LP which has tracks produced by Detroit legends like Amp Fiddler, Andres and Eddie Fowlkes to come.
Sophie Lloyd featuring Dames Brown 'Raise Me Up'
"I've always been a music nerd, playing piano and saxophone as a kid, with music blasting at all times," admits Bronx born vocalist Fiorious. Turns out, that was time well spent because Fiorious's musical dexterity landed him a spot on Defected's Ones To Watch List in 2019, and a soul-driven, bass-heavy breakout track "I'm Not Defeated." Fiorious's powerful 'call-to-resistance' came before it was even needed most, and in 2020 stands just as strong as the club anthem it started out as. Highly driven by visuals as well, Fiorious reveals that the track was inspired by the visceral political imagery and protest music that Rage Against the Machine brought in the 90s as much as it is raw, classic house music. The beautifully raw video that goes alongside is a testament to that. He went on to release a further two singles on the imprint ‘Future Romance’ and ‘Follow Me’, and now prepares to release his lockdown collaboration with disco legend Dimitri From Paris (pre-order now).
Fiorious 'I'm Not Defeated'
Hotly tipped Jamaican-Canadian artist and musician SeeMeNot released her debut mixtape ‘Long Overdue: The Sound of a Revolution’ at the peak of 2020 summer on her Soundcloud with the aim to bring the revolutionary purpose back to house music. Then kicked off the last quarter of the year with her debut EP ‘Borderline’. Both projects were not only championed by the likes of Erol Alkan, TSHA, Solomun, Adana Twins and many more, but legions of fans and repressed dancers vying for a power release.
SeeMeNot collaborates on the project with producer and DJ Oliver Baptiste by singing acapella over 21st century house mixes and vocal snippets, which range from an extract from a speech made by Tamika Mallory at a protest for George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020, to her track ‘Long Overdue’ dedicated to the Black Lives Matter movement. While the mixtape and words themselves are deeply personal to SeeMeNot, outside of music she was formerly a model, appearing in a documentary The Colour of Beauty, which highlighted the structural racism affecting Black models in the fashion industry.
Check out the title track off SeeMeNot’s debut EP ‘Borderline’ equipped with an acid house lick thanks to Roman Fluegel.
SeeMeNot featuring Roman Fluegel ‘Borderline’ (Acid Mix)
South London singer and songwriter Kelli-Leigh has worked with some of the best in the business. Since stepping into the house scene she’s sang on three huge Top 10 singles, including two UK Dance Number 1s. She jumped on tour with Adele, worked with likes of Jax Jones, Low Steppa, Tiësto and Duke Dumont, all before making the decision to carve out her own path and clock up the clout she deserves.
Despite her distinctive vocals being the main attraction on a slew of house music’s most anthemic and celebrated records, the ugly truth is Kelli-Leigh, sadly like her predecessors, was previously unseen and exploited. Outside of her own music, Kelli-Leigh has featured in only one video for a song, and that was a lyric video of a live performance. She co-wrote and sang on her fourth record ‘Be Here’ with Duke Dumont, and while Annie Mac made it the Hottest Record in the World when it came out, Kelli-Leigh’s name was nowhere to be found. Passionate about educating her fans about the lack of visibility for Black women and hardships across the UK music industry, Kelli-Leigh refused to continue to grin and bare it, and kick down doors on her own.
Off the back of honing her skills above, Kelli-Leigh has since formed her own independent label ‘Music Core’ as well as released her critically hyped debut single ‘Do You Wanna Be Loved Like This’ and her meteroic ‘En Vogue’ sampled floor filler ‘More Than Friends’ with James Hype. She’s lent her vocals to a string of singles over the course of 2020 including her own ‘Whiskey Midnight’ remixed by MTV UK go-to DJ R3WIRE. And as of most recent, appears on collaborative track ‘No More Chances’ alongside Swedish production duo Many Few.
Kelli-Leigh ‘Whiskey Midnight’ (R3WIRE Remix)
Check out our Voices Of House Music playlist over on spotify: