Is DJ Gregory’s 1998 Release 'On The Raw Again' the Salvation that Deep House Needs?
In the debut edition of Diggin, we look at the Parisian producer’s quietly influential record for a lesson in the beauty of simplicity.
Diggin is a new column on THUMP that dives into dusty 12-inches, rare albums from yesteryear, and other half-forgotten forms of wax that have reentered our lives for a well-deserved second wind.
Even if you're the kind of deep-house head who brushes your teeth to Kerri, Larry, and Chez on a nightly basis, it's possible you've never basked in the bliss of DJ Gregory's On the Raw Again, released in 1998 under his .g alias. As hard to come by as it is beloved by those in the know, the record will run you up to $100 on Discogs. The EP's most notable standout, "Underwater," just got its first-ever digital release last week, on Darsa's own Point G. label, alongside a triple-vinyl pack of unreleased productions, a compilation of previously vinyl-only digital tracks, and an hour-long retrospective live mix. In 2016, when a lot of tracks labeled as "deep house" might make you shudder with their barrage of wallowed synths and metallic clangs, On the Raw Again offers something smoother, subtler and melodic—a reminder of the genre's potential for uncomplicated bliss.
Paris-bred DJ Gregory, born Gregory Darsa, came to prominence amidst the commercially minded house music that was tearing through Paris in the late 90s: French Touch. In a brief email exchange with THUMP, Darsa noted that he produced tracks like "Underwater"—with its sturdy bassline, glistening melody, and consistent jounce—with the intention of resisting some of the pressures put forth by French labels looking to churn out radio-friendly hits. "The French back then were concerned about the single aspect of the track, and that [the track] could be played on the radio," says Darsa. "I suppose that after the success of [Stardust's 1997 hit] "Music Sounds Better With You" on Roulé records, the major labels pushed a lot of young producers to get more hits. "Underwater" wasn't that type of track."
Recorded with clunky, old school hardware like the ATARI and SP1200 drum machine—not to mention a few spliffs—On The Raw Again marked a seductive twist on the disco-sampling, filter-laden, phaser-blasting tracks his peers were making. Instead, Darsa's take on deep house focused more on the velvety romanticism that comes to mind for most people when thinking about the city of love—one he articulated via cosmic synths that expanded and retreated like tidal waves and bird chirps reminiscent of a calm early morning.
On The Raw Again's precursor—unsurprisingly titled On The Raw, and released one year prior, in 97—featured some other popular tracks from Darsa's early solo discography, like the punchy "Chicken Coma," which he explained to me owes its musical roots to some of his New York house heroes like Masters at Work. The original EP also featured "Jean-Claude," which was followed by another deep-gem,"Jean-Claude Part 2," on the record's sequel.
Darsa actually produced On the Raw Again while on something of a house music sabbatical in New York City, a period that would come to define much of his career. "I was in New York from 1998 until 2000, the days of the legendary Sunday party Body & Soul," Darsa tells me. "I spent most of my time between gigs and studio sessions, where I learned a lot, and I have to give Tommy Musto props for allowing me in the studio for so many nights looking over his shoulder, when he was working on his own productions and remixes." The record, as well as a lion's share of the early Point G material at the time, failed to gain much noticeable buzz in the commercial and underground sectors, perhaps suggesting that those stuck in the French touch craze were unmoved by Darsa's penchant for NYC house legends like Kenny Dope.
Interestingly, some of Darsa's subsequent productions would be a bit more commercially aimed, or at the very least commercially successful. Thus, many dance music fans are more likely to know Darsa from his early 2000s project Soha, a production duo with fellow Parisian Julien Jabre, or his Africanism project with Le Frient, aka Bob Sinclair, on Yellow Recordings. In the early years of the new millennia, he also released some bonafide international club hits under own name (and rolodex of solo-aliases), most of them as easy to find as they are influential—2002's "Tropical Soundclash," and 2003's "Elle," both of which can swiftly purchased on vinyl for under five dollars online.
Following the dance music explosion in Paris in the late 90s, by 2009, the nightlife scene in the city was nearing a seemingly inevitable demise, partly due to a government crackdown on venues and widespread sound ordinances. Some even started to grimly refer to Paris as the "European capital of sleep." Around 2011, however, some DJs and promoters began to restore people's faith in the city's clubbing circuit, with blossoming after-hours spots like Concrete and Bartofar, which on Sunday mornings captured the vibe of the city's vibrant heydey in tucked away boat-clubs on the banks of the river Seine.
According to a 2013 interview with Resident Advisor, On the Raw Again owes much of its mythical status to its gradual, latent rebirth during these years, where it got heavily rinsed at Dan Ghenacia's famed Freak n' Chic Sunday after-parties, which took place aboard the Batofar. The record's joyous reception is what reportedly eventually prompted Apollonia—the label belonging to the trio of Ghenacia, Dyed Soundroom, and Shonky—to give the record a single-sided re-release in 2013, further cementing its cult status in the new emerging underground. Dyed Soundroom has even called "Underwater" the one track he wishes that he had written himself.
For lovers of deep house music—however a controversial labeling it might be—the sound doesn't get much better than a 12" like On the Raw Again and cuts like "Underwater." The latter is at once blissfully meditative and capable of making you move at a moment's notice, with its nimble combination of skipping hi-hats, consistent bass rumblings, and a powerful second-wind that wakes up your feet after a brief valley of calm around the four-minute mark. On first listen, it's unlikely whisk you up into some ecstatic frenzy; the magic here unfolds slowly, track by track, taking its time to inevitably win you over. The record itself has done the same—sneakily maintaining relevance throughout the decades, and doing so without being the type of obvious house anthem that still pops up in the club every weekend (cue "Deep Inside").
In 2016, when armies of bedroom producers are releasing swarms of music and readily categorizing it as deep house day in and day out, perhaps On the Raw Again has never deserved relevance more than it does now—hell, it just might be the wake up call that the genre needs. For longtime fans who yearn for a return to the more classic tropes of the sound—as well as newcomers searching for what it really is and should be—Point G is back to save us all.