Every morning I wake up older than I was yesterday, and every morning I wake up older than I was yesterday I forget just how young I used to be. Everything moves at a pace that's terrifying to me now. Everything zips past me in an Uber X while I trundle down to a bus stop on the outer limits of south east London, my knees creaking with each step. I used to wake and bake, now I wake and ache. At 25, I finally feel old.
Music used to be something I knew, something I had ownership over. I don't anymore. I feel left behind. Out of touch. I feel a hundred years old some mornings, as I flick through the night before's timelines. Sure, I largely know what's what, but I increasingly worry about what I don't know. If there's one thing I don't know, if there's one thing that I'm really worried now that I don't know about, it's tropical house. What the fuck is tropical house? I had to find out. I had to learn. I had to be at one with tropical house.
Tropical house, or so I was told, is "a subgenre of deep house that emerged during the early to mid 2010s," which was popularized by the Australian DJ and producer Thomas Jack. This was a bad start. I had not heard of Thomas Jack, either. So I looked into Thomas Jack and discovered that Thomas Jack, as well as being an Australian DJ and producer, was a 20 year old Australian DJ and producer who presumably popularized a whole genre of music in his late teens. When I was 20 I'd just mastered separating whites and colours, and cooking pasta to an adequate standard. I also learned that, "His sets are filled with pleasure and happiness. Sax, flutes, trumpets, you name it, Thomas brings in the jazz orchestra for a unique style suitable for the masses. Still developing as an artist, Thomas will continue to grow and surprise us everyday." Which is something.
It wasn't enough to just read about tropical house, though. I had to experience it the only way I knew how to in the year 2015: I had to wade through hour after hour of YouTube uploaded mixes that seemingly all come bundled with hi-res photos of pliant beach babes. This, reader, was my cross to bear. Here's what I discovered on my sunny, balmy, beachy odyssey.
TROPICAL HOUSE DOESN'T REALLY SOUND LIKE DEEP HOUSE
My first port of call was the aptly titled, Best of Tropical House Music 2015 mix. I figured that if I was going to try and get into the genre, it made sense to delve into the new shit. You've got to have your finger on the pulse in this game and, to be honest, reverence towards the past is one of the most damaging and reductive things in dance music. Not everything is great because you might have heard it in a Chicago club in 1989.
The thing is, I like deep house music that you might have heard in a Chicago club in 1989, so I kind of expected tropical house to sound a bit like that, given that what I'd read had basically told me that tropical house is a bit like deep house. This wasn't like the deep house I knew at all. This didn't sound like Ron Trent or Larry Heard or Kerri Chandler. It didn't make me feel like I was on the verge of tears while simultaneously strutting my stuff in the club. It didn't have that grit, that soul, that sense of ocean-trawling sadness and yearning that the best deep house does.
Instead, it sounded a bit like the kind of euro-centric house you hear on radio stations on holiday: cheesy, faux-euphoric, and a bit plasticy. This was music that might sound alright playing in the background while you tuck into an incredibly reasonably priced menu del dia in a restaurant with plastic chairs and a totally adequate view of a totally adequate harbour. Oh, and there was an Empire of the Sun remix in there too, so I'm not sure how accurate the mix's title was.
THE TROPICAL HOUSE SCENE IS DOMINATED BY PEOPLE I'VE NEVER HEARD OF
Now, obviously, because I knew fuck all about the scene, I didn't think I could just swing into any old YouTube mix and be immediately au fait, but I did think I might have heard of a few of the acts involved in passing. I mean, I spent a good portion of my waking life looking for things to actively annoy myself so I thought that maybe, by some process of self-defeating osmosis, that I might have sucked in a few of the bigger tropical acts. But no. Who is Nicolas Haelg? Does Felxprod Down really exist? Have I invented Starix, Dan Bravo, and Kungs for the purpose of this article? I wish!
TROPICAL HOUSE PROBABLY WORKS BETTER IN CONTEXT
Say the word "tropical" to me and I'll immediately bliss out into a world of imagined swimming pools, water slides, pissy changing room floors, plates of chips washed down with flat fizzy drink, and a sea of middle aged women breakstroking with their hair up and glasses on. I might, at a push, rhapsodise about soft drinks or tell you about the mango I bought a few years ago that was, sadly, a little disappointing. That's tropical. This stuff, tropical house, doesn't sound that tropical to me. Granted I'm sat in an office, chewing a pen lid for sustenence and amusement, rather than finding myself sprawling on a beach towel with a nude woman on it, on a beach in Bali but I'm just not feeling tropical. In fact, I managed to listen to all of Tropical House & Deep House Summer Mix 2015 #47 | New Deep & House Music while thinking about overdrafts, club closures, oven cleaner, ISAs and IPAs which is the least tropical combination imaginable.
TROPICAL HOUSE IS FOR PEOPLE WHO WEAR FLOPPY HATS AT FESTIVALS
You know the type: obnoxious laugh, calls their mates "besties", works as an junior account manager at a minor PR firm, loves a cheeky fruity cider of a Friday and a naughty takeaway pizza on a Sunday afternoon. This is the person you see across the aisle on the overground at Clapham Junction who immediately ruins your day by just existing. This is the person who goes to festivals just to "hang out" with the aforementioned besties and is "rilly, rilly excited" about seeing Ella Eyre on the mainstage. They'll be found sipping on proescco in the VIP, both arms covered in tatty, sweaty wristbands, each one proclaiming their exclusive status. Tropical house is the kind of music they find themselves bopping along to at work. It's unthreatening. It's easily consumed. It samples the 90s R&B bangers they play on Kisstory. It sounds great in conjunction with a bit of pulled pork and the promise of a bump later that night.
TROPICAL HOUSE HAS A SEXISM PROBLEM
Honestly, tropical house DJs, is there any need for this? I spent hours trawling through the depths of the net and literally everything to do with tropical house came with a shot of an arse attached to it. You couldn't move for arse-cheeks. Bare bums, bikini-encased bums, sandy bums — arses everywhere. We've all got them, lads. Move on.
After all that, was I any closer to understanding tropical house's appeal? Not really. Did I have a grasp on what it is? Yeah. It seemed to be an endless glut of weak, tossed off, anodyne remixes of pop records that exist purely to be played by mid-morning DJs at clubs that come with hotels attached. It's just there, and it's dispiritingly vapid. It says nothing and does nothing. For once, I'm kind of glad to be past it. There will never be a time in my life when I think about Thomas Jack again.