“Shallow house. It’s not quite deep.”
It’s easy to write off something with a name as silly as “shallow house” as a stupid idea. And, in many respects, it is. The term was created “as a joke” a few days ago on the nigh-omnipotent hydra-like centralized collection of websites that is Reddit, intending to poke fun at the current comment war between people calling artists like Tchami and Oliver Heldens “deep house” and people for whom “deep house” means more than just groovy, bass-centric 4×4 music. Both sides have an understandable position, of course. Most of those in the former camp are dissidents from the big-room house movement which is currently exerting significant control over the global dance scene, disenchanted with the uncreative, poorly-produced slop they’ve heard for too long. They’re enchanted with the infective, funky bass and shocked at the relative sparsity of the compositions, and seeing Beatport and various ill-informed music blogs refer to the music as “deep house” (a phenomenon which I don’t entirely understand) they take it to be the correct term. In the latter group, of course, are the veteran house-heads. They’ve seen the primarily gay and black house sound of the Chicago and New York days appropriated and desecrated for profit by major-label execs eager to promote the easy-to-swallow house of everyone associated with labels like Spinnin’ and Revealed (including Heldens and Tchami), and having their soulful, colorful deep house reinterpreted by a bunch of young white guys (and yes, most of the new blood of this style are young white guys) looking to commodify the music they love is the last straw.
Although I’m more sympathetic towards the latter camp (especially since deep house typically isn’t defined by its bass), I think that to some extent the quibbling is a bit frivolous. Sure, Tchami might not be “deep house,” per se, but in the electronic music landscape we’ve built, neat, tidy categorization is the norm. What do we call “Gecko” if it’s not deep house? “House” is too vague – we don’t want to get it confused with the crap coming out of W&W’s speakers, do we? (Yes, it’s also the term used to describe very similar acts like Dusky and Justin Martin, but any sort of connection, however meaningless, with the big-room stuff the fans despise could be deadly.) “Pop house,” while more accurate, implies a big fat equals sign between Shadow Child and Avicii, which is rather undesirable as well. It puts entry-level Naughty Boy fans in a bit of a sticky situation: what do we call the music we love if all the terms we’ve heard thrown around aren’t to our liking? How am I supposed to explain to my friends that I’ve moved from big-room house to, well, house music? Doesn’t that sound a bit stupid?
Hence, “shallow house.” The mantra of “it’s not quite deep” is remarkably appropriate: it’s much more refined and (possibly) “soulful” than big-room, it depicts a rupture from pop house, it doesn’t get the music confused with “legitimate” deep house. And, obviously, if it improbably catches on, it’s sure to catch some flak for just repackaging what house used to be in a different, neater parcel. Which is why the descriptor “shallow” is so perfect: it’s a blanket term which isn’t trying to be some sort of improvement over other, lesser blanket terms like “EDM” and “progressive house.” Instead, it can exist by virtue of the fact that it’s house music that thumbs its nose at those who would wonder if this non-chromatic chord means the song is deep house or if this cold, soulless drum pattern means it’s more like techno or if we should just call it house and call it a day. It’s simple, really: any sort of groovy, bass-centric house song which isn’t trying to maintain pretenses or delusions of grandeur and holier-than-thou can be “shallow house.” As those who created the term put it, “No genre snobbery here.”
In the end, this style of simplistic B-line-oriented house will probably take over the limelight for some time and then recede. The inevitable monetization will happen and then it’ll get old and the execs will move on to the next project. “Shallow” succinctly defines exactly that worry: it’s intensely hedonistic in that the music exists almost entirely for the enjoyment of today’s listeners. When the funky bass gets old, the music will be cast away to the dusty bins of cheap record stores and forgotten corners of YouTube, only to be discovered by the intrepid music aficionado. Put simply, shallow house is just that: house that lives for the present. It’s silly, sure, but so are all sorts of seemingly random classifications and fads. Letting it exist for now is enough, and until it becomes hackneyed and trite (as most cultural movements do) we might as well enjoy it.
“Join us in the kiddie pool.”
Check out the (admittedly sparsely populated) movement here: http://www.reddit.com/r/shallowhouse