Todd Terry Talks New ‘House Masters’ Compilation

 

Todd Terry
COURTESY PHOTO

In September 2008, the record label Defected started an effort to establish the house music canon by releasing a series of albums honoring “House Masters.” After volumes dedicated to Louie Vega, Dennis Ferrer, Frankie Knuckles, and more, the 26th edition arrived earlier this month, tackling the catalog of New York producer Todd Terry. “They’re the best compilation guys for house ever,” Terry tells Billboard Dance. “When they talk, there is definitely strength.”

Terry started releasing pugnacious house records in the late ’80s. Compared to other famous New York producers – in the past, House Masters has focused on the likes of Vega, Kenny Dope, their collaborative project Masters At Work, and MK (born in Detroit, but encountered his first wave of club success after moving to New York) – Terry’s productions are more hard-headed, charging forward behind flinty, merciless beats. He earned three Billboard No. 1’s and helped popularize a mixture of house and rap with his famous work on the Jungle Brothers‘ “I’ll House You.”

 

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“I just came from hip-hop, so it was in my blood,” Terry explains. “I always want to keep the dancefloor funky and keep people dancing. I really don’t like boring shit, I like shit that’s energetic. We danced to those records 30 years ago, why can’t we dance to them for another 30 years?”

Terry’s House Masters contains 35 of the producer’s tracks across various aliases – Black Riot, House of Gypsies – and with a number of other collaborators, including dancefloor luminaries like Leroy Burgess, Martha Wash, and Jocelyn Brown. Terry’s biggest hit, an indelible remix of Everything But The Girl’s “Missing” that climbed to No. 2 on the Hot 100, kicks off the set. “Defected found a lot of tracks that people know, but they wanted to mix it up a little bit,” Terry says. “The key was to find something for all, young and old.” He hints that a second volume might be in the works containing “more obscure” material. “There’s a lot of remixes and dub versions that people always ask for.”

House music has experienced a major jump in mainstream popularity in the last few years – you can find it sampled in songs by Drake and Kanye West, and it percolates through top 40 records from Ariana Grande and Zara Larsson – as have dance music/hip-hop hybrids: a recent edition of EDC New York was full of floor-filling remixes of hits from Future and Desiigner. But the contributions of the original innovators are not always acknowledged. Terry is heartened by the release of his House Masterscompilation. “Whenever a record comes out with old and new stuff mixed together, it helps you keep going,” he says. “It lets me know that there is that old-school house sound out there, and the kids are still checking for it. The movement is still there.”

Terry can hear his influence in new releases – “the drums, the swing, the chord progressions” – but at the same time, he identifies a failure with the modern house sound. “I grew up with the songs,” he says. “I grew up with Quincy Jones, First Choice. That’s the key to what’s missing: we don’t have the songs we used to have.”

 

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As a result, he “now program[s] stuff with less in it” so as not to overwhelm listeners who may be wary of overt tunefulness. “Unfortunately, kids are not used to music,” Terry laments. “They’re used to a certain type of groove and they want that to ramble on and on.”

He suggests that program directors also contribute to the current situation. “We do songs, but we can’t get ’em played on the radio,” Terry notes. “Do I waste time on the songs? It costs a lot of money, takes a lot of money for promotion, and then they’re not playing it. My billboard for next week is: ‘I quit songs ’cause you won’t play ’em.'”

 

“What position does that put me in?” he wonders, before answering his own question. “Keep it moving, I can’t fuss with ’em. It’s very tricky when it comes to house music these days. There’s not a lot of creative things going on out there. I’m not gonna sit back and lose. I can make a track with a simple sample and a loud ass bassline and get all the play.”

But if you see Terry DJ, don’t expect him to shy away from the style that he loves. “I’m always gonna throw in some old-ass songs, some new-ass songs,” he says. “I don’t care. I’m just gonna do it.”

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