Gene Dunlap, House Music, and a World of Sadness

So, I lied. I haven’t really outgrown Smooth Jazz/R&B after all. Why? Well, anyone who has listened to any kind of House music ever (yes, that includes some Daft Punk)  knows that it’s the reason House music exists. At least, if they would bother to go to WhoSampled.com or look at the comment section of some of the uploads on YouTube (I know, I know. Trust me, this time they’re NOT cesspits). Sure, bring out your Ableton and/or your USB turntables, but saying that sampling is what makes House music is like saying roasting the spices in oil is the secret technique of making curry. If actions are the only thing that makes the music, then Jazz music would be sold as, “Watch this guy blow air into this vaguely phallic object for over 12 minutes” and not sold as, say, a legendary Blue Note album re-release of John Coltrane (zing! No, but seriously, Blue Note is awesome).

One artist I’ve never heard of until I listened to The Phantom’s Revenge and Poka is Gene Dunlap. Supposedly, he was one of the gods of disco and smooth jams in the 1980s…all I know is that the moment I figured out the exact songs sampled in The Phantom’s Revenge’s “Would Love To Feel” remix and in Poka’s “Party In Me” that I decided to do some digging…in separate times. I mean, I listened to Gene Dunlap’s “Party In Me”…it’s ok, I guess. Just the right mix of light and pulse-pounding (for it’s time) guitar, flute and drum beats, but for some reason it doesn’t get me off.

What gets me off, however, is a song The Phantom’s Revenge sampled, “It’s Just The Way I Feel” by Gene Dunlap featuring The Ridgeway Sisters. Sure, the song is repetitive, low-key, repetitive, full of synth, relaxing, repetitive, so 1980s that it hurts and repetitive. Like, I understand Gene Dunlap was in SOME sort of genre, but is this really of any genre at all? It’s too structured to be jazz…but to call it “Smooth Jazz” would be kind of wrong, like calling Panda Express “Chinese Food”. It’s so toned down from the Disco roots that it borders on parody…come to think of it, isn’t this the same kind of shit the people of the “Vaporwave” movement make fun of? Stuff that lulls you half to sleep so as to lure you into a capitalist simulacrum where they sell you nothing but intangibles represented in gaudy trinkets and proprietary software?

Yes. Yes, it is. But fuck it, I love it. To me, it’s a nice kind of sad song, a song of unrequited feelings, repeated over and over because the person who repeats is the only one who grasps it. All alone, with feeling. A lot of smooth jazz songs, at least to me, are the kind that seem to try to be enthusiastic, even optimistic as in the case of artists like Brian Culbertson and Rick Braun. Problem is, Smooth Jazz lowers the emotional roof that Jazz musicians like Duke Ellington could touch in their sleep, so when it tries to hit emotional highs of it’s own it often feels…deflated.

Maybe that’s just me, because I don’t recall hearing a lick of the classic Jazz songs (or anything like them) in my childhood except maybe in the movie adaptation of “Dick Tracy” or something, yet the sadness…it was already there, not so much in the skills of the jazz players themselves, but to how their entire performance would feel so boxed in by the once state-of-the-art electronics Jazz musicians embraced. Forget Vaporwave, the concentrated dystopia was already there in some of the Smooth Jazz songs I’ve listened to. “It’s Just The Way I Feel” by Gene Dunlap is certainly relaxing, but there are just a few cracks in its repetition that allows some additional feelings to get in, not all of them “good”.

Same thing with The Rippington’s song, “Intimate Strangers”. Just go ahead and listen to that. The title says, “Intimate Strangers”, but the way the song plays, it feels like the bittersweet sadness of being alone with someone else in the dark (I mean, the album that song appears in IS titled, “Moonlighting”). Here the song is, sounding like a stereotypical tropical island theme toned all the way down, and the result just hits one…low. I mean, provided one is in the frame of mind for that kind of stuff, I guess. Maybe it’s because, given that most of the sounds produced are electronic, it ages, and not always in a graceful way. What’s seems “happy” and “good” to a generation of adults can feel outright oppressive to the next generation of kids.

Anyway. Gene Dunlap. Those beats of his probably sound familar if you listen to as much House music as I do. Now that you know the dude’s name, dive into his discography. Maybe you’ll find some stuff you’d like to sample.


This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, PO Box 1866, Mountain View, CA 94042, USA.