Happy 25th Anniversary to Deee-Lites debut album World Clique, originally released August 7, 1990.
History has not been as kind as it should be to the criminally underappreciated Deee-Lite. The selective memory-driven preoccupation with the massively successful single Groove Is in the Heart has unfortunatelyand incredulouslyobscured the groups true musical legacy, the undeniable power of their message, the vivacity of their spirit, and the brilliance of their recorded repertoire.
Granted, the buoyant Groove Is in the Heart is a universally loved classic, and understandably so. But the story and music of Deee-Lite does not begin and end with their most recognizable song. Theres so much more to love and revere about this genre-bending trio, and those who lazily pigeonhole them as a one-hit-wonder need to have their ears, hearts, and souls checked for signs of life.
Formed in the original global village of New York City in the mid-1980s, Deee-Lite was the brainchild of Kierin Lady Miss Kier Kirby and Super DJ Dmitry Brill, who a short time thereafter welcomed DJ Towa Towa (a.k.a. Towa Tei) to the group. The trios genesis was inspired by the dancefloor hedonism and devoted community that defined the citys vibrant club culture, of which its founders were (and presumably, still are) avid participants and devoted purveyors. A more uninhibited counterweight to the generally taciturn Dmitry and Towa Tei, Lady Miss Kier emerged as one of the most charismatic frontwomen in music during the early 1990s, with the soulful vocal chops and penchant for magnetic performance to match her commanding personality. Not simply the beautiful face, arresting voice, and FIT-educated fashion maven of the group, Lady Miss Kier was arguably the de facto leader of Deee-Lite, integral to the development of the trios career, from the studio to the stage to the media spotlight and beyond.
While Deee-Lite cultivated an embellished, unmistakably retro-inspired aesthetic, the groups hyper-stylized flamboyance and effervescence never compromised the substance of their more contemporary brand of dance music. From their inception with debut album World Clique, the trio was always able to balance style and sound quite effectively, which helped them sustain their appeal among both underground club heads and mainstream pop aficionados alike. In the process, and certainly by calculated design, the group transcended musical and cultural barriers to create a loyal global following, predicated upon a shared joie de vivre.
Around the time of the albums release, Lady Miss Kier explained that The words to World Clique are an important message that Deee-Lite wants to talk about. An alternative to the destruction that people living today on the planet are faced with in all areas. Environmentally. AIDS. Social injustice all over. So we thought its important to make some positive music. Cogently articulated on the LPs title track, Deee-Lite invited us to join this World Clique and exercise our love of musical expression free from prejudice and repression. Indeed, the groups unifying philosophy of inclusion and optimism is a huge reason why they proved so instrumental in elevating house music and the NYC-based club scene closer to the mainstream, without compromising the integrity and vitality of the genre and culture.
Merging house, techno, funk, soul, jazz, hip-hop and pop inspirations into an enthrallingly kaleidoscopic sound, World Cliques deep grooves make for one of the most thoroughly engrossing and euphoric listening experiences of the past quarter-century. Its a sample-blessed affair, to be sure, and an inventive one at that, as producer/engineer extraordinaire and Groove Is in the Heart contributor Bob Power argued when he suggested that [Deee-Lite] really were much more pivotal in usage of samples in pop music than most people give them credit for. However, World Cliques genius is evident in the way that its creators combined sampled fare with live instrumentation courtesy of renowned bassist Bootsy Collins, trombonist Fred Wesley and saxophonist Maceo Parker, all soul-funk luminaries to concoct an unmistakably original sound.
Following the propulsively funky Deee-Lite Theme intro, the thumping house banger Good Beat suggests that depending on what your glass-half-full, glass-half-empty life disposition might be, music promises the realization of the former, as Lady Miss Kier reassuringly sings in the tracks closing moments (Everything will be alright / when you feel it tonight). Next up is the anthemic Power of Love, throughout which Lady Miss Kiers voice soars, reinforcingas if we needed remindingjust how soulful, confident, and versatile of a singer she is. When she repeatedly proclaims that she believes in the power of love, her endearing sincerity and righteous conviction give the listener no other choice but to believe as well.
The largely instrumental, Krautrock-indebted What is Love? is another highlight which features Lady Miss Kiers charmingly alliterative wordplay paraphrased in the opening moments of the psychedelic Groove is in the Heart music video:
How do you say delicious?
How do you say delovely?
How do you say delectable?
How do you say devine?
How do you say degroovy?
How do you say Deee-Lite?
Speaking of the groups still-ubiquitous, recently imitated hit single, the indelible Groove Is in the Heart remains among the select handful of songs that unquestionably classify as pop perfection. Everything about the song isno pun intendeddelightful. The infectious samples, most notably Herbie Hancocks Bring Down the Birds and the more obscure Introduction from Bel-Sha-Zaars 1969 album The Art of Belly-Dancing. Bootsy Collins playful remarks interspersed throughout. The hypnotic rhymes delivered by Q-Tip, who was just months removed from his work on A Tribe Called Quests classic debut album Peoples Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm at the time. All in all, this is pop songcraft at its very finest.
Other standouts across the 12-song suite include the piano and horns-soaked Try Me On Im Very You, Lady Miss Kiers adventurous rap and spoken-word on E.S.P., the darker ode to a relationships demise Deep Ending, and the tribal techno climax of album closer Build the Bridge.
Deee-Lites recording career was regrettably an ephemeral one, allegedly due to irreconcilable creative and contractual differences, both within the group and with their label Elektra Records. Reflecting upon the groups disbanding, Lady Miss Kier confided that, “After years of trying to get attention and then spending three years in a huge public spotlight, it felt liberating to walk away from it after all. I adore the craft of writing songs and expressing myself, but the business side is filled with so many liars that I had to run away and leave them far behind to preserve my sanity.” Nevertheless, despite their short-lived time spent in the limelight, the groups three proper studio albumsincluding 1992s Infinity Within and 1994s Dewdrops in the Gardenform one of the most dynamic and uplifting 1-2-3 album punches youll ever hear, and reinforce the power of Deee-Lites music to move minds, bodies and souls.
In the spirit of full disclosure, World Clique is admittedly not my favorite of Deee-Lites three albums. A very close runner-up to Dewdrops in the Garden in my book, I still adore the sparkling World Clique and recognize how vital the record was in expanding electronic/dance musics acceptance worldwide, while remaining true to the genres roots. Not an easy trick to pull off, mind you. But with World Clique, Deee-Lite pulled it off in glorious fashion.
My Favorite Song: Good Beat
Groove Is in the Heart
Power of Love
What is Love? (Live at Montreux Jazz Festival July 1991)
World Clique (Live at Montreux Jazz Festival July 1991)
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