ONLY 4 U: THE SOUND OF CAJMERE AND CAJUAL RECORDS.

ONLY 4 U: THE SOUND OF CAJMERE AND CAJUAL RECORDS.

For the last twenty years, Cajmere has been one of the most influential and innovative producers of the Chicago house music scene, releasing music on his Cajual Records imprint. Now twenty years after Cajmere founded Cajual Records in 1992, Strut Records will be releasing a twenty-two retrospective entitled Only 4 U: The Sound of Cajmere and Cajual Records on 29th October 2012. For anyone who remembers Cajmere’s early releases and followed the progress of Cajual Records this will come as a welcome reminder of the man who helped breath life into a Chicago house scene that was at a crossroads. Pioneers of Chicago house like Marshall Jefferson and Frankie Knuckles had moved on, while innovative labels like Trax and DJ International had peaked. What was needed was someone who’d kick start a stagnating scene. Enter a man with just a sixty Dollar keyboard, drum machine and basic four-track recorder. Single-handedly, and with patience and determination Curtis A. Jones created some of the music that breathed life and energy into Chicago’s somewhat stagnant music scene. Cajmere’s first production was the Underground Goodies E.P. released on Clubhouse Records. Not long after that, Cajmere founded Cajual Records and released Coffee Pot, which after being renamed as Percolator, gave Cajemere a worldwide hit. After that, neither Cajmere nor Cajual Records looked back. However, who is Cajmere and what does the music on Only 4 U: The Sound of Cajmere and Cajual Records? That’s what I’ll now tell you.

Before being transformed into the savior of Chicago’s house scene in 1992, Curtis A. Jones was a chemical engineering student, lover of eighties video-games and devotee of all things Chicago house. He decided that the scene he loved and cared passionately about was stagnating, and decided to do something about it. The only problem was money. All Curtis had to create music was a sixty Dollar keyboard, drum machine and basic four-track recorder. Using just that, he set about recording some of his own music. His production style was raw, but full of energy and hooks, and guaranteed to resuscitate Chicago’s dance-floors. His first productions can be found not on Cajual Records, but Clubhouse Records. This was the Underground Goodies E.P. which he released as Cajmere. After the success of the Underground Goodies E.P. Curtis made two life-changing decisions.

After the success of the Underground Goodies E.P., Curtis decided that the masters’ course he was studying at Berkeley wasn’t for him. He dropped out, to concentrate on music full-time. This was when he founded his own label, Cajuan Records, using his initials CAJ as part of the name. He never looked back. With his trusty sixty Dollar keyboard, drum machine and four track recorder, he hit paydirt with label’s debut release.

Cajmere’s first release for the newly founded Cajuan Records was Coffee Pot, which was retitled Percolator. It gave Cajmere a worldwide hit. This vindicated his decision to dropout and concentrate on music full-time. Then came the irresistible catchy Chit Chat and the Dreaming E.P. which featured Derrick Carter. Later in 1992 came  Cajmere’s first collaborations with Kajae. 

The first collaboration between Cajmere and Kajae was Brighter Days. This would be the first of many collaborations, but was their most successful. It was remixed by Todd Terry, Little Louie Vega and Cajmere, reaching number two in the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play Charts. Further collaborations included 1993s U Got Me Up, 1994s Is It All Over My Face, 1995s Day By Day and 1996s Fakes and Phonies. Kajae also released one album produced by Cajmere, Higher Power in 1994. By then, Cajmere’s alter-ego had Green Velvet entered the fray.

Green Velvet allowed Cajmere to take his music in a different direction. This was electro-punk. 1993 was the first time Cajmere’s alter-ego entered the musical fray. Curtis decided to setup another imprint for this side of his music, Relief. However, this didn’t mean Cajuan was no more. Quite the opposite. Cajmere was working with Derrick Carter and Dajae and was bringing through the next generation of Chicago’s producers.

By 1993, Cajmere was one of the elder statesmen of the second wave of Chicago house producers. With that, Cajmere felt the responsibility to help give new producers their first break. Two of these new signings were Gemini and Glenn Underground and Gemini. Gemini released Le Fusion in 1995, while Glenn Underground released tracks like I Need GU and Don’t Stop That Feelin’ in 1996. These became Chicago deep house classics. However, by 1995, Cajmere’s releases became fewer and fewer. Instead, Green Velvet was taking up more of Cajmere’s time. That’s not to say Cajuan wasn’t releasing music though.

While Cajmere may not have been releasing much music on Cajuan, other producers were. Scottish producers Deep Sensation released Talkin’ and Get Together in 1996. Andre Harris was another artist releasing music on Cajuan. He released I Can’t Take It and Lifted in 1997. Among the other artists releasing music on Cajuan were Johnny Fiasco, Gene Harris, Terrence FM, Mark Grant, Luke Solomon and Green Velvet. By 2001, Cajmere started rereleasing some of their classic tracks and in 2010, a compilation of Cajmere’s music It’s Time was released. Now two years later, Strut Records are releasing a double-album entitled Only 4 U: The Sound of Cajmere and Cajual Records, which I’ll now pick the highlights of.

 DISC ONE.

My first choice from Disc One of Only 4 U: The Sound of Cajmere and Cajual Records is the track that gave Cajmere a worldwide hit Percolator. Released in 1992, It’s hugely catchy, and could only have been made in Chicago. Think Virgo’s Washing Machind and this has a similar sound. With Cajmere constantly repeating the line: “it’s time for the Percolator,” drums drive the track along, while washes of Acid House synths and scratches combine to create the track’s hypnotic, catchy sound. Just before the end, the synths dropout, drums pound and then too soon, the Percolator has boiled, bringing five hypnotically catchy minutes to a close. 

Chit Chat is another of Cajmere’s classic tracks, also released in 1992. It’s a one-sided flirtatious conversation where Cajmere has his tongue place firmly in his cheek. He’s accompanied by pounding drums, percussion and handclaps, while the flirtatious lothario unleashes some cheesy chat-ups. Here, Cajmere parodies the supposed smooth-talkers he’s overheard in Chi-Town’s clubs. Stabs of synths and keyboards join whispered backing vocals as Cajmere creates another track that’s not only infectiously catchy but is guaranteed to make you smile.

Johnny Fiasco was one of a new generation of artists who released tracks on Cajuan. Taurus was a track from his 1993 E.P. Movin.’ This is an innovative slice of deep house, which is quite different to much of the music Cajuan was releasing during this time. It hasn’t the same raw sound. Instead, it has a much more polished sound. Thunderous drums and hissing hi-hats combine before percussion and then warm, melodic keyboards enter. As you listen to the track, it’s hard to believe it’s almost twenty years old. Quite simply, it has a timeless sound. Filters are used, but not overused as the drums pound, and Johnny teases the listener with a combo of synths, keyboards and a healthy sprinkling of percussion. Like much of the music Cajuan released during the nineties and noughties, this is an innovative track, with a timeless sound, that nearly twenty years later, sounds just as good as the day it was released.

Dajae’s Day By Day is my last choice from Disc One of Only 4 U: The Sound of Cajmere and Cajual Records. The version chosen is the Chez ‘n’ Trent Vocal Mix. Released in 1995, this was a track from Dajae’s 1994 album Higher Power. It also showcases the considerable vocal talents of Dajae. Again, this is another example of just how innovative Cajmere was as a producer and Cajuan as a label. It’s a track that was ahead of its time, combining house, US Garage and soulful house. Thunderous beats, percussion and stabs of melodic keyboards accompany Dajae’s heartfelt vocal. Washes of synths and tight, joyous harmonies join the mix while a bass pounds and Dajae unleashes a vocal tour de force. Not only does the track have a joyous, uplifting sound, but features an outstanding vocal from Dajae.

Disc One of Only 4 U: The Sound of Cajmere and Cajual Records really is so crammed full of great house music that choosing just a few tracks isn’t easy. However, some tracks like Cajmere’s Percolator and Chit Chat almost pick themselves. The same can be said of Dajae’s Day By Day, given how good Dajae’s vocal is. She really is a hugely talented vocalist who deserved far more success than she enjoyed. Tracks like Johhny Fiasco’s Taurus was quite different to other tracks. It didn’t have the same raw production style to Cajmere’s early music. Having said Cajmere’s early production style had a raw sound, that was part of its success, energy and charm. Of the other eight tracks, I could just as easily have chosen If You Got To Believe In Something or Le Fusion by Gemini or Dajae’s U Got Me Up. Really, there’s neither a poor track nor any filler on Disc One of Only 4 U: The Sound of Cajmere and Cajual Records. That’s might seem pretty remarkable, but it’s not so surprising, after all this is Cajual Records we’re talking about. Will Disc Two of Only 4 U: The Sound of Cajmere and Cajual Records be as good? Let’s hope so.

DISC TWO.

The first track from Disc Two of nly 4 U: The Sound of Cajmere and Cajual Records I’ve chosen is People Everyday by Braxton Holmes Presents John Redman. This version is the 12″ Mix Basement Boys Style, released in 1995. It’s a ten minute anthem that combines elements of vocal house, deep house and gospel house. Drums pound, while percussion and hissing hi-hats augment their sound. When John’s vocal enters, it’s enveloped in delay, with stabs of synths and gospel-tinged harmonies adding to the anthemic sound. John becomes a preacher, singing “people,” harmonies reply we just wanna be free.” The interplay between the vocal and harmonies is crucial to the sound and success of a track, which is a hook-laden, anthemic and totally irresistible. Quite simply, this is the best track on Disc Two.

Collectively, Paul Hunter and Colin Gate were Deep Sensation a Scottish production team. They released Get Together in 1996 on Cajual Records. It was written, recorded and mixed at Filterbank Studios in Glasgow. This is another glorious slice of deep house. A powerhouse of an arrangement is accompanied by a hugely soulful female vocal. It drifts in and out of the track, teasing you with its sheer soulfulness. Thunderous drums drenched in filter are joined stabs of warm, harmonic keyboards and a bass line courtesy of Bob “Octopus” Jones. Sitting atop the arrangement is the vocal, which soars powerfully and diva-like. Cleverly, the constant repetition of the vocal, adds to the track’s hypnotic sound while the arrangement has surprises aplenty in-store. Deep Sensation did the seemingly impossible, by exporting house to its spiritual home from Glasgow.

Andre Harris released I Can’t Take It In 1997. He was one of the next generation of Chicago producers, and this was debut release for Cajual Records. From the opening bars, Andre has you hooked. It’s a much fuller arrangement than some tracks. He combines crunchy drums, stabs of keyboards and then hissing hi-hats and percussion. Bursts of vocal soars above the arrangement as the drums drive the track along. With a pounding bass, guitars and percussion combine, washes of buzzing synths are added. This results in a multilayered arrangement, where surprises and subtleties are sprung during this eleven-minute epic dance track.

Given how successful a collaboration Cajmere featuring Dajae were, it seems only fitting that Say U Will is my final choice. Released in 2005, it’s quite unlike Day By Day, with Cajmere paying homage to the pioneers of Chicago house. He combines squelchy Acid House synths and crunchy drums combining with Dajae’s impassioned and powerful vocal. Dajae’s vocal is shrouded in echo, while synths squeak and squelch and drums reverberate. This is a compelling, homage to the founding father’s of Chicago house, from one of the second wave of Chicago producers, Cajmere. Here was Cajmere, doing what he’d been doing for over a decade, releasing innovative and timeless house music.

Having been so impressed by the consistently high standard of music on Disc One of Only 4 U: The Sound of Cajmere and Cajual Records, Disc Two didn’t disappoint. Disc Two saw another generation of producers releasing music on Cajual. This included G.U., Adam, Braxton Holmes and Glasgow’s Deep Sensation. Cajmere featured in his two guises. Green Velvet Presents Jamie Principle’s Lalalalala (Inside My Head), plus a trio of tracks from Cajmere. Of this trio of tracks from Cajmere, Say U Will was my favorite, with Cajmere & Russoul’s Let’s Dance. Like Disc One, the ten tracks on Disc Two, it was house music all the way. There was deep house, with vocal house, gospel house and soulful house influences sprinkled throughout the ten tracks. Each of these tracks were innovative in their own way. They helped breath new life, meaning and energy into Chicago house, which by 1992, had grown stale and was lacking in direction. 

What was needed was someone who was innovative, creative and determined to breath new life into the old scene. It needed a man with just a sixty Dollar keyboard, drum machine and basic four-track recorder. That was Cajmere whose 1992 hit Percolator launched Cajual Records. Having founded Cajual Records and released a string of cutting-edge releases, Curtis decided to take his music in a new direction, via his Green Velvet alter-ego. This saw the next wave of Chicago house producers picking up Cajmere’s baton, and although Cajmere made some welcome returns during the next decade or so, this new breed of producers were responsible for releasing some cutting-edge, creative and timeless dance-music. They followed in the footsteps of Cajmere the man who founded Cajual Records. Now twenty years later, Cajual Records is heading into its third decade. What better way to celebrate Cajual Records’ twentieth birthday than with Strut Records retrospective Only 4 U: The Sound of Cajmere and Cajual Records, which pays homage to the man with the sixty Dollar keyboard, drum machine and basic four-track recorder, Curtis A. Jones, or Cajmere has his friends and fans call him. Standout Tracks: Cajmere Percolator, Dajae’s Day By Day, Deep Sensation Get Together and Cajmere featuring Dajae Say U Will.

ONLY 4 U: THE SOUND OF CAJMERE AND CAJUAL RECORDS.

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