House music is everywhere in pop today but it wasn’t always this way, in the early nineties the only dance music on the radio would be the Macarena or something by the Venga Boys; completely removed from the thriving underground at the time. Towards the end of the decade though, there was a brief sweet spot where more understated, funk and soul-influenced house (largely coming out of France) became in vogue and reached the pop charts.
It was a short lived moment; soon the millennium arrived and these artists either became mega mainstream DJs (see Daft Punk) or disappeared into oblivion and are probably still living off the royalties (see Stardust). Either way their influence on dance music was enduring. Recently we’ve seen some of these tracks cropping up in the most unexpected of DJ sets. Here’s our top ten pop chart house hits of the late nineties. Oh and the videos ain’t bad either.
Daft Punk – Da Funk – 1997
This track’s Spike Jonze directed video became a mainstay on MTV at the time and was instrumental in the French duos path to superstardom. The song and video were quickly eclipsed by the Michel Gondry directed “Around the World” but thanks to its more stripped back musical approach and the fact it hasn’t been played to death, Da Funk remains the more refined, understated choice.
Armand Van Helden – You Don’t Know Me – 1998
Built around a beautiful Carrie Lucas sample from 1979, Van Helden chops and loops the string section into infinity, adds vocals by Duane Harden and hey presto! Instant classic. The video shows Van Helden trying to get into a New York strip club with one of his mates and features a lot of prime nineties puffer jackets. Van Helden is one of the few in this list who managed to maintain a level of popularity post mega-hit. Having already established him as himself a major figure in the speed garage scene and then as a remixer for hire, Van Helden simply kept on doing what he was doing and continues to tour today.
Wamdue Project – King Of My Castle – 1998
This track’s bold minimalism befits its stark, monochrome video. It was later re-released with a video containing cuts from 1995’s Anime movie Ghost in the Shell, showing humans with robotic implants that control their actions. This is apparently a reference to the song’s lyrics which deal with Sigmund Freud’s theory of the unconscious. Freud states that “the Ego is not king of its own castle”. Who knew this track was so full of hidden meaning, we thought it was just an infectious earworm over a four/four kick.
Stardust – Music Sounds Better With You – 1998
Michel Gondry pops up once again a couple years after his video for Daft Punk, he seemed the perfect choice for this beast of a one hit wonder. Much like Around the World and Da Funk it was a mainstay on MTV in the late nineties and cleverly the video even contains a nod to itself moving up the music video charts intertwined with the videos main narrative – very meta. How do you follow up on such a smash? Well, in this French trio’s case, you don’t. Music Sounds Better… was Stardust’s one and only song. Not bad for a first (or last) effort.
Bob Marley & Funkstar Deluxe – Sun is Shining – 1999
On paper this “reggae fusion remix” sounds like one to be avoided at all costs but somehow Marley’s well known vocal sample and Funkstar’s high-speed sundrenched grooves feel made for each other. The original Bob Marley tune, recorded in 1971 was not a huge hit for Marley at the time but posthumously has become one of his most well known. The Danish producer was the first to receive sample clearance from the Marley estate, and the single went on to be even more successful than the original.