Various Many Shades of House

The second-most famous ex-cast member of that old Canadian kids show, You Can’t Do That on Television — after some woman named Alanis — Luke McKeehan long ago abandoned the acting world to head up Vancouver’s Nordic Trax label, a deep house stalwart since 1997. With this new compilation, the Toronto native proves that NT might just be the best dance label in the Dominion, a company whose devotion to timeless tunes is seeing them through some dark days for the business. Many Shades of House picks up where 2002’s Lazy Transmissions left off, showcasing McKeehan’s throwback mixing style, with its emphasis on long blends and dubwise sound effecting. Of the 14 tracks collected here, fully one-half bear the NT logo, none more proudly than Andrew Macari’s "Seven Of Nine,” a tech-tinged banger propelled by a screwdriving synth riff and an eerie vocal wail. Elsewhere, Texas-based house impresario Demarkus Lewis virtually defines the mix with "Parallels,” a snappy mid-tempo burner marked by oceanic washes of Rhodes piano and a crushing bottom-end kick. Ladies and gentlemen, it just doesn’t get any deeper than this.

How has the label’s philosophy developed since you mixed Lazy Transmissions in 2002? McKeehan: I was never really enamoured with tech-house as a genre and I didn’t want our label to be labelled as just being tech-house. My own sound has always been a little bit deeper, a little more soulful. I’m not ashamed to say that we are a deep house label, but that doesn’t mean that every release on the label is deep house. One of our latest releases [Chris Oudoh’s Bipolar EP] is a hard acid house record and probably the hardest record we’ve ever put out. That’s just as much NT as Many Shades of House is.

Much has been made of dance music’s decline in the last few years. How has NT adjusted to this new climate? We never had to be the model of trying to be the definitive house label of right now. I mean, we started doing this when you couldn’t even conceive of making a livimn! This is the best Defunkt album in years! It's hard not to flash back to Joe Bowie's coke-addled agit-dance workouts of the early ’80s during the 12 minutes of "Gwotet." It's a one-chord jam with serpentine horn charts and a guitarist who sounds like Vernon Reid without a distortion pedal. Sure, there's more hand drumming, which actually echoes where Defunkt is now, but the stew is much spicier. Murray has been getting to this point for years, starting with the African percussion experiments with the World Saxophone Quartet through his Afro-diasporic fusion projects. It’s taken Murray a few tries to settle his massive horn (Nordic Trax)