Anatomy Of A Trend: Slap House
The term "Slap House" is currently one of the hottest sub-genres on the dance music scene, but how did it come to be?
"I actually first heard it called 'Brazilian Bass.' Slap house as a term came to me way later", explains Tribbs a rising slap house artist. Alok, the well-known Brazilian DJ claims that he invented the sound called Brazilian Bass around the mid-2010s, but in late 2016 there is evidence that this morphed into the sound we recognize as slap house. The new characteristic sonic palette first appeared on Alok's remix of "That's My Way" by Edi Rock and Seu Jorge, followed quickly by his single "All I Want" with Liu & Stonefox. Since then, the term Brazilian Bass has gradually become synonymous with Slap House.
Compared to this new sound, pre-2016 Brazilian Bass featured a similar, attack-heavy bass tone, but was more obviously synthesizer-based, with a less-swung rhythm, and placed greater emphasis on varied and exciting bass tones and sound design, usually with multiple basses playing in an interlocking pattern.
By contrast, Alok's single "All I Want" features only one bass sound in the main chorus section, a sample-based tone that has the sonic quality of being somewhere between a synthesizer and an organic source such as a real bass guitar. This sound was most likely created by layering two or more sounds together, and then rendered and played back as a one-shot sound, pitch-shifted to the different bass notes via some form of sampler software.
Shortly after this slight change of sound, Alok had a big hit with the track "Hear Me Now." It's a mellow acoustic-guitar-driven track that features a classic (yet restrained) slap house bass sound in the chorus. The success of that track would probably have brought international attention to the rest of his catalog too.
In early 2017 —likely inspired by Alok's new sound—Lithuanian DJs Lucky Luke and Dynoro began regular releases on the dance label Lithuania HQ. They dubbed their sound Lithuanian house but the parallels to slap house were clear.
"When everybody in Brazil was soooo over Brazilian Bass, it blew up in Europe," says TRIBBS.
The earliest European example, Lucky Luke's track "NTFL" features a typical slap bass drop, among other details that would become de-rigueur for the sub-genre: a triplet-based fill leading into the drop, and something very similar to a deep legato Reese bass (commonly used in D&B) in the verses.
Shortly after "NTFL," Dynoro released his third official single, the global smash hit, "In My Mind." The cover version of Ivan Gough and Feenixpawl's hit of the same name has all the clichéd elements of slap house. And an interpolation of Gigi D'Agostino's 1999 song "I'll Fly With You."
Slap house values simplicity in the drums. A basic deep house pattern in the chorus and little to none in the verses. Add high-pitched lead counter melody in the chorus, and some heavily affected, synthetic sounding vocals with FX swells between sections, and you have a slap house hit.
In 2018, Berlin-based DJ and production duo Vize released the next notable hit of the genre on Kontor Records, "Glad You Came." It was based on the chorus of a 2011 single of the same name by British boyband The Wanted.
"The first time I heard the term slap house was from Vize. I know this type of sound was very popular in Lithuania and Russia already by then," says Y3LLO KOALA, one half of the duo Sondr and co-producer of Vize's "Kids."
Vize followed up in 2019 with "Stars", and together these two tracks brought enough attention to popularise the name that Vize had given their genre. "Vize Presents Slap House," is the name of their official Spotify playlist, which no doubt introduced many to the sound of the sub-genre.
While Vize was blowing up across Europe, 17-year-old producer Imanbek was working in his bedroom in Khazakstan, on an old Windows laptop, cheap earbuds, a copy of FL Studio, and a few classic sample packs from Vengeance and KSHMR. With this simple setup, in less than two hours, he created a global hit. His ubiquitous remix of SAINt JHN's "Roses."
First released as a bootleg on Soundcloud in early 2019, the track quickly gained attention and an official release on Russian label Effective Records. It eventually found its way to Sony Music and commercial radio.
Although the track doesn't feature many of the stereotypical slap house tropes, it fully solidified the sound for the global charts (it peaked on the US Billboard chart at No.4 and reached No.1 in many other countries). The now-famous bass tone is present right from the intro of the song, an unusual technique for a genre that prefers to save the power for the drop.
In recent years big-name DJs like Tiesto, R3HAB, Afrojack, and Robin Schultz have capitalized on the trend while up and coming producers like Hvme, Twocolors, Vinai, and Yves V have broken through by riding the wave.
As each new sound reaches and passes the point of saturation, its creators must keep pushing the boundaries to keep it fresh and interesting. Producers remain hopeful that the sound can adapt to market pressures.
Y3LLO KOALA muses, "For me it’s got the same energy and power as classic EDM. It’s like the modern EDM right now. The BPM and rhythm lends itself well to both rock and hip-hop, so I’d expect to see some experimentation in these areas. The new Ed Sheeran song "Bad Habits" essentially has a pop slap house drop, so it’s coming into all areas."
Tribbs believes the sound has plenty of places to morph and evolve. "I can see two trends, one of them being back to old 90s UK garage style with some slap house flavours, and the other one will be the dark side of house with just a few slap house elements, and still very car-friendly."
In 2021 we haven't seen much slowdown of the trend, but industry rumblings are that the labels are busy looking for a new sound. Some label A&Rs and managers believe we're on the cusp of a revolution in dance music, that the slap house trend will soon be coming to a close and the next sound of the early 2020s will emerge. For now, this remains to be seen.
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