Crack House. House on Crack. File alongside Acid House and Heroin Chic? A genre name so teetering on the edges of the ridiculous I’m pretty sure whenever I’ve tried to explain just what the hell it is to friends, I often get the feeling they think I’m doing one of those now rather tired post-Dave Chappelle Show “crack” jokes. This is isn’t exactly helped by the fact that if the apocryphal story is to be believed, the decision on the name came not through careful, attention-grabbing journalistic endeavor but rather through spur-of-the-moment necessity. I remember hearing Zinc (real name Benjamin Pettit) describe on Rinse FM once that before taking to the decks in Asia to try out his wobbly new house beats for the first time, he was asked whether his new sound had a name. As if sent down from the Lord of Bass himself, he saw one of those random promotional club/band/graffiti art stickers that simply read: ‘CRACK HOUSE’. After thinking on it or a moment, Pettit decided that this seemed to perfectly sum up his warped new sound. And hence, crack house was born.
Two “Crack House” Volumes later and we arrive at last month’s release of Zinc’s Sprung EP. As with the previous two volumes, a sense of energy is absolutely essential here. It’s one of the things that sets out Zinc’s sound aside from a lot of "purer" house music - Pettit’s previous incarnation as a D’n’B don seems to feed right into this. Featuring a sample of perhaps the most aggressive request for the raising of lighters ever heard, as well as a crunching rising/falling synth line, ‘Recovered’ encapsulates all this fizzling energy, and I for one can’t wait to hear it go off in a club. The EP’s title track feels slightly more paint by numbers, as a voice repeatedly orders ‘Let’s Go!’ over familiar Rinse-inspired wobble. ‘Juicy Fruit’ – comparable to Crack House Vol.2 opener ‘Nexx’ - has that delicious bounce to it that seems to perfectly encapsulate crack house at its most infectious. The lack of vocal collaboration is slightly surprising and perhaps feeds into the EP suffering from repetition somewhat. There still seems little doubt in my mind that ‘Wile Out’, featuring a game-changing vocal performance from the resurrected Ms. Dynamite, still stands as Zinc’s strongest track in his current house guise, and is perhaps one of the most memorable tunes to come out of the UK urban scene over the last decade.
While the decision to stick to the crack house moniker might be called into question (or perhaps just chuckled at), there’s little doubt that the sound Zinc has crafted is unmistakable in its clarity and originality. It also seems likely that having been a leading light in the UK scene for many a moon now, there’s a good chance Zinc doesn’t really give a damn what his music ends up getting called. Such a relaxed attitude does seem to get channeled through the four tunes on Sprung: although sometimes rather samey, these are explosive, brash beats built to be headed straight to the club, not to be closely scrutinized by music journo broadsheet types. It helps that I think Zinc is one of the best live DJs I’ve witnessed: there’s an effortlessness in his ability to make a crowd repeatedly go apeshit that I don’t think I’ve seen equaled or bettered. For a taste of these intense live performances, check out his explosive set with MC Tippa during the Rinse Boxing Day takeover @ Fabric here.
Crack House still remains a bit of a mystery to me – is it in any way a coherent scene at all, or more just a platform for Zinc to explore a new sound following his disillusionment at the state of UK D’n’B? If it isn’t quite a scene yet, peers such as Redlight and Foamo seem to have at least been listening in on Pettit's work with attentive ears. Redlight’s latest single ‘Get Out My Head’ deserves to be massive crossover hit, while Foamo seems to be maturing into something quite special, with three standout releases on Fat! Records last year, culminating in accordion-sampling, Ibiza-ready stonker ‘Ocean Drive’.
Perhaps 2012 will turn out to be the year this barely burgeoning movement either evolves into something tangible, or joins the likes of New Rave and Witch House in the did-that-even-really-ever-exist genre bargain bin.