Features I by I 24.05.16

The genius of Mood II Swing in 10 essential tracks

For old school house heads of a certain era, the mere mention of Mood II Swing is enough to get the nostalgia flowing.

The duo behind the name, Lem Springsteen and John Ciafone, are true standard-bearers of the time before Discogs, back when you had to read the labels thoroughly to even begin to understand who was producing the tracks and influencing the conversation.

Since the early ‘90s, under a variety of names including Wall Of Sound, The Club Kidds and Full Swing, Springsteen and Ciafone have made the kind of records that people quietly enthused about to friends, secret weapons to those who stumbled across them, treasured them, and shared them. They didn’t do interviews, as was the norm for studio producers at the time, and they didn’t go out and DJ or go on tour either. Their voice was heard purely through their prolific outpouring of music on classic labels like Strictly Rhythm, Eightball Records and Nervous.

Steeped in the New York and New Jersey house and hip-hop scenes, and closely mentored by Masters At Work’s “Little” Louie Vega, Mood II Swing’s sound mirrors the tougher Masters At Work and Kerri Chandler dubs of the era – that Shelter-style euphoria of gospel garage – but with a uniquely percussive syncopation to the groove. It’s that groove which simultaneously built them a big underground fanbase in the UK and helped lay the rhythmic foundations for UK garage, in the same way that Todd Edwards’s edits influenced UKG’s choppy vocals and Armand Van Helden shaped the basslines. You can even trace that sub-driven, rolling feel later perfected by the likes of El-B in the deep, moody atmospheres of their early work. Ironically, they were far too busy grinding in the studio to have any idea what they were influencing on the other side of the Atlantic until decades later.

Their catalogue isn’t all tough dubs, though – they had a hand, as session players, in diva-led house tracks like MAW’s ‘I Can’t Get No Sleep’, and their breakthrough moment (albeit not credited) was producing Ultra Nate’s ‘Free’, which became a global hit and one of the definitive sounds of Ibiza in the summer of 1997. As a result, Springsteen and Ciafone went on to become songwriters for major labels, where they were paired with the likes of Amy Winehouse and Kylie Minogue in the hope they would deliver more hits, eventually leading to their disillusionment at the cynical mechanics of the industry.

A few years passed, fashions changed, and they eased off the releases. But the cyclical nature of taste and a renewed interest in the house music of the ‘90s has brought the duo back to release an avalanche of reissues over the last few years and discover a younger audience of fans digging into their catalogue for the first time. At their peak, they were pretty much untouchable, and they still sound fresh in a way that many other vintage house acts simply don’t. Many of the tracks in this list can be found in the record boxes of contemporary DJs from Hunee to Ben UFO, Jackmaster to Joy Orbison. From the main stage to the back rooms, this is music that is built with the sole intent of shuffling your feet on the floor.

Masters At Work
‘Gonna Get Back To You’ (Mood II Swing Big Thick Dub)
(Esquire Records, 1992)

Their big remix break thanks to MAW’s Louie Vega lays out the Mood II Swing blueprint – enormous bass, a staccato groove, and a swingin’ New York diva vocal. Not to mention those all important MIDI sax licks.

Mood II Swing Productions Presents Wall of Sound
(Eight Ball Records, 1992)

From the same excellent Wall Of Sound EP that contains ‘8 Ways To Knock Down A Wall’ and ‘I Need Your Luv’, this release started changing hands for large sums a few years ago (until its reissue in 2014), and everyone has a favourite on here. ‘Penetration’ stands out for both its dense arrangement and euphemistic title.

Kim English
‘Learn 2 Luv’ (Mood II Swing Vocal)
(Hi Life Recordings, 1997)

Ridiculously funky bassline, incredible diva vocals, the epitome of sass. The formula that would form the basis of Ultra Nate’s ‘Free’ that same year.

Mood II Swing
‘Do It Your Way’
(Groove On, 1996)

With a low-slung bassline and static, forceful groove, ‘Do It Your Way’ feels like the empowering New York disco answer to Underground Resistance’s ‘Transition’.

Mood II Swing
‘Move Me’
(Music For Your Ears, 1995)

‘Move Me’ is a curveball – for the first few bars you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re listening to Basic Channel’s ‘Phyllps Trak II’ from 1994, until that seductive spoken word vocal comes in. It’s this fusion of dub techno and garage swing that makes ‘Move Me’ such a pioneering favourite, and still gets endless burn at the club.

Mood II Swing
‘Call Me’ (Mood Remix)
(Music For Your Ears, 1995)

Mood II Swing remix themselves to great effect on ‘Call Me’, with lots of space and trippy suspended chords as the sound gets re-designed by the same pairs of ears. File under the following hashtags: windswept, Balearic, Panorama Bar.

Mood II Swing
(From The Scenic Route, Nite Grooves, 1994)

This one tends to get less props, perhaps because it’s less stylized, more stripped to the bone, and bears fewer of their usual sonic trademarks – although perhaps it’s just a bit less well known. The catchy four-note refrain, loping groove and percussive wall of congas and timbales are all sublime in their simplicity.

Fonda Rae
Living In Ecstasy (J.C.’s Ecstasy Dub)
(Wave Music, 1996)

Cheating slightly, because this is the John Ciafone dub rather than the more obvious Mood II Swing mix on the other side, but it’s too fresh to leave out. Nasty, rugged drums – and the way it goes, “Livin’ in ecstasy, ecstasy, ecstasy” over and over for ages and ages. Hypnotic.

Lem Springsteen
‘Sexy Whisper 2’
(From The Black Keys, Empire State Records, 1994)

We cheated and had a Ciafone solo remix, so now we’re allowed to cheat even further and have this dreamy acid-meets-garage Springsteen solo cut. This track was handily reissued by Slow To Speak a couple of years ago.

The Club Kidds
‘During Peak Hours’ (Mood II Swing Dub)
(Nervous Records, 1992)

Ending with a fun one from the cult Nervous Records, and again it’s Mood II Swing remixing themselves as one alias flips another. The tension between the hotel bar piano line and the darker mood of the rest of groove is what makes this one so playful – given the sophisticated programming, it’s mad to think that it came out in 1992.

Next: Stream Mood II Swing’s FACT mix



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