posted by Rob
October 2020

All musical landscapes progress and develop over time. Some morph into new concepts entirely (for example when UK garage split off from its house roots), while others remain steadfast in their original message. Progressive house has managed to do both, spawning countless new sounds, styles, and genres while itself retaining the core elements that make it what it is. I decided to look into some of the ways that concepts from progressive house are used in a variety of today's music, keeping it just as relevant as it has ever been.

The Classic Sound

"That deadmau5 Pluck"

Perhaps the absolute hallmark of the progressive house sound is the filtered supersaw pluck, often referred to as "the deadmau5 pluck" due to the artist's extensive and highly effective use of the sound in his earlier work. This sound can be heard prominently in deadmau5's "The Veldt":

(As a side note, to anyone who fancies a few minutes of feel-good entertainment, check out the video of deadmau5 discovering Chris James for the first time on his livestream back in March 2012.)

Simple but Effective

The pulsing rhythm does not lend itself well to intricate melodies. As such, tracks in the genre often feature long, simple movements that are built up and layered over multiple bars, hence the name "progressive". Simplicity provides an interesting situation, as the repetition that comes with it provides both the risk of monotony and the opportunity to be memorable. The melody in "Letting Go" by Irish producer EMBRZ contains no complex movements at all, for example, yet sticks in the listener's head like a limpet.

New Directions

While is it easy to wax lyrical about the "good old days" of progressive house, in order for a genre to be truly timeless it must be able to adapt to the changes around it. Production quality will always improve over time, but what about bigger changes? Who out there is taking the core elements of progressive house and driving them into new territory?

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The Progressive Feel: Tourist - "Bunny"

First off, it would be a crime not to talk about modern-day progressive music without bringing Tourist into the conversation. His album Wild was perhaps one of the most sonically interesting releases of last year, with a lot of the tracks revolving around ideas found frequently within the progressive house music of the late noughties. Track 3, "Bunny", features a classic 4x4, pulsing rhythm; a deep, rich soundscape of pads and effects, and a simple melody that is built upon throughout the piece.

There is, however, nothing simple about the way in which the melody is conveyed. Doing away with the tried and tested "deadmau5 pluck", Tourist opts instead for a multi-layered approach, allowing sounds to tumble around one another as they take turns to communicate each movement in their own way. This style of complexity is found throughout the album and acts as a departure from the rigid minimalism within old progressive house, setting the release truly apart as it's own entity.

The Pulsing Rhythm: False Noise - "Shiver"

Now, hear me out on this one. If there is any artist on Earth who cannot be contained within the boundaries of genre, it's False Noise. His debut album Floral Strobe challenges the very idea that there is a limit to what can be done within a DAW, and I highly recommend giving it a listen. However, his single "Shiver" offers a sound palette and evolving structure that does seem to have ties to the progressive house of the late noughties.

The main bassline is a bitcrushed, distorted pluck, sidechained to the kick in a manner that gives it that familiar "pulsing" rhythm. As is the case in progressive house, it follows a slow and controlled rhythm that rises and falls in such a manner as to carry the track forward into increasing layers of atmospheric pads. This sense of growth and evolution may not have been consciously inspired by classic progressive house tracks, the presence of these concepts in such a different musical context clearly highlights the influence and versatility behind them.

[ Read more: Ambient Music Explained ]

The deadmau5 Pluck: Direct - "Nobody Like You"

Examples of the iconic pluck sound used so frequently in deadmau5' progressive house tracks can be found in many genres throughout the modern musical landscape. A particularly interesting development to look at is the way that modern future garage tracks are starting to incorporate it, straying away from the rough, dark sound perpetuated by Burial's Untrue. Direct's single "Nobody Like You" features a variation on a similar sound to provide both melody and rhythm, giving the track a clean, futuristic aesthetic that has become synonymous with Direct's production.

To Conclude

It is always interesting to look at how classic genres have influenced today's music in ways that may not be immediately obvious. With progressive house it is particularly easy to do so, as can be seen with the tracks I have spoken about here. I think particularly in the past few years music has been straying further and further towards the edges of established genres, as artists discover new sounds and techniques to produce work that is truly their own. Such rapid progression leads me to wonder where music will be in 5, 10 or 50 years time, and how many exciting new artists will emerge in this timeframe.

Regardless of what happens, one thing is for certain: progressive house will always continue to influence and inform on musical choices made by artists. Whether consciously inspiring or not, the principles it is built on have become so fundamental to so many different genres that even if it does die, it's offspring will continue to bear it's message.

[ Read more: Everything You Need to Know About Lo-fi House ]

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