I’d intended to post the clip at the bottom of this post upon the 25th anniversary of the release of “Groove is in the Heart,” but couldn’t seem to find it when the time came (and went). But, Flaming Pablum comrade and disarmingly loyal reader Miles B. re-unearthed it on Facebook, so I’m dutifully revisiting.
The video I mean, of course, is Deee-Lite in all their kitschy glory, performing “Groove is in the Heart” at Wigstock, under the (since razed) Tompkins Square Park bandshell in 1990.
Though this might seem like yet another “oh, things were so much better in my day” rant (guilty as charged, your honor), it has to be said that the very early 90’s were such a great, fertile time in music. I mean, — yeah, there was grunge, but that was only part of the landscape. At the dawn of the decade, Hip Hop was blowing up, with Public Enemy in their full stride, having just released Fear of a Black Planet (arguably their last crucial record), and the whole Native Tongue scene happening, with A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, the Jungle Brothers, Monie Love and more. British indie rock was completely exploding as well (which found me regularly attending the Marquee to see bands like Pop WilL East Itself, the Wonder Stuff, The Wedding Present, Lush, Ride, Curve, Chapterhouse and many more). Meanwhile, NYC still had its own roiling underground of noisy bands like Pussy Galore, the Unsane, Prong, Helmet, Surgery, Foetus, SWANS and — WAIT FOR IT — Cop Shoot Cop keeping things interesting. There was no shortage of great stuff.
The early 90’s was also the final stretch of New York City’s love affair with the concept of “the big club,” with venus like the Limelight and The Palladium (to name but two) still in full swing. And out of that frenzied scene, of course, sprang Deee-Lite.
It sounds like rose-tinted hyperbole now, of course, but I didn’t know a single soul around that time that *didn’t* like “Groove is in the Heart.” I mean, sure — there had been a few monster dance numbers that had made the rounds like Technotronic’s “Pump Up the Jam,” Rob Base and DJ EZ-ROck’s “It Takes Two” and Soul II Soul’s “Back to Life," but “Groove is in the Heart” seemed to make an impact on an entirely new level. Deee-Lite had style, panache and were an organic entity with personality (something sorely missing in today’s EDM scene, if you ask me). Regardless of one’s preferences and genre affiliations, “Groove is in the Heart” was undeniable. Let’s review, shall we?
- The track is built around an sinuous sample of Herbie Hancock’s “Bring Down the Birds,” a suitably funky slice of the score of Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Blow-Up” (my second favorite film of all time, after “After Hours.”)
- Contributors to the proceedings include a middle-eight rap from Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest (who I’d seen perform a year earlier at a private party at Nell’s, thrown by my then-quasi-employers at SPIN Magazine) as well as funk legends Bootsy Collins and Fred Wesley of Parliament’s Horny Horns.
- There are lyrical allusions to both Succotash and Dr. Seuss’ “Horton Hears a Who.”
- Lady Miss Goddamn Kier!!
I remember getting a copy of the single as a freebie in the promo swag-bag for the 1990 New Music Seminar. It was a split with a British band called The Heartthrobs (they had a minor hit with “Dreamtime” in 1990, before splitting in `93). It seemed like overnight, this record went from underground hit to global smash.
Strangely, it was not to last for Deee-lite. They released some other singles, and at least a second LP, but failed to sustain the momentum (they got kinda eco-conscious, if memory serves).
I wasn’t at this Wigstock, alas, and never saw Deee-Lite live, although I did run into DJ Dimitry in an eye-glass shop on St. Marks Place. I also bought DJ Towa Tei’s first solo album, which had the excellent “Batucada” on it.
Today, the Tompkins Square Bandshell — which played host to everyone from Deee-Lite to Nausea to Missing Foundation to the False Prophets and beyond — is long gone. Wigstock still happens, of course — not that I’ve been in a while.
Regardless, enjoy this trip back through time. More pics of Deee-Lite at Wigstock in 1990 (like the one above) can be found here.