If Chicago was the birthplace of house and Detroit invented techno, then a soulful offshoot of both was born in New Jersey in the mid-80s. In the UK, for fairly unfathomable reasons, it became known as garage (named after the Paradise Garage in New York), while in NJ itself they simply called it club (or perhaps more pertinently, the Jersey sound). Clearly inspired by disco, particularly its gospel side, this unique sound was driven by a collective called Blaze (Josh Milan, Kevin Hedge and Chris Herbert) and revolved around record stores like Abigail Adams’ influential Movin’ in East Orange, a former skate shop turned label and record store.
Meanwhile in Newark, the Zanzibar, a dance club with Tony Humphries as its principal resident, became the foundry for this new style of music and the club built such a reputation that even notoriously travel-shy New Yorkers would venture over the Hudson River to sample Humphries’ sets.
The Jersey sound was arguably even bigger in the UK, particularly in the south-east, where for a period it was the sound of young London. Promoted by DJs like Paul Trouble Anderson and Bobby & Steve on Kiss FM, i inspired a new wave of British producers, such as Mount Rushmore, Sensory Elements and, in particular, Dave Lee, aka Joey Negro, who licensed and/or remixed several of the tracks we’ve included in this list via Republic Records and, later, through Z.
We’ve selected 20 of the greatest examples of one of dance music’s most soulful styles below.
CHANELLE 'One Man' (One Mix)
PHASE II 'Reachin’'
Yet another Blaze nearly-hit. This was licensed to Dave Lee’s Republic in the UK, where it became one of the big soulful anthems of 1988.
TURNTABLE ORCHESTRA 'You’re Gonna Miss Me'
DE’LACY 'Hideaway' (Deep Dish Mix)
THREE GENERATIONS 'Get It Off'
Could’ve chosen any one of scores of Kerri Chandler productions, but 'Get It Off' is arguably the one that made his name. Deep and devastating.
MICHAEL WATFORD 'So Into You'
FOREMOST POETS 'Reasons To Be Dismal' (Foresight Version)
SANDY B 'Feel Like Singin’' (Classic Def Mix)
Written and produced by Jersey stalwarts Shank Thompson and Paul Scott from B.O.P., this Morales mix is Tri-State perfection.
EQUATION 'I’ll Say A Prayer 4 U'
Hard to pick only one track by the legendary Burrell brothers (born in New York, but raised in Jersey), but this soulful and deep cut is the ur-sound of Nu Groove at its peak.
PRECIOUS 'Definition Of A Track' (From Back To Basics)
The flipside to a hip-house workout that became bigger than the original version. Classic house minimalism from Backroom Productions.
GERIDEAU 'Take A Stand' (Blaze Mix)
KEISHA JENKINS 'Going Through The Motions'
Another Blaze banger, this time using the winsome vocals of Keisha Jenkins. The sound of Paul Trouble Anderson circa 1993.
CASSIO THE CASSMASTER 'Getting Hot'
Backroom Productions’ associate Cassio Ware’s 'Getting Hot' was one of the classic releases on East Orange-based Abigail Adams’ hugely influential Movin’ (both a record store and label).
ALY-US 'Follow Me'
280 WEST 'Scattered Dreams' (Boom-Chocka-Boom Mix)
JENIFER MICKEY 'Keep On Believing'
Written and produced by Larry Rauson, whose entry into music was inspired by Tony Humphries’ sets at the Zanzibar. Another Humphries favourite.
THE KENTROS 'No Way But Our Love' (Ed & Sandi)
One of those tracks that seemed to slip out unnoticed at the time, but has become a big collectors’ item over the past ten years. Beautiful and anthemic.
RUFFNECK FT YAVAHN 'Everybody Be Somebody'
Another Backroom Productions classic,this Yello-sampling track crossed over into the British charts in 1995, making top twenty in 1995.
PENTHOUSE 17 FT MONICA PATTON 'Party People In The House' (Deep Under Mix)
Bill Brewster is a dance music historian and regular contributor to Mixmag, he dedicates this chart to the memory of Paul Trouble Anderson and gives thanks to Jeremy Newall for the suggestions. Follow him on Twitter