Chocolate Puma trace two decades of house music and the second wind of the original Dutch house dream team
House music’s European pedigree has been a long and winding tale of underdogs with vision, cliques with cause and when all is said and done, a quest to keep the momentum past North America’s popularly documented buzz movements in Chicago and Detroit. Sat in a crowded café off Miami’s Ocean Drive, Rene Ter Horst and Gaston Steenkist’s calm and content demeanour significantly plays down what has been an diplomatic journey in the name of house music’s global asscession and an identity in sound worth sticking it out for. By no means a comeback streak or second wind stint from the multi-monikered duo, the year has offered an unprecedented spotlight for two tried and tested arguments for taking the long way round. As Dancing Astronaut explored the life and times of Dutch house music’s original dream team, it became very much clear that if ‘real’ house music is going palces in 2014, Chocolate Puma are adamant on keeping the driver’s seat.
Before big business, accelerated live experiences and overnight sensations had swept the European market, Chocolate Puma established themselves as the original bull in the china shop to the burgeoning Dutch house circuit. Be it as Jark Prongo, ZKI & Dobre, Rhythm Killaz, Tomba Vira, or as initial breakout hit mongers The Good Men, their modern namesake comes tried, tested and verified across the global industry. The past twenty-something years (even they have lost count) have mustered a slew of ferocious house crossbreeds, unsuspecting radio hits and promising global ventures. What hasn’t changed along the line is the fiber of their long and prosperous career: a sound unmistakably as it is unabatingly relevant to the modern dance floor and a hunger to keep it relevant to the next generation.
“It was more like art back then!”
Their journey began in the infancy of the Dutch house boom. A duo united by mutual DJ aspirations and a love for the less nurtured sound of European rave culture, their accession comes with a two-decade discography of pivotal house cuts under a wealth of monikers. It’s been a long road to realization, but the duo fondly remembers the grueling yet exciting origins of their craft that preceded today’s accelerated enthusiasm. “It was really fresh and new,’ suggests Gaston. “Everyone was so excited and everything you did was far lower key than it is today. I think it was more like art back then. It was a select few that took a pedestal in the industry rather than the majority.”
Under the guise of The Good Men, “Give It Up” scored house music one of its elementary chart success stories, one the preceded today’s domineering play towards soft radio hits and safe big room interventions. The culture and the sound has gone on a considerable tangent since their entry, but the intertwining of big business, accelerated technology and electronic music culture is yet to fluster this old school duo and their welcome calling card to the modern hustle. “Big money or sponsors could never really have a bearing on what happens in the studio for us,” explains Gaston. “From day one it has been about creating what we are into and feeling. Times are different now, but I think you can take good things from the big business. With social media the way it is communication is easier than ever. We can reach out to a producer the other side of the world at the click of a finger. I we had done that 25-years ago things could have been very different indeed. That’s fun.”
If the road to today’s encounter had been a slow but steady burner, 2014 saw Chocolate Puma blow the roof of house music’s universal credibility. Matching high profile remixes for GotSome, Janelle Monae and Nile Rodgers alongside unexpected European radio hit “Step Back,” their live presence on the line-ups of EDC Las Vegas and Creamfields alike said everything you needed to know about the budding taste buds of dance music’s Generation-Y: ‘proper’ house music was back in vogue. That isn’t to say that the label-hopping duo hasn’t still had to deal with the day-to-day struggles of being a unique powerhouse holding the fort in a saturated market. “I’ll be honest, we don’t have the pick of the bunch,” laughs Rene. “Sometimes it can take as long as eight months for us to find a label that can get onboard with our sound. At the end of the day it works to our advantage that we have diverse labels interested in our music, which is by no means the most conventional sound by modern standards.”
Gaston immediately points to “Rubber Band Lazer,” an unexpected debut tested on their North American tour that initiated a change in pace for Aoki’s typically big room outfit. “We got to be an engine for change in an already very well established label. That absolutely thrilled us,” he explains. “They saw it as a movement that people really want to discover right now. We have our style and our sound, but to be able to speak to the newer wave of house fans like is something we don’t take for granted.” It’s a humble play from a duo who never let their feet leave the ground amid a long a musically prosperous career.
As they point to the superstar DJ aspirations and VIP culture that now dominates the next generation pining at a career in dance music, the duo recognizes an immediate glitch in this bigger picture for the industry’s future. “There are these huge expectations of immediate stardom,” suggests Gaston. “Kids want to go from nothing to the ranks of Avicii and Afrojack overnight. When we started you just went to the local club and asked if you could spin some records. If you were good, you kept doing it until you were good enough to move up in the world. That could a long time, especially in a competitive market such as Holland. It was harder, but that was your platform to build upwards on. I see no value in just leaping in at the deep end. A legacy built from the ground up is one that really makes the difference.”
With EDC around the corner, a considerably packed summer schedule ready to erupt, the bigger picture moving forward looks to rest on doing rather than preaching. But with those unmistakable beats still gaining momentum and an ambassadorial stand on the modern house circuit, it wouldn’t be unrealistic to scope another decade of irreplaceable music from Chocolate Puma.
“The day after when you see people dancing to that record, that right there is the bigger picture. We’re just happy to still be relevant and making the music we want to. Not everyone gets to say that these days.”
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