Common wisdom has it that musically, the ‘90s kicked in a year late with the release of Nirvana’s breakout grunge-rock classic Nevermind. While that may be true where mainstream arena rock was concerned, those who were inhabitants of club-land at the time are well aware that the ‘90s started right on time, with the August, 1990 release of Deee-Lite’s groundbreaking album World Clique.
With it’s funky brew of hip-hop, house, disco and techno World Clique set the world alight during the fall of 1990 and early part of 1991. The album was like a musical firework shot up into the sky to indicate that a new decade had dawned – musically and culturally at least. And if the music wasn’t convincing enough, you only had to take one look at the album’s cover and see the three strange characters, apparently from the planet “groovy,” in their cartoon ‘70s outfits to realize that we weren’t in Kansas anymore – or at the very least, we weren’t in the ‘80s anymore.
Jungle DJ Towa Towa, Super DJ Dmitry and Lady Miss Kier were two DJ/producers and a dance diva vocalist who had their finger on the pulse of what was happening in New York City’s underground club culture at the turn of the decade. Together as Deee-Lite the eclectic and funky trio turned underground club music into pop gold back when Lady Gaga was barely out of her spandex diapers. With their drag queen-inspired look of polyester ‘70s threads and John Fluevog platform heels, the trio burst onto the airwaves of MTV with the international hit “Groove Is In the Heart.”
“Groove Is In the Heart” with its hooky bass-line sampled from Herbie Hancock’s Blow Up soundtrack, guest vocals and bass from Bootsy Collins and rap interlude from A Tribe Called Quests’ Q-Tip, lit up dance floors and singles charts around the world. It went to no. 1 in Australia, no. 2 in the UK, broke into the top four on the Billboard Top 100 and was no. 1 on the US Hot Dance Club Play Chart. The song was the embodiment of the Deee-Lite’s retro futuristic, optimistic world consciousness viewpoint and to this day DJs around the globe pack it in their crates; knowing it’s a surefire way to get everyone from club kids to sorority girls on the dance floor in an instant.
Other singles of World Clique included the heavily house-inflected “Power of Love” and “Good Beat,” both of which succeeded in breaking into the top 10 of the U.S. dance charts.
Sadly the influence of World Clique outlasted Deee-Lite’s career. Follow up albums Infinity Within and Dewdrops In the Garden failed to register the same kind of impact World Clique had. Towa Towa changed his name to Towa Tei and departed the group. Kier and Dmitry recruited DJ Ani and continued on until ultimately disbanding in 1996.
Today Kier, Dmitry and Ani are all successful club DJs. Towa Tei still records and DJs back in his native Japan. However for one all-to-brief shining musical moment, at the dawn of the final decade of the 20th century, this oddly retro chic trio succeeded in roping in all of the disparaging club music styles that were floating around New York City in the late ‘80s; hip-hop, house, techno, funk, disco – and forming them into an absolute dance pop masterpiece. And while Nevermind may have defined the angst of a generation that in retrospect, had very little to be angstful about, World Clique seems a more appropriate expression of the optimism, permissiveness and opportunity that pervaded the 1990s.