The duo, composed of Julius Steinhoff and Just von Ahlefeld, aka Dionne, have, in the 7-year interim, remained unapologetic champions of all things deep. Their output as individuals has been prolific, and their monthly residency at Golden Pudel plus access to some of the scene’s finest establishments have cemented their status as custodians of house music’s underbelly. Their Hamburg St Pauli based record shop, which – alongside the pair’s Smallville label – has served as a revered and comprehensive purveyor of the very best productions Europe (and beyond) has to offer; the latter and its sub-label Fuck Reality providing a home for the likes of Moomin, Christopher Rau, STL and Tilman.
‘Afterglow’ epitomises the duo’s seemingly innate capacity to understand the genre, and captures an essence of assuredness emerging from the very depths of Smallpeople’s musical soul and collections. These elements are intrinsic in the opening track ‘Magic Interference’, which combines a steady, rolling core with cascading keys, heady chords and jazzy, unintelligible and yet soulful vocal stabs. Blissful and undoubtedly deep without sacrificing its quirks, the pair’s multifaceted influences are immediately evident in a tune which sets the tone for the remainder of the first half of the LP. ‘Hearts at Whole’ and ‘Camera Obscura’ adhere to this vibe, with soulful vocals and raw, Chicago tinged warmth in their percussion; ‘All States of Dawn’ introduces a beat-heavy, melancholic Detroit flair, with a quality somewhat reminiscent of Juan Atkins’ 1991 ‘Urban Tropics’.
The formula of deep house concocted with essences of Chicago, Detroit techno and a distinctly Hamburg sense of club suitability is a tried and tested Smallpeople signature. Hamburg itself is a historically musical melting pot, with transatlantic sounds filtering through late 80s establishments, most notably Front, situated below a leather factory building and drawing from UK acid house, Garage, Deep, Detroit and Chicago sounds, as well as gay dance culture emerging from cities like New York. The scene continued to develop with institutions like Golden Pudel, symbolic of Hamburg’s musical heart and imperishable underground conscience; Wolfgang Tillmans, referring to the city once stated: “For me, in terms of house music, Berlin always seems to be lagging well behind…”. Smallpeople lucidly captures this identity, infusing their music with a quality that is fervently rooted in the past, and yet timelessly forward thinking.
The latter half of the release is reflective of the duo’s intuitive ability as selectors, condensing a whole-night dance floor odyssey into a single record. ‘Beyond’ introduces a prickly, disco enriched bass-line, somehow warped and enthused with an atmospheric sense of celestial lustre, providing the perfect introduction to the wide-eyed, euphoric and melancholy-tinged ‘Sonic Winds’, true to its name and providing a glimpse of Smallpeople as prime-time masters of the mix. The penultimate track, ‘Benevolent Reciever’, is an Efdemin-esque, acid dusted and synth dominant breakbeat number, capturing a German sense of industrial spirituality.
The concluding title track ‘Afterglow’ is an emotive and alluring dance floor warmer, encapsulating the mentality at the core of Smallpeople; a zealous musical tribute to all facets of the dance music community. It may have been nearly a decade long wait, but the duo is still producing music as relevant and potent as ever.