People.com points out that Deee-Lite’s enduring dance-pop staple “Groove Is in the Heart” turns 25 this month, which is insane because it means everyone is old. The song and its day-glo retro video brought club kid culture into heavy rotation for a period of time. The NYC-based trio were signed to a decent-sized label (Elektra) with major distribution (Atlantic) at an idealistic time when house music was starting to really break, and it seemed like the sky was the limits for the acts who were making it. (I mean, Uncanny Alliance were on A&M!) Record companies would soon discover the financial folly of their investments, as these club-oriented acts left and right proved to be one-hit wonders, if that. Regardless, some wonderfully enjoyable, often inventive dance-pop came out of it.
After “Groove,” Deee-Lite never had another Top 40 single on the U.S. pop charts, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. They released two more albums after their debut, 1990’s World Clique, and both are full of gems that failed to resonate with the public for god knows what reasons (might I suggest Infinity Within’s “Thank You Everyday,” and Dewdrops in the Garden’s “Apple Juice Kissing?”). “Groove Is in the Heart” remains their signature, a relic of ‘90s nostalgia whose presence in the ether is still felt (at weddings, for example), but unlike many enduring dance songs (like, say, “I Will Survive”), “Groove” never turned into sonic wallpaper. Thanks to Lady Kier Kirby’s versatile delivery, its host of guest stars (Maceo Parker, Bootsy Collins, Q-Tip), and its patchwork of sounds and samples, “Groove Is in the Heart” is that rare crowd-pleasing track that sounds both familiar and like nothing before it or since. It’s disco, it’s funk, it’s hip-hop, it’s psychedelic, it’s a blur of a party.
The footage above of Deee-Lite performing “Groove Is in the Heart” and “What Is Love?” was shot by Douglas Hovey* at New York’s drag-themed Labor Day tradition of Wigstock in 1990. At that point, the song had just been released (and was not yet a mainstream phenomenon), and Kier, Towa Tei, and DJ Dimitry were really working it. The energy and joy of this performance reads not as a sales pitch, though, but as a group of people who knew they had something contagious on their hands and couldn’t wait to infect the world with it.
*Apologies to Hovey who wasn’t initially credited in this post and wrote an email bringing this to our attention. “I worked really hard for this, with a huge VHS camera with the recorder on my back,” which really does put everything into perspective. I regret making this omission.