Deconstructed is a series where we break down the arrangement of a song. This time, we’re laser-focused on Catz ’n Dogz and Gerd Janson’s melodic house track, ‘Modern Romance’.
Catz ’n Dogz are on fire lately. Lately? More like for the past 15 years. But with a recent string of high-profile collaborations, including Claude VonStroke, Eats Everything and Truncate, they’re arguably at the top of their game. The cut we’re looking at today, ‘Modern Romance’, is similarly fire, with the Polish duo teaming up with Running Back label head Gerd Janson for a melodic house workout.
Both artists are known for genre-hopping but they’re also renowned for paying tribute to house music’s past. ‘Modern Romance’ is no slavish copy though. It has plenty of modern elements – including jaw-dropping production – that peg it as thoroughly up to date.
But what is it exactly that makes ‘Modern Romance’ such a stormer? Let’s tease apart the arrangement of the song’s single edit and find out.
As this is the single edit of ‘Modern Romance’, things kick off full bore. The club mix is more leisurely, building up one piece at a time like a six-minute track should, but here the guys are working with a different agenda: get to the main musical ideas quickly and succinctly.
Accordingly, this 128bpm track starts with an eight-bar percussion intro. Most of the song’s rhythmic elements are present and accounted for right from the start: a thundering kick pounding out the traditional four-to-the-floor beat, a heavy snare (which is actually a snare and clap layered together), a TR-909 rimshot, and congas adding some acoustic variation. Syncopation comes courtesy of shakers programmed in 16th-notes, with a closed hi hat striking on the offbeat to give the groove some lift. There’s also an open hi hat playing once a bar in an almost disco style.
There are two fills in the introduction. The first, occurring at the end of bar four, is comprised of Simmons-style electronic toms. This will be repeated throughout the song. The other is made up of snares – lighter and snappier than the main heavy snare – and drops at the end of the eighth bar. The kicks take a break for the whole of bar eight to give the snare fill a chance to do its thing.
The opening eight bars also introduce the vocals. There are both male and female vocals in ‘Modern Romance’ but we first hear a whispered male vocal asking, “Freak, what’s on your mind?” The use of the word ‘freak’ recalls the music of the 1980s and lets us know that this is going to be retro-inspired.
The next eight bars roughly repeat the first, except the three producers – Grzegorz ‘Greg’ Demiańczuk, Wojciech ‘Voitek’ Tarańczuk and Gerd Janson – have replaced the whispered vocals with a chunky FM bassline. The congas have been high-passed to make room for the bass frequencies.
The three-note line is comprised of a climbing sequence of notes (C > Eb > F) and repeats throughout the song. The bass sound itself appears to have been doubled-up, with a classic plucky FM house bass layered over a weightier bottom. The simplicity of the bassline paired with the sound itself reiterates that we’re in classic house territory.
A tom fill at the end of bar 12 and a snare fill before the final turnaround provide momentum. However, the snare fill this time is longer and the kick does not need to drop out, as we’re moving into a breakdown anyway.
For this eight-bar breakdown, the boys cut the bass in the kick but let the rest of the percussion keep rolling. This is largely the blueprint for this song. While some producers like to change up the percussion, dropping pieces in and out to create rhythmic variation, Catz ’N Dogz and Janson have opted to keep the rhythm section fairly static, with variation happening in the melody.
In this section, just that happens, with the melody getting a boost from a new element: a pad playing chords. The progression follows the bassline. The pad is also rhythmic, with a pumping effect added to keep things interesting.
A big part of melody is vocals, so the producers bring back the whispered vocal, which we first heard in section 1. It’s joined by a shouted vocal that repeats the word freak, providing an accent to the whispers.
There is a new percussion sound here, 808 congas. They appear in a flurry at the beginning of bars 17 and 21.
Finally, notice that the tom fill sounds at the end of bar 18 rather than 20, as we would expect. By dropping the toms two bars into the breakdown rather than four, the boys play with our expectations and subvert them, which keeps us on our toes.
This sections (bars 25 to 33) is largely a repeat of the prior section albeit with the kicks brought back to up the energy. We also get a crash sound at bar 25 to accompany the return of the kicks.
The tom fill again drops unexpectedly, this time at the end of bar 26. And, if you listen closely, it can just be heard buried in the mix at bar 31, this time appearing at the start of a bar rather than at the end. This gives the song a live feel, as if the three jammed it out rather than programmed it with a mouse.
The same male vocals repeat – first whispered, then shouted – and the whole section is wrapped up with a white noise riser, which, along with a snare fill, lead us into the next section.
Here is the breakdown proper. This is a good chance to introduce melodic themes, and the three producers here debut both a violin melody and the main female vocal.
In terms of percussion, the kick has disappeared again but the congas, missing since section 1, are back to help keep things moving forward. The producers also bring back the 808 congas at bars 33 and 37. The other elements continue as before, with additional snare fills punctuating the rhythm at the end of each four-bar turnaround.
The FM bass takes a break, allowing the new melodic elements, the violins, a chance to shine. They sound sampled, with a rough edge to them that recalls sample libraries from the 1990s. They’ve been mixed to the right of the stereo spectrum to help widen the sound stage.
A new riser, this time a filter with its cutoff modulated by an LFO, starts at bar 34, while the whispered vocal appears twice, each time saying something different.
Lastly, the boys add a new sound, a clap, and let it repeat until it becomes a roll, merging with a snare fill at bar 40.
At bar 41, the three, at last, give us the main female vocal. Most any time a vocal appears in a house song, it’s going to be the centrepiece of the song. The vocal’s introduction in the breakdown highlights this as being true of ‘Modern Romance’ as well. “I’m so high I’m going nowhere”, the vocalist sings. “Help me find out who I am”. Modern romance, indeed.
This song is in the key of G minor. As with most minor keys, G minor is not a happy key. Classical composer Schubert described it as the sound of discontent. The key is often used in metal and hip-hop to give a sense of foreboding and unease. While ‘Modern Romance’ feels upbeat and even playful, the lyrical content is in line with the emotional quality of its key signature.
Other elements of note in this section are the white noise riser at bar 41, which serves to punctuate the change and add drive, the clap rolls repeated from the previous section, the delay which has been added to the vocals, and a deftly placed “Whoo!” which – along with the expected snare fill – leads us neatly into the next section.
After the buildup of section 6, it’s time for a brief cool down. Catz ’n Dogz and Janson manage this in a number of ways. First, they mute all of the percussion except the kick. This brings the energy down but doesn’t drop it completely. They also employ two new elements to help lower the energy: a burst of filtered white-noise, which acts like an exhalation after the buildup of the previous section, and a two-note synth line. The simplicity and bell-like sound of the latter serve to help cool things down.
As mentioned before though, they don’t want to completely flatten out the energy. People are still dancing, after all! Replacing the violins with the FM bass brings things back to familiar territory. It also creates more room for the vocals, if not in the mix than in our focus. Lastly, there’s a cheeky crash one bar into the section at bar 50.
The breakdown continues. Despite the cooldown synth melody happening again on bar 57, the reintroduction of the percussion elements signal that it’s time to bring back up the energy. Repeating snares verify this. This is reinforced by the tom fill at the end of bar 58 and the reappearance of the white noise riser, this one increasing over the course of six bars, the longest yet.
The boys use effects here to ramp things up as well. The vocal line, continuing from before, gets affected with delay, while a heavy reverb – automated across a number of tracks – grows until bar 65.
Bar 65 sees the song now rolling along. The heavy snare is back and working with all of the usual percussion elements – hats, shaker, rimshot and congas – to create a rhythmic groove, all supported by the FM bassline.
Another white noise riser helps push things forward, while the whispered male vocal and even the whoo interjection are brought back.
Although we’re halfway through the song, the boys here introduce a new element: high-pitched female vocals. They’re pushed back in the mix and coated in reverb, which de-emphasizes them from the main vocals. They do add interest and colour though, like dried fruit toppings on a salad. Finally, a snare fill takes us into the turnaround.
The percussion continues as before while the violins return. The pumping chords also make a comeback, slowly fading in from under the violins throughout the eight-bar section.
Both shouted and whispered vocals get a showing, accenting the rhythm. Snare fills keep things moving forward.
At bar 81 the kick and FM bass drop away, leaving the remaining percussion to provide a rhythmic backdrop for the melodic elements. The violins continue as before and the chord pad is clearly audible now, although it appears to have been high-passed.
The female vocals get a look in as the clap rolls, tom fills, and snare rolls increase tension. There’s another instance of the 808 Congas at bar 85 as well.
At bar 89, we’re still in the same breakdown but the chord pads have puffed back out to their full frequency version. Delay feedback from the female vocals suddenly increases and repeats in sync with the beat. The clap rolls return with a tom fill taking us into the final turnaround.
This section seems a little abrupt in its changes. This is likely because of the edits made to bring the full-length club version down to this single version.
We are now into the final stretch of the song. The kick and bass return but other percussion elements drop out, with the cooldown sounds from section 7 making an encore appearance. The female vocal sings its last as well.
Interestingly, the three here introduce a new melodic element: a house piano, playing a three-chord progression that complements the pumping pad. It’s a lovely sound and you almost wish they had introduced it earlier.
A tom fill takes us into the change.
A last quick uptick in energy before the end of the track. The shakers come back as well as repeating snares, a snare fill and a riser, building to the end of the track.
The piano chords change, giving us a quick taste of a new chord progression, and another new element – sustained strings – surprisingly start at bar 106 as the pads disappear.
One last quick tom fill and we’re out, with the song fading into reverb.