Saturday, November 22, 2008


CHAPTER 20 : MUTANT DISCO AND PUNK FUNK Crosstown Traffic in early Eighties New York

Chapter 16 in the US edition
[Source notes for US edition at the end]

US non-oral/written-out version of Mutant Disco chapter is now available to UK readers as a bonus "overview" in Totally Wired: Postpunk Interviews and Overviews, the companion volume to Rip It Up, out Feburary 5th 2009 from Faber & Faber.

PAGE 383


Annie Toome (The Bloods): “I was so tired of what we call slug music… anti-music music or anti-art music. .. We were all tired of a certain hatred for rock’n’roll” [East Village Eye Summer 1981]

Adele Bertei (Contortions/Bloods): “I don’t wanna deny the roots of American music, I wanna extend them." (East Village Eye, February 1980)

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Sarah Lee, the replacement for Dave Allen as Gang of Four bassist, ended up playing bass for the B-52s and she can be seen prominently in the video for their biggest hit ‘Love Shack’--the tall one with short red hair and "sho nuff funkin' now ain't we" grin.

PAGE 388


Pulsalamma (without Ann Magnuson)

THE MUDD CLUB: "Heroin and Cigarettes"

Carmel Johnson-Schmidt: “[It felt like] everything was false, that nothing mattered, and that nothing was going to last… People gave up on planning things. It was all for that moment, that night. People barely even fucked… A lot of down drugs were being used--heroin, Quaaludes” (from Steven Hager's Art After Midnight)

Basquiat and Tav Falco at the Mudd Club

The Basquiat produced Rammelzee single "Beat Bop"... he also did the sleeve, as if you couldn't tell.

PAGE 392

ZE RECORDS: Mongrel Music

Ian Penman: “The germ of ZE was a notion in the head of New York theatre critic Michael Zilka that found a friend in French T-shirt designer Michel Esteban…" (from Mutant Disco sleevenotes)

Michael Zilka: “We started out making a Cristina record. Cristina was at the Village Voice, taking a year off from Harvard--we were both reviewing second string plays. I never really had great singers, I had singers with personality. For “Disco Clone”, we’d had a terrible time finding the right person to do the male voice. But Cristina had seen Kevin Cline in a play on Broadway and thought he was fantastic. ‘Disco Clone’ is a very subversive record, but it would have been more subversive if it had a better beat. But my records did get better as dance records.”

Jean-Paul Goude having a trial run for the imagery he would use on Grace Jones circa Slave To the Rhythm.... or perhaps (depending on when the Grace session actually took place) palming off a slightly used idea on ZE?

>PAGE 393

WAS (NOT WAS): Detroit's Style Salad

Don Was: "At the time we started making records, we had no interest in making Bee Gees-style disco. We took the more adventurous beats that people were using in the clubs, and on our first record 'Wheel Me Out' (1980) we added a Marcus Belgrave trumpet solo and a distorted guitar by the MC5's Wayne Kramer on top. We were attempting to find our way forward, but at the same time we were spewing back our roots over these dance grooves. Then David's words -- funny, satirical, ironic -- add another level to it. He's not afraid to tackle anything in the lyrics of a song, whether it's the Kennedy assassination, weapons proliferation or the endless absurdities of modern life. This relates to something Kris Kristofferson told me about Hank Williams, who wrote some of the saddest songs ever. But he had to go play them in roadhouses, so you'd have these incredibly dark songs set to upbeat melodies. That was our intent, too, that the music should be like the Trojan horse that gets the subversive commentary inside the city walls. That's still our mission." (Detroit Free Press, December 31, 2004 )

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MATERIAL: They used to be Daevid 'Gong' Allen's backing band you know

Bill Laswell: “Whatever you do please don't compare us to The Pop Group” (NME, June 1980)

Michael Zilka: "Before "Bustin' out" they did this track called ‘This Dance Is No White Man’s Business’ [later recorded as “Ciguri”] but it wasn’t anthemic enough."

The best thing August Darnell's fingers ever touched, his hype man Coati Mundi's "Me No Pop I", which crawled in agonisingly slow increments towards the edge of the UK Top 30 but never... quite... made... it.

When August was hot... he got paid handsomely to produce UK aspirants like Funkapolitan, who wore their intent rather too plainly in their name. I bought this at the time, partly cos London Records put it out super-discounted, partly cos the cover was cool, and partly cos funk was THE buzzword of 1981-82. Sold it a few months later.

PAGE 395

>Vivien Goldman "Launderette"

PAGE 397

LIQUID LIQUID: Play that Funky Music Whiteboys

Terry Tolkin (99 Records): “They were playing… the Liquid Liquid track ‘Cavern’, on BLS, the biggest black station in new York… and WBLS deejay Frankie Crocker loved it… And they were playing the hell out of this Liquid Liquid track for six weeks, we were selling tons, couldn’t keep it in the store. And then they stopped playing it one day… And then … we turned on the radio and a few songs later it came on and we were like, ‘oh they’re playing ‘Cavern’ again’. But they weren’t. It had words.” (Tuba Frenzy, 1998)

PAGE 398


Martin Moscrop: “The first time we came to New York, we saw Puerto Ricans in Central Park playing percussion on a Sunday, and we thought 'Wow, what's that?' We all really got into percussion”.

Richard McGuire: “To be honest, I never liked A Certain Ratio, I was only impressed with the graphics on the sleeves. I remember Ed Bahlman trying to get me to listen but it didn't move me”.

ESG single jointly released by 99 Records and Factory Records in their respective territories. This is the Factory version I believe, which I actually owned, and then for some unknowable reason allowed Paul Oldfield to buy off me in 1982. Then last year a friend was parting with large chunks of his record collection and let me have this.


NEW YORK'S POST-DISCO FERMENT: the Meltdown Will Be Greater and More Beautiful Than Sex

Arthur Baker: “I think street music is the closest thing to jazz, the jazz of Coltrane, than anything else." (NME, May 12 1983)

Man Parrish (electro producer): “I think of street stuff as the complicated kick drum patterns and the crazy kind of percussion stuff… It’s also the craziness that happens in the records. Things flying in and out, the weird edits. The bass and drums in [‘One More Shot’ by] C-Bank are like a high energy disco song, but the glass crashing and crazy things flying in and out make it street.” (NME, May 12 1983)
Steve Alexander (The Dance): “You’ll always get bunked by an English band. Any mediocre band from England gets top treatment and it’s becoming more and more an annoyance to the New York bands.” [NME, May 1981]

PAGE 400

NO WAVE RETURNS: Death to (Mutant) Disco!

Luc Sante: “I'm looking at the poster for the Noise Fest that occupied White Columns, on far west Spring Street, for nine evenings in June 1981…. Not all the names are dissolved in the mists of time (Glenn Branca, Elliot Sharp) or should be (Ut, Y Pants), but the only group that is still a going concern after 19 years… is Sonic Youth…. Sonic Youth, like many of the bands at that long-ago Noise Fest, emerged at least in part from a synthesis of two conflicting downtown strains: the French symbolist guitar-army wing of the mid-'70s CBGB roster on the one hand, and on the other, the antirock skronk'n'blap No Wave tendency that came along a few years later.” (Village Voice June 28 2000)

Mark Sinker: "In June 1981, three months before [Lester Bangs’s A Reasonable Guide to Horrible Noise’] appeared [in Village Voice], a young Thurston Moore had curated the nine-day Noise Fest, at White Columns art centre, Spring Street, NYC. Little of this survives today, besides a rare-as-phlegm’s-teeth tape (Noise Fest, ZG Music 5) featuring a nascent Sonic Youth (Moore, Kim Gordon, Anne DeMarinis, Richard Smith), Rudolph Grey’s Blue Humans, and Borbetomagus, along with a scad of other No Wave and post No Wave groups that didn’t even make it into the 90s, let alone out." (from the Rise and Sprawl of Horrible Noise, originally published in the Wire summer 2001, director's cut here

PAGE 401

THE ART BOOM: They Used To Be Failed Musicians, Now They're.... Bloody Successful Artists, Actually

Richard McGuire: “I had always been doing my own art work outside of Liquid Liquid. As well as designing the posters and sleeve designs. I was doing these street drawings…. I would sign them Ixnae and that's how I became friendly with Basquiat and Keith Haring. I was included in a graffiti show in early ‘80 inthe South Bronx with all those Wild Style people like Lady Pink, Futura 2000… Later, in ‘82 Keith had introduced me to Tony Shafrazi, his dealer, and I I got a show in his SoHo gallery…. Art was booming all around and this was always my first love and at this point I felt the band had run its course”.

Basquiat in his studio circa 1985



“I’m sick… negative”--Wilson. MM 1/13/79.

“We’d get up… too cool”--Schneider. East Village Eye, December 1984.

“Entertainment! … about it”-- Stipe. Spin November 2004.

“We went to all… loved it”--Scharf. East Village Eye September 1982

“without being too pretentious… means”--Pierson. NME, 1/3/81.

“The thing about Pulsallama… anti-band”--Magnuson East Village Eye August 1983

“Esthetically I… old and good”--Basquiat. Quoted in Steven Hager’s Art After
Midnight (see bibliography). Chapter 3.

“everything was false… even fucked.” Carmel Johnson-Schmidt. Ibid. Chapter 3.

“Creole is… both worlds”--Darnell. NME, 7/4/1981

“If it sounds… would that be?”--Was. NME, 10/22/83.

“We’re a rhythm… band”--Kennedy. NME, 11/8/80

“It was the funkiest… space ride!”--Scroggins. Tuba Frenzy, #4, 1998.

“The Bronx… you crazy”--Scroggins. Collusion, February-April 1983

“demand more… in style anymore”--Hoffmann. East Village Eye, August 1983

“It was a watermark… other”--Moore, Forced Exposure Summer 1985

“The minute Jean-Michel… second”--Gallo. BB Gun #6, 2003

“I went into it… the window”--Maas, East Village Eye, November 1983


Pulsalamma mp3s

Great K-punk piece on Liquid Liquid

Detroit Free Press piece on Was (Not Was)

Arthur Russell information

Frieze piece on the 1981 Noise Fest and its 1983 sort-of sequel Speed Trials

More on Noise Fest


Me on Arthur Russell anthology

Arthur Russell
The World of Arthur Russell (Soul Jazz)

By Simon Reynolds

It’s an unlikely story: Avant-garde cellist sees the light in a disco glitterball at New York gay club The Gallery and decides disco is the ultimate modern format for exploring minimalist composition. In the mid-Seventies, Russell--conservatory-trained, a scholar of Eastern music forms, steeped in the ideas of Steve Reich and Terry Riley--was blown away by the engulfing quality of music transmitted over a massive club sound system and literally entranced by disco’s use of repetition.
Over the next decade, collaborating with New York’s leading DJ/remixers and recording engineer Bob Blank, Russell produced a series of captivatingly quirky 12 inches under a variety of aliases--Dinosaur L, Indian Ocean, Loose Joints--in the process establishing an enduring cult reputation.

Russell’s most famous tunes, the dub-sluiced Dada-disco of “Go Bang” and the relatively conventional-sounding “Is It All Over My Face” (not the plaint of someone eating spaghetti bolognaise but a clubgoer who can’t hide his attraction to another dancer), pop up regularly on compilations. But most of Russell’s oeuvre is near-impossible to find, with obscurities like “In The Light of the Miracle” fetching huge sums on Ebay. Now Soul Jazz have punctured that little market and done us all a favor by compiling some of Russell’s best moments (including “Miracle”). And 2004 will see a long-overdue Russell reissue programme kicks into overdrive, with rereleases and compilations from Rough Trade and the Audika label.

“Let’s Go Swimming,” originally released on Rough Trade in 1986, might just be Russell’s finest five minutes. It’s impossible dance music. Waves of polyrhythmically perverse percussion jumble your urges, confounding your body with discontinuities of beat and strange cross-rhythms. This is disco for contortionists or an alien race blessed with an odd number of limbs. All thermal updrafts and tidal currents, the mix really does sound aqueous-- synthesisers gibber like dolphins and bright sound-clusters dart, swerve, double-back and vanish like shoals of exotic fish. “Let’s Go Swimming” makes me think of a kinetic, animated version of a late period Matisse, one of his deliberately naive seascapes made of cut-out blocs of blue and green.

“Keeping Up” and “A Little Lost” are more in the non-dance vein of Russell’s other Rough Trade release, 1987’s World of Echo. Accompanied by his own effects-treated cello and hand-percussion and acoustic guitar, Russell sings meandering, rapturous melodies in a bleary, beatific mumble. Vaguely reminiscent of John Martyn on Solid Air, Russell had a wonderful voice--indistinct around the edges, eerily lacking a stable center, a gorgeous fuzzy cloud of longing and langour that seems to wrap itself around you in a gaseous embrace.

For precursors, think of Can’s cosmic funk, Martyn as his most In A Silent Way diffuse and dub-flecked (“I’d Rather Be The Devil”, “Big Muff”), Weather Report. For contemporaries, think Czukay’s sunkissed Movies, the alien time signatures of Ryuichi Sakomoto’s B-2 Unit, the strange new emotions and inbetween mindstates of Thomas Leer’s 4 Movements, Remain In Light-era Talking Heads (who Russell almost joined at one point). Successors: the lush digital foliage of A Guy Called Gerald and 808 State, Bjork at her most undulant and jazztronic, the texturological and rhythmatic convolutions of drum’n’bass explorers like 4 Hero. Russell really was the lost visionary that these parallels suggest.

Me on New York's post-disco or disco-not-disco underground of the early Eighties

David Mancuso presents The Loft - Volume Two (Nuphonic)
Last Night A DJ Saved My Life (Nuphonic)
Disco Not Disco (Strut)
Uncut, 2000

By Simon Reynolds

Far from Studio 54's velvet-rope exclusivity and cocaine-eyed rockstars, there was another New York disco scene: just as druggy and glam, but largely gay and black/Hispanic. This 1970s dance underground---venues like the Sanctuary, Galaxy 21, the Gallery; DJs like Nicky Siano, Walter Gibbons, Larry Levan--was the crucible for what came to be known as house music. Of that era's legendary clubs, The Loft is generally cited as the source, as model and prototype for both Paradise Garage and the Warehouse (Frankie Knuckles's transplant of the NY vibe to Chicago).
Started in 1970 by the hippie-ish David Mancuso at his Soho apartment, the Loft parties were famed for the sparkly audiophile-quality sound-system and ultra-eclectic mix of music. See, this was the early Seventies, before disco was codified as a style. And it was an absolute aeon before today's club culture, with its splintered genres rigidly formatted around beats-per-minute. The cult of precision-engineered mixing makes samey anonymity a virtue; today's DJs look for compatible components rather than outstanding songs. But back in the early Seventies, DJs barely mixed records at all. Drastic changes of tempo, style, and mood were possible.

Where the first volume of this Mancuso-compiled series focussed on what house afficianodos call "Loft Classics" (long, lushly orchestrated disco epics and sultry Afro-Latin percussion workouts), Volume Two truly honors the open spirit of that lost golden age by moving freely and anachronistically across the Seventies, Eighties, and early Nineties. On the first disc, Philly-flavoured shimmer by Demis Roussos (fer fucksake!!) shifts into the pert synth-funk choogle of D-Train's heartbursting hopeful "Keep On", then cuts into the musky dub-funk swirl of Jah Wobble/Jaki Liebezeit/Holger Czukay's "How Much Are They?." Disc Two encompasses the peerless mutant disco of Dinosaur L's "#5 (Go Bang), dub wizard Joe Gibbs's "Chapter Three", the ambient house waft of Holy Ghost's "Walk On Air," and 16 minutes of "Macho City" by Steve Miller Band (fer fuck's fuckingsake!!!). The latter---disco-rock with a deluxe sensurround production a la Welcome to the Pleasuredome --shows how DJs back then would look anywhere and everywhere for gems, and find them.

Also containing the Steve Miller track, Disco Not Disco focuses on the early Eighties "mutant disco" era and features some hard-to-find Arthur Russell classics. (Nuphonic apparently have a Russell oeuvre anthology in the pipeline for this year). Based around Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton's dance history, Last Night A DJ Saved My Life is even more crazily eclectic. Its single disc starts with Handel's "Largo" (the first recording played over the radio, back in 1906), proceeds through Northern Soul, roots reggae, Philly and Salsoul (like the fabulous 11 minute version of "Love Is the Message"), a slight but catchy effort from a post-Blockheads Chas Jankel, yet another Wobble/Czukay gem, before finally winding up with Visage's "Frequency 7" (a B-Side that was "seminal" in
early Eighties Detroit).

With scarcely a whiff from the Nineties, the compilation reinforces Brewster/Broughton's thesis (more accurately, bias, since it's barely argued, just taken as something "one instinctively knows is right") that nothing of real note happened in dance culture after 1988. At best, you got respectful continuation of the Grand Disco/House Tradition; at worst, the "diabolical mutations" that were bleep, hardcore, trance, jungle, big beat, 2step garage, etc. Wrong! Still, the duo deserve kudos for exhuming a classic early Larry Levan mix, Class Action's "Weekend" from 1983. This was the first, but not last, record I purchased largely because it had a fabulously intricate and brain-ticklingly catchy hi-hat pattern. As such it was, on many levels, the shape of things to come.

With two books largely on this era ( Last Night A DJ, and Kai Fikentscher's more academic treatise You Better Work) plus a memoir from the guy who founded Paradise Garage, all these compilations, and various clubs based around the 70s underground disco concept (Body N' Soul; a night based around Nicky Siano, a contemporary of Mancuso's), it's almost like New York underground disco has become a heritage industry, as identified with Manhattan as, say, jazz is with New Orleans. People come from all over the world to experience Body N' Soul's time-travel simulacrum of a bygone time.

All non-pictorial contents copyright Simon Reynolds unless otherwise indicated

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