Saturday, August 25, 2012

Lucky dip: compilations

A last post rounding up some recent compilations before a few weeks of belated summer holidays. And fear not, Cabeza de Vaca is coming, only once I get back. The technicians were away on vacation, so the final fixing of the first show has been delayed, but we will be on air soon.


Various – Jerome Derradji Presents: 122 BPM - The Birth of House Music [Still Music, 2012]


Another retro-house compilation to sit alongside Rush Hour’s “Gene Hunt presents…” from last year and the recent “This Aint Chicago” on Strut (see below). Don’t need another one? Well maybe this one is worth it, especially for the history buffs. Collecting together the prime cuts from the catalogues of Mitchbal Records and Chicago Connection Records, it tells the story of Nemiah Mitchell Jr. and his son Vince Lawrence and their contribution to the genesis of house. The rather quaint liner notes tell the story of Mitchell acquiring a PA and recording a New Wave track under the name Mitchbal, half for Mitchell and half for [Dave] Baldwin, one of Mitchell’s label signing and fellow musical contributor. While the track was a moderate success for his fledgling label, it was his son who really bridged the gap to the clubs like the Warehouse, Power Plant and Music Box where the seed of house would germinate. Lawrence, recording as Z-factor, followed up the also-New Wave track “(I like to do it in) fast cars” with “Fantasy”, made with the help of Jesse Saunders who’s subsequent “On and on” is widely considered the first house track. However, if the notes be believed, “Fantasy” was recorded earlier and its release only delayed, but nonetheless the two tracks appeared at around the same time in 1984 and the rest is history. An important feature of the compilation is that it gives a more practical insight into the shift from New Wave electronic pop, to the more austere and functional dance floor sound that we now know, something that not many compilations have managed to do. The vinyl version has only 8 tracks, whereas the triple CD has 32 tracks, but even on the vinyl there are plenty of gems beside the aforementioned tracks, though “On and On” is not included, presumably because it came out on the Jes Say Records label and wasn’t licenced. Mitchbal and Larry Williams “Do dat stuff” is a cracker, Jeanette Thomas’s “Shake your body” easily seduces whereas the mythical track “The Jackin Zone” by Risque Rhythum Team adds an air of mystery and essentialness.


Various – Richard Sen presents This aint Chicago: The underground sound of house and acid 1987-1991 [Strut, 2012]


While the house sound on this set does stray more towards acid, there is still not a whole lot of difference between the music here and the other Chicago-esque compilations around (see also above). That is not to say it is derivative or without interest historically, but perhaps it arguably reflects a less critical moment in the genesis of dance music, while still being essential for capturing the broader changes in dance culture and importantly the view from within the clubs. Indeed, the excellent liner notes by Dave Swindells give an enlightening first hand impression of the historical context and an inside view of the clubs themselves, working as a nice companion to several of the early acid house documentaries.


Music wise, the CD/digital version has the peculiarity of actually being a bit too long. There are one or two tracks in there that could probably be stripped out as they don’t really add much except quantity. This is perhaps the first occasion where I am happier that the vinyl has less tracks than the CD. This is one of my gripes about buying vinyl, as well as different run orders between vinyl and CD scuppering any idea of artistic “work” in a fixed sense. In any case, your entry fee for the vinyl will get you the acid mix of SLF’s “Show me what you got”, which is easily the stand-out track, Julian Jonah’s “Jealousy and lies” and Julie Stapleton’s “Where’s the love gone” are refreshingly down beat and decorated with elegant and catchy vocals. Ability II’s “Pressure dub” is also another killer, almost a nascent IDM sound and spread over 10 minutes it’s a languid, hypnotic bomb. The compilation also sees the welcome return of Baby Ford’s “Crashing”, a bona fide classic.


Tangent: New Order’s “Blue Monday”


One of the CD/digital only tracks of this selection is Jail Break’s “Mentality” originally released on the Catt Records label in 1989. While not a particularly outstanding track, it does nonetheless have the distinction of being a late 80s house take of New Order’s “Blue Monday”, originally released in 1983. This version lacks something of the dynamism of the original, but is a curious side show.




This of course isn’t the only version of “Blue Monday” doing the rounds. This week a choir version of the track was recorded by the Brythoniaid Male Voice as part of a commission for Festival No.6. The video is set in the Portmeirion, in wales, location for Festival No.6 and once the site were the mythical TV show The Prisoner was filmed. Another festival might not be exactly what the world needs, after the recent disaster of the Bloc Weekend  at London’s Pleasure Gardens and the restructuring of All Tomorrow’s Parties (ATP).



The rock/pop line-up looks decent enough, with New Order (of course), Spiritualized, Jessie Ware and Primal Scream, but the electronic side of things seems a bit old fashioned with Derrick Carter, Andrew Weatherall and Francois K.


The other day I also heard one of those awful café versions of the track, done in one of those now ubiquitous hipster jazz styles. God knows how many of those CDs there are now, your whole record collection turned into lame cocktail jazz for the ironic and bored youth. The novelty wore off a long time ago.



I am also reminded of a story from many years ago. I was on my summer vacation in the sleepy fishing town of Jurien Bay, about 300km north of Perth in Western Australia. We used to go there several times a year as my mother’s partner was living there at the time. The beaches are nice, but the wind comes in too early, earlier even than the Fremantle Doctor that comes knocking like clockwork every afternoon in Perth. It’s always windy and the drinking water came from a huge rainwater tank on a nearby hill and tasted disgusting. I was in my teens and there with my sisters and mother. Probably it was 1988, maybe 1987. The local hall next to the pub had been converted into a teenage Blue Light Disco, essentially a soft-drinks only police-run daytime disco. They used to hold them in the suburbs of Perth as well, but for country kids like these, where there was not much contact outside town and still only four TV channels, limited or no internet and no mobile phones, they were probably the only chance to experience anything remotely connected with dancing and popular music in a group setting. The pub there was not even putting cover bands on.


There had been a strange little buzz around the town before the disco started. All the kids you met riding around on your bike would ask each other if they were going. Everyone was. Apparently.


My sisters and I cycled there sometime after it was half over. We had chickened out of going inside in the end, like most of the kids, and we remained on our bikes out the front, parked with some other kids and grandparents. Most of the people inside seemed no more than 13 years old, many younger still jumping around with their parents. The DJ was playing some kind of standard 80s rock or pop track and at the end of one track he started to fade in New Order’s “Blue Monday” or the “Beach” as many of us also knew it by, in reference to the remix.


As soon as the squelchy synth and drilling kick drum intro began the kids began to boo. We watched them walk away from the dance floor. The DJ tried pumping and raising his arms to lift the crowd, but they weren’t having it. “Blue Monday” had cleared the floor. Barely was the introduction over and the DJ wisely slipped over to something else, probably something like Poison or Cheap Trick. My sisters asked what the song was.


“The Beach” I said. I thought of my school chums who had started to play it alongside Joy Division. What were they doing for their holiday back in the city? I wondered. “Let’s go to the beach,” I said to my sisters and we rode off leaving the kids to dance again.


Various - Fame: Jon Savage's Secret History of Post-Punk 78-81 [Caroline True Records, 2012]


This release, alongside Trevor Jackson’s “Metal Dance” set of industrial and EBM classics (see below) is another essential release for 2012. There are plenty of obvious artists here, like Wire, Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire and the like, but the choice of lesser known tracks alongside more obscure gems make it a less predictable journey than it would seem. In addition, the jumps in fidelity between tracks and the wide shift in instrumentation add to the thrills. Thus, despite being a diverse compilation, it somehow feels more like a manifesto whose message has not dimmed with the passage of years. Stand out tracks are all-women Swiss group Kleenex and their simple, but thrilling angular punk hit “Aint you”, A.C. Marias’ atmospheric “Drop” resembles the music of current starlets Lucrecia Dalt and Julia Holter and Maria Minerva. The Method Actors “Do the method” is also a classic early indie guitar gem. The presence of Pere Ubu and their magnificent “Heart of Darkness” and Chrome who had a recent run of re-releases on Russian label Lilith is always welcome.




Caroline True have generously provided a mix by none other than Jon Savage himself.


It is also worth checking out your news stand for the latest issue of Mojo which features a Jon Savage penned article about the influence of electronic music, in particular Krautrock, in the development of David Bowie’s sound from “Low” to retirement. The issue also comes with a CD of tracks selected by Mute label boss Daniel Miller. While as always with commercial magazine samplers, there is a certain bias towards the more palatable side of the things (LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing my edge” and Moby’s “Honey”, for example), you also get early Photek drum n bass (see my last post!), Pan Sonic, DAF and the incredible last track, the confronting and dangerous “Total War” by Boyd Rice’s NON.



By coincidence I am also reading Jon Savage’s exceptional “England’s Dreaming” history of Punk music. I was struck by one description of the conditions in England at the time:


“The postwar economic boom that had provided the foundation for this fantasy had ground to a halt as early as July 1966, when a six-month wages freeze was instituted and the pound devalued. The economy began its long decline: by 1972 inflation was running at thirteen per cent, and in January of that year unemployment went of the 1 million mark for the first time since the 1930s.”


It sounds very familiar to now and one wonders when society will at last start to produce our punk music.



Various – Trevor Jackson Presents Metal Dance - Classics & Rarities 80-88 [Strut, 2012]


Like Jon Savage’s set above, this one also crosses some pretty rough and bumpy ground, but it’s a ride that’s well worth it.

Even though the two time periods cross over, there is clearly a bigger bias for electronic sounds on this compilation, compared to Savage’s more pop and protest collection. The influence of disco and dance music can clearly be heard on classics like Severed Heads' “Dead eyes opened”, Cabaret Voltaire (again), Jah Wobble and Alien Sex Fiend who’s “Under the thunder (ignore the dub)” samples from Australian entertaining legend Rolf Harris and a track that also had some influence on Spacemen 3’s Sonic Boom as it was included on the "Space Lines" compilation. If anything, the sound of Metal Dance is not quite as Industrial as you might like it to be, in that there is less approaching the heavier sound of the Wax Trax label, for example. The biggest gripe of the compilation is again the difference between the vinyl and the CD versions. The double CD is definitely the way to go as the vinyl misses key tracks, while to get John Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s disco excerpt from the “Escape from new York” soundtrack you also have to fork out for an additional 12”.



1 comment: