I’m a big fan of SSION, but you should know that by now. SSION, aka songwriter, performer and music video director Cody Critcheloe, has just brought out the second video from last year’s dance-pop magnum opus Bent, and it’s killer.
A logical progression from its predecessor “My Love Grows In The Dark”, “Earthquake” sees an androgynous alien-boy moving through a landscape that is simultaneously pop-art bright and druggily disconnected. All the time SSION is beckoning him on, from his iPad, from his TV, from his four-by-four, all the way up to their final, honey-soaked encounter:
Power trio: Lydia Lunch, Bertei and Anya Phillips.
If you lived in downtown New York City during the late 1970s and were a fan of new music, the odds are you encountered Adele Bertei. She was a member of seminal No Wave band The Contortions and could be seen performing and hanging out at the Mudd Club, Pep Lounge and CBGB’s, along with a formidable number of musicians and artists that made those clubs their second homes.
Petite and powerful, Bertei is a renaissance woman, much like her hero Patti Smith, who can operate within the worlds of music, literature, dance and film with a fine-tuned ferocity and grace. Moving from the unhinged funk of The Contortions to dance floor hits produced by Jelly Bean Benitez, Arthur Baker and Thomas Dolby weren’t no big thang for the mercurial Bertei. The transition from No Wave to New Wave and disco may have had a commercial design but Bertei did it all without selling her soul. Along with a number of downtown bands (Blondie, Talking Heads) she expanded her range, infiltrating the discotheques with bohemian raps riding big beats. Even her slicker stuff had a knowing quality that said “I can do this stuff too. So, why not.” The walls between uptown and downtown were crumbling, along with the bridges, subways and ghettos.
Bertei is working on a memoir, No New York: Adventures in the Town of Empty, which will chronicle her experiences in New York City from 1977 to the late-1980’s. Those were amazing years to be in Manhattan and if anyone can get at the heart of what made it such a wildly creative time, Bertei is the person to do it. She’s developed into a very fine writer - precise, heartfelt, tough and delicate. Her life story is the story of a city in flux and the people who rode the crest of a very tumultuous pop culture wave. Her early years alone include a stint as Brian Eno’s personal assistant through the Contortions and her all-girl band The Bloods to being a major label artist and collaborator with musicians as diverse as Matthew Sweet, Lydia Lunch, John Lurie, Scritti Politti and Sparks. If you’re interested in learning more about No New York: Adventures in the Town of Empty check this out.
My own experiences of Bertei were the several occasions on which I saw the Contortions and The Bloods. Uncompromising as hell, both bands took traditional funk and rock styles and played them with an aggressively manic edge that mirrored the vibes of a city hovering between decay and resurrection while also serving as a kind of curative - a headshot to the zombies that lurked at the edges of night.
It is arguable that artists and musicians did far more to exorcise the dark spirits embedded in New York City of the Seventies than the useless politicians helplessly choking on clots of meaningless rhetoric and the cops randomly arresting harmless panhandlers while heroin dealers ruled the Lower East Side with impunity. In clubs like CBGB’s, we gathered to re-fuel our engines before returning to the garbage-strewn streets, with their wall-to-wall carpeting of glassine bags, dessicated condoms and dog shit, to look the dead-eyed rat of reality straight in its big fucking smirk of a face. Within this doomsday scenario, we chose to contort ourselves into shapes that hieroglyphed our inner urgency to drown out, with the beat of drums and clang of metal, the grim wails of sirens that tore through the dank poisonous air like sonic razorblades. We had come to make a bigger noise. We weren’t going to take the shit of civilization lying down. We were going out fighting or at least fucking things up. As it is, some of us made art that cooled the jets of the degenerate culture of death. While Rome burned, we did more than fiddle. We rocked.
The videos I’ve included here give testimony to Bertei’s range and musical spirit. Stiff Records’ motto “fuck art, let’s dance” was good to be sure. But in Adele Bertei’s world, you can create art while dancing because they’re the same fucking thing. I know Stiff was trying to make a point about pretentiousness in music, and No Wave was an easy target for that argument, but when the Mudd Club (co-founded by Anya Phillips, Contortionist James Chance’s lover) opened its doors in 1978 and punkers had a dance club they could call their own it was amazing how quickly we went from cretin hopping to eventually burning down the house. The demonization of disco seemed like a waste of time. And segueing from “Le Freak” to “I Wanna Be Sedated” was as smooth as the seats on the L train.
“Jackie is a punk, Judy is a runt
They went down to the Mudd Club
And they both got drunk
As many times as you may tell your story, it is true that it will never be the same as you are never the same. Memory is flux as is life, although some people may tell you you never change. Stay away from those people. Weed the snakes from your garden. Navigate always toward the love. No matter how much they tell you we are born alone and die alone, it doesn’t make the need for love any less necessary to the in-between.” A. Bertei.
When he moved back to Dundee, Billy Mackenzie didn’t have any recording equipment in his home, and would spend hours in the local ‘phone booth, singing his latest ideas down the line to his record producer. It was typical of the maverick singer and musician whose life ran like a series of connected film scenes, from his early marriage in Las Vegas, to the excesses and glamor of his career as one half (with the prodigiously talented Alan Rankine) of the perfect pop duo The Associates.
Starting out in the mid-1970s, The Associates went on to create a giddy, euphoric soundtrack, around Billy Mackenzie’s incredible voice, which thrilled throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. From the opening chords of “Party Fears Two”, a new world of sensation opened - a world of expectation, excitement, pleasure, hurt and despair - emotions that in time came to reflect Mackenzie’s life.
As their success grew, so did the money (reputedly millions) and drugs (there’s a story of Rankine and Mackenzie being kept on heart monitors for 4 days after ingesting excessive amounts of cocaine), and the fears about performing (a tour of America was canceled days before it was to take place). Rankine eventually quit the band. Mackenzie carried on. Until in the 1990s, the record label were no longer willing to pay for Billy’s unfettered genius. Told of their plans over lunch, Billy only asked for one thing, a taxi home. An account cab was booked, thinking Mackenzie was only returning to his London address, instead he took it all the way back to Dundee, in Scotland.
As Marc Almond points out in this documentary on Mackenzie, The Glamour Chase, Billy must have known genuine heartache to sing with such painful beauty. Tragically, it was such heartache, this time over his mother’s untimely death, that led Billy Mackenzie to commit suicide, at the age of 39, in 1997. Such a terrible loss that revealed the darkness at the heart of The Associates’ music.
With contributions from Alan Rankine, Paul Haig, Siouxsie Sioux, Marc Almond, Martin Fry, Glenn Gregory and Billy’s family, The Glamour Chase is a moving testament to the scale of Billy Mackenzie‘s talent.
Horse Meat Disco are one of the most recognisable names in the modern dance music landscape, a four-piece dj unit known for their top quality record selection as well as their rather cheeky “boner horse” logo.
Focusing heavily on disco music, Horse Meat have done much to rehabilitate that maligned genre in the eyes and ears of the club-going public, and have already released three compilations of rare disco gems on the London-based funk and disco Strut label.
Their weekly party in South London’s Vauxhall is a free-for-all of dancefloor intensity and wickedly positive vibes. It’s overtly-gay, yet open-for-all, and its friendly atmosphere has done wonders to re-establish gay clubbing (and clubbing period) as something cool and fun to do in these down-at-heel times. By concentrating, heavily but not exclusively, on music from the 70s and 80s, Horse Meat have reconnected the modern gay audience with their own, often overlooked, history and culture, and serve as a timely reminder that going out, getting out of it and dancing ‘til the wee small hours was not invented yesterday.
In short, they’re legendary. And it’s my favorite club. To me, the best description of Horse Meat Disco comes from the Brixton DJ and label owner Andy Blake, who calls the club “roots music for the gay community.”
For their latest podcast, the second in a new series being made available through Soundcloud, Horse Meat Disco DJs James Hillard and Luke Howard have put together over an hour of their favorite tracks by Donna Summer, who died last week at the age of 63.
It’s a suitably joyous, and touching, celebration of disco’s reluctant female queen, and features much of her work with super-producers Giorgio Moroder and Quincy Jones, including a whole side of the excellent 1977 LP Once Upon A Time. Although generally regarded as a “singles” artist, Summer had some killer album tracks, as demonstrated here. She could also turn her hand to straight-up soul as opposed to icy electronica, and must rank as one of the most sampled artists of all time.
I wonder if any current musical “gay icons” will leave such a lasting legacy?
Breaking With the Mighty Poppalots is a totally hipnerdical instructional video from 1984. An all time favorite of mine, I picked up a VHS copy years ago at a store in New York City that sold close-out merchandise. I had no idea that two decades later it would be selling for $100 a pop (get it?) on Amazon, but over time it has developed a rep among aficionados of pop culture artifacts and B-Boy esoterica.
So grab some cardboard, push the sofa and cocktail table up against the wall, and let The Mighty Poppalots (Breakin Bett, Crazzy Leggs, Sly C, Red Rooster) guide you through the arcane arts of the electric boogie, popping, locking and moonwalking.
Here’s “four guys just having fun and bringing fun to everyone.”
I love the intro of the video with the Poppalots exiting a limo to throngs of screaming fans. It’s so Spinal Tappish.
From one disco legend to another, Nile Rodgers has just posted this to his Facebook wall, saying:
“Our pre-CHIC tribute to the Bee Gees “You Should Be Dancing.” Robin Gibb RIP”
The Big Apple Band was indeed Rodgers’ pre-Chic project, and are not to be confused with composer Walter Murphy’s disco outfit of the same name. The sound of The Big Apple Band is rawer and grittier than either Chic or the Bee Gees (even though the Chic rhythm section of Rodgers on guitar, Bernard Edwards on bass and Tony Thompson on drums are all present and correct).
Rodgers says this of the Big Apple Band (who have another clip, this time performing Earth Wind And Fire’s “Get Away,” here):
It’s The Big Apple Band, which is us pre-CHIC playing live in a video recording studio. It was made by Kenny Lehman, the co-writer of CHIC’s debut single “Dance, Dance, Dance.” Kenny was also a booking agent who was trying to get us gigs doing high-school proms. We never got one prom gig but did lots of gigs on the chittlin’ circuit, and the seeds of CHIC were being planted.
In my memoir “Le Freak,” I tell how Bernard and I were developing into sophisto-funkers while others around us weren’t quite convinced. Notice that only he and I are wearing suits while our band mates are more Rock & Roll casual. The band was forced to change its name after composer/arranger/producer extraordinaire Walter Murphy, had major success with a great disco reworking of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. He called it “A Fifth of Beethoven” by Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band.
It’s been a bad few weeks for fans of disco and soul, with the passing of Donna Summer, Donald Dunn and now Robin Gibb. Rodgers himself has been very ill recently with cancer (which he writes about movingly on his blog), so here’s hoping he’s not added to that list.
And here’s a great testament ot the songwriting genius of the brothers Gibb. Rest In Peace Robin:
Wladysław Teodor Benda was a Polish-American painter, illustrator, and designer. His work illustrated magazine covers such as Colliers, American, McCalls, Good Housekeeping and Ladies Home Journal. Benda is best know for creating masks for various dance and theatrical productions, including works by Eugene O’Neil and Noël Coward, and the film The Mask of Fu Man Chu. His masks were ranged from the grotesque and the fantastic, to the highly stylized and the beautiful. Here Benda (or W.T.) presents a selection of his strange and fabulous masks in this short British Pathé clip from 1932.
More synthesizer-based disco lushness, this time with a punk/new-wave twist.
The Units were one of the first synth-punk bands to appear out of San Francisco in the late 70s and “High Pressure Days” is one of their best-known tracks. It’s a slice of neurotic punk-synth-funk that’s brimming with pent-up energy.
Todd Terje hails from Oslo in Norway, and is one of the most respected re-editters/remixers in nu-disco and house. His recent EP release It’s The Arps is definitely worth checking out.
When these two got together it was moidah. This remix of “High Pressure Days” has just been released on 12” by Opilec Music (with more remixes on the flip by I-Robot), and can also be found on the exhaustive Units’ remix album Connections:
The Italian music maestro Giorgio Moroder turns 72 today.
In a career that spans well over forty years, Moroder has a strong claim to being one of the most influential producers ever. His ground-breaking work with Donna Summer brought electronic music to the masses with the smash “I Feel Love” in 1977, while the duo’s earlier collaboration on “Love To Love You Baby” set in stone the template for the extended, orgasmic disco mix.
Then there are his seminal pop productions for the likes of Blondie, David Bowie, Sparks and the Human League’s Phil Oakey, plus his revolutionary synthesiser scores for Scarface, American Gigolo and Midnight Express (which bagged Moroder an Oscar for Best Score in 1978.)
Often written out of “serious” musical history because of his poppy tendencies, Moroder’s incredible legacy speaks for itself and has defiantly stood the test of time.
Here’s one of my favourite Moroder tracks, the less well-known “Utopia, Me Giorgio” off the album Giorgio from 1977 (here given the extended re-edit treatment by Disco Beard.) 19freakin’77 - that means this track is now 35 years old, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t sound as fresh now as it did back then:
Giorgio Moroder “Utopia, Me Giorgio (Disco Beard Anniversary Edit)”
This mix is a bit of a departure in my djing style, featuring as it does hardly any disco (gasp!) and instead quick cuts and layered mixes of drum-machine based tracks. NOLA Bounce, Miami Bass, Chicago House, Detroit Electro… you know, that kind of thing. Mixed fast and constantly moving, this is like aural caffeine. So if you are just waking up, hit play and get energised.
Oh, and can we start the hip-house revival now?
Tracklist [yes, some of these tracks are NSFW]:
BIG FREEDIA - Look At Her
BIG FREEDIA - Azz Everywhere
PRINCE - 1999 (New Orleans Bounce Edit)
MISSY ELLIOT - Joy
SOUL SONIC FORCE - Looking For The Perfect Beat
KRAFTWERK - The Man Machine (live)
NEWCLEUS - Jam On It
EGYPTIAN LOVER - What Is A DJ?
DEREK B - Rock The Beat (Bonus Beat)
RUFUS & CHAKA KHAN - Ain’t Nobody
MC TWIST & THE DEF SQUAD - Just Rock
FUNKADELIC (Not Just ) Knee Deep
SNOOP DOGG Who Am I? (Acapella)
THE NIALLIST Dance Club (Haunted Edit)
THE NIALLIST Dance Club (acapella)
SISSY NOBBY Lay Me Down (DJ Sega Mix)
A GUY CALLED GERALD Voodoo Ray
ADONIS Two The Max
JJ FAD Supersonic
HANNAH HOLLAND Transexual Bass
FAST EDDIE Hip House
HOUSEMASTER BOYS House Nation
PIERRE’S PFANTASY CLUB Dream Girl
AZEALIA BANKS Liquorice
LONE Pineapple Crush
THE 2 BEARS Bear Hug (acapella)
T-TOTAL & FERAL Phearsome Bitch
MASTER AT WORK The Ha Dance (KenLou Mix)
CUNT TRAX Beats Werkin’
THE 2 BEARS Bear Hug (Niallist Acid Mixx)
ELECTROSEXUAL Discolition (Niallist RoboVogue Edit)
STEVE POINDEXTER Work That Motherfucker
CHERIE LILY Werk (Nita’s Battle Ready Mix)
SPANK ROCK Put That Pussy On Me (Diplo Mix)
2 LIVE CREW Throw That D
MURK If You Really Love Someone (Murk Groove)
TRONCO TRAX Walk 4 Me
LIPPS INC Funkytown
PHUTURE Acid Trax
DONNA SUMMER I Feel Love
THE NIALLIST Work It (acapella)
SEX BAND I Have Got The Answer
If you like 808s going boom and some funky dancing in a fly late-80s fashion, then check out Detroit’s The New Dance Show, clips of which have been uploaded to YouTube by the excellent Caprice87. This one is a particular fave, featuring Jesse The Body and some slick mixing (you can see more of these via Shallow Rave.)