Are there any readers of Dangerous Minds in France? If you do live there, then I would recommend getting your hands on the next edition of the well known rock magazine Les Inrockuptibles, which comes with a free cover mount CD featuring the best of the renowned post-punk and mutant disco label ZE Records.
ZE has been a longtime favourite label of mine, since I first started getting deeper into collecting disco and realised not all of the genre was dripping cheese with a boner for a chart placing. The releases were smart, weird, original, sleazy, camp, funny and funky as hell. The records came in a distinctive sleeve featuring the label’s iconic logo and a graphic featuring a New York City taxi cab. You didn’t even have to listen to tell that they were dripping in the atmosphere of that place and that time - hell, it may not even have been real, it may just have been the disco/punk New York of my imagination, but it sure did sound great.
Founded in New York in 1979 by British entrepreneur Michael Zilkha and the French publisher Michel Esteban (hence the name), ZE specialised in releasing both “Mutant Disco” for the uptown set, and more downtown experimental sound of “No Wave”, both co-existing side by side in a way that kinda made perfect sense. What united them was an attitude born of not giving a fuck. ZE acts spanned the gamut, from the noise-fests of Mars to the ground-breaking Lydia Lunch, from the proto electro of Suicide to the more rock output of Alan Vega, from the twisted dance punk of James White & Blacks to the sassy boy-baiting of The Waitresses, from the new wave Euro pop of Lio and Garcons to the veteran Velvet drone-meister John Cale, from the geeky freak funk of Was (Not Was) to the dancefloor experiments of Bill Laswell and Material.
My favourite ZE associated act is one August Darnell, better known by his stage name of Kid Creole. He worked with many different acts and under a variety of different names, including Cristina, Coati Mundi, Gichy Dan, Don Armando’s Second Avenue Rhumba Band and Aural Exciters, not to mention being the driving force behind two other seminal disco acts, Machine and Dr Buzzard’s Original Savanah Band. He brought to the music a heavy influence of golden era jazz and Cab Calloway. And it wasn’t just a a sly wink to the past - beneath his sometimes quite strange arrangements lurked classic Broadway songwriting chops and killer one liners (check “Darrio” below). I feel August Darnell has been overlooked in the history of popular music, and I hope to cover him more in depth in the future.
We have already covered a couple of ZE Records acts in the past few months here on Dangerous Minds, namely Cristina and Lizzy Mercier Descloux. it seems only right now to introduce the label to people who may not have heard of it, and/or to remind others who have of just how good it is. As I have mentioned before, it is worth signing up to the label’s mailing list to keep abreast of what they are up to (the next release is a remastered re-issue of John Cale’s Sabotage/Live LP recorded at CBGB’s in 1979 and featuring the Animal Justice EP). To sign up, visit the label’s official website. The entire ZE catalog (with info on how to obtain what is available) is on Discogs. This is the Les Inrockuptibles cover mount CD streamed from the ZE Records Soundcloud page - a pretty good summation of the label’s vast and influential output: