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Tracey Emin – Why I Never Became A Dancer

Tracey Emin - Why I Never Became A Dancer

A few years ago I wanted to show a friend Tracey Emin’s 1995 short film, ‘Why I Never Became A Dancer’, but couldn’t find it anywhere online. The last time I’d seen it was perhaps a decade earlier, at The Tate Gallery in Liverpool, so I surmised that, given it’s part of the Tate Collection, it would only be possible to view in an arts space, and not on the internet. I looked to see if I could buy a copy, but no luck there either. Anyhow, it came up in conversation again a few nights ago so I had another look online and, lo and behold, there it was on Vimeo, in all of its grainy Super 8 splendour. It was Emin’s first film, and for me it was a major key to understanding where she was coming from, both as an artist and a person (for her confessional art is, by nature, informed by her personal experience – her approach often brutally honest).

Tracey Emin has always divided opinion. On the one hand she’s recognised as one of the great British artists of modern times, on the other her autobiographical approach is dismissed by many, often with bile and disdain, as an attention seeking ego trip of little artistic merit. Examples of this can be found beneath pretty much any YouTube footage of her / her art, where, as in this instance, someone might comment ‘what an amazing woman love you tracey emin such an inspiration xxxxxx’ only for the very next person to counter ‘Hate is a terrible word.....but I hate Emin. Bullshit and bollocks sum up her 'Art’'.

EVERYONE I HAVE SLEPT WITH 1963-1995

The piece that really catapulted her into the art elite was an embroidered tent, again from 1995, which contained the names of the people she’d shared a bed with up until that point in her life – not only sexual partners, but friends and family members. This was titled ‘Everyone I Have Slept With 1963-1995’, and was bought by art collector Charles Saatchii. It would perish in a fire at East London’s Momart warehouse in 2004, but rather than prompting a reaction of sympathy for the loss of an iconic work, the media were largely mocking in their reporting of its destruction, scornfully taking a ‘good riddance to bad rubbish’ type stance.

Often described as brash and vulgar, not to mention troubled, Emin’s notoriety soured in 1997 when she was invited onto a late night Channel 4 programme to join a live discussion about the Turner Prize with a variety of experts / critics. Clearly drunk, a swearing and slurring Emin got up and left the set after 10 minutes questioning whether people were actually watching the late night show, before announcing ‘I'm leaving now, I wanna be with my friends, I wanna be with my mum. I'm gonna phone her, and she's going to be embarrassed about this conversation, this is live and I don't care. I don't give a fuck about it’. She was largely unknown by the general public prior to this, the controversy generated by her appearance well and truly casting her as the ‘bad girl’ of British art:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKNr2LOkXYE

I’d already seen ‘Why I Never Became A Dancer’ by this point, possibly on Channel 4, although I can’t recall exactly where, and, to be honest, I thought good on her for bringing a bit of realism into what was a typically high-brow debate with much of the usual pontification by some of the other guests, who very much came across as relics of a bygone era.

For me, she was a breath of fresh air, and although she had no qualms about hanging her dirty linen in public, by doing this she helped expose the hypocrisy of the Britain we grew up in, where, on the surface, everything was supposed to be oh so civilizsed, but where in its murky shadows all sorts of sordidness ran rife (as perfectly illustrated by the more recent Jimmy Savile revelations).


http://vimeo.com/79687251

I was deeply moved by ‘Why I Never Became A Dancer’. It’s the story of a teenage girl living in a seaside town, which happened to be Margate in the 70’s. Having grown up in a seaside town myself, I could perfectly relate to the setting, which offered adventure and exploration to a wide-eyed youngster. It outlines her sexual awakening with older boys and predatory men, her youthful promiscuity a byproduct of living in this environment and the freedom she experienced. But there’d be a price to pay, which she discovered in 1978 on entering a local heat of the grandly titled EMI sponsored World Disco Dancin’ Championship, organised following the colossal success of the movie ‘Saturday Night Fever’, one of the biggest box office hits of the period.

I remember this competition well. I was a DJ at the time in New Brighton and the heat in my neck of the woods, which I attended, was held in nearby Birkenhead at The Hamilton Club. My friend and fellow DJ Derek Kaye actually made it through to the regional final in Manchester (televised by Granada TV). He wasn’t so much of a dancer, but could throw himself around pretty well, his acrobatics taking him through to the next stage – although he didn’t win, his claim to fame at the time was that he’d done a handstand on the table in front of one of the judges, who happened to be none other than the legendary bassist Bootsy Collins! There’s some wonderful footage here of DJ Keb Darge at the UK final in 1979 when he was still a youngster:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dwOR4x5KSE

EMI World Disco Dancing Championship

I should add a spoiler at this point - you may prefer to watch Emin’s film first (embedded above) before I go into what transpired that night in Margate.

By this point Emin had developed a deep passion for dancing, so a competition that could take her to the bright lights of London for the televised UK final (and a potential place in the World final) provided a major incentive – for her, the Disco Dancin’ Championship was a big big deal. She entered, and was truly in her element expressing herself before the audience. They were cheering for her and, as she danced her heart out, she felt confident that she was going to win – it was one of the great moments of her life. Then she started to hear a chant gather momentum – there were a group of guys in the crowd, some of whom she’d previously had sex with, and they were shouting ‘slag, slag, slag’.

The chant took on, getting louder and louder until she could no longer properly hear the music she was dancing to. Humiliated, she ran from the stage and out of the club. It must have been a devastating experience for her, one that would have completely broken a lesser mortal.

The film concludes with her naming and shaming some of those responsible – 'Shane, Eddy, Tony, Doug, Richard' - before announcing ‘this one’s for you’. The scene then switches to a dance studio, where Emin joyously struts her stuff to Sylvester’s ‘You Make Me Feel Mighty Real’, one of the biggest Disco records of ’78 – a triumphant conclusion to a horrendous episode in her life. The message is brave and defiant – a mark of the artist she is.

Tracey Emin

Tracey Emin Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tracey_Emin

7

Howard Marks Mr Nice Foundation

Howard Marks aka Mr Nice

Howard Marks, one of the great British anti-heroes, has just made his struggle with cancer public via an interview in the Observer over the weekend, his condition unfortunately inoperable. The 69 year old former cannabis smuggler and author of the bestselling autobiography ‘Mr Nice’, which was subsequently made into a movie with Rhys Irfans taking the lead role, is setting up a charitable foundation – funds raised going towards Howard’s ongoing treatment, as well as the completion of a documentary about him directed by the filmmaker Sam Rowland. You can read the full Observer piece here:
http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jan/24/howard-marks-inoperable-cancer-mr-nice

The Mr Nice Foundation will be launched via an event at the Kentish Town Forum in London on Friday February 27th, which will include Howard, Rhys Ifans, members of the Super Furry Animals with their current bands and Blind Arcade, with myself and Norman Jay DJing. Further contributions will be announced during the coming month. Tickets are available here:
http://www.ticketline.co.uk/howard-marks#tour

I’ve got to know Howard during the past 18 months via our mutual friend Kermit Leveridge (formerly of Black Grape and the Ruthless Rap Assassins), whose band, Blind Arcade, is the flagship project for my new label, Super Weird Substance. Howard appears on the Blind Arcade track ‘Universal Prayer’, reciting a biblical passage from Genesis as an ode to the green stuff:


http://vimeo.com/106020154

Howard also recited Kermit’s poem, ‘Lies And Other Fools’, released as a limited 7” single for Record Store Day 2014. The poem harks back to Kermit’s heroin addiction, which so nearly killed him when he injected with a dirty needle during the Black Grape days, and ended up in a critical condition with septicemia, the infection causing serious damage when a ball of bacteria ripped off one of his heart valves, resulting in a major operation a few years ago, which, thankfully, was successful in repairing the damage, giving him a new lease of life, which has resulted in the uplifting life-affirming direction of the Blind Arcade project. Howard’s deep Welsh tones gave the recording a gravitas that perfectly compliments Kermit’s vivid word imagery. You can hear the poem here:
https://soundcloud.com/super-weird-substance/howard-marks-reads-kermit-leveridge-lies-and-other-fools

Howard graced us with his presence at a special Super Weird Substance Vinyl Happening to celebrate Record Store Day, held at Manchester’s Dry Bar last April, which turned out to be the self-same venue from which he’d done his very first Mr Nice book signing:
http://vimeo.com/96036276

When we embarked on our series of Super Weird Happenings last Autumn, taking in Manchester, Glasgow, Bristol, Liverpool and London, Howard was to have been our special guest, featuring in the talks section, as well as spinning some tunes, but just as we were about to announce the dates we received news of his illness, so these plans were thrown up in the air and replacement speakers had to be found (we were very fortunate in being able to, at extremely short notice, bring in Lemn Sissay, Steve Mason, Levanna McLean, John Higgs, Daisy Eris Campbell and Lloyd Bradley, to help fill Howard’s considerable absence).

It promises to be an emotional occasion at the Forum, Howard having made a deep impression on a great many people down the years. His friend, the actor Keith Allen (and father of Lily), summed him up perfectly, describing Howard as ‘one of the cleverest, nicest and most charming old rogues I have had the pleasure of spending time with’. I’d certainly echo that sentiment, and it will be an absolute pleasure for me to contribute to this event in celebration of a true countercultural icon.

Howard Marks & Friends artwork by Pete Fowler

Howard Marks & Friends Facebook Events Page:
https://www.facebook.com/events/199002876937041/

Howard Marks Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Marks

3

20 Choice Edits And Reworks

GW Revox Custom Reels By Felix Braun Photo By Elspeth Moore (1)

The Secret Life website has just put up my '20 Choice Edits & Reworks For 2014'. It’s becoming something of an annual occurrence, this being the 3rd year that Secret Life have hosted the list, each inclusion complete with its own SoundCloud embed so you can hear all the individual tracks. Check it out here:
http://secretlifemusic.com/greg-wilson-20-choice-edits-reworks-for-2014/

It was a close call for the top spot, but I settled on Fingerman’s take on Steely Dan’s ‘Peg’, which has been a constant crowd favourite throughout the year, whereas I didn’t start playing the wonderful Joeblack rework of ‘Show Me Love’ by Robin S until the summer months.

Peza scored the most inclusions, 5 in all, equaling The Reflex’s haul last year, whilst Derek Kaye and Late Nite Tuff Guy totted up 3 apiece. Looking over the entire 3 year span, these are the DJ’s who’ve had 2 or more entries during this period:

8 – Fingerman / Late Nite Tuff Guy
7 – Peza
6 – Derek Kaye
5 – The Reflex
2 – Get Down Edits / Henry Greenwood / Luxxury / Twisted Soul Collective

As ever, I’d like to thank all editors and reworkers for helping make my job as a DJ that much easier via their continued efforts to bring great music from the past bang up to date. I salute you all – may you cut up a treat throughout 2015.

How To Edit

GW Revox: Custom reels by Felix Braun. Photo by Elspeth Moore.

20 Choice Edits & Reworks 2012:
http://secretlifemusic.com/greg-wilson-20-choice-edits-reworks-for-2012/

20 Choice Edits & Reworks 2013:
http://secretlifemusic.com/best-of-2013-greg-wilson-20-choice-edits-reworks-for-2013/

3

Ten Years Of Tirk

Tirk Records - 10 Years 2004-2014

Back in 2004 Sav Remzi, then one of the leading figures on London’s underground dance scene, booked me to play at the TDK Cross Central Festival at The Cross, one of the venues (now long gone) then situated in the goods yard behind Kings Cross Station in London. I remember Maurice Fulton also appeared – it was the first time I’d seen him play.

I’d made my DJ return about 8 months previous to this, and my comeback had gradually built momentum. Sav, along with Billie De Voil and James Hillard (who had recently launched Horse Meat Disco), had been keeping an eye on me and were interested in adding me to the Nuphonic DJ roster, which included the likes of Trevor Jackson, the Idjut Boys, Chicken Lips and Maurice. I was still keen to look after my own bookings at this point, but would eventually join Nuphonic a little later down the line, after Billie and James had left the company, and my current agent, Matt Johnson, had taken responsibility for DJ bookings, Sav now tied-up with other projects.

Nuphonic Logo

Nuphonic, which Sav had initially launched with Dave Hill back in the mid-90’s, played a crucial role in helping bring about the Disco renaissance that has continued to grow from strength to strength right up until this day, not least via the two ‘David Mancuso Presents The Loft’ box set compilations (1999 and 2000), which did so much to bring this seminal New York DJ to the attention of a new generation of Disco enthusiasts.

Nuphonic ceased to operate as a label in 2002, although the DJ agency continued, but Sav couldn’t stay away from the record industry and soon re-entered the fray with a new label, Tirk.

Credit To The Edits Vols 1 & 2

Tirk is, of course, hugely important in my own legacy, as this is the label that issued both my ‘Credit To The Edit’ compilations – the first in 2005, followed by a second volume in 2009 (by which point Sav had joined forces with John Pitcher from MRC, spawning a sister label, Nang, in the process). Although the selections were all chosen by me, the idea of an edits compilation to showcase my work was very much Sav’s, and this would become a major landmark in my re-ignited career, bringing my name to wider attention and resulting in overseas bookings in addition to an ever-increasing amount of UK dates.

‘Tirk Records – 10 Years 2004–2014’ is the 87th release on the label, and provides an overview of the imprints decade of often leftfield and eclectic output, including Sugardaddy’s ‘Love Honey’ (a side project of Groove Armada’s Tom Findlay), Richard Norris’s The Time And Space Machine with ‘Set Phazer To Stun’, cult Eurodisco tracks by Tantra (‘A Place Called Tarot’) and Space (‘Carry On, Turn Me On’), as well as reworks by Todd Terje (Chaz Jankels ‘Glad To Know You’) and myself (‘Dirty Talk’ by Klein & MBO).

Check out clips of all the tracks from the album here:
https://soundcloud.com/tirk-recordings/sets/tirk087-clips

Tirk Logo

Tirk Records Website: http://www.tirk-recordings.com

0

The Construct

Kermit Leveridge outside what was once Legend

‘The Construct’, the opening track from the Blind Arcade Meets Super Weird Substance In The Morphogenetic Field mixtape, which is fast approaching 50,000 SoundCloud plays, is the subject of both a video, produced and directed by Elspeth Moore & Philip Lyons, and an ‘acid rework’ by Peza.

The video, filmed in Manchester, is a collaboration between Elspeth, whose photographs have previously graced the blog, and cameraman / editor Philip of Videomachine productions. It’s available to view via Vimeo:


https://vimeo.com/114194790

Peza’s rework has been doing the business for me in the clubs during recent months, and has now been made available, alongside ‘Damn! It’s Good To Be Alive’ and ‘The Glue’, as the 3rd and final free download from the mixtape. Fill your boots over at SoundCloud:


https://soundcloud.com/super-weird-substance/blind-arcade-meets-super-weird-substance-the-construct-pezas-acid-rework-free-dl

It must be said that Peza has, for my money, already taken his place at the top table with regards to the current re-edits scene. During recent years he has steadily built up a hugely impressive résumé of reworked tunes by artists including The Human League, Blair, The Blackbyrds, Sister Sledge, Garbage, Placebo, Gina X, Tyrone Davis and The Eurythmics. Expect big things in 2015 from the Wolverhampton DJ, who’s just joined Paul Budd’s Unity agency.

The Super Weird Crew are currently busy recording new material, some of which I hope to give an airing in the clubs during the coming weeks.

SWS

To stream / download Blind Arcade Meets Super Weird Substance In The Morphogenetic Field mixtape:
https://soundcloud.com/gregwilson/blind-arcade-meets-super-weird-substance-in-the-morphogenetic-field

Super Weird Substance website:
http://www.superweirdsubstance.com

1

Australian Tour Dates

Australian Tour eflyer

I’m back in Australia just after Christmas and through into the New Year. Kicking things off at Capulet in Brisbane on December 28th, before heading down to Melbourne for New Years Eve. Then it’s back up to Glenworth Valley, 40 miles outside Sydney for the inaugural Lost Paradise Festival on New Year’s Day before heading across to Perth and my closing date.

It’s great to be able to get over so soon after the cancellation of my dates there, earlier this year. Finely Tuned have put the tour together, which will feature my belated Australian festival debut (Finely Tuned are the promoters of Lost Paradise). I say belated because, back in 2012 I was supposed to appear at the Playground Weekender, but nature had decided otherwise, severe flood warnings forcing the promoters to cancel the event. They never recovered from this devastating blow, debts spiraling as a consequence, and, sadly, Playground is no more.

Lost Paradise Festival 2015

It’s also my first New Years Eve outside of the UK, so that’s going to be quite an experience. I’ll be playing for 4 hours at the Warehaus Party @ Little & Olver in Melbourne. Before all that it’s back to Brisbane , where I hook up once again with promoter / DJ Kieron C, whilst the tour concludes in the spectacular setting of the Mattise Beach Club in Perth for their Poolside Sessions.

* (added 17.12.14) an additional date, the Lost Disco party at The Burdekin Hotel in Sydney, has now been announced to start the tour on December 27th.

1

Cosmic Trigger Weekend

Cosmic Trigger Poster Photo By Elspeth Moore

First up I have to say that fortune favours the brave, and Daisy Eris Campbell and her brilliant cast and production crew are destined, I’ve no doubt, to really make their mark via ‘Cosmic Trigger’, a bold adaptation of the Robert Anton Wilson book. Hugely ambitious in its scope, the 4 hour play now moves to London where there’ll be performances at LOST Theatre in SW8, kicking off tonight and running through until Saturday – needless to say that it’s highly recommended. The backstory to all this can be accessed via ‘The Gateway Drug’, which you can read here:
http://www.gregwilson.co.uk/2014/11/the-gateway-drug/

Its Liverpool debut was a major success, and I was so fortunate that this fell on a weekend I wasn’t out on the road – now I can happily say ‘I was there’. I was also able to step in when the legendary ambient sound sculptor Mixmaster Morris had to pull out of Sunday’s proceedings, my remit being to bring Disco to the Discordians between 8pm – 10pm, during the finale of the 3 day festival with its various elements of fantasia and phantasmagoria.

Here’s the recording, bookended by 2 topical tracks and available to stream / download via SoundCloud:


https://soundcloud.com/gregwilson/cosmic-trigger-camp-furness-liverpool-231114-greg-wilson-live-mix

An already weirdly wonderful weekend was made all the more extraordinary by an announcement that Daisy was to marry her beau, Greg Donaldson, at 6.23pm, right there in Camp & Furnace – and a very beautiful wedding it was, surrounded, as they were, by warmth and love. With the wedding plans, as is the prerogative of Eris, the goddess of chaos, strife and disorder, throwing the schedule up in the air, I was asked to start after the vows had been spoken, to kick things into party mode – I hadn’t expected to find myself in the role of wedding DJ, but was more than happy to oblige, although my planned opening track, Steinski & Mass Media’s cut & paste masterpiece ‘The Motorcade Sped On’ (its JFK theme relevant to the play), wasn’t quite appropriate as the first record you hear after you’re wed, even if it was a Discordian ceremony. Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ (V’s Dub Edit) seemed more suited to the occasion and would prove to be a popular choice.

Daisy Eris Campbell & Greg Donaldson Wedding Photo By Elspeth Moore

However, just before the marriage was about to roll into motion I received a hurried message to inform me that, amidst these new developments, they’d totally forgotten that there was still a band scheduled to appear, so the plan was now for them to go on straight after the nuptials and play some numbers before I started.

However, with the ceremony completed there was no band on the stage below, and I was getting signals from the sound desk to start playing. I must add that I was high up on a balcony, overlooking the room – a great vantage point, but a difficult location to receive a quick message, access being backstage and up a steep flight of stairs. There was a slight period of confusion, but it actually worked a treat as it allowed the space for an impromptu chorus of the song ‘Daisy, Daisy’ from the congregation. It was after this that I played ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and the party kicked in. But then, just a few tracks later, things went decidedly discordant. I looked over the balcony to discover the band now on stage and busily tuning up their instruments getting ready to play, seemingly oblivious to the cacophony of sound now filling the room. To save everyone’s ears further unease I quickly faded out the track I was playing and left the band, who introduced themselves as Shamanarchy, to do their thing.

Greg Wilson @ Cosmic Trigger Photo By Elspeth Moore

The interruption had its upside, for it enabled me to start all over again after Shamanarchy had played for about half an hour, this time with the track I’d originally intended as my opener. Furthermore it was still only 7.30pm, so I ended up playing for an extra half hour in this unique setting.

After I’d finished I was just in time to go off into a side room to view the never previously shown film of Alan Moore’s ‘The Moon And Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre Of Marvels’, the first of his occult ‘workings’, performed in London in 1994 in the form of a monologue by Moore, who had only recently declared himself a magician. Powerful stuff on a number of levels, and a more than fitting conclusion to a potent event. It was also great to catch up with author John Higgs who kindly gave me a copy of his new book ‘Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On’, currently a limited edition of just 111 copies, which I’m obviously intrigued to read.

The events of this weekend have already gone down in Liverpool folklore, for the moment ‘Cosmic Trigger’ was staged it linked directly to ‘Illuminatus!’, presented in the city in 1976 by Daisy’s father, the force of nature that was Ken Campbell, now re-animated, both in puppet and human form, as one of most memorable characters in this karmic wheel of a theatrical production. He may have physically left this mortal coil back in 2008, but his energy and spirit are reborn through this remarkable play – expect a reappraisal of the great man’s life and career in the years to come. ‘Is it heroic?’, he famously asked, and his daughter courageously took up the challenge and made her leap of faith. This risk, I’m sure, will be well and truly rewarded, and I expect to see ‘Cosmic Trigger’ not only triumph in this country, but to cross continents in the future.

Ken Campbell Puppet Photo By Elspeth Moore

The fact I was invited to play a bit part in this weekends proceedings, whilst, when attending the preview performance 2 nights earlier, witnessing the first ever staging of the play anywhere, as Ken Campbell might have said, on ‘Planet World’, drew me directly into a narrative that dates back 87 years, to Carl Jung’s ‘Pool Of Life’ dream in 1927 - Jung’s theory of synchronicity continuing to bear its fruit.

For myself and a number of others in attendance, ‘Cosmic Trigger’ marked the completion of a sequence of gatherings commencing just over 2 months earlier with our first Super Weird Happening in Manchester, and taking in subsequent Happenings in Glasgow, Bristol, Liverpool and London, a wrap party for friends and family in Chester, plus the 23 day in Liverpool on October 23rd and a trip across the Pennines to see Alan Moore at the Leeds Film Festival (as well as touching base afterwards with Howard Marks and Dave Beer). Mucho food for the soul – it’ll take a long time before all this adventuring and finding of others properly sinks in.

Shield by Jimmy Cauty Photo by Elspeth Moore

Photos by Elspeth Moore.

Cosmic Trigger Play website:
http://cosmictriggerplay.com

3

The Gateway Drug

KLF

I’m all about connections. What really turns me on is when two previously separate areas of interest suddenly collide head on thanks to the discovery of a new piece of information. The connections are already there, it’s just that we’re blind to them much of the time, so when John Higgs, the author of ‘The KLF: Chaos, Magic And The Band Who Burned A Million Pounds’, does the detective work and pieces of the jigsaw fall together in a way that reveals a different picture to what we may previously have envisaged, that’s a deeply nourishing feast for me.

If you follow what I’m up on the blog or in interviews you’ll no doubt have seen me banging on at some point or another about this book. It’s made a huge impression on me since I acted on John McCready’s recommendation earlier this year. This followed a conversation with John, former Face / NME journalist, Haçienda DJ, TV producer and Situationist archivist, about a couple of books from recent years that I’ve been particularly partial to, namely ‘Sit Down! Listen To This!’, Bill Sykes’s oral history about the great DJ / promoter Roger Eagle, and ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story Of Modern Pop’ by cultural commentator Bob Stanley, ex of Saint Etienne.

Yeah Yeah Yeah Sit Down! Listen To This!

John asked me if I’d read the KLF book, which was published in 2012. I’d heard something about it previously, although this obviously hadn’t prompted me to buy a copy, but John’s recommendation had brought home the connection between Roger Eagle and The KLF’s Bill Drummond – Eagle had managed Drummond’s first band, Big In Japan, back in late 70’s Liverpool, when he was running the seminal alternative club Eric’s on Mathew St (just across the road from where The Beatles had played many many times at The Cavern in an earlier era). Big In Japan never had any success as such, but are retrospectively remembered as a supergroup in reverse - apart from Drummond, a number of other members going on to bigger and better things (Holly Johnson with Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Ian Broudie with The Lightning Seeds, Budgie with Siouxsie & The Banshees, Jane Casey as a partner in Liverpool superclub Cream, Clive Langer, who’d become a leading record producer, and Dave Balfe who, as well as being a member of The Teardrop Explodes, would also manage them along with Echo & The Bunnymen in collaboration with Drummond – later down the line Balfe would found Food Records, sign Blur, and have a track by the band ‘Country House’, written about him). It’s these networks of connectivity, which the book unveils so well, that John knew would float my boat.

I bought it immediately and devoured it in no time – it’s a breeze of a read and great fun on the one hand, whilst containing all manner of hidden depths on the other. In attempting to shine a light on why Bill Drummond and his KLF partner, Jimmy Cauty, without being able to properly explain their actions, would court so much outrage and offence by burning a million pounds cash on the Scottish island of Jura on August 23rd 1994, author John Higgs weaves a tapestry of happenstance and synchronicity which links a stellar cast of interconnecting characters including Carl Jung, Alan Moore, Ken Campbell, JFK, Robert Anton Wilson, Kerry Thornley and Doctor Who.

Illuminatus! by Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson

A main thread of the book is the Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson epic fiction ‘The Illuminatus! Trilogy’ (1975), which took the Discordian ideas of Kerry Thornley & Greg Hill and proceeded to open up a Pandora’s box of conspiracy theory that reverberates right through until this day; with many people now peddling these once fantasies as fact in an example of life imitating art, or perhaps art seeping into life.

Bill Drummond & Jimmy Cauty released music not only as The KLF (with an Illuminatus! inspired pyramid logo design), but as The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu, a name, albeit slightly misspelt, lifted directly from the pages of ‘The Illuminatus! Trilogy’. In the book, The Justified Ancients of Mummu are the arch-enemy of the Illuminati, who, amongst other things, control the music industry. Drummond & Cauty had set themselves up as battling the evil empire via their prankster style guerilla Pop, and scored big with their novelty hit, ‘Doctorin’ The Tardis’, a UK #1 in 1988, released under the name The Timelords. As the rave era took shape, this set them up for major success with The KLF a few years down the line, with what became known as their ‘Stadium House Trilogy’, the singles ‘What Time Is Love?’ (1990), 3 A.M. Eternal’ (1991) and ‘Last Train To Trancentral’ (1991), as well as ‘Justified And Ancient’ (1991), featuring the unmistakeable vocals of Country legend Tammy Wynette, who sang about ‘standing by The JAMs’ (short for Justified Ancients Of Mummu in the book), a take on her most famous recording ‘Stand By Your Man’ (a UK #1 16 years earlier, in 1975), plus ‘America, What Time Is Love?’ (1992), a rework of the single that kick-started this impressive run of hits, all of which reached the UK top 5. Add into the pot their top 3 album, ‘The White Room’ (1991), and you’re looking at a money-spinning juggernaut. The KLF were the Pop kings of the early 90’s, their records selling like proverbial hot cakes on a global scale, with the world very much their oyster.

However, having seemingly conquered the music business, they realized that, to the contrary, they’d been co-opted, and this provides a major clue as to why they not only torched the cash, but did something that would hurt their pocket even more so – delete all their back catalogue, a decision that would cost them millions. This is why you never come across any tracks by The KLF on compilations that define an era in which they played such a key role. They pretty much tried to erase themselves, to the best of their ability, from history.

Robert Anton Wilson

John Higgs had originally intended to write a book about Brooklyn born Robert Anton Wilson, having interviewed him in his home state of California not long before his death in 2007 when writing ‘I Have America Surrounded: The Life Of Timothy Leary’ (2006), but decided that Wilson’s own books were better suited to telling his story than any biography he might muster. Instead he revitalizes Wilson’s contribution to literature and culture via the KLF book, which I regard as one of the must-reads of recent times - a richly symbolic modern day mythos, and certainly unlike any music book I’ve read before. Higgs himself refers to it as ‘a gateway drug’, which is an apt description, for it’s a book that can lead the inquisitive on into many other captivating areas of cultural alchemy and esoteric adventuring.

On a personal level, I read it just as I was making plans to launch my multi-media label, Super Weird Substance, and it’s acted as a catalyst to a whole sequence of events this year, not least when John Higgs himself graced us with his presence as guest speaker at our Super Weird Happening in Liverpool last month. Journalist Josh Ray interviewed John ahead of the event, where he elaborates on the themes of this piece:
http://www.oxjamliverpool.org/features/john-higgs-interview/

It turns out that John Higgs had been in Liverpool the previous February, the 23rd to be precise (23 holding special significance for Discordians), at The Kazimier, as part of a crowdfunding campaign for a play written by Daisy Eris Campbell based on the book Robert Anton Wilson wrote directly after ‘The Illuminatus! Trilogy’ (this time without Robert Shea’s collaboration), 1977’s ‘Cosmic Trigger: The Final Secret Of The Illuminati’, which unlike its predecessor is autobiographical.

Alan Moore by Elspeth Moore

I’d picked up on the Kazimier event beforehand because it included a video interview with comic writer and modern day mage Alan Moore (on the subject of Robert Anton Wilson), and as any regular visitor to my blog will know, I’ve become something of an Alan Moore devotee during the last few years, so the fact that he was in some way connected with an event in my home city certainly aroused my interest. That said, I was heading out to Australia and the start of a tour on the 24th, and with a whole heap of stuff to sort out in the run-up, I suppose the only thing that would have tempted me to attend was Alan Moore being there in person.

As fate would have it I never flew to Australia the following day for, on the 23rd, I was informed, after a week or so of uncertainty, that my flights had been cancelled and there was to be no tour for me. Now I think about it, given what I’ve since come to understand regarding the Discordian patron deity Eris, chaos slapped me full in the face that day (Eris being the Greek goddess of chaos, strife and discord).

My plans were thrown right up in the air, but after the initial shock had worn off I resolved to use this unexpected time on my hands productively, immersing myself full-on into working on the tracks that would subsequently form the ‘Blind Arcade Meets Super Weird Substance In The Morphogenetic Field’ mixtape, which would take such a defining role in my year, leading to the series of 5 Super Weird Happenings, which only concluded at the beginning of this month.

Super Weird Happenings

It was during the time that I was still supposed to be in Australia that I met up with John McCready and he mentioned the KLF book. Had the tour not been cancelled it’s unlikely I’d have read it at the point I did, and the sequence of events that have happened since would have taken a completely different course. Everything for a reason they say.

By the time I’d completed the mixtape, towards the end of April, the KLF book had not only been read, but also referenced via the ‘Donnie Darko’ samples I used, where Donnie is talking to the teacher about the money burning passage from Graeme Greene’s short story, ‘The Destructors’ (Bill Drummond’s rabbit god, Echo, who we hear about in the book, is also evoked via Frank in the film, who, in turn, is sampled on the mixtape). Alan Moore, who, as I’ve mentioned, is a key influence, not least given that the term Super Weird Substance is something I first heard him utter, is also the subject of a whole chapter in the book, whilst being one of the sample sources on the mixtape.


https://soundcloud.com/gregwilson/blind-arcade-meets-super-weird-substance-in-the-morphogenetic-field

The connections and crossovers were starting to crystalize. It was clear that the mixtape and the KLF book were somehow kindred spirits, tuning into similar channels. The mixtape marked the resumption of my work with Kermit Leveridge, who’d approached me to produce his new project Blind Arcade. It was 23 years on from the last time we collaborated back in 1991 on the final Ruthless Rap Assassins recordings. The Assassins had disbanded at roughly the same time as The KLF called it a day, but from the opposite side of the spectrum – the reason for their demise being a lack of commercial success, despite a bagful of critical acclaim. Kermit went on to hook up with Happy Monday Shaun Ryder to form Black Grape, and he’d experience the dizzy heights of Pop stardom a few years on when their debut album topped the charts. Kermit (a fully fledged heroin addict throughout the 90’s), having injected himself within a millimetre of his life, would have to retreat from the music business to lick his wounds as the new century began to unfold, and eventually undergo a major heart operation resulting from his folly. Having made a remarkable recovery, a rejuvenated Kermit had been on a creative mission ever since, furiously writing away at every opportunity. The mixtape would tell his tale of redemption.

Being the comic geek he is, Kermit was trying to turn me on to Alan Moore over a quarter of a century ago. It took me a while to finally engage, but I got there in the end. Like myself, he polished off the KLF book in no time and, again as with myself, it made a deep impression on him. Here’s a list of our ‘Morphogentic Inspirations’ – the stuff that underlies the mixtape:
http://www.theransomnote.co.uk/music/articles/greg-wilsons-inspirations/

45 and 17 by Bill Drummond

I’ve subsequently discovered Bill Drummond’s own writings, having now read the thoroughly enjoyable ‘45’ and ‘17’. He approaches these books more in the style of a diarist and, as well as giving me deeper insights into aspects of the John Higgs book, there’s many a nugget of wisdom to discover in the words he puts to paper, and plenty of stuff you can only shake your head at in bemusement – bloody hell, Bill, so it’s you to blame for Stock, Aitkin and bleedin’ Waterman!

Robert Anton Wilson is someone I’ve been aware of for many years via mentions in other books I’ve read, as well as seeing his own books on other people’s bookshelves, but I’d never been drawn to him enough to find out more. That was until I decided to read ‘The Illuminatus! Trilogy’ in 2012, just a few months before ‘Chill Out’ the cult ambient album by The KLF was featured as part of my Living To Music series:
http://www.gregwilson.co.uk/2012/08/living-to-music-the-klf-chill-out/

I’m not 100% sure what it was that gave me the impetus to read ‘Illuminatus!’ at that point, but I figure it resulted from a conversation with my then 13 year old son who was fascinated with all the conspiracy theories surrounding the Bavarian Illuminati. It’s something that’s caught the imagination of many a teenager in recent times, with the internet a window on an ever more complex web of intrigue surrounding this shadowy order who the history books tell us were active between 1776 and 1785, but whom conspiracists believe continue to thrive as a secret society up until this very day, with their fingers in many a pie of power.

I remember the book being a largely incomprehensible romp, which was almost impossible to navigate given I had few points of reference to cling to at the time. I soldiered on until I got about a third of the way through, but when the pages started to come out, the glue melted by the Croatian sun (I was over there for the Garden Festival), I gave up the ghost. I later found that, despite it’s pivotal influence on The KLF, Bill Drummond had given up twice himself before finally reading it fully, and only then after he’d been invited to speak at a 2007 tribute to Robert Anton Wilson in London, organized by Coldcut and Mixmaster Morris following his death that year, and where other speakers included Alan Moore and Daisy Eris Campbell’s dad Ken Campbell.

Ken Campbell

Ken Campbell died unexpectedly the following year. He was a writer, actor, director and champion of experimental theatre who made a lasting impression on many people who came into his orbit, including a young Bill Drummond, who built the sets for his production of ‘Illuminatus!’, which made its debut at The Liverpool School Of Language, Music, Dream And Pun down the road from Eric’s in Mathew Street on November 23rd 1976.

How he came to be staging ‘Illuminatus!’ in Liverpool, how South African born Scot Bill Drummond came to be designing sets for the ‘Illuminatus!’ in Liverpool, and what, by the gods, was The Liverpool School Of Language, Music, Dream and Pun, are questions I’ll leave for the KLF book to reveal. Although Liverpool playwright Jeff Young’s ’23 Enigma’, described as ‘a spoken word journey through the subcultural ley lines of the city’, serves to further whet the appetite:
http://jeffyoung26.wordpress.com/23-enigma/

John Higgs, Greg Wilson, Bernie Connor Photo By Elspeth Moore

When I was thinking about a suitable guest for the ‘in conversation’ section of the Liverpool leg of our Super Weird tour, John Higgs seemed the perfect candidate. I didn’t know him though, and didn’t know anyone who knew him, so I found him on twitter and tweeted away. He tweeted back and, to my delight, was more than happy to come along and talk about the book. Having fabled Liverpool DJ Bernie Connor host the talks was particularly poignant, for Bernie is someone whose life was entwined by the Eric’s scene and what was happening around Mathew St, Liverpool School Of Language, Music, Dream and Pun included. A young Bernie was there, already a protégé of Roger Eagle, quietly sipping his cup of tea and eating his piece of cake at the epicenter of this synchronistic ignition.

In the run up to the Liverpool Happening I was made aware of an event that linked right back to Ken Campbell’s 1976 ‘Illuminatus!’ production – his daughter's staging of ‘Cosmic Trigger’ at Camp & Furnace, just down the road from where we were holding our Happening at Constellations in the city’s Baltic Triangle. This was to take place just over a month later, during the weekend of November 22nd/23rd (next weekend now), before moving to London and a run of dates at Lost Theatre in SW8 from November 26th – 29th. All the details are on the website:
http://cosmictriggerplay.com

Cosmic Trigger by Daisy Eris Campbell

Further to this, just 5 days after our Happening, on October 23rd the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool was presenting a day of 23 events in 23 places revolving around, you’ve guessed, the number 23. The coincidences were stacking up high!

I’d already made email contact with Daisy Eris Campbell by this point, and this resulted in her eleventh hour inclusion at our London Happening on November 1st, delivering a talk about the ‘weird and wonderful forces aligning around Cosmic Trigger’. Daisy, it turned out, had met John Higgs after he interviewed her mother, the actress Prunella Gee, who’d suggested, having so much in common, the two of them hook-up. Prunella Gee took the role of Eris in ‘The Illuminatus!’. She also began a relationship with Ken Campbell on set, with Daisy conceived backstage at The Liverpool School Of Language, Music, Dream And Pun – hence her middle name.

On October 23rd I attended the 23 day in Liverpool with Kermit and Josh Ray. Daisy, of course, was involved, and we got to see her talk before hooking up later for dinner and conversation. This very splendid day was rounded off with a performance of ’23 Enigma’ by Jeff Young at The Everyman.

Daisy has a spellbinding tale to tell – here’s the footage of her appearance at the London Happening:

YouTube Preview Image https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QkkDrE69kJ0

It’s clear that Daisy has taken the baton from her father and is on a quest to, as one of Robert Anton Wilson’s great influences, psychedelic guru Timothy Leary put it, ‘find the others’. As Ken Campbell proved to be such a catalyst back in 1976, with the help of John Higgs and his gateway drug so too can she at this juncture in time – the process is already well underway, with the others beginning to gather.

Liverpool is experiencing a cultural renaissance, and I don’t feel its an accident that events which happened back in the 70’s, stuff that hasn’t really been thought about in years, is all of a sudden finding its way into the consciousness of younger artists and enthusiasts, providing inspiration from afar via the efforts of people like John Higgs, Daisy Eris Campbell and Bill Sykes. Only last month I blogged about what I believe to be a new cycle of expression in this lateral thinking city:
http://www.gregwilson.co.uk/2014/10/liverpool-the-next-cycle/

Cosmic Trigger by Robert Anton Wilson

I’m very much looking forward to seeing the 4 hour-long play this weekend. I read the ‘Cosmic Trigger’ book in preparation, and I can paradoxically state that it was just as I expected it to be whilst being nothing like I expected. As Bill Drummond puts it, ‘embrace the contradictions’. Robert Anton Wilson is clearly a formidable thinker with a fascinating perspective, the book drawing on 3 key inspirations, Timothy Leary, Aleister Crowley and G.I. Gurdjieff. The time certainly seems ripe for a re-appreciation of his ideas, both those concerning inner space and outer space. As above, so below.

And so it comes to pass that DJ Mixmaster Morris, who was to have provided the musical finale for the Cosmic Trigger weekend in Liverpool, is unable to make it. The upshot is that I’ll be taking his place, bringing Disco to the Discordians between 8-10pm on Sunday evening. It’s just worked out that way, as these things do.

What’s clear is that a great degree of connectivity is taking place at present, with previously disparate groups of people beginning to come together from their different angles. I feel that this process will accelerate during 2015, the year Alan Moore tells us marks the time where, due to information overload, our culture moves from a fluid state, past the boiling point, and on into a ‘culture of steam’. Where it leads I’m not quite sure, but events have conspired to magnetize people together and I’m happy to be along for the ride, finding common ground with like-minded souls.

Popular culture will, I’m sure, reflect this in the coming years – from painters to poets to musicians to DJ’s. The old order is crumbling and it’s going to take a while before the dust settles again, providing an opportunity, in the haze of chaos and confusion that will surround us, for people to boldly remove the safety catch and take chances they perhaps mightn’t have done previously. For, in order to help us make sense of this world of breakneck change in which we live, the perceptions of the artist are needed more than they have been for a long time.

The Leif Erikson Lands On The Liver Building by Hagbard Celine

Daisy Eris Campbell filmed at London Super Weird Happening by Tim Collins. Photos of Alan Moore / John Higgs, Greg Wilson & Bernie Connor by Elspeth Moore.

The KLF Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_KLF

Robert Anton Wilson Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Anton_Wilson

14

SoundCloud Live Top 25

soundcloud

Amidst everything that’s been going on during recent months I completely failed to notice the passing of a personal SoundCloud milestone, the uploaded content on my page having now surpassed 3 million plays in the 5 years since I opened my account.

There have been some changes along the way – back when I put up my first live mix, from Café Mambo in Ibiza in 2009, SoundCloud was building its reputation via DJ’s posting their mixes and edits online. It quickly became a key point of reference within the club community, DJ’s very much central to its success.

Nowadays it’s a huge concern, having subsequently become popular with record companies and bands, both big and small, whilst attracting further content via spoken word / documentary sources. Many DJ’s feel they’ve been shunted to the side as a consequence, but although it’s been frustrating to see once essential functions disappear, as well as losing the classic version of the site that I, along with many others, personally preferred, I can understand how SoundCloud became, in a sense, the victim of its own success, straining under the weight of its runaway popularity, and, as a result, having to take a more pragmatic approach that negated some of the more bespoke aspects that specifically suited the DJ community who’d done so much to bring the site to wider attention in the first place. Despite this, it continues to be the key audio platform for me, my page having amassed over 56,000 followers to date from all over the globe, with many others dipping in and out to check out the mixes, edits and versions that I’ve archived there.

https://soundcloud.com/gregwilson/essential-mix-greg-wilson-mix-for-bbc-radio-1

My most popular inclusion, by a long chalk, has been my Essential Mix, which has had in excess of 100,000 plays, but it’s been the live mixes, rather than the pre-recorded ones, which have provided the bedrock when it comes to content uploaded – 86 live mixes to date, as opposed to 13 pre-recorded.

I’ve just compiled a playlist that includes my 25 most listened to live mixes during these past 5 years, with the recording from the Stonebridge tent at Glastonbury in 2013 currently at the summit, having totted up over 44,000 plays. The 25 is made up of 19 UK recordings (of which 7 were recorded at festivals) and 6 from overseas. London and Manchester tie on 5 apiece with the most inclusions, whilst, on the festival tip, 3 of the mixes are from Glastonbury and 2 from Bestival. The Garden Festival in Croatia is also well represented with both the 2012 and 2013 main stage mixes making the cut (and a third, from this year, just bubbling outside the 25 and sure to make its entry at a later stage).

https://soundcloud.com/gregwilson/sets/soundcloud-live-top-25

SoundCloud Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SoundCloud

10

Mutant Disco

Mutant Disco

Been meaning to get this amended article onto the blog. It’s something I originally wrote back in 2003 for Grandslam magazine as a feature revolving around the release of 2 No Wave compilations at the time, one on the re-activated ZE label, the other on Soul Jazz. The piece was originally published under the title ‘When Punk Met Funk’.

When Punk Met Funk

Funk and Punk, 2 of the major musical movements of the 70’s, were regarded as distinctive areas of expression with little in common until New York’s underground brought them together as the most unlikely bedfellows under the banner of No Wave, which flourished during the late 70’s / early 80’s.

The most influential labels of the movement, ZE and 99 Records, made their mark back in the days before House music, when New York was at the epicentre of the Dance universe and creative energy overflowed in the city that never slept.

Rewind to December 1976, when Punk burst onto the UK Pop scene following the release of ‘Anarchy In The UK’ by the (then notorious) Sex Pistols. As a young DJ with aspirations of being a black music specialist, playing Soul, Funk and Disco at my hometown clubs, Punk was another scene altogether. It was irrelevant whether I was into bands like The Stranglers, The Clash and the Pistols on a personal level, I could never have played them in the clubs in which I worked. The same was true of the majority of DJ’s throughout the country, the Punk scene revolving around live venues rather than the discotheques and clubs of the time.

Roxy Bowie

However, one area of infiltration was via the numerous Roxy / Bowie nights, which would later evolve into the New Wave or Futurist scene. Roxy Music and David Bowie were both mainstream favourites in their own right, but a large enough audience wanted to hear other tracks, not just the singles, in a club setting, as well as records in the same inventive vein by bands that weren’t as popular. It was on these Roxy / Bowie nights that tracks by early electronic pioneers like Kraftwerk, the Human League (before half the band splintered into Heaven 17) and Ultravox (the John Foxx rather than Midge Ure version) were first played.

Bowie had already released a number of singles geared towards the dancefloor, all recorded in the US, beginning with his live cover version of Eddie Floyd’s 60’s Soul classic, ‘Knock On Wood’ in 1974, followed by a trio of blue eyed Funk hits, ‘Young Americans’, ‘Fame’ and ‘Golden Years’ in ‘75. Bowie’s ‘soul period’ had been inspired by the Philly Sound of acts like the O’Jays, Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes and MFSB (the orchestra behind so many of these great records), who paved the way for the Disco era, having found their own inspiration in the grittier Funk of seminal groove guru’s like James Brown and Sly And The Family Stone. In 1976 (the year the groundbreaking German band, Can, had their only British hit with a leftfield Disco cut, ‘I Want More’) Bowie re-located to Berlin in order to experiment with the new electronic sounds, working alongside visionary producer and synthesizer wizard, Brian Eno (formerly of Roxy Music). This resulted in the release of a futuristic album in ‘77 called ‘Low’, which featured yet another hit single and a further club favourite, ‘Sound And Vision’.

Kraftwerk Afrika Bambaataa

One German recording released in ‘77 would have an atom-splitting impact that few could have imagined at the time. Kraftwerk’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ (in which Bowie receives a namecheck, along with proto-Punk hero Iggy Pop) was destined to become a Hip Hop anthem once Afrika Bambaataa decided that these ‘funky white boys from Germany’ could rock the house. Bambaataa’s open-mindedness would quite literally alter the course of popular culture, for in 1982 he (along with his collaborators, Arthur Baker and John Robie) performed musical alchemy by fusing Kraftwerk’s technological approach with the energy and attitude of Hip Hop, to create a new Electro sound. ‘Trans-Europe Express’ and a later Kraftwerk track, 1981’s ‘Numbers’, would provide the basis for the Soul Sonic Force’s future-shock, ‘Planet Rock’ (1982), and from that moment onwards Dance music would change radically.

But ‘Planet Rock’ was still five years away in ‘77 as the Punk Rock scene kicked into full swing. At this point Punk might not have seemed to have much in common with US black music, but there was a healthy mutual respect between Punk and Reggae, as illustrated by tracks like Bob Marley & The Wailers’ ‘Punky Reggae Party’ and Dillinger’s ‘Funky Punk’ – this crossover had been inspired by DJ Don Letts, who played Reggae to the Punks at the movements most fabled venue, The Roxy in London. Reggae would of course be a major influence on the next wave of British hit-makers, including The Police, UB40, Madness, The Specials, The Beat and The Selecter. Away from the charts, Adrian Sherwood would be laying the blueprint for the hugely productive On-U Sound, a British Dub Reggae institution with Punk affiliation.

Ian Drury

Punk continued to inspire, entertain and offend in equal measures and the do-it-yourself ethos was taken up by a new wave of musicians throughout the country, with an ever-increasing amount of independent record labels setting up to cater for this growing movement. Stiff Records was held in the highest regard throughout this time and it was one of their acts that most successfully funked-up the Punk. This was Ian Dury & The Blockheads, who soon became mainstream favourites during 1978/79 thanks to highly danceable tracks like, ‘Wake Up And Make Love With Me’, ‘Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll’, ‘Reasons To Be Cheerful (Pt 3)’ and their number one smash, ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’. Stiff also scored a minor hit in ‘78 with the Eno produced ‘(I Can’t Get Me No) Satisfaction’ by US cult-heroes Devo, whose distinctive take on the Rolling Stones classic was built around an infectiously jerky groove.

As big as Punk had become, Disco was the real money-spinner. Following the runaway box office success of the film ‘Saturday Night Fever’ it was now a global phenomenon and all of a sudden it was the Bee Gees rather than then O’Jays who defined the genre. This new found popularity would provoke a backlash, eventually resulting in the racist and homophobic ‘Disco Sucks’ campaign in the US, including 1979’s infamous ‘Disco Demolition’ at Comiskey Park Baseball Stadium in Chicago, when Rock fans indulged in a ritual record burning frenzy. Nothing quite so drastic happened in the UK, but Disco’s cool certainly suffered, with former enthusiasts quickly jumping ship and now finding refuge on the newly emerged Jazz-Funk scene (which still included Disco with a funkier edge).

Blondie

Despite all the hostility, across the Atlantic New Wave was meeting Disco head-on, resulting, most notably, in Blondie’s ‘Heart Of Glass’, which would subsequently go all the way to number one on the British charts in ‘79. Blondie would continue to pack the dancefloor throughout the following years with further chart toppers, ‘Atomic’ and ‘Call Me’, before drawing their inspiration for another club winner, ’Rapture’, not from Disco but Hip Hop, which would soon begin to make a big impression outside of New York’s black and Hispanic hardcore. Another band who embraced the Disco sound in ‘79 was Sparks, reviving their career and returning to the top 20 in the UK with the Giorgio Moroder produced ‘The Number One Song In Heaven’ and ‘Beat The Clock’.

On the NYC underground the No Wave movement had begun to take shape. A creative young community had formed in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a part of the Big Apple long connected with artistic endeavour and the avant-garde, and had begun to experiment in areas like fashion, theatre, film, literature and, of course, music (with Eno’s ‘No New York’ compilation setting the tone). Influenced not only by Punk, but by the Free Jazz of Sun Ra and Albert Ayler, the work of composers like Stockhausen, Glass and Reich, and the no-holds-barred approach of earlier artists like the Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart, and even Yoko Ono, receiving some belated appreciation, No Wave would soon forge it’s own unique identity. With the additional inspiration of the wide range of Dance music that dominated the city's clubs, the melting pot was well and truly bubbling.

Mutant Disco Box Set

It’s somewhat ironic that ZE, the epitome of New York hip, was launched by an Englishman, Michael Zilkha, and a Frenchman, Michel Esteban (in 1978). The label soon caught the attention of Island Records’ supremo, Chris Blackwell, who licensed it in 1980, bringing the music to an international audience during the following years. To help promote ZE in the UK, Island mailed out the impressive ‘Mutant Disco’ box-set of 12” singles to its DJ list, myself included. The tracks were by Kid Creole & The Coconuts, Was (Not Was), Don Armando’s Second Avenue Rhumba Band, Material, Coati Mundi and Gichy Dan, and it’s sub-title, ‘A Subtle Discolation Of The Norm’, summed-up the package perfectly. A t-shirt that was also mailed as part of the promotional campaign carried another memorable slogan – ‘Funk Art Lets DanZE!’.

Kid Creole, led by the zoot-suited August Darnell, linked back to Dr Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, who’d made their mark at the height of Disco via their big band styled singles, ‘I’ll Play The Fool’ and ‘Cherchez La Femme’. Material was formed by bassist Bill Laswell, who would go on to play a major role in unleashing Hip Hop on an unsuspecting planet, via Rockit’, his Grammy winning collaboration with Herbie Hancock in ‘83. Detroit brothers Don and David Was were also pushing at the boundaries. They’d enjoy commercial success later in the decade, but many would regard the 80-84 period as their most creative, with ‘Wheel Me Out’, ‘Tell Me That I’m Dreaming’ and ‘Out Come The Freaks’ amongst the finest Was (Not Was) releases.

By 1982 the lines between Punk and Funk were no longer as rigid. The Clash had scored club successes with ‘The Magnificent Seven’ and ‘This Is Radio Clash’, while old favourite Ian Dury, a polio sufferer, was back with ‘Spaticus Autisticus’, which was hastily banned by the BBC for fear of offending sensibilities. Tracks like ‘No GDM’ by Gina X, ‘Bostich’ by Yello, ‘Waiting For A Train’ by Flash And The Pan and Yoko Ono’s ‘Walking On Thin Ice’ had continued to twist the Disco formula in the early 80’s. One of the best examples would be Pigbag’s unforgettable ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag’, which failed to make any impression on the charts following its 1981 release, but was re-issued the following year and, having found an unlikely champion in Radio 1’s Dave Lee Travis, climbed all the way into the top 5 (it was DLT’s support that was also largely responsible for Coati Mundi’s ‘Me No Pop I’ becoming ZE’s first UK chart entry in ‘81, when it reached number 32).

Bush Of Ghosts Speaking In Tongues

Brian Eno continued to break new ground, hooking up with David Byrne of Talking Heads (another band he produced), to create the outstanding experimental album, ‘My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts’ (1981), which included some serious groove action, most notably on ‘Regiment’ and ‘The Jezebel Spirit’, whilst providing an early masterclass in the use of samples. Meanwhile Heads offshoot, Tom Tom Club, were appealing to more commercial tastes and filling dancefloors in the process via the singles ‘Wordy Rappinghood’ and ‘Genius Of Love’. Talking Heads, whose tracks ‘I Zimbra’ (‘79) and ‘Once In A Lifetime’ (‘81) had found favour in the clubs, especially in New York, would later fully embrace the Funk on their album ‘Speaking In Tongues’ (1983), working alongside a wicked crew of kick-ass black musicians (and backing vocalists), including the legendary keyboard player Bernie Worrell, who was not only a key member of Parliament / Funkadelic, but previously one of James Brown’s backing band, and Ednah Holt, whose ‘Serious Sirius Space Party’ had been an underground club hit in ‘81 following its release on NY’s essential West End label. The brilliant film (and accompanying album), ‘Stop Making Sense’ (premiered in ‘84), perfectly captures a truly unforgettable live performance by this inspired line-up, with highlights including ‘Burning DownThe House’, ‘Slippery People’ and Al Green’s ‘Take Me To The River’ (incidentally, a cover version of ‘Slippery People’ would result in former Stax favourites, the Staples Singers, returning to the US R&B chart after an absence of some years).

ESG

Back on the underground Ed Bahlman’s 99 Records was, alongside ZE, the most important NY Punk-Funk outlet, with ESG, Liquid Liquid and Bush Tetras amongst those who recorded for the label. ESG hailed from the birthplace of Hip Hop, the South Bronx, yet for their debut release, ‘You’re No Good’, British producer Martin Hannett (who first made his name working with fellow Mancunian’s and Punk heroes, The Buzzcocks) was behind the recording desk. The resulting single (which also included what have become their best known tracks, ‘Moody’ and ‘UFO’) was issued in ‘81 both by Manchester's Factory Records in the UK (7”) and 99 in the US (12”). Hannett was working with the Factory band A Certain Ratio at that point, and ESG had been their support act at a New York gig. ACR, along with other British acts like 23 Skidoo, Gang Of Four and APB, shared common ground with the No Wave bands (their cover of Banbarra’s ‘Shack Up’ in 1980 enhancing their own Punk-Funk credentials). The New York / Manchester connection is perfectly illustrated by ESG, who have the unique distinction of playing the opening night at Manchester’s Haçienda (where they shared the bill with ACR), as well as the closing night of Larry Levan’s church of Dance, the Paradise Garage in NYC!

Kool Herc

During the early 80’s it seemed that the whole of New York was buzzing with new ideas, but one area more than any other caught the spirit of the times. This was, of course, the Boogie Down Bronx, where Hip Hop had been developing more or less in isolation since DJ Kool Herc began to rock the block in the early 70’s. New York was primed for something big to happen and the rest, as they say, is history.

1982 was the year that the Electro sound began to re-define Dance music, with Afrika Bambaataa, Arthur Baker and Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five at the forefront of a new musical movement, which Warp 9 referred to as ‘Nunk’ (short for New Wave Funk) but we’d call Electro-Funk in the UK. The fact that black musicians were drawing influences from white artists like Kraftwerk, Human League and Gary Numan mirrored developments in downtown New York, where white artists were taking inspiration from black music. The rules were being re-written throughout the Big Apple, and NY club culture was beginning to make a huge impact both in the US and overseas.

Legend Manchester

In Manchester, before the Haçienda had opened its doors, Legend, another club in the rainy city, was at the cutting edge. Between 1980-82, Legend’s Thursday Futurist night was regarded amongst the best in the country, with DJ’s Paul Rae and Ralph Randell at the helm playing a superior selection of alternative music (which featured tracks of the Punk-Funk variety) to an audience that would include many of the original Haçienda members. Wednesday at Legend was something altogether different, the club was packed full of black kids into Funk, Soul and Jazz, and it was here (along with sister club Wigan Pier) where the British Electro-Funk scene first took root. As the DJ on Wednesday’s between 81-84, most of the records I played were US imports, with the lions share coming out of New York on labels like Prelude, West End, Sugarhill, Emergency, Streetwise and Tommy Boy. Some of the tracks on the ZE and other more leftfield labels affiliated with the No Wave scene also caught on with the black Manchester audience back in the day. Kid Creole’s ‘I’m A Wonderful Thing Baby’ got its first plays on the Jazz-Funk scene (as it was still rather misleadingly called at that point), and ‘Tell Me That I’m Dreaming’ by Was (Not Was) was also a Legend floorfiller. The Jean Michel Basquiat produced Hip Hop favourite ‘Beat Bop’, by Rammelzee Vs K Rob, was unsurprisingly huge, while Liquid Liquid and Aural Exciters (their post-ZE release ‘Chinese Rap’ on the Top Flight label) were amongst the artists featured on the Wednesday.

Hacienda Membership

Factory in Manchester would experiment increasingly with Funk, Jazz and Disco grooves, and acts like 52nd Street, Quando Quango and Swamp Children found their way onto my playlist, along with New Order’s ‘Confused Beats’ (an instrumental version of their Arthur Baker produced hit, ‘Confusion’), which was big on the black side of the tracks in ‘83. Eventually I was approached by The Haçienda to become their first Dance resident, launching the Friday night Funk sessions (which would be the forerunner to the clubs ‘Nude’ night) whilst introducing the mainly alternative Saturday night audience to the upfront black sounds I was playing at Legend and the Pier.

Great club tunes were now coming from the most unlikely sources. One of the defining records of the decade was Malcolm McLaren’s top 10 hit ‘Buffalo Gals’ (released towards the end of ‘82), which introduced the UK to the full-force of Hip Hop via its inspirational promo video. McLaren, the mastermind behind the British Punk explosion, clearly understood that these two major youth movements represented opposite sides of the same coin, and following his overwhelming endorsement many former Punks began to sit up and take notice of the Dance scene around this point. Having grown out of 70’s Funk, Hip Hop eventually broke through on the back of Electro. Who’d have thought that McLaren, the great Rock & Roll swindler himself, would be the channel through which the black audience in this country were finally exposed to the revolutionary street-science of Planet Rock, the Bronx! Suffice to say that British popular culture would never be the same from this point onwards.

Liquid Liquid

As Hip Hop gained momentum, the No Wave scene was gradually forgotten (although Madonna would go all the way by adopting the attitude of Punk, whilst making music aimed squarely at the dancefloor). In a sad twist of fate two of the most innovative labels of the time, Sugarhill and 99 Records, would both fold as a result of a dispute surrounding the Grandmaster & Melle Mel hit ‘White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)’, which had been based around Liquid Liquid’s underground favourite ‘Cavern’, but without any credit. A lengthy legal battle ensued that was eventually won by 99, but Sugarhill couldn’t pay up and declared itself bankrupt. Under the stress of it all Liquid Liquid gave up a very promising career, no doubt deeply embittered by the whole experience. It wasn’t until 1995 that a cover of ‘White Lines’ by Duran Duran (of all people) finally brought it’s originators some well deserved and long overdue royalties.

As the 80’s became the 90’s dancefloor hits by British ‘Indie’ acts like Manchester’s Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses, along with Glasgow’s Primal Scream and Liverpool’s The Farm, heralded a new genre, Indie Dance, which echoed the Punk Funk of earlier times. In the 2000’s, with the advent of Electroclash (a movement instigated by New York DJ Larry Tee), and the continued fascination with all things Proto-House, No Wave enjoyed a renaissance. Both ESG and Liquid Liquid reformed, and ZE Records set about re-issuing its back catalogue, updating some of its classic tracks in the process via remixes from the likes of Output’s Trevor Jackson, 2 Many DJ’s, and LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, plus re-edits from DJ’s including Todd Terje, Idjut Boys, Rub ‘N’ Tug and myself (on the 2009 compilation ‘Zevolution’).

Zevolution

A Nu School of No Wave exponents, including The Rapture and Radio 4 emerged, drawing from the past whilst bringing the music very much into the present, bridging a two decade gap. A young enthusiastic UK audience, many of whom weren’t even born when the original tracks were first released, re-discovered the work of people like Arthur Russell (Dinosaur L, Loose Joints etc), Konk, James White & The Blacks and Lizzy Mercier Descloux, who finally gained some of the long-overdue acknowledgement that their once unconventional artistic endeavours undoubtedly deserved. The fact that much of this music made more sense to people in recent times than it did when it was first issued is testament to just how ahead of the curve it once was, with the bastard child of Punk and Funk finally coming of age, and No Wave, as an important catalyst, rightly claiming its proper place in the music tapestry.

First published in Grandslam Magazine 2003. Amended 2014.

NY NO WAVE ALBUM

No Wave Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_wave

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