You don’t know how happy I am to be able to tell you that, after months and months of chipping away, the new redesigned revitalized Electrofunkroots website is now live and kicking, having undergone a complete overhaul, with loads of new content added. Full menu here:
Originally launched back in August 2003, Electrofunkroots is absolutely central to my work, providing the foundation from which my DJ career was rejuvenated, and the catalyst for all my subsequent documentation of UK dance culture, and popular culture in general (without Electrofunkroots it’s doubtful that I’d have set up this blog, 7 years later down the line).
The idea came from Stevie Adams, a web designer who I’d hooked-up with via his association with the dancer / choreographer, Benji Reid, who had originally started out with Manchester breakdance crew, Broken Glass back in 1984 (I had previously been their manager). On reading my 2002 article, ‘Electro-Funk – What Did It all Mean?’, Stevie had suggested a website dedicated to the era, and kindly offered to construct it for me.
It was a logical progression. I’d began to explore the internet just a year or so beforehand, and having been almost completely detached from the club scene throughout the 90’s and on into the new millennium, I became acutely aware that time had most certainly moved on, with UK dance culture now being discussed in a very much historical context. The story was being gradually set in stone, both online and in print, yet it was clear to me that the most vital part was almost totally absent – the fundamental role of what we used to call ‘the black scene’, of which Electro-Funk and Jazz-Funk before it (and Disco & Funk before that), packed the most discerning dancefloors, and without which the oncoming Hip Hop, House and Techno movements could never have taken root in this country in the way that they did.
In this truncated account, it was as if nothing of note had happened in the years between the height of Northern Soul in the mid-late 70’s and the emergence of Acid House in the late 80’s, when this was, in fact, its most fertile period – a hybrid age of dance alchemy and groove experimentation. DJ’s on the black scene were responsible for breaking so many now classic records in this country, both on a commercial and cult level – yet they were largely omitted in this flawed narrative, despite their huge contribution to our rich musical heritage, having been the first to play Funk, Disco, Jazz-Funk, Jazz Fusion, Electro, Street Soul, Hip-Hop, Boogie, Rare Groove, House and Techno. These were true UK originators, yet their story hadn’t been deemed relevant - their contribution, at best, regarded as little more than a bit part. Crazy!
Seeing the situation, I made a vow, which has underpinned all that’s followed in my reignited career – this was to do everything in my power to draw attention back to the black scene and its influence. When I made this decision, I was aware that the best I could do was stick my finger into this vast dike of misinformation – I was only one person, a name from the past that meant nothing to clubbers now, precisely because this history was so hidden. Nevertheless, I felt a strong sense of obligation to what had gone before, so it was a case of bearing witness in whatever way I could – making available the archive material I’ve kept from those days, along with my personal memories from direct experience, so it was at least out there, albeit in a small way, for those who want to dig that bit deeper.
Although I’d started in the clubs as far back as 1975, the period I’d archived most thoroughly was the early 80’s, when I was heavily involved at the cutting-edge of the black scene, eventually hosting 2 of its most influential nights, at Legend in Manchester and at Wigan Pier, the clubs most associated with the emerging Electro-Funk movement. I was there right at its conception and, having already built my reputation as a Jazz-Funk specialist during the previous years, in 82/83 I found myself at the forefront of this controversial move towards the electronic. Cast in the role of heretic, I was right there in the eye of the hurricane, on the one hand acclaimed as an innovator, on the other criticised for instigating change.
The process began with me digging through the boxes in my loft, piecing it all back together bit by bit. I could get pretty close-in thanks to the record lists / info sheets I kept, plus the old black music magazines I’d collected. I could precisely date, within a week or so, all of the records I’d bought during this period, the majority of which had been exported from the US (mainly on New York labels). The framework of times, places and what was played was reconstructed, but, given that there was so little information available elsewhere as to what Electro-Funk actually constituted, and how it evolved, I figured I’d need to write some sort of introductory piece by way of explanation.
Once I started writing (or rather typing furiously in my pitiful one fingered way) I couldn’t stop. For months I was like a man possessed, continually cross-referencing all my archive material and unloading my memories. After this process reached its conclusion, with the release of the ‘UK Electro’ album, which I co-wrote and produced after I’d retired as a professional DJ in 1984, it was clear that I’d written the first draft of a book that documents the era – my Electro-Funk memoirs. Apart from the actual factual history, it is also an in-depth account of what it was like to be a DJ at a crucial juncture in UK dance history – as well as documenting the black scene (and the wider black culture of the time), I also got into other aspects that had never been previously explored, like the emergence of mixing in this country, and how The Haçienda (where I had a weekly night in ’83) owes a huge debt to Manchester clubs like Legend, The Gallery, The Playpen and Berlin, which sowed the seeds of what was to happen there later in the decade - the dance underground of the black scene going overground, following the explosion of the incoming rave scene.
Most younger people have been led to believe that there wasn’t much happening here before Nicky Holloway, Paul Oakenfold, Danny Rampling and Johnny Walker went on holiday to Ibiza together in the summer of 1987, and took ecstasy. The Balearic romance of this tale has obscured so much of what went before, creating its own mythology in the process, with the clubbing industry that has grown around the white isle continuing to endorse this year on year. Although the Ibiza story is obviously an important part of the overall history, those who regard this as some sort of year zero will never understand the true lineage of Britain’s rich and distinct club culture, which developed in a totally different way to what was happening in the US - the specialist DJ’s here, in many respects, more upfront in the music they played than their transatlantic counterparts.
The old adage I often quote, ‘to know the future first you must know the past’, gains special resonance in this respect. If your understanding is a misinformed one, you can never hope to see what lies ahead, as this can never be anything more than an illusionary future.
The second draft of my ‘book’ has never been approached. Once I figured that I had a book on my hands, I realised what a mammoth task it is to actually complete one. A first draft is all good and well, but then you have to methodically comb through, adding newly acquired information and making amendments. God knows how people used to write books before computers existed! As a result, almost 10 years on, what I managed to get out of my system and onto paper (or rather into a Word docu) back then remains largely unaltered – something I plan to remedy in the not too distant. However, this has been an invaluable personal resource, and has provided fertile ground for a number of articles I’ve written since.
Having reamed off so much on the subject, I remembered my original intention; to write something more concise that would provide an introduction to the era I was highlighting – this would be ‘Electro-Funk – What Did It All Mean?’, which initially presented me with a dilemma. My first thought was to write objectively, but it seemed disingenuous for me to do a third person piece about something I was personally involved with. On the other hand, I felt that writing subjectively might provoke accusations of bigging things up purely because of this personal involvement. It was something I’d have preferred someone else to write, but the more I thought about it the more clear it became that it had to be me. I decided that the need to get to the core of the matter, and pay full props to all those who built what so many others have since benefitted from, far outweighed any personal discomfort I might feel from writing an objective piece from a subjective standpoint. I felt I had the facts on my side, which I could back up if push came to shove, so I braced myself for the criticism I anticipated from certain quarters (the people I was basically saying had their story wrong), but, somewhat surprisingly, this never materialised – at least not openly.
The article, written in November ’02, was really well received, and a whole heap of websites carried it, including Electro Empire, Disco Music, Old School Hip Hop, Davy D’s Hip Hop Corner, Global Darkness and Jahsonic. Rather than being a negative, the personal aspect to my writing seemed to be what people particularly enjoyed, and has proved to be one of the most positive moves I’ve made, informing all my subsequent writing on this and other related subjects, an ethos that continues here in this blog.
Electrofunkroots was born of this and, as a result of the site going online, my DJ career re-born. Given that I’d raised my head above the parapet, following a 2 decade hiatus, and now had an internet presence, I was approached with regards to potential bookings, resulting in my comeback, on December 20th 2003 with the Music Is Better night at The Attic in Manchester.
I’ve now been a professional DJ for longer than I was the first time around, passing that particular milestone earlier this month. With this in mind it’s fitting that Electrofunkroots, the catalyst for my return, finally gets its long overdue renovation. There’s so much new content to explore, and more to be added in the coming months. This includes the Electrospective section, focusing on the hugely successful 11 hour event in August 2008. Presented by the Manchester District Music Archive at Islington Mill in Salford, I interviewed 4 of the city’s key DJ’s of the 82-88 pre-Rave period, Mike Shaft, Colin Curtis, Hewan Clarke and Chad Jackson, whilst Tim Forde, presented his documentary film ‘The Birth Of The British B Boy’, with some of his old Broken Glass brethren being joined by Manchester’s other classic crew, Street Machine (complete with original member, Take That’s Jason Orange), for a proper old school battle. It was a memorable occasion on so many levels.
The Mike Shaft interview will be followed by Colin’s, Hewan’s and Chad’s in the coming weeks. There will also be a number of mixes embedded (via SoundCloud), kicking off with ‘The Best Of ‘82’ and ‘The Best Of ‘83’, my end of year mixes, broadcast on Mike Shaft’s essential weekly specialist show on Piccadilly Radio. I’ll also be revisiting the music I played 30 years ago, with a monthly ‘Top 10 Floorfillers’, starting off with the January 1982 edition:
GREG WILSON'S EARLY 80'S FLOORFILLERS - JANUARY 1982 by gregwilson
This podcast is also available on iPhone, iPod touch and iPad via the Radio ditto app, which is downloadable for free from iTunes: http://itunes.apple.com/app/id464200632?mt=8
New content will continue to be added on a regular basis from this point onwards, and my intention to evolve an in-depth archive of the Electro-Funk era, and what led up to it, has entered a whole new phase. The site is running so smoothly it purrs; it’s a joy to navigate. Huge thanks to Stu Robinson and Dan Smith without whom this couldn’t have been achieved.
In embarking on this new venture, I’d like to conclude by paying my respects to the following people, all DJ contemporaries of mine during the 75-84 period, whose passion for black music, and pioneering spirit, played a major part in shaping the course of UK club culture:
Alex Lowes, Andy Peebles, Barry Neale, Baz Fe Jazz, Baz Maleady, Bill Smith, Bill Swift, Billy Davidson, Bob Boardman, Bob Jeffries, Bob Jones, Boo, Chad Jackson, Chris Brown, Chris Dinnis, Chris Harper, Chris Hill, Cleveland Anderson, Colin Curtis, Colin Hudd, Colin Parnell, Darren Fogel, Dave Christian, Dixie Dean, Eddie James, Eric Hearn, Frenchie, Froggy, George Power, Gordon Mac, Graham Canter, Graham Carn, Graham Gold, Greg Edwards, Hewan Clarke, Ian Anderson, Ian Dewhirst, Ian Redding, James Hamilton, Jeff Young, John DeSade, John Grant, John Green, John Osborne, Jonathan, Jon Taylor, Kelly, Kenny McCleod, Kev Edwards, Kev Hill, Kevin Keatings, Les Spaine, Lyndon T, Mark Roman, Martin Collins, Mastermind Roadshow, Mike Allen, Mike Davidson, Mike Shaft, Neil Neal, Nicky Flavell, Nicky Holloway, Nicky Jackson, Nicky Peck, Norman Jay, Owen Washington, Paul Anderson, Paul Clark, Paul Cooke, Paul Dixon, Paul Rae, Paul Schofield, Paul Murphy, Persian, Pete Girtley, Pete Haigh, Pete Tong, Ralph Randell, Ralph Tee, Richard Searling, Robbie Vincent, Robin Nash, Sean French, Shaun Williams, Simon Walsh, Sterling Vann, Steve Allen, Steve Dennis, Steve Devonne, Steve Walsh, Terry Lennaine, Thomas Felton, Tim Westwood, Tom Holland, Tony Clark, Tony ‘Shades’ Valence, Trevor M, and the Wild Bunch (apologies to anyone I might have forgotten).