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The EDM From Way Back When

EDM (electronic dance music), as they like to call it in the US, has never been bigger, America now fully embracing it, having previously regarded it as a little more than a side-issue, always the bridesmaid and never the bride. Now, the more curious minded dance music enthusiasts Stateside, wishing to avoid the mainstream commercialisation of a previously more underground club culture, are, often for the first time, excavating the mid-late 80’s period, when Chicago House and Detroit Techno emerged (finding far more love at the time in the UK and Europe, than in the country of its origin).

Dig a bit deeper and they’ll discover the New York Electro era, which laid the groundwork even earlier in the decade and was a huge inspiration for what subsequently happened in not only Chicago and Detroit, but other influential cities like Los Angeles and Miami, plus, of course, across the Atlantic here in Britain. Electro has been far too conveniently brushed under the Hip Hop carpet by lazy journalists who completely misunderstood what was happening back then, having never been a part of it. Yes, it did play a key role in Hip Hop’s emergence, but it also holds a crucial place in dance music history, for it was the catalyst for everything that followed, placing the emphasis on the drum machine, the sequencer and the sampler. This is what facilitated the great leap forward for dance music, where many mad professors made their aural experiments. It was a time when technology was married to Funk, and topped off with a Dub sensibility to create new hybrid forms, which we referred to as Electro-Funk on the specialist black music scene in the UK. A whole cluster of now legendary producers and remixers would emerge during the early 80’s, the period blessed with people who understood the changing landscape of dance culture, and the possibility for moving things forward, from the underground outwards, in the wake of Disco’s enforced demise as the previous decade came to a close - these visionaries included Arthur Baker, John Robie, François Kevorkian, John ‘Jellybean’ Benitez, Tee Scott, Eric Mathew, Darryl Payne, Shep Pettibone, Larry Levan, Nick Martinelli and David Todd, who, between them, are responsible for a whole legacy of classic and cult-classic club cuts that still pack the dancefloor 3 decades on.

 http://soundcloud.com/gregwilson/greg-wilsons-early-80s-9

I’ve just been putting together my latest Early 80’s Floorfillers podcast, the October 1982 edition (stream / download above), and, looking at the Top 10, it occurred to me that this month represented something of a tipping point when it came to this then new Electro-Funk sound, the chart now dominated by it. If you’ve been following previous instalments, you’ll have seen how, over the course of 10 months, Electro-Funk would come to define my nights.  At this point in time there were no specialist black music nights in the country that were more cutting-edge than my Tuesdays at Wigan Pier and Wednesdays in Manchester at Legend. The scene up North had been turned on its head since the year began – Jazz-Funk had been left in the slipstream of this new electronic sound that could only be fully appreciated over the mighty sound systems in the Pier and Legend (at a time your general club sound in the UK was, quite frankly, appalling). I was a lucky man to be blessed with the right environments in which to unleash this ‘New Wave Funk’.

There’s a big contrast between the floorfillers from the start of ‘82 and what the crowd were going for as the year moved into its final quarter. Here’s the January chart – all other months can be accessed via the side menu on the page:
http://www.electrofunkroots.co.uk/lists/greg-wilsons-top-10-floorfillers-jan-82/

Looking back, October ’82 was such an exhilarating time for me. My clubs were packed, I was playing tomorrow's music today, my mixes for Mike Shaft on Piccadilly Radio were hugely popular, taking my name further afield, and I was exactly where I’d always wanted to be, no longer just a contender, but at the top of my field, playing precisely what I wanted to play to whom I wanted to play it to - the most upfront kids, who happened to be mainly black, including many of the best dancers of their generation (at a time when dancing was a serious business) from cities like Birmingham, Nottingham, Leeds, Wolverhampton, Sheffield, Bradford, Stoke, Huddersfield, Liverpool, and, of course, Manchester. I was doing things on my own terms, having climbed the rungs of the ladder one step at a time during the previous 6 ¾ years, and within 6 months I’d be voted the North’s Top DJ, with my clubs coming in 1st and 2nd, whilst also becoming the first DJ to demonstrate mixing on British TV. It was all I could have wished for, all my birthdays come at once, or so it seemed from the outside looking in, for there was one humungous drawback - rather than being patted on the back by my contemporaries, and having my 22 year old ego stroked with lyrical words of lavish praise, I was being accused of bringing the entire scene into disrepute. My Electro-Funk direction was regarded by most of the Jazz-Funk establishment as a blind alley, unworthy of the proud black music tradition that had shaped British club culture since the 50’s. This computerised nonsense was going to spoil it for everybody, I was told.

It would turn out to be a long battle, which I won’t go into now, one that was extremely wearying, but ultimately won. Electro would eventually come to the fore on a national level in 1984, following the huge success of Morgan Khan’s ‘Street Sounds Electro’ series, the first volume appearing 12 months on from this podcast, in October 1983. We really were way ahead of the curve, so much so that it took The Face, supposedly the purveyors of all things subcultural and stylish, another 18 months before it caught up with what was happening in the world that the black kids inhabited, finally declaring across its front page in May 1984, ‘Electro – The Beat That Won’t Be Beaten’, a full 2 years on from the release of the genre’s defining record, ‘Planet Rock’ by Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force.

Some might say better late than never, but what a missed opportunity it was for The Face, and other publications, with regards to witnessing a new British youth culture in embryo. Thankfully Lindsay Wesker, who wrote the club column in Black Echoes, had his ear to the ground and would make regular trips up and down the country throughout this period. So, along with a somewhat less electronically endeared writer, Frank Elson, the Northern club correspondent at Blues & Soul, who at one point refused to even acknowledge the word Electro, typing it as EL*C*RO instead, Wesker’s columns are an important testament to those changing times. Unsurprisingly, Wesker would later be one of the key figures in the formation of London’s hugely influential Kiss FM in 1985, the then pirate station’s playlist largely reflecting what was being featured in the underground black clubs – this wasn’t the type of stuff you were hearing on Radio 1.

Anyhow, without further ado here are the Top 10 Floorfillers from that telling month of October ‘82, as played at Wigan Pier and Legend (and also my other weekly nights of the time, Thursdays at The Stars Bar in Huddersfield and Friday at The Exit in Manchester):

1.Klein & MBO ‘Dirty Talk’ (USA Connection Instrumental)
2.Q ‘The Voice Of Q’ (Instrumental)
3.Planet Patrol ‘Rock At Your Own Risk’
4.Extra T’s ‘E.T. Boogie’ (Instrumental)
5.Sharon Redd ‘Beat The Street’ (Remix Instrumental)
6.George Clinton ‘Loopzilla’
7.Raw Silk ‘Do It To The Music’
8.Bootsy’s Rubber Band ‘Body Slam’
9.Warp 9 ‘Nunk’ (Instrumental)
10.Tyrone Brunson ‘The Smurf’

If you want to see the chart in greater detail, with label scans and writing / production / mix credits, it’s all here:
http://www.electrofunkroots.co.uk/greg-wilsons-top-10-floorfillers-oct-82/

At the summit is a track that would prove to be very influential, an inspiration behind the biggest selling British 12” of all-time. It’s not a New York production, as was the case with the majority of Electro-Funk imports, but a record that people nowadays might file under the genre heading ‘Italo Disco’, although back then it’d be over a year before the term  was coined (for a German compilation of Italian dance tunes on ZYX Records), so this was very much Electro-Funk from our perspective at the time. I wrote about the record, mentioning the guy who put me onto it, Harry Taylor, who worked behind the counter in the quintessential Manchester import specialists, Spin Inn, when selecting my 12x12 for NYC’s Wax Poetics magazine in 2006 (I’ve cut & pasted the relevant bits together below):

Spin Inn in Manchester was the premier record shop in the North of England when it came to dance music. If you had any aspirations of being taken seriously as a black music specialist you had no option but to shop there. There was nowhere outside of London that could compare when it came to stocking the latest imports. Although Spin Inn was best-known for black music, all the main DJs from the gay scene also bought their records there, with a guy called Harry Taylor (sadly no longer with us) looking after that side of the shop's business.

Harry would sometimes pull out a European track for me that would fit in perfectly with the mainly New York produced stuff I was playing. The best example of this was Klein & MBO’s “Dirty Talk” on the Italian Zanza label, which, in ’82, went absolutely massive at Legend and the Pier. This, of course, wasn’t the vocal, but the instrumental “USA Connection” mix.

DJ Hewan Clarke, at that time the resident at a new Manchester club called The Haçienda, picked up on the track, being aware of its floorfiller status across town at Legend, which was now the biggest night on the scene and, like Wigan Pier, pulling in people from all over the North and Midlands. One night Hewan was playing it when a couple of the guys from the seminal Indie band, New Order, who were co-owners of The Haçienda, came into the DJ booth to ask if they could borrow it to use as a reference for a track they were working on. This would turn out to be ‘Blue Monday’!

Had it not been for Harry, I’d never have heard this record when I did. It’s certainly not the type of track Spin Inn would have been pushing from the black side of things – although they sold Electro, the shops manager, Kev Edwards, made no bones about the fact that he disapproved of it, prompting much debate between the two of us with regards to its validity.
http://www.electrofunkroots.co.uk/lists/12x12.html

30 years on it remains a record that still cuts the mustard in a club. With the full blessing of the tracks co-writer, Tony Carrasco, I eventually got to put together my own edit 5 years ago (incorporating another Klein & MBO track ‘Wonderful'), for an official release on the Belgian label Flexx. Then, 2 years later, in 2009, it would feature on my 2nd Credit ToThe Edit compilation, further solidifying my long-running association with this underground classic, which, following its original release, found its most fervent support with the black crowd as an Electro-Funk floorfiller par excellence.

For more info on Electro-Funk and the black music underground:
http://www.electrofunkroots.co.uk

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16 Responses to The EDM From Way Back When

  1. JillonTop October 25, 2012 at 2:27 pm #

    aaaah, The Exit in Manchester .. I had completely forgotten about that club. Pete, Lynne, me and the entire dead or alive posse used to go up there regularly for their midweek gay night !

  2. Nick Gray October 25, 2012 at 5:23 pm #

    Greg!
    Some familiar beauties in that list. Thanks for you insight about 'the transition' from the soul/jazz-funkers to the electro pioneers. I suppose it wasn't long before there was a further fragmentation when house then acid house fully arrived, leaving the soul weekender crowd in a minority. Speaking of Morgan Khan, I'm looking forward to attending the 30 year bash on 17th November. My radio show this week has a tribute mix from my own, (but incomplete), Street Sounds collection. Hope it gets the Wilson seal of approval:

    The Funkmasters-It's Over

    Gwen McCrae-Doin' It

    Krystol-After the Dance is Through

    Little Benny & the Masters-Who Comes to Boogie

    Inner Life-Moment of My Life

    Real to Reel-Love Me Like This

    Kashif-I Just Gotta Have You (Lover Turn Me On)

    Xena-On the Upside

    The Whispers-Contagious

    Tramaine-Fall Down

    Paul Hardcastle-Rain Forest

    Twilight 22-Electric Kingdom

    Ready for the World-Oh Sheila

    Warp 9-Light Years Away

    Gilberto Gil-Maracatu Atomico

    Young-Holt Trio-Wack Wack

    Phuture-Phuture Jacks

    Ingram-Groovin' on a Groove

  3. Paul D, Rae October 25, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

    Oh yeah, Harry knew his toons alright! He and Kev made a real Salt & Pepper crew at Spin-Inn!

  4. ian October 25, 2012 at 5:55 pm #

    I played the october floor fillers selection to a 24 year old colleague today. His opinion.... sounds like old computer game music! paa! they just dont get it LOL!

    Im old enough to remember the selection from first time artound.... have most of them on vinyl actually.... purchased from Spinn Inn of course :-)

  5. Barry Grayshon October 25, 2012 at 6:20 pm #

    The Smurf! Have not heard it in a while.

  6. Mark Cathcart October 25, 2012 at 6:39 pm #

    Greg, so where would you place the work of your namesake, "Red" Greg Carmichael in the pantheon of US EDM?

    I think for me, while a lot of the tracks do not stand the test of time well, it was some of his projects, Bumblebee Unlimited and the Universal Robot Band that set me up to continue enjoying electronic music today. Add to that Celi Bee and the Buzzy Bunch you you have the start of electronic house as far as I'm concerned.

  7. Finlay October 26, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

    Greg,

    would love to know why you think 'EDM' as the yanks know it nowadays didn't go mainstream in the US as it did in the UK back in the 80s, considering Detroit, Chicago and New York was the birthplace of the scene?

    What was it that enabled hip hop and rap to dominate the way it did into the 90s and beyond and the penny only seems to have dropped with the youth of America thirty years on?

    From what i've read it seems like they had the clubs and there were pockets of very clued up punters, but it never seemed to transcend to the masses.

    Thanks
    Finlay

  8. Mark Cathcart October 26, 2012 at 3:01 pm #

    Finaly, I can have a stab at that, I lived in NY from 80-86; and have been here in Texas since 2004. I grew up in Hertfordshire in the 1970's, and amongst many part time jobs, gofered for Greg Edwards at Capital Radio in 77-78..

    America is a very different place from the movies, and a massive country compared to the UK. Leaving aside the racial aspect to dance music, and from the 1970's the fact it was heavily tied to the gay scene; and the disco is dead revolt of the late 1970's, all of which made it much harder for dance music to get heard.

    America is a culture, where the country is massive and they only way to succeed, largely, is to associate with established clubs/cults. You dress, think and act like them, and to succeed, you are then the best amongst them. This applys in across both geographic and societal barriers. There almost no national media outlets, even today, those that are have to pander to the masses, or die. People, music etc. that is out of the norm' are mostly excluded, even the extremes are pretty normal and/or manufactured rather than organic. News travels slow.

    Compare that to the UK, the country is VERY (geographically) small, people live next to each other, on top of each other, in close proximty. All media, for the most part is national, news travels fast. Something that catches on in the UK only has to be 1/100th as popular as the USA, or even less. In the UK, different is celebrated, not shunned.

    Add to the a more tolerant sexual society, a less racial society, and a more progressive music industry where change makes money, not controlling interests protecting their investment. Dance music came along, it caught on with a small crowd, it was celebrated, successful and grew in the UK, after a while each generation moves on, my daughter(29) now bemoans the state of dance music, much as I did back in the 1980's, but it will carry on.

    The same thing happens here in the USA, but they are complaining and comparing the AOR music from 1980/90's while EDM has captured the youth market because the music business no longer controls the distribution channels in the same way.

  9. matt October 26, 2012 at 6:15 pm #

    as always, another great post. love all the historical info. great work greg

  10. greg wilson October 28, 2012 at 1:03 am #

    Hi Mark Cathcart: It's one of the tributaries (Universal Robot Band's 'Barely Breaking Even' was in April chart btw), but I wouldn't regard it as seminal - not when you look at how black artists like Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, Norman Whitfield etc. were incorporating electronic elements from the early 70's onwards.

    Celi Bee & The Buzzy Bunch always sounded very European to my ears - I wasn't a big fan personally at the time. That said, House obviously has its European influences, so I can see where you're coming from.

    greg

  11. greg wilson October 28, 2012 at 1:28 am #

    Hi Finlay: I pretty much concur with what Mark says. It's only since I've been regularly going across to the US during recent years that I've realised just how damaging that whole 'Disco Sucks' thing was in the States. There's a part in the Nile Rodgers book where he explains how it impacted within the record industry, Disco, almost overnight, becoming a dirty word.

    I'd imagine that even today a huge amount of American's would refer to Disco as 'fag music'. They really did a hatchet job on it back in '79, and, as a consequence, it's never been given the cultural appreciation it merits. The racists and homophobes made a mockery out of Disco, and this association is muck that has, sadly, stuck - the fallout still reverberating into now.

    On the plus side, I believe that the main reason that US dance music was so innovative in the 80's was because of this enforced marginalisation. Disco, on a mainstream level, had become increasingly cheesy as everyone chased the dollar, but, once it was declared dead, dance music was able to go back underground and develop without the commercial pressures that had come into play as the whole thing gained momentum during the mid-late 70's, becoming such a lucrative business in the process, whilst increasingly selling its soul (quite literally). It can be argued that, in some respects, the backlash was of its own making.

    greg

  12. Finlay October 29, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    Thanks for the replies Greg & Mark - makes a lot of sense.

  13. Jason Pursley November 7, 2012 at 5:58 am #

    No way to measure this studs height-width-length-&depth of his knowledge & love of music! Hold on, wait a minute, that's @ least my love for this stud; a, (((( Mr. Greg Wil$0n )))). Mine, along w/many I'm sure, lives, would B guit the bore w/out him & his smart brain. Many many thanks Musical Stud. {~%
    a listener not worthy
    Jason Pursley

  14. SFERRAZZA November 18, 2012 at 2:45 am #

    Amazing content as always. The transitional era that marks the full synthesization (drum machine, synth, sampler, sequencer) of disco is seldom covered in proportion to its resonating influence. How long between Computer World and Clear, pitstopping at Bambaata in between? 18 months? The magical apex where the emerence of electronic studio technology and artistic execution combined to deliver releases with a standard that many producers don't even bother aspiring to today.

  15. Driveway Cleaning Wolverhampton December 28, 2012 at 11:50 am #

    Reading this was a trip down memory lane. I really enjoyed it. Reminded me of my mis spent youth lol

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