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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

16

How Clubbing Changed The World

Last month I was over in Chicago chilling out in my hotel room ahead of my first gig in the city, at Smart Bar, a venue with a rich tradition, which opened back in 1982. Chicago is, of course, along with Detroit, Philadelphia and New York, revered as a key US city when it comes to the evolution of dance culture (and, indeed, black culture, with, way before House, a deep heritage in Rhythm & Blues, Blues and Jazz, dating right back to the ‘great migration’ of black workers from the southern states, beginning just over 100 years ago).

Checking out my emails, there were a few messages from people who weren’t aware that I was out of the country, asking if I’d watched the Channel 4 programme, ‘How Clubbing Changed The World’, which had been broadcast that night, and pointing me to a Facebook thread where a heated discussion was taking place, some people criticising the show for what it had chosen to disregard, others enjoying the trip down memory lane, regardless of what might have been left out, thankful that there was something half-decent to watch on a Friday night. I also had a look on Twitter, where the majority of people seemed positive about the programme, although this was peppered with the odd dissenting voice, asking why this or that hadn’t been included in the show’s Top 40 key moments in clubbing history.

Even though it was available to view online, I wasn’t able to watch it until my return to the UK. In the meantime I had a look on a couple of the dance forums, to see what had been said, including Faithfanzine, the home of one of London’s key movers and shakers of the Acid-House / Rave movement, Terry Farley, who, as I’d expected, had been interviewed for the programme, and it was interesting to read what he had to say. He was particularly critical of fact that Hip Hop hadn’t been covered, asking ‘how the fuck can you do a show about dance music and not mention Hip Hop?’  He was then informed that the company behind the programme, Fresh One, had already produced ‘How Hip Hop Changed The World’ in 2011. This splitting of 2 previously firmly connected forms is, I believe, one of the main reasons that the early 80’s era, which I’m constantly banging on about as crucial to our understanding of how dance culture developed in the way it did, is continually miscomprehended and, as a result, totally underplayed, time and time again.

In reply to a complaint that ‘the whole programme failed to portray the mix of music that has taken place in dance music clubs’, Farley responded; ‘I did my best to keep on repeating ' nothing started in 88' and explained how thousands upon thousands would be dancing in Warehouses in the mid 80's BUT of course they have a show ready and just wanted quotes to fit the shows template.’ In defence of this criticism the producers of the programme would surely point out that they touched on a few things, like New York Disco and Northern Soul in the 70’s, as well as pirate radio in the pre-Rave period, but this was but a fraction of the overall content, the impression being that not a lot of note happened before the big bang of ’88, which would take what was previously the domain of the underground squarely into mainstream focus.

At this point I should explain that, although I hadn’t yet seen it, and didn’t know it was coming on that weekend, I was fully aware that ‘How Clubbing Changed The World’ was imminent, because back in April I’d been approached by the programme and asked to contribute, selecting, in order of importance, 25 ‘defining moments’ from a list they’d compiled. I was also invited to let them know if there was something I felt had been missed out. I agreed to look through the list, but with some trepidation; ‘On the surface the programme sounds brilliant, but it always concerns me that we’ll get the same old story – DJ’s go to Ibiza in 1987 and it all kicks in from there’. Having looked through it I concluded that this wasn’t a programme I wished to personally endorse, and I emailed to politely decline, explaining my reasons:

I have to say that it is largely the same old story - there are big gaping holes as far as the black / dance music scene of the 70's / early-mid 80's are concerned, and on that basis I wouldn't want to participate in rating your selections. Apart from Kiss FM and Goldie, I don't think that black culture in this country is covered at all. The biggest omissions in my eyes are (in no specific order):

1. The release of 'Planet Rock' by Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force in 1982, the record that split the atom as far as electronic dance music is concerned - its importance isn't even mentioned in the entry about Kraftwerk, even though it pre-dates (and serves to influence) the Techno movement you do mention.

2. The Street Sounds Electro series, which set the standard with regards to UK dance compilations, and introduced dance music to a whole new pre-Rave generation - it was also the first series of mixed albums.

3.The Soul / Jazz-Funk All-Dayer scene of the 70's and early 80's, where people were travelling up and down the country to rave well before there were raves.

4. The magazines that promoted black / dance culture during the 70's - Blues & Soul, Black Echoes, Record Mirror, and the specialist radio DJ's who pioneered via the airwaves.

5. The explosion of breakdancing in shopping centres throughout the UK in 83 and 84, where many young white kids first met their black counterparts and discovered black / dance culture.

6. Cut & Paste - from NYC's Steinski in the mid-80's through Coldcut in the UK and via seminal UK dance releases like M/A/R/R/S 'Pump Up The Volume', Bomb Da Bass 'Beat Dis', S Express 'Theme From S Express' and Coldcut's 'Doctorin' The House'.

7. The introduction of the 12" single - a revolution in itself.

8. The mods in the 60's, and their R&B All-Nighters in cities like London and Manchester, from which the Northern Soul scene would be born.

9. Tamla Motown - the UK's greatest dance label of all (American music, but Tamla and Motown were, along with Gordy, Soul and others, separate labels under the Motown umbrella Stateside).

I concluded by stating; ‘I'm sorry I can't be more positive, but from the list of stuff you sent, although I'm sure it'll be a successful programme for Fresh One, it still falls well short in projecting the fuller picture, relying mainly on the tried and tested tales as is the norm, which is fine if you're only interested in the surface of things, but it misses the mark with regards to depth.’

I suppose that this is the crux of the matter – do you want a show that will really get to the core of how club culture emerged, and subsequently changed the world, or do you want a couple of hours of quick-fire feelgood entertainment, which although somewhat disjointed, is pretty slick in its presentation and contains a little bit of something for everyone. ‘How Clubbing Changed The World’ was always going to be the latter, a fast-moving collection of clips that, even if you didn’t like / agree with what was being shown, you knew there was another ‘moment’ imminent.

Further to this, as I noticed someone point out on Twitter, the programme seemed to have a firm eye on the US, where dance culture, on a commercial level, has finally hit paydirt. This was illustrated when the narration stated that ‘our special relationship with the USA may have got just a little bit more special’ in reference to this development.  The choice of the presenter also suggests this intention – Idris Elba has major kudos across the Atlantic playing the drug lord Russell ‘Stringer’ Bell in ‘The Wire’. Away from acting, Elba DJ’s and records under the name DJ Big Driis, which, in his role as host, gave him a further level of authenticity / authority. Add the fact he’s regarded as something of a sex symbol, and it was a very shrewd choice (no doubt his own, given that he co-produced the show, so much so that its title was elongated to ‘Idris Elba’s How Clubbing Changed The World’, which is more likely to catch the attention of a largely indifferent US TV audience (‘How Hip Hop Changed The World’ was issued without the ‘Idris Elba’s’ preface, although, once again, he co-produced / presented the programme).

The premise of the show was that it all started in New York in the 70’s (with The Loft and Paradise Garage briefly name-checked), citing ‘Saturday Night Fever’ as the catalyst for bringing the movement to the UK, leading to Britain, as the programme asserts, taking its position at the vanguard of ‘modern club culture’. There is a level of truth in this, but only with regards to the mainstream experience – the underground scene in the UK goes right back to the early 60’s, with its own unique lineage, separate to what was happening in the clubs of NYC, which ultimately fuses with New York Disco culture in the late 70’s / early 80’s to create the alchemic conditions from which Britain would instigate the oncoming Rave era, taking the culture worldwide as a consequence. In short, club culture, as we know it, doesn’t only start in New York, but also in the UK, and, as some would argue, at an earlier point in time.

Once I would probably have been upset by a programme like ‘How Clubbing Changed The World’, which, apart from what it left out, contains far too much superfluous content for my liking, and a fair few inaccuracies to boot, but I’ve learnt, from experience, not to have any expectations and, with this in mind, I accepted the show for what it was, a populist take on the culture which has shaped so many lives, but largely without the roots apparent, just the branches. A documentary about the history of British dance culture that doesn’t include reference to the likes of Guy Stevens, James Hamilton, Roger Eagle, Jeff Dexter, Les Cokell, Ian Levine, Colin Curtis, Chris Hill, Bob Jones, Les Spaine, Richard Searling, Russ Winstanley, Mark Roman, Ian Dewhirst & Paul Schofield, Terry Lennaine, Greg Edwards, Robbie Vincent, George Power, Graham ‘Fatman’ Canter, Froggy, Mike Shaft, Paul ‘Trouble’ Anderson, Norman Jay, Jay Strongman, Chris Sullivan, Hewan Clarke, The Wild Bunch, Trevor M,  Mastermind Roadshow, Maurice & Noel Watson, Paul Murphy, Mike Allen, Winston & Parrot, Stu Allan, Chad Jackson and others who made their mark in the pre-Rave era (apologies to those I’ve undoubtedly missed out), should be taken with a pinch of salt. However, such a documentary wouldn’t make it onto prime time Channel 4 – this used to be a cutting-edge station, but now it’s part of the orthodoxy. As someone said on the prior mentioned Facebook thread, ‘why didn’t they show something like ‘Maestro’ instead’ (‘Maestro’ is a gritty documentary about New York Disco culture, focusing primarily on Larry Levan, the fabled DJ from the Paradise Garage), to which someone answered ‘Channel 4 would never show something like that’, before a third person added ‘that’s exactly the type of thing Channel 4 used to show’. In essence, Channel 4 is a very different beast to what it used to be, and whereas once it was probably the station I’d be most likely to record something from, nowadays I don’t even check the listings (which is why I was unaware that ‘How Clubbing Changed The World’ was coming on in the first place). These days my stations of choice are no longer Channel 4 and BBC 2, but BBC 4 and Sky Arts.

In a certain sense it’s about getting older and realising that the era you hold most precious is, for the majority of the club populace, prehistoric, even the Acid-House period is ancient history for the majority of contemporary Channel 4 viewers, where the most popular shows of the past decade have included ‘Big Brother’ and ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’. The programme, in many respects, should have only covered what they regard as ‘modern club culture’, with its roots in House music, The Haçienda, and Ibiza, because the tokenism of mentioning just a few, and not all, of the key moments that came before, negates the efforts of all those, dancers and DJ’s, who really built this movement, establishing its firm foundations in the years when the mainstream glare was elsewhere.

It’s also interesting to see the omission of some DJ’s who very much made their mark on ‘modern club culture’. Jeff Young, for example, was the DJ who kicked off the BBC Radio 1 Friday night dance show that would later become the domain of Pete Tong, working at the station between 1988 and 1991, the peak years of the Acid-House / Rave era, before Tong took over (it was Young who also brought Tong in to work at London Records earlier in the decade). Another example would be that famous Ibiza trip itself – ‘How Clubbing Changed The World’ would only mention 2 of the group of 4 DJ’s who headed there in 1987, Paul Oakenfold and Danny Rampling, whilst the lesser known of the quartet, Nicky Holloway and Johnny Walker, were no longer deemed important enough to mention. Further to this, the ‘Ibiza 4’ was actually 5, for it was DJ Trevor Fung who facilitated the trip, Fung already working on the island for a number of years before the others came over, having previously holidayed there since 1977. There are other examples, but when it comes to history, not only the history of dance culture, but in general, you’ll find that the originators are more often than not usurped by those who benefitted most from their pioneering spirit, and who, in turn, are then presented themselves as the originals.

So, if post-House / Haçienda / Ibiza is ‘modern club culture as we know it’, what came before is something of a classical era, which needs to be understood in a different way. The thorough documentation of the Northern Soul movement means that any self-respecting dance chronicler has to tip their hat to it, usually focusing on Wigan Casino, its most popular venue, rather than those earlier clubs that many on the scene at the time may have cited as more influential, like The Twisted Wheel in Manchester and the Blackpool Mecca. The Casino is the epitome of Northern Soul to the casual observer, just as Studio 54 is the venue most associated with the New York Disco era…or at least it was. Nowadays, as ‘How Clubbing Changed The World’ illustrated, it’s cooler to reference The Loft and the Paradise Garage as the key NYC Disco venues. This was unlikely to have been the case in such a programme a decade ago, but the publication of Tim Lawrence’s ‘Love Saves The Day’ (2003), a widely acclaimed book that got deep into Disco culture, documenting the New York club scene of the 70’s to a level nobody else had come close to, shone a light on this previously forgotten era. Like Northern Soul, this can no longer be denied, too many people have come to realise that a documentary about the history of clubbing is going to be deeply flawed without reference to The Loft and the Garage (at the very least). That said, we still have a situation where the early 80’s, a period I maintain is perhaps the most pivotal of all, being the crossroads between the old (Soul, Funk, Disco, Jazz-Funk) and the new (Hip Hop, House, Techno, and all their subsequent mutant strains), is still very much the ‘missing link of dance culture’ I referred to in my article, ‘Electro-Funk – What Did It All Mean?’, which I wrote in November 2003, a month before I made my DJ comeback:
http://www.electrofunkroots.co.uk/articles/what.html

As I said in the piece at the time, ‘although this (the period) has been documented in a number of books and publications down the years, often with a fair degree of insight, the subject is rarely approached with any true depth and attention to detail, the information all in fragments.’ This is still the situation almost 9 years on, although my resurrected DJ career has helped me draw more attention to my own writings on this and related subjects, meaning that at least those keeping an eye on what I’m up to, and who like to dig that bit deeper, are aware that the post-Disco / pre-House period was anything but the tumbleweed strewn dance wilderness many club documentarians have projected by omission.

I’ve always believed very strongly that the truth will eventually out, and whilst TV shows like ‘How Clubbing Changed The World’ are but transient interludes, lasting testament to this culture will be found in the pages of books and the more serious minded films and documentaries from and about the era. The ‘same old story’ I mentioned earlier will come under increasing scrutiny as more information emerges with regards to those lost years between the so called ‘death of Disco’ at the end of the 70’s and the birth of House in the mid-80’s.

It’s those crucial early-80’s years that hold the key, but there hasn’t been a voice loud enough to really capture the imagination of that significant minority needed to change perceptions, in the way that David Mancuso and The Loft re-emerged, phoenix from the flames style, as fundamental to our comprehension of the Disco era, having previously been regarded, at best, as a mere side issue, and at worst not mentioned at all. Any book / TV documentary / film that professes to understand dance culture, but which has failed to reference The Loft, or the Paradise Garage, will be seriously flawed for those studying its evolution in the future, who’ll then question the entire content of the work on the basis that if the author can get it so wrong in this case, there’s a strong likelihood that there are other significant errors in their account. Something that might today be regarded as the final word on the subject may well, in 10 years’ time be dismissed as full as holes, something new coming along in the meantime that provides a more thorough account. With this in mind, Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton’s book, ‘Last Night A DJ Saves My Life’(1999), re-published with over 100 extra pages in 2006 with planned further updates in the future, adding fresh information they might have missed previously (and, no doubt, taking out what they now feel is expendable).

Whilst, as a somewhat lone voice, or so it often seemed, it’s been difficult to highlight the claims of the early-80’s, I’m confident that the era, at least from an NYC perspective, is soon to be finally opened up in all its hybrid splendour. In his follow-up to ‘Love Saves The Day’, Tim Lawrence is currently completing a book which will hopefully hit the shelves in around 12 months’ time, titled ‘Life And Death On The New York Dance Floor: A History 1980-1983’:
http://uel.academia.edu/TimLawrence/Books

Before he wrote ‘Love Saves The Day’, Lawrence had originally intended to cover  the New York club scene at a later point in time, 2 decades on from David Mancuso’s original Loft parties, when Masters At Work (‘Little’ Louie Vega & Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzalez) were writing a new chapter in the NYC dance story. But what, for me, really sets him apart as a documentarian of dance culture is that, having heard Mancuso’s name come up in interviews one time too many, he saw the bigger picture, switching the emphasis to the 70’s, and set about unearthing the story that now underpins our understanding of New York Disco and its influence on all that followed. A cultural anthropologist, he restored Mancuso to his rightful place at the roots of the Disco movement, making a crucial contribution to our understanding of the era. Not only did he do this with his writing, but he was also part of a team of people who brought this seminal figure over to the UK for regular London Loft parties, which continue to this day.

In a similar way, when asked to write the sleevenotes to the 2006 ‘Discotheque: The Haçienda’ retrospective, rather than, as most writers would, concentrate on the post-88 golden era, he asked the pertinent questions ‘why this club?’, ‘why Manchester?’, ‘how did it happen?’ and, for the first time, illuminated the period that led up to the club becoming a world-famous bastion of dance - his main focus being the period 1982-1988, before ecstasy made its impact, illustrating how the music was already well in place before the drug came on the scene. Incidentally, the #1 defining moment in dance history, according to ‘How Clubbing Changed The World’, wasn’t a musical movement, or a club, or a DJ, but the little pill itself. This is exactly why, for me, dance culture took a wrong turn in the 90’s - the music was already established when ecstasy appeared, and initially the drug enhanced the music, however, it wasn’t long before the drug became primary and the music supplementary, which is always the wrong equation.

As with ‘Love Saves The Day’, ‘Life And Death On The New York Dance Floor’ was originally intended to be a very different book. Tim Lawrence had planned to cover dance culture, not only in New York, but Chicago, Detroit and the UK, leading up to the Rave explosion, but once he’d started writing he realised that there was so much that had happened in NYC during the early 80’s that this was either going to be an unfeasibly thick book or his sole focus should be on New York from 80-83. This is exactly the time and place that I’ve been banging on about for all these years, so needless to say that I’m hugely excited about this book, and itching to read it. It’s going to finally illuminate that missing link in a way that helps connects the dots and, for the first time, properly bridge a major gap in peoples’ understanding of how this most critical cultural juncture would inform everything that has followed.

After Chicago I travelled to Brooklyn, where I felt a real sense of history this time around, the area increasingly the cultural hub of New York. Manhattan may have held sway in the past, but Brooklyn has risen and is, I’m sure, about to hit full-tilt in the coming years. My gig at The Bunker, held in 12-turn-13, a loft space I’ve previously appeared at for a Mister Saturday Night party, was one of those occasions that will live in the memory for a long time – there was certainly that special indefinable something in the air, and the recording can be heard here: http://soundcloud.com/gregwilson/the-bunker-brooklyn-26-08-12. The following day I was the guest of Dennis ‘Citizen’ Kane for the 1st anniversary of his Disques Town podcast, in which we focused on the New York club scene 30 years ago, with all the music I selected coming out of the city in the 6 month period up to September 1982, providing a taste of just how prolific the dance movement in NYC was back then. To contribute to the discussion Dennis had invited his friend, Sal Principato, along, to add his recollections. Sal was the frontman with the influential 99 Records band, Liquid Liquid, best-known for their 1983 track ‘Cavern’, which was what Grandmaster & Melle Mel based their worldwide hit ‘White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)’ around. The full show is now available at www.dsgtnyc.com/podcast.php or on SoundCloud:

Disquestown Podcast episode #13 Dennis Kane w Greg Wilson & Sal P. by DSGTNYC

It was great to talk with those 2 guys, both of whom experienced that period directly and have a wealth of knowledge between them. We got so deep into things that later, when I’d left the studio and returned to where I was staying, Dennis and I carried on discussing the era on the phone for over 3 hours, no longer conducting a radio interview, but simply indulging in our joint passion for what happened way back when, when Dennis was in New York, at the epicentre of things, whilst I was across the Atlantic in Manchester, fully absorbing the influences and inspiration of a city over 3,000 miles away.

There’s always going to be an element of subjectivity when someone writes a book, makes a documentary, or, indeed, does a radio interview, and nobody can produce such a thing as a ‘definitive account’, there’s always something they’ll miss – different people place different emphasis on different things, and often important aspects, sometimes vitally important, are overlooked as the emphasis is placed elsewhere, the elephant, as is said, not touched from all angles. It can take a long passage of time before someone suitably detached, as Tim Lawrence was with regards to New York in the 70’s (or The Haçienda in the 80’s), takes a more objective approach, seeing the bigger picture, and changing the general consensus as a consequence, this ‘new’ information becoming key to our fuller understanding.

Let’s hope that, on the positive side, ‘How Clubbing Changed The World’ served to whet the appetite of, at least, some of its viewers, parts of it providing them with a portal to a deeper appreciation of what went before. And it’s not just the younger generation of clubbers, even many of the older heads who were personally embroiled in the era of House, The Haçienda and Ibiza, E’d-up and enjoying those heady days to the full, have little knowledge of the records, clubs and DJ’s who laid the groundwork for them to subsequently experience what they now fondly recall as the greatest nights of their lives. As they say, we’re never too old to learn, especially when it comes to understanding our heritage, and whilst clubbing can lay its claim to helping change the world in which we live, some of its greatest treasures are still buried beneath the surface.

Idris Elba’s How Clubbing Changed The World On 4oD:
http://www.channel4.com/programmes/idris-elbas-how-clubbing-changed-the-world

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Street Sounds Electro

Down the years, so many people have told me about how they got into dance music as a result of the Street Sounds Electro series, which had such a massive impact on a significant chunk of British youth, both black and white, following its launch in late ’83, but is bafflingly absent in so many accounts of UK dance history. Would welcome any comments here about how this seminal series affected and inspired you, and why you think it has never received anything like its proper dues from the wider dance community.

I’ve just put my article online about the evolution of mixing in the UK, with the Electro series an important part of the story.  Here’s the section I wrote about it:

“With a wealth of experience in club promotion, Morgan Khan launched his Streetwave label in the early 80's. Struggling to get the hits he'd hoped for he began releasing compilation albums, featuring tracks that had been big on import in the specialist clubs. His 'Street Sounds' series proved to be a great success, resulting in no less than six Top 50 albums in 1983. This led to a further series, 'Street Sounds Electro' (first volume released in Oct '83), but this time, rather than it being the normal grouping of separate tracks, Khan decided the album's would be mixed. He approached Mastermind, led by Herbie Laidley, but also including Max LX and Dave VJ (later Max & Dave of Kiss FM), to mix the first release, which proved to be a masterstroke when it went all the way into the Top 20. These LP's (not forgetting the cassettes, regarded as breakdance essentials for crews up and down the country) would become something of an institution, with a run of eighteen consecutive chart entries (the majority of which were mixed by Herbie Laidley) right up until August '87, when 'Electro' was finally phased out of the title and the series continued as 'Street Sounds Hip Hop' (having been re-branded as 'Street Sounds Hip Hop Electro' since March '86). It's a major flaw on the part of UK dance historians that the impact and influence of these albums has been largely underplayed and, more often than not, completely omitted.”

Taken from ‘How The Talking Stopped’:
http://www.electrofunkroots.co.uk/articles/how_the_talking_stopped.html

Street Sounds Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/StreetSounds_%28record_label%29

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