In discussion with Holger “Groover” Klein on “The Call Is Strong” by Carlton (1990).
What was your first encounter with „The Call Is Strong“?
Alongside Daddy Gee, Carlton was featured on “Any Love”, the very first Massive Attack single which was a cover of one of my favourite songs from Rufus & Chaka Khan. I was a huge Chaka Khan fan by the way, I went to quite a few concerts. The very first time I saw her, I even waited for her at the backstage entrance because I wanted to have an autograph. Want some trivia? In the 90s, she had been living in my hometown Mannheim for a few years. Back to Carlton, I was really impressed by his crystal clear falsetto. I think “Any Love” came out roughly about the same time as the first Smith & Mighty singles, so this was the starting point of the Bristol sound. I first heard about the Bristol sound when I read about it in i-D magazine or The Face. So I already knew about Carlton when his first album dropped. I bought it at the local WOM store where I used to work back then.
1990 was a very exciting year for club music. Why did you choose this album over others? Why was and is it so important for you?
After you approached me for “Rewind”, I thought that I would have a hard time choosing “that” record. But then I stumbled across a 12” of his song “Cool With Nature” which contains killer remixes by Bobby Konders. So I remembered how much this album meant to me. When I listened to it for the first time, it blew me away. Smith & Mighty did a fantastic production job. At that time, it was very state of the art incorporating elements of Dub, contemporary US R&B, classic Soul, Reggae, electronic sounds as I knew them from House music and even some Swingbeat bits. I fell in love with the ethereal and often spliffed out vibe of the album and Carlton’s songwriting.
How do you rate Carlton as a singer? Why do you think they chose him, and could the album have been as good with another singer?
Carlton’s voice struck me instantly. I think he is a truly underrated singer and it’s a pity that the album wasn’t successful. His voice is really unique, that must be why Smith & Mighty chose him. It was his album, not a Smith & Mighty project in the first place. When you listen to him you can clearly tell that he’s coming from a Reggae background. On “The Call Is Strong” he sounds like a Reggae vocalist singing some kind of otherworldly UK version of R&B.
The album is taking quite some detours. For example „Love And Pain“ could have been a 2 Tone ballad from years earlier, while „Do You Dream“ is right on par with breakbeat pioneers like Shut Up And Dance or 4 Hero. How does „The Call Is Strong“ work as an album? How pioneering was what Smith & Mighty did?
It was very pioneering! The sparse beats, their very English way of bringing together the Jamaican sound system culture and US Hip Hop without sounding like eager copycats. And of course, as they grew up in England, they must have been in touch with 2 Tone stuff as well when they were teenagers. You’re right, you can also trace down elements that became integral with the Breakbeat scene which was already emerging at a very early stage.
I first became aware of Smith & Mighty when they appeared with their Bacharach reworks „Walk On“ and „Anyone“ two years earlier, to which „The Call Is Strong“ sounds like a continuation. I thought they sounded like nobody else at that time. Suddenly Bristol was on the map, making a difference. But could anyone predict how big that difference would be?
You could clearly hear that Smith & Mighty and Massive Attack were making a difference when their first 12”s came out. It all sounded so new and fresh. But I really had no idea how big this Bristol thing would become. Also I had no idea how misinterpreted the whole thing would get when the term Trip Hop emerged.
There were groups emerging in the late 80s that were deeply rooted in sound system culture, but why were Massive Attack and the London equivalent Soul II Soul so much more successful than Smith & Mighty? Were they less traditional and closer to pop music’s proceedings? And why do you think didn’t Carlton manage to establish himself as an ongoing fixture?
Massive Attack and Soul II Soul had the big hit singles. But not by accident, both had good labels with a staff that knew how to work their releases. Smith & Mighty signed a major deal as well – with FFRR, at that time a subsidiary of London Records/PolyGram. The first big project was Carlton’s album, which didn’t prove to be as successful as expected. Then Smith & Mighty were kind of locked in this deal. Under their own name, they only released a four track EP on FFRR. I would say they missed the right moment due to this deal. It took them years to get out of it. Read the rest of this entry »
In discussion with Lerosa on “Electric Café” by Kraftwerk (1986).
There was „Computer World“, then the „Tour de France“ single, then a silence of several years. I was impatiently waiting for their next move, and it kept getting renamed and postponed. Then the first thing I heard at last was „Boing Boom Tschak“. I thought that was pure genius. I suppose you were already a fan before, too. How did you experience that comeback and what did you think of it?
My first encounter with Kraftwerk was when I was 14, the video for „”Musique Non Stop”“ premiered on MTV Italy, with its groundbreaking CGI it was unique at the time. The only similar music I might have had come across then was probably Art Of Noise’s „Close To The Edit“ and Herbie Hancock’s „Rock It“. I didn’t have access to a lot of music as I had no older clued-in sibling nor were my parents into music, perhaps bar my mom who loves her Charles Aznavour and Lucio Dalla, so to be honest I had no idea who these guys were but I was blown away. To me this was new music from a new band! Sometime later I made friends with a guy from Bolzano who told me to check out the „Breakdance“ movie to see Turbo do a routine to „Tour De France“, a freaky song with electric pulses that sounded like a bike chain. After a few months of looking for it I watched the movie, and heard that, too. A year later on holiday in Rimini I shoplifted „Autobahn“ and „Radio Activity“ and I loved both but also not understood them very well as they packed a lot of references to more experimental music I wasn’t quite well versed as a 16 year old. It wasn’t until much, much later that I finally heard „Computer World“. I don’t think I have heard the first two albums yet. I think for a lot of kids back then “Musique Non Stop” was their first meeting with Kraftwerk. Like a lot of people I was a bit disappointed with „Electric Café“ at first. I thought the A-Side was a wonderful statement, but the B-Side lacked the same consequence. I liked the sounds, but I was not that impressed with the tunes. But it has grown on me immensely, starting only shortly after.
Is this album perfectly flawed, a good example for an album that does not lose its impact due to shortcomings?
I think after getting the 12“ for “Musique Non Stop” and eventually finding the LP I too might have been not very enamoured with B-side with its cringey songs (in English, that’s the version I had). It was too much like the music on Italian commercial day time radio and I was being drawn to these new sounds, Hip Hop and early House, that were starting to seep in through the late night radio stations and occasional afternoon clubs we had in Italy for 14 to 17 year olds. I wanted to hear this new Rap music and these new weird electronic House beats, I had no time for the „Telephone Call“ etc. Nevertheless I was charmed by them as the melodies and arrangement were very catchy.I am not sure if I ever thought of it as flawed; it felt like a cohesive whole, just one where I failed to connect the dots, which is how I normally felt whenever I heard something new that really alienated me, say Peter Gabriel „IV“. I just always thought I didn’t know enough to understand it rather than thinking, „oh this is a bit shit“. I think it is insecurity that made me look at it with respect rather than try to judge it as an album. I don’t think I owned many albums back then at all.Whichever way it is, the B-side songs eventually have become the ones I play most often, especially „Telephone Call“, which I love very much. And likewise I love a lot strange pop albums like Peter Gabriel’s „IV“, or Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s debut album or indeed „Who’s Afraid Of The Art Of Noise“.
Ralf Hütter had a severe cycling accident that slowed the work on „Electric Café“ down considerably. Do you think the flaws of the album are there because they rushed proceedings to not lose more momentum?
Who knows. I’d like to think that this was delivered the way it is quite intentionally to showcase the connection between the new sounds and beats of the A-side and the more traditional songs on the B-side, all held together by the electronic sounds. I think I always looked at this record like that; as a sort bridge between the old and the new.
The working title of the album was „Techno Pop“, and they even renamed the album later on. But isn’t the B-Side more Techno Pop than the A-Side? Could’t they have made one album that was pop, and one that was pure rhythm?
Well, I am sure that back then I probably wished the same, I would have loved more of the A-side but in hindsight maybe that would have really made it too niche and austere an album to their ears, coming as they were from a mixed background of musicality and experimentation, I suppose they were trying to find a balance on one record rather than being too pragmatic and split it into two separate entities.
I once imagined that „Sex Object“ was actually a first glimpse of a whole other concept album that was neglected, just for the lack of a better explanation why it was included. Especially the lyrics seemed to clash with their usual man machine infatuation, they are very human. As are the lyrics of „The Telephone Call“. How human are Kraftwerk?
I think they are very human and that’s why they are so popular to this day. Their appeal goes way beyond the mere “electronic music” tag, it doesn’t rest on the laurels of introducing a lot of complex machinery to music. They articulated the new relationship between humans and the technological world with sounds that managed to be extremely human and extremely non-human. Quite the trick. Read the rest of this entry »
In discussion with Steve Fabus on “Let’s Start The Dance” by Hamilton Bohannon (1978).
How did you discover „Let’s Start The Dance“? Was it in a record store, or in a club?
I discovered “Let’s Start the Dance” in my slot at my record pool, BADDA (Bay Area Disco DJ Association) in San Francisco in 1978. It was the album „Summertime Groove“, where „Let’s Start the Dance“ is the first track on side A. When I first heard it I was blown away by it and couldn’t wait to play it at the club that night. When I played it the crowd went crazy and it was the peak record of the night, not surprisingly.
When the record came out, you had already started your career as a DJ in San Francisco. What makes this record so special for you? And was „Let’s Start The Dance“ a defining record for the sound you played back then?
I was playing loft parties and underground clubs and at two of the major clubs in San Francisco, the I-Beam and Trocadero Transfer. I know one of the reasons I was brought into the scene was because I incorporated a lot of the R&B, Groove, Funk and soulful sounds from Chicago and New York and mixed it with the NRG and Electronic sounds already being made in San Francisco, and coming in from Europe. „Let’s Start the Dance“ was and still is a defining record for me because it is such a fusion of so many of these sounds but most importantly — it’s a jam. Its many elements, Jazz, Blues, Rock, Funk, Electronic, Boogie, take you on a trip in a whole movement building up to a crescendo of orgasmic release. It relates to other fusion sounds like the Isley Brothers’ „Live It Up“, Crown Heights Affair’s „Dancin“ and many of James Brown’s tracks.
Hamilton Bohannon was a drummer originally, and he started releasing records that were very focussed on rhythm and very distinctive from the early 70s on. What was his role in the history books of Disco music?
I first heard Bohannon in Chicago in 1975 at Dugan’s Bistro, a major downtown gay club. The track I heard was „Bohannon’s Beat“ which is on one of the early albums on the Dakar label. It stood out to me because it didn’t follow any of the commercial rules of the day. It presented itself as a unique sound — experimental and minimal, a mantra to hook into. It inspired and encouraged DJs to take Disco underground. It was like a loop, a tool to use to improvise, phase or use as a bridge. Mantra is a major theme for Bohannon and he carries it forward with „Let’s Start the Dance“, which is just the opposite of minimal. He turns it up with the full on jam that puts dancers in an intense trance that they have no choice but to ride to its conclusion. It is very rich with a number of instruments played including guitar and keyboard with Carolyn Crawford’s couldn’t-get-any-better-voice. What this record represents to every generation is that this is the real deal musically.
Are there other Bohannon records you rate nearly as much?
My other all time favorite is „The Groove Machine“ – as intense as “Let’s Start the Dance” but trippier with its phased out psychedelic break and its total fusion hard funk rock electronic groove. When I hear this it makes sense that Bohannon early on drummed with Jimi Hendrix. Both “Groove Machine” and “Let’s Start the Dance” feature guitar riffs prominently.
1977 saw the peak of the classic Disco era. Was „Let’s Start The Dance“ an early sign that Disco could live well past the end of that boom? That the sound could move on and still matter?
“Let’s Start the Dance” is timeless because as I had mentioned before it’s a whole movement and jam where you’re hearing real instruments. It always ignites a dancefloor and from the first note you want to pay attention. The lyrics come fast with “Everybody get up and dance – Ain’t ya tired of sitting down?” This could be cheesy but it’s not, and you know it’s not and surrender completely to it right away. There is no way you couldn’t let yourself be seduced by it and every generation experiences this seduction. It still matters because it’s a prime example of the authenticity of Disco of that time period and that’s what lives on. Read the rest of this entry »