Playing Favourites: Daniel Wang

Posted: August 29th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Features | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

> Ennio Morricone – Rodeo

This is from an old French movie soundtrack, „Le Casse“. I picked this for the string arrangement, because it puts a lot of emphasis on build-up, thus linking to the way Disco producers arranged strings for climactic dancefloor moments.

To be honest, I muss confess I don’t know Morricone’s works so well. I don’t think I have been a really big fan, partially because I don’t know it so well. My first impression of this track, which I didn’t know, was that it’s a formal composition. In my head I make a distinction between pop music, which has almost very definite rules, and people following it like Abba. It’s not formulaic, but there are very basic chord progressions that are based on Blues and Jazz that you can do in pop music and that have their own logic and their own progression. Many pop songs are actually the same song. “Good Times” by Chic is one kind of groove and twenty other songs sound exactly like it. It could be “Rapture” by Blondie or something. That’s pop music writing. And then you have soundtrack music writing and it has a different logic. It doesn’t have to follow a certain progression like in pop music, which has a reason and an impulse that keeps on pushing the song forward. When I heard this I thought it is a very good example of soundtrack music writing where you don’t really have to explain the logic of the chord progression, it just sets a mood. It makes an ambience. I think this is probably from 1967 to 71.

Good guess, it’s from 1971.

Because from 1972 on you start getting the big multi-track stuff, like Philly Disco and the more sophisticated pop, and this still sounds relatively simple. My first impression was it’s like a slightly cheaper copy of Burt Bacharach’s “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head”, but with more drama. It has some very formal devices, like it’s basically a minor key. But at some points he plays the same theme but he opens it up with a major key.

Lately all this beautifully orchestrated obscure library music back is popping up again and people scan back catalogues for songs groovy enough to suit a Disco context.

Yeah, that’s interesting, and I think there is a good reason for that. There is such a thing as real music, in the sense that there were people who did music for films, like Ennio Morricone, or Giorgio Moroder, with a more naïve use of the rules, or the very sophisticated Henry Mancini, or Alec Constandinos, or Vangelis, or Jean-Michel Jarre. All these people were obviously classically trained and they followed the rules. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a Bossa Nova, 60’s GoGo or a Disco beat, the rules of the music don’t change. I think that is why everybody is going back now to find real music. When people like Masters At Work appeared in the 90’s, people who didn’t know anything about the basic rules of music started making music. That’s why it sounds so awful, haha. A lot of the DJ produced music doesn’t have its own intrinsic logic and sense. And chords, progression and melodies have that intrinsic logic. That’s what’s been missing. So everyone of this generation who wants to find out what is really musical has to go back to the 60’s and 70’s, and there you find it everywhere actually.

> Carter Burwell – Blood Simple

This is from the soundtrack of the Coen Brothers debut film “Blood Simple”.

It’s from the 80’s I suppose.

Yes, it’s from 1987. It’s a mood piece with a synthetic feel to it.

I found the orchestration is simpler, but it’s similar to the previous song. Again, it’s not a pop song with intrinsic deep logic. Like Bach’s “Air On The G-String”, that is also some kind of pop music because it has a very definite logic. This one has a formal piano theme that sounds a bit like Erik Satie. Simple chord, simple melody, a little bit like Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik”. It is not original, it is a formal piece, it follows a form that other people have created.

You could maybe alter its logic by just putting a beat under it, and by not adding much you would have a really moody dance track.

Yeah, actually this is the thing. To be honest, and many people are going to hate me for saying this, I’m not a big fan of Portishead. It’s very easy to make a mood piece. Anybody can do it. All you have to do is take a minor key and play some stuff over it, doesn’t really matter what. I think Portishead never even use a major key (laughs).

They don’t have to, really.

Yes. I think anybody writing good music should move between major and minor keys, that’s part of the magic. Since we now accept that some people make mood music, you can have a whole album of just melancholy. Personally, that doesn’t move me at all and I don’t find it very interesting. I think a lot of people in this generation think that this is a valid way to do music, for me it’s not enough. Salsoul records only have two or three keys but they do it so well, there are so many nuances.

I think the problem is that many people think they can only sound deep by using minor keys.

Yes, you’re right. That’s very true. If it’s not melancholy and it’s not moody then it’s not deep. Which is not true. That’s very profound what you just said.

> The Dells – It’s All Up To You

Well, the next track is totally different then. A favourite on the Soul Weekender circuit, and full of major keys.

I don’t really know it. It’s cheerful, in a formal way. This is the sound of the late 60’s, early 70’s, I’m guessing.

Yes, it’s from 1971.

Sounds like it. It must be an 8-track recording, the voices and instruments are not clearly defined and separated so well, there is a lack of a big kick drum, and a lot of celestes. It definitely makes me imagine Nicky Siano, the pre-Gallery, pre-Loft sound. And also Andrew Holleran, the author of the book “Dancer From The Dance”. A book written in 1978, in which the gay people go to places like The Ice Palace and Tenth Floor. I imagine them dancing to music like this in the early 70’s. In the book it’s 1976 and it’s all over (laughs). It became commercialised in 1977.

And the thrill was gone.

Exactly. All the kids from the suburbs were going to their favourite Discos in Manhattan and taking it over. Invading, and skating on rollerskates.

> Nicolette Larson – Lotta Love

The next one is originally written by Neil Young, sung by one of his backing singers.

Oh, wow.

The original version is a folk rock song, but this version is a mix by Jim Burgess, who made it suitable for Disco use. It was a morning anthem at New York ‘s The Saint club in the 80’s. It was part of this sleaze music and slow dancing hours there.

Oh, really? Yeah, slow dancing and fucking. I heard this many times before on the radio in the US , I didn’t know what it was, and I love this. It’s totally great. Although it has a country style feeling, the elements are actually almost like Chic. As the rhythm guitar comes in. I love this thing.

It’s a good example for genre-bending, or adventurous DJing even. Transforming a song from its rock origin and making it Disco.

There are several things from the 80’s that sound like this. I think of Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”, which has the same sound and production. Or the American pop singer Karla Bonoff’s “Personally”. My friend Steven Hall, who was a good friend of Arthur Russell and appeared in the documentary “Wild Combination”, talked a lot about this singer who had a similar sound. Kind of country, but with a definite R&B groove.

Since some time there is a lot of 70’s Soft Rock popping up in Disco sets, and I think this track is a good example for that.

I love that. It’s a perfect example. I’m so happy you had this (laughs).

> Steve Winwood – While You See A Chance

The next one is similar in that it is by a rock singer doing something danceable. It has an anthemic quality to it, but it is also kind of cheesy. It was maybe meant as being something very earnest though.

You know what? I totally agree with you. 80’s pop, too many major keys, too anthemic. But it’s also interesting again. Not just Steve Winwood, any pop singer, very different from today, each album was supposed to present very different moods and phases of this one singer. There was usually a groovy song, and then there is sad song, there is a ballad, and then there has to be this major anthem ta-daa thing. All part of one big pop music package, and it was also written according to very formal rules. We need lots of major chords, big anthems. Let’s be successful.

I was always wondering how comfortable people who started out in the 60’s, like Steve Winwood, really were with the music they made in the 80’s. Were they convinced to do a song this way or did they feel obliged?

Even now, when you think about Madonna, it’s kind of the same thing. Madonna doing an album with the Neptunes , that’s kind of the same idea. She’s sort of saying, this is the sound of today.

And she’s shopping for credibility.

Yes, exactly. And it was following the rules of the pop market at that time. Like Ashford & Simpson, whom I admire very much. In the 60’s they wrote the super hits for Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson. They wrote “Ain’t No Mountain Enough”. They wrote a lot of stuff for Motown. Then in the 70’s, they have their own freedom to do their own thing, so they are doing “Bourgie Bourgie” and Taste Of Bitter Love” with Gladys Knight, they wrote famous Disco anthems for themselves, like “Found A Cure”, “Stay Free”, “Top Of The Stairs” and “It Seems To Hang On”. Then come the early 80’s, and they’re doing this super stiff, awful commercial pop.

Like “Solid”.

Yeah, which is very commercial.

I don’t like it at all.

I hate that thing. I’m so glad you say that. It’s awful, I even hated the video. Down in Central Park , doing the happy couple. I think in reality, she’s a lesbian and he’s gay. Apparently they live on some farm in upstate New York and when they’re on stage he’s a total big queen and he’s very gay and very flamboyant and audiences are sometimes surprised.

He certainly looked flamboyant.

It doesn’t matter with whom he has sex with, it’s not relevant. But it’s the same thing, “Solid” is like the Steve Winwood song. The big, major key anthem, happy 80’s pop for the market. But what do they think about those songs? I think they also see it in formal terms. Because they are songwriters and they say we have to write a song for the market with this kind of chorus, this kind of drum pattern, with this kind of arrangement.

And we don’t want to go against the flow.

Yeah, exactly. But I think they know what’s really good.

> Sleeque – One For The Money

Well, I think you can guess why I chose the next one.

Hmm, I wonder why (laughs).

It’s how you introduced yourself as a producer, by sampling this on your first Balihu record.

I’m amazed. Sometimes I think there should be some lawyer coming to hunt me. You sampled this record? I’m afraid of that. We know it’s produced by Paul Simpson, who did a lot of slightly strange but great Disco records. He mixed “Heavy Vibes” with Vince Montana, he also did Paul Simpson Connection, “Use Me Lose Me”. He also did Adeva, “Respect”.

And “Musical Freedom”, too. And a version of “You Got The Love”.

Yeah, right! That’s him, too! There’s so many interesting stuff by Paul Simpson. Also the biggest one, “You Don’t Know” by Serious Intention.

He was like the prototype of the New Jersey and Garage Sound, like an antidote to the things developing in the early House scene in Chicago.

Yeah, very funky. Not so mechanical pumping, but funky. He also produced two records by Simphonia. I think some of his productions were a bit awkward. This is one of those records, made in 1986. I never liked the sound, to be honest. The drum sound is really stiff, the bass sound is really artificial. I never liked the song itself.

It has a weird quality to it, it’s certainly not a smooth record.

Like with my own records. A lot of those Balihu records, they’re kind of weird. Not necessarily good. The technical production qualities are not totally correct.

But you must have hit a nerve because people are still playing that.

Yeah, a little bit. Honestly, I don’t listen to them. Because I just hear mistakes. I’m not being modest. But it’s true that the lesson from Balihu 1, with “Like Some Dream I Can’t Stop Dreaming”, sampled from this song, is that what is more interesting than a correct song and a technically perfect track is an unusual sound. Not necessarily a hook, but something you can remember, that sounds different from everything else.

A kind of signature.

Yeah. Well, if you want to make a song that sells, at least. When you think of Culture Beat or something: “Rhythm Is A Dancer…” I can’t stand that but it’s unforgettable.

Were you aiming at such a pop hook, in a way?

Not at all! To be honest, the whole thing I feel was one big accident. The whole record had an incredible irony. At that time everybody just sampled. On the back of the record there’s already a joke thing. If you can recognize all the samples you get free promos from me etc. This record is kind of a joke. Look, we’re not even going to use any instruments we’re just going to sample. The whole record is seventeen samples.

So you already knew it would be just a phase.

I hoped so! I didn’t know what lay beyond. But we have to thank Paul Simpson. I hope he doesn’t find me and ask me for royalties, because there are none (laughs).

> Minako – Town

This is kind of a special record because the focus was mostly on the Synth-pop aspects of Japanese culture and this one is more like a flamboyant full on Disco anthem.

Right, totally. Japan is in a sense much like Germany . USA is a very particular case of course because it is so racially and culturally mixed. What is amazing about Japan is that they have these super modern and super sophisticated jazz bands and musicians, orchestras, and their traditional music, so many facets. This record is actually from 1981. My friends tell me Minako Yoshida was like the Patrice Rushen of her time, with braided hair. She went to Manhattan , I think she was already singing Jazz and Funk. I think she produced and arranged some of the songs herself. But the strings and horns were arranged by Tatsuro Yamashita, who was like the Quincy Jones and Rod Temperton of Japan. A Super Jazz Funk arranger pop guy.

So more like a Fusion background.

Exactly, Fusion Jazz background. He also did Pink Lady and a lot of fantastic songs with important Japanese Folk singers.

I wonder if there are more forgotten Japanese Disco records like this, of the same quality.

To be honest, I don’t think there are that many, because the Pop market is different. This is a very definite attempt from Japanese people to do a sound that can be compared to the strength and power of a Western Jazz Funk groove. I don’t think that is the natural mode of Japanese Pop music. Japanese Pop music in general, especially from the late 70’s to mid 80’s, was much more sentimental. In fact all Asian Pop music in general is far more sentimental. I don’t think there’s such a strong emotion. What is Jazz Funk music? A lot of sexual power.

Is that a reason why so much Japanese Synth-pop is interested in Kitsch and Exotica?

A little bit. Yeah, I think so. I don’t think it’s all so kitschy or exotic really, because that is seen from the outside. With modern Japanese or Asian culture you have this problem where they start defining themselves from the view of the outside. Some people are very sophisticated and play with it, like YMO. The theme from YMO’s “Computer Game” was actually taken from a Martin Denny record, which was exotic Hawaiian music. They were actually playing with exotic Polynesian music and turning it into modern oriental electronic groove. But their view was also ironic. I think “Town” is also interesting because this woman has an interesting vocal register. What she does with her voice, which is kind of uniquely Japanese. When Asian people, since I’m Chinese, compare themselves to Europeans, or Africans, Black Americans, Brazilians or whatever, you certainly notice there is a physical difference. Simply, when you have a black woman sing, like Aretha Franklin or whoever, there is this kind of power there which comes from physical strength and also from sexual hormones, female or male hormones. Think Barry White. That’s not a voice that most Asian people can produce, because it’s not physically there. On the average, their bodies don’t develop the same way. This is my own theory, of course there are exceptions. Minako has this power but her voice doesn’t have the same range as a black woman does, so instead when she does this screaming, it sounds almost like a child or a teenager. You hear that a lot in traditional Japanese music and theatre, this screaming voice. It has a lot of strength but it doesn’t have the same depth as a Soul singer. But it gives it its own personality and that makes it sound very Japanese, so to say. I mean, there obviously also were Japanese and Chinese Pop singers who have this really deep voice, but they’re not as popular as the ones with a really sweet voice.

There is this ongoing fixation with young girls being cute.

Yeah, I mean basically you never get much older. In Germany I’m always surprised how they have these obsessions with mature sex. Mature women are quite sexy, too, because there is a physical difference. And in Japan , since nobody’s body ever becomes like that, you have to find the erotic, also the spiritual and musical erotic, in the other direction, which is youth and innocence. Profound cultural commentary (laughs).

> Patrick Cowley – Sea Hunt

When I first heard the music you produced after this short sample-based period, with all the analog synth sounds, I felt there was some kind of ideological connection to this track. It has a similar feeling to it.

Yeah, definitely. Well, I think it’s kind of funny. Patrick Cowley was from upstate New York and moved to San Francisco . Gay man. And I’m a gay person who was born around San Francisco , moving to New York (laughs). Specifically, I love this song. It was played to me first by Eric Duncan from Rub N Tug, I think he probably got it from Harvey or from some old mixes from The Saint. We loved it right away. The beat is actually kind of Rhumba. Mechanical, with a drum machine. This song is actually the only song on his album “Megatron Man” which he didn’t compose himself. Somebody told me this was a theme song from a television show in the 1960’s. A police show. I think he used some choir from San Francisco to sing the chorus in the background. Patrick Cowley was obviously very good with the synthesizer but I think he didn’t have all that serious Jazz training, like all the weird diminished chords, and all this music sounds a little alike. “Menergy”, Megatron Man”, all this stuff is basically always a minor key and it goes into a very basic blues change and then it comes back to that same minor key. Formally speaking, all his songs are basically similar. But they’re still great, I love them.

“Sea Hunt” is at least different from his upfront Hi-NRG productions.

Yes, “Sea Hunt” obviously has an unusual composition in it, from someone else. Jeffrey Sfire, DJ Menergy, who now lives in Berlin , was telling me that Patrick Cowley’s best friend has some kind of biography on his website which says that you just give Patrick Cowley a Prophet 5 keyboard and he can do anything. I think this record is very Prophet 5.

> Syncbeat – Music

This is kind of a Proto-House track. It’s from 1984, and it’s actually one of Greg Wilson’s first productions.

Really? It’s funny you say Proto-House because the first thing I thought about this track was that this is from 1985 or 1986. The drums are definitely mechanical, like a Linn drum or an Oberheim DX, but the groove never modulates, it never changes its key. It’s the same groove for the whole song, and it made me think of this Pet Shop Boys track called “In The Night”. It’s exactly the same sound and the same groove.

That’s true. But I think when Greg Wilson did that he was still immersed in Electro, so it is maybe more an accidental hybrid, foreshadowing what was to come with House.

It’s really interesting, it’s right between Electro-Pop and House. It seems to say let’s forget the chord changes and the Pop structure, let’s have this nice funky mechanical synth groove.

I first heard this track in a club in Hamburg around late 1986 or early 1987, the transitional period when House became part of the club soundtrack, and there was still the music being played that preceded it, like Italo and Hi-NRG and Classic Disco. And this was kind of like the bridge.

Yeah, that’s exactly this moment, where things are changing. Very interesting. What is the changing right now? It’s going from what to what, that is the question.

I think the significant development that I can see is that everything is becoming more and more specialized.

Yeah, you’re right. I don’t see any real development towards something.

People are doing thorough Disco research for example, and try to specialize in music that is still unheard of.

Minimicrogenres. Zzzzzzz.

There is this tendency to concentrate on really small niches of a certain sound, like with Cosmic Disco, which actually has a very wide sound spectrum. After all it was just a few DJs in a few clubs in Italy who did that, but in lack of other trend options it has been taken up and altered deliberately and it has considerably gone out of proportion since.

I think you’re right. I think your critical perspective is correct and accurate (laughs).

> Raff – Self Control

I heard this in a lot of your sets.

Actually I just played it again, but I used the version by Laura Branigan, for some variation.

How did you come about this record?

Honestly, I don’t remember. It’s not like I discovered it. I mean, the Laura Branigan version was a huge international Pop hit. I think I just found the original version in a flea market. There is a bit of history with this record. Raff was a legitimate Pop hit in Italy two or three years before Laura Branigan, and it was produced by Celso Valli, who also did Tantra and Azoto. What’s interesting is the difference in production and style. Italo Disco is a copy of American Disco, but maybe four years late. It’s a perfect bassline almost like “Love Hangover”, and a guitar almost like Chic, and they do a rap at the end, which was the trend in late 1979 and 1980. “Rapture”, “Good Times”, Grandmaster Flash, all those records. And this is an Italian Pop record which comes two years after all that.

How did it feel to first play this in Germany , where even the original version was a huge hit? For quite some time a lot of DJs here were playing that, so there already was a longtime tradition for it.

I started going out in 1983 or 84, bit I didn’t here these thing in clubs. I was first in Taipei , then California , and I heard “I.O.U.” by Freeez, Madonna and Hazell Dean’s “Searchin’”. But I didn’t hear all this Italo stuff in Taipei , and I never heard it in California when I was growing up. So when I started going out to underground clubs in New York in 1988/89 it was already House music. Chicago House like “Work It To The Bone” or “Jack Your Body”. So for me there was no personal connection. Of course I realize now there is a kitsch value. You still hear Raff on the radio in Germany , you never hear it in the US . Since living here in Berlin , I noticed a big difference between what’s playing on the radio in Germany and Europe and the United States . For one thing it’s kitsch, but there are also a lot of young people in this generation who never heard these songs in clubs either. It’s oldies, but they don’t know it. When you were in the 80’s and said oldies, you meant 60’s. And 50’s and 60’s music really sounds like 50’s and 60’s, because the technology is not very developed. You can hear it’s four or eight tracks. But when you in 2008 listen to music from 1978 to 1984, the music from the 70’s and 80’s sounds better than the music produced now, so we have an opposite effect. In the 80’s the oldies sounded old. Now oldies sound better than contemporary music. Better orchestrated and also technically better. Six years ago I went to Poland and the young DJs who wanted to play Retro Disco played “He’s The Greatest Dancer” by Sister Sledge, and I realized that I never heard that record loud in a club because it’s too obvious and nobody would play it. But everyone went crazy, including me. Everybody knows that record but how many people really play or hear it?

Well, you should never leave the house without a Chic record in your bag.

Yeah (laughs).Especially if you play at a wedding. And Abba and Madonna.

> Logic – The Final Frontier

You just mentioned going to House clubs in New York and this is classic New York House, produced by Wayne Gardiner, who was always something like Larry Heard’s secret brother.

Yeah, you’re totally right! A 100%. This is kind of special.

Like with a lot of Strictly Rhythm or Nervous releases his sound was tighter, not as gentle as most Heard productions.

Yes. The Strictly Rhythm records were much more compressed. Not only this one, also House 2 House, some Masters At Work, Roger Sanchez as Underground Solution. They are all really compressed, often with this bit of swing in the drum programming and the groove, which created this whole 90’s House sound. To me, the swing eventually sounded very unnatural. That’s not the way a real drummer plays. This record is the beginning of that phase.

At the moment you hear a lot of young producers going back to this early 90’s Deep house sound. Which is interesting, because for a long time, whenever you played this sound some people came up and said it was too mellow or that it had not aged too well.

I kind of agree, a little bit. But they have some raw quality that is missing today. This is the phase of people being naïve about arranging and composing. I think of all these people Wayne Gardiner’s records have aged the best. His stuff as Classic Man was also really good. Again, we have this melancholy mood. But his chords and arrangements were always a little better than the others. Always a minor key, but he would add things and had more atmosphere than what the other people were doing. I was a fan of his, I’m still feeling he was like the bridge between Deep House and almost Disco, but he never got there. He never really got back to Disco, which was too bad.

> Marc Houle – Techno Vocals

Well, this seemed to me like a late answer to your track “Das ist kein Techno!” on Ghostly International.

Yes (laughs). Well, it was just a joke. Nd Baumecker from Berghain loved to play that. But it was number 32 on the Groove magazine charts (laughs). Every time I make a joke record it makes the charts, thinking of Balihu 1. Now Hercules & Love Affair open their whole live set with a girl singing “Like Some Dream I Can’t Stop Dreaming”. Every time I do a serious record it doesn’t sell and every time I do a joke record people want to play it (laughs). But this is a very funny record. 08/09

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