Rinder & Lewis – Lust (Pye Records, 1977)
The first one is by Rinder and Lewis – “Lust”, which is kind of a space disco prototype so to say. For 1977 it was kind of a landmark record I guess.
For 1977, yes. I suppose Rinder and Lewis were a very prolific production team in the 70s and 80s. They made an awful lot of records, a lot of albums. That’s probably one of their most moody tracks. A lot of their stuff has got a 1920s, big band, Charleston influence to it. But I like a lot of their stuff. But some of it is unusual in its arrangement. That one’s got a slightly more mystical vibe to it.
Would you say they tried to explore their field a bit further with this record? You mentioned that a few of the other productions had certain influences, like the latin stuff for example. But this one is really something different, almost science fiction.
Yes, but that’s quite different from the rest of the “Seven Deadly Sins” album. I reckon it wasn’t a track that was made to be a hit. It was probably considered an album track. But with that weird bit in the middle with the glockenspiel, it goes into a sort of devil bit about two thirds of the way through. Which is very out of character with the rest of the record. But what I think is interesting about that is that you don’t get those sort of unexpected bits in records now. I guess when musicians are making records, it’s very different to when DJs are making records. Now, when DJs make records they just tend to have the same stuff going throughout the track, it just loops round and round. Maybe there might be some changes, but there’s nothing drastic coming in really loud. A bad DJ produced record might just be a bit boring, whereas a bad record from the 70s might have a great verse and a really terrible chorus. Or you might have something really cheesy. A lot of records now are just rhythm tracks made by DJs for mixing and whatever, whereas then you might have records that have got loads in them, maybe too much. But the reason that they’re not great is maybe because they’ve got too much in them. They might have some great musical parts, but the vocals are crap. I think I’m digressing a little bit. A lot of Rinder and Lewis stuff – have you got that album “Discognosis”?
No, I know the THP Orchestra stuff which I found really good.
Yeah, and there’s El Coco and Le Pamplemousse. I like that track. It’s always very well orchestrated, they always had a bit of money to make the records. It wasn’t done on a shoestring budget, they must have sold pretty well. I think El Coco’s “Cocomotion” is one of my favourites by them as well. Obviously a lot of the stuff on AVI was produced by them, they were putting out a lot of music. They must have lived in the studio in 76, 77, 78, 79.
This is also a really good example for what you can do if you’re a good arranger – the arrangements they did are really complex and beautiful. Is that something you miss? You talked of modern rhythm tracks and functionality – I think it’s hard to pull off these days because you don’t have budgets for studio work…
Yeah of course. I suppose you have to think, this is now and that was then. Record sales were much higher, I suppose disco was like r’n'b was 5 years ago in terms of its worldwide popularity. So there was a lot more money, obviously there weren’t downloads or people copying CDs. I don’t know what the sales figures were like of something like Rinder and Lewis, but it probably sold half a million or something like that. It’s a completely different time, in terms of being able to get a string section in for your record. I’ve paid for string sections before, but to be honest with you what I’ve found is a string section with 30-40 people is so different to a string section with 7 or 8 people. I’ve only been able to afford 6 or 7 people. It isn’t really a string section! Nowadays, with CD-ROMs and whatever you can make something that sounds pretty good – not the same – but pretty good with just samples. To really make it sound a lot better, you need a 30-40 piece, big room orchestra. People at Salsoul and a lot of them classic disco records had that big proper string arrangement. Also, paying someone to do the arrangement isn’t cheap if you get someone good. Very difficult to do that now. So yeah, I do miss it. But there’s no point missing something, it’s like saying “Oh, I wish they were still making Starsky and Hutch”.
As long as a glimpse of an orchestra won’t do, it doesn’t make sense?
I think the only it could make sense is if George Michael decides to make a disco album, or someone like that. He could afford it. Or Beyonce. Some big star. But your average dance record – I suppose Jamiroquai had some live strings on some of his stuff. But then again, he was selling a lot of records.
Doobie Brothers – What A Fool Believes (Warner Bros. Inc., 1979)
“What a Fool Believes” by the Doobie Brothers, which is a merger of rock and disco.
There’s other tracks, like the Alessi Brothers “Ghostdancer”… I suppose that just shows how popular disco music must have been at the time when people like The Doobie Brothers and Carly Simon were actually making disco records. I suppose it’s the same as nowadays people making a record with a more r’n'b type beat. Or at the beginning of house music, there were lots of pop acts making house records. I was listening to a best of ABBA a few years ago. It started off sort of glam-rock, sort of sweet, like Gary Glitter, that sort of production. And by the late seventies their stuff had got pretty disco-ey. And by 82 it was folky. So I think the disco beat was just featuring on a lot of productions by acts who just wanted to make a contemporary sounding record. That’s probably why a lot of the American rock establishment hated disco so much. It wasn’t just that it was there: their favourite acts were making disco records! They hated the fact the Rolling Stones made disco records, it just wasn’t allowed.
But the thing is, that when the disco boom ended, a lot of the rock acts who made disco records acted like they never did! They deserted it pretty quickly.
Yeah, once it became uncool they pretended they never liked it, it wasn’t their idea and all that. I tried to once do a compilation album of that sort of stuff. But it’s too difficult to license it all. They’re all on major labels, they’re all big acts, and it’s very hard to license that stuff. In fact I’d go as far as to say it’s impossible: just too difficult and expensive.
Was it just because of budget reasons, or because the acts didn’t want to be reminded of what they did in that area?
I think often those big acts have to approve every compilation album license. A lot of the time, for the people who work in the compilation album license department, it’s easier for them to say no than to write to the management of Supertramp or Queen. And often, if they do see a title that has disco in it, they will say no. And a lot of them won’t license the Rolling Stones to a comp that’s got a projected sales figure of less than half a million. There’s so many reasons why it’s problematic. You could do it, but you’d have to leave off so many tracks, there would hardly be any point doing it. I did have a chat with a major label about doing it and that was one that owned quite a lot of them. But it’s just so difficult. They want to see a big marketing budget, they want to see you spend a hundred grand on television adverts. Otherwise they just go, why are we on this compilation album?
I think it’s a shame really, there were so many good disco records done by major artists…
Yeah. I like a lot of those things. I’m doing this compilation for BBE which is maybe a similar thing, just it’s not all well known acts. People like Fleetwood Mac, they did that track “Keep On Going”, those sort of things. I guess it’s blue-eyed rocky soul. Quite danceable… it’s not all disco, but it’s not really rock either. More black music based. I always think, if you look at the back of a rock album and it’s got someone playing bongos on it, it’s worth checking out.
Cut Glass – Alive With Love (Ear Hole Records, 1979)
Speaking of the next track “Alive With Love” by Cut Glass. You told me about the compilations you did, you were one of the first to do disco compilations. I remember the first ones I bought were these “Jumpin’” ones, which is quite a while back. And since then you’ve done quite a lot of compilations covering different aspects of disco. But what I never found on your compilations was this gay, hi-NRG context, music played at the Saint club or stuff like that. This one is a perfect example for that.
Yeah, I still have that record, I must admit I’m not a massive fan of that hi-NRG disco. Not to say there’s not records of that style I don’t like. I do. But it’s not an area where I have great knowledge, so that’s probably why. I generally prefer it a little bit funkier, personally. Not to say there aren’t fast, more gay disco things that I like. I suppose something like Musique’s “Keep On Jumpin’” is pretty fast. But it’s not got quite the same gay disco sound, it’s still more New York disco.
Would you say that when disco turned into hi-NRG , it lost something important for you, so that it doesn’t appeal to you as a collector any more?
I don’t know really. Sometimes music’s just about when you put it on the deck, do you enjoy it? And sometimes the chord changes on those ones can be a bit too cabaret-ish for me, a bit too schmaltzy, too cheerful. It’s not about the speed, I don’t mind fast. I’ll have to listen to that Cut Glass again… I’ve got another 12” by Cut Glass, and I’m not sure if it’s the same act. It’s called “Rising Cost of Love”. It’s a much slower, downtempo sort of track. And that one, I’ve always really liked. I think that’s why I bought “Alive With Love”. It might not be the same act, because “Rising Cost of Love” is a female vocal.
Even in the hi-NRG clubs they had extended parts of the night where they would play slow songs, it wasn’t just about tempo at all. But even this morning music or sleaze stuff could be really cheesy as well.
Yeah, I think all types of music have got a cheesy side to them… disco, soul, whatever. But a lot of those records, things like Tantra, they’re slightly different to “Alive With Love”. The productions are often really good, the breakdowns. The breakdown section on some of those records can be really exciting, the rest of the track I’m not always into. I like that Village People track called “Fire Island”, it’s a bit more funky from what I remember. Maybe not the verse, but the chorus is pretty funky.
Garcons – French Boy (Phillips, 1979)
Ok, onto the next track, which is pretty fast-paced as well. I think it’s a weird combination: cool hip French guys meeting the Downtown New York scene and pulling off a really interesting disco record.
I’ve got the album as well. It’s an unusual combination – two things that shouldn’t really work together. One of the things I like about it, there’s a guy called Carlos Franzetti who does all the string arrangements on it. He did stuff for people like Candido. I think the string arrangements, especially on “French Boy”, give it a sophistication which counteracts the vocals even more.
I though it was interesting, because I thought the band originated more in a post-punk context. They really pulled it off, they veered into a hip New York ZE Records context. And it kind of worked, it was like Europe meets New York.
To be honest with you, it’s the sort of thing, if I’d had heard it at the time I’m not sure if I would have liked it. Maybe I would. But I think it’s those things that are a little bit different. It’s always been difficult to be different, and have people like it. People say they want different, but sometimes you give them different, and they want generic music with the same video. I think sometimes those projects which were made in the 70s, I’m not sure they’d get made now. Someone in the marketing department would say “we can’t market that – disco, white guys from Paris”. There still are some labels doing stuff that isn’t following the mould, but I think it’s a brave decision to do those sort of records. A lot of people who liked punk hated disco. And a lot of people who liked disco music wouldn’t have liked the vocals. So it’s a brave decision.
On the other hand, France had a big disco tradition too. Maybe it came naturally, that they changed their sound.
I don’t know, it’s interesting. Have you got the album?
Yeah I’ve got it. I totally love it.
What is good about it is that it’s a unique record. You can’t say it sounds like this, or it sounds like that. It sounds like Plastic Bertrand making a disco record.
Esther Williams – I’ll Be Your Pleasure (RCA, 1981)
The next one is more classical. “I’ll Be Your Your Pleasure” by Esther Williams, which is a pretty rare Larry Levan mix.
Yeah, it’s not on West End or Salsoul or one of those labels and his name’s not on the label in a big way like it would be on a Salsoul mix. I don’t think it’s one of the ones that gets talked about a lot. What I like about it as well is it’s those guys Willy Lester and Rodney Brown who did all of Bobby Thurston and Sharon Redd records. They were a production team from Washington, they were generally a pretty good production outfit who wrote good songs, and had good musicianship on their records. Like the Esther Williams one has a really long guitar solo. I don’t know if any of them played guitar. But Bobby Thurston’s “You Got What It Takes”, “Can You Handle It”, they’ve all got those long jazzy semi-George Benson-esque guitar solos. And I guess I always like their productions. They give it a slightly jazzy lilt, so you know after four minutes some solos will happen rather than it just repeating itself.
What about Levan’s work here? It’s not really a typical Levan mix…
Yeah, it’s not really tripped out or whatever. We need the original mix for comparison, so we don’t really know what he did. There is no original version, because the album has the Levan mix on it. Which is a shame, it’s always nice to here the difference. I think this is before he became dubby, it wasn’t until the Gwen Guthrie, that sort of era, the more electronic stuff, that he started to get more dubby.
It certainly sounds a lot different to the Peech Boys or such.
Yeah. I think that was when he changed his style quite a lot. A lot of American DJs were all doing good mixes, Francois Kevorkian, Shep Pettibone and whatever. It was when things like D-Train’s “You’re the One For Me” came out that they all seemed to discover dub delay and acappella versions, and isolating starting the track rather than starting the whole thing. It was a very interesting era that, I was lucky enough to be there and get those records as new records. It was exciting, records using a lot more effects and taking it to the limit. Things like the Shep Pettibone remix of The Jammers “And You Know That”, it sounds like he spent a lot of time on it. Lots of phaser and flanger on things. I like that attention to detail, things coming in really loud halfway through. It was a good era. Also, the Shep Pettibone mix of Salsoul Orchestra’s “Love Break”. It’s not a great track on the first Salsoul Orchestra album, but he did the definitive version. If he hadn’t done the 12” version in 1982 then that wouldn’t have been a well known track. That’s probably one of the best remixes in terms of taking a track that was a non-starter and turning it into what is now one of the most well-known Salsoul records. You could say the same about a few of those 12”s, like “Just As Long As I’ve Got You” by the Love Committee – without the Walter Gibbons mix it wouldn’t be anything, would it? It would just be at the back of an album.
How long does your love for disco music hark back? Were you into it when you were younger and then just stuck with it?
Pretty much. I’m 45, I was born in 1964, so in the early 70s I was into glam rock – Golden Earring’s “Radar Love”, things I heard on the TV. All I remember about black music back then was things like Barry White, The Drifters which I wasn’t that keen on to be honest. And then one day on television I heard Heat Wave’s “Boogie Nights”, and that sort of changed my mind. I still listened to Earth Wind & Fire, things that were getting in the charts back then like Dan Hartman, The Jacksons – “Blame It On The Boogie”. From buying those records and then discovering Radio Luxembourg, which 5 nights a week had disco charts. A disco sales chart, a disco albums chart, what’s getting played in the disco as opposed to just selling, a disco import chart. So that opened my eyes, or ears, to a whole wealth of music. I didn’t realise there was this much music being made that wasn’t in the charts. I thought what’s in the charts was it. I didn’t realise there were loads of records that weren’t even released in England. So I started buying imports. I never really stopped liking it. I suppose in 81, 82, something like Musique’s “Keep On Jumpin’”, I used to love it at the time. And I bought it, and it sounded really dated. It was really fast, and the bass drum was really loud. It’s the same with all sorts of music. Sometimes it has to go through a phase of sounding out of date in order to sound contemporary again. I don’t think that many records just always sound great. They maybe sound a bit shit about 6 years after they’re made, or ten years. And then they maybe come back into vogue. With house music, the tempo sped up in the late 80s and people started sampling disco records. And all of a sudden something that sounded a bit fast and frenetic in 1981 sounded contemporary again. I remember one of the other things that really introduced me to disco music was in a junk shop – I used to buy loads of music at junk shops, charity shops. Back then it was worthless, they’d be like, “oh, you like this stuff? We’ve got loads of it out the back”. It wasn’t super super rare, just like Philly MFSB albums and Norman Connors albums and those sort of things, but it was still very very cheap. I built up a collection of records very easily, for very little money, as well as buying new stuff. I bought that West End 10th anniversary megamix, which starts off slow with “Heartbeat”, Tony Humphries did it. One side goes from “Heartbeat” to Peech Boys, the other side goes from something like Bombers and goes up to faster stuff like “When You Touch Me”. I did like some really poppy, camp disco but I thought some of this stuff made in 1978 was too disco-ey in the wrong way, like pop disco. I liked “When You Touch Me” when I heard it back in 82, 83. I like some techno records, I like the odd r’n'b records, like Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love”, something like that. I like everything, but only a small amount of most things. I dislike most r’n'b, for example, if I turn on MTV and flick through the channels. But I still find things like the Phenomenal Handclap Band, Empire Of The Sun. But not everything, just the odd track. And there’s a lot of dance music I hate.
But you never stopped digging for disco? You’re still actively collecting?
Yeah, I mean I’ll always look for old records. But I like hearing a good new record as much as an old record. It’s just a question of spending time on Beatport or Juno, Tracksource. One night you might find three or four really good records. It’s the same as looking for second hand records on Ebay. Sometimes you search and search and you don’t find anything. Other times you find 4 or 5 good ones in one month. I suppose the more you have, the chances of finding good things get lower. But I still think there’s probably loads of good tracks on well-known albums that I don’t know. I might even have the album, you know?
Tullio de Piscopo – Stop Bajon (Bagaria, 1984)
Ok. The next one, a classic Balearic record: Tullio De Piscopo, which is really famous for being played in the vintage Ibiza days. Did you like that eclectic approach back then?
Yeah. It’s a very nice record, I like that sort of stuff. It’s not necessarily an area of music I’m an expert on. I know some tracks, but again, what is Balearic and what isn’t Balearic is quite a grey area.
That is hard to tell anyway, what is Balearic and what is not. I always thought the only thing that is really Balearic is what was played there. But nowadays it’s a folder for anything.
Yes, it’s like cosmic, it’s a very misused term. But that’s a nice track, very mellow. It would be nice to see people going crazy to a track like that in a club now. Nowadays, I think people just want the energy up, they’re programmed to be up in 5th gear. Whereas that’s a 3rd gear type record. But a lovely record, very nice.
Blaze – If You Should Need A Friend (Quark, 1987)
The next one delves into your own career as a producer. A classic New Jersey track. You had that label back then, Republic, and you did these garage compilations. So you were pretty acquainted with this New Jersey sound I guess. What drew you to it back then?
Before I was running the label, I was working in the distribution of Rough Trade. I was just buying records, and I thought from what my friends were buying, and what I was observing, the British record labels seemed to be ignoring the New Jersey stuff. I think it was because acid house was a real craze, and everyone was trying to sign acid house. I just thought quite a lot of these records from New Jersey, and New York and Chicaco have got that sound, and it’s been ignored because everyone’s going crazy for the acid stuff. I thought there’d been some really good songs. It was a different side of the house music thing. I put out “Can’t Win For Losin’” by Blaze, but I always preferred “If You Should Need A Friend”. But someone else had already put that out. And that other one, “Whatcha Gonna Do”. We did a bit of work with Blaze, they did some remixes for us and another compilation album. But mainly I just liked it, and I thought there were quite a few records – things like Turntable Orchestra was another one, Kym Mazelle – which were just good records. I was surprised, when I spoke to people outside record collectors, they didn’t seem to know them. When I speak to guys who are more in the business, they were all more on this Todd Terry, Chicago, acid, kind of stuff. And I thought as a new label, we haven’t got that much money to license tracks. I couldn’t compete with what London were paying. If it got into a bidding war, they’re definitely going to win. So the best bet is to go for something that nobody else is interested in.
So you would say that back then the New Jersey sound was restricted to the US East Coast?
I think that’s always been the case. For a brief period, the garage stuff became quite cool around the time we put that album out. There were a few quite strong releases. Things like Phase II – “Reachin’” were particularly strong songs. And maybe Turntable Orchestra and other things. But I think generally, the more house-y house is more accessible to most people. And I think that when Phase II was out in the UK, they were big tracks. But they weren’t as big in northern England as Todd Terry’s “Can You Party”. It was popular, but it’s too soulful for the masses.
Bang The Party – Release Your Body (Transmat, 1988)
What about the next track then, which was a British production on a Detroit label, which was funny enough. Would you say that track was a reaction to the New Jersey sound?
Well that was on a British label first, and it was licensed to Transmat. It was on a label called Warrior’s Dance. That’s a British DJ called Kid Batchelor, I’m sure you know. Derrick May just particularly liked it, and licensed it and put it out on Transmat. He put out a few British records at the time, he actually put out one of my early records. It was nice to have a record out on Transmat, even if it’s not one of the best ones. Probably one of the worst. But when that came out, it was a benchmark in UK house production. It was one of the best British house records when it came out, Bang The Party. I don’t know if it sounded American, but it didn’t sound British. Quite a lot of British house records were pretty lightweight, lacking in bottom end on the bass, a bit poppy, lots of samples being stuttered in all over the place, quite cheesy piano and whatever. I think it’s normal for all countries to dismiss their own music, I’m sure a lot of Italo-disco is dismissed in Italy by Italians. I listened to it recently, about 5 years ago, and I wasn’t sure it still sounded amazing. I need to check it out again.
What is your relationship to this early techno stuff? As you said, you had a Transmat release, which was kind of an honour. And you also did some kind of bleep stuff on Network too?
That’s right. I used to love Rhythim is Rhythim – “Strings Of Life”, “It Is What It Is”, I loved those records and I still do. Model 500, some of that early techno stuff. As has been documented by a lot of people, it was very original, a great combination of a few different influences. I wouldn’t say that bleep Energize thing I did on Network was great, it was just what I made at the time. But I liked the early Warp stuff like LFO and “Testone”. I guess your taste changes and stays the same in different amounts. I still like LFO, and I still like the early techno stuff. And I like some of the modern techno stuff, I like Martin Buttrich and some of the stuff he does. I don’t know when it becomes techno, when it’s deep house, tech house or progressive house. I think lots of things could be several of those. But I still think there’s some interesting music coming out which is in that techno classification.
Yeah. It isn’t much use to think in categories.
Especially on Beatport and those sites, so many records could be in so many categories. It’s personal preference really.
Aphrodisiac – Just Before The Dawn (Nu Groove, 1991)
Ok, next record. Another label you did a release on, Nu Groove, and another legendary label too. How did you land on Nu Groove?
At the time, I’d put out a few Nu Groove records on Republic, so I’d licensed Bobby Konders, Metro, I’d almost licensed Bas Noir’s “My Love Is Magic” but Virgin stepped in and offered more money, which is fair enough. So when I made that record, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. It was a record I’d made on my own, and I was lacking a bit of confidence. Sometimes it’s easier to give it to someone else to put out, and I thought, I know that Nu Groove’s a very cool label. Sometimes you’re on a head start if you’re on a cool label, people want to like the record. Whereas if you’re on a new label then you’ve got to win them over first. Think of Get Physical, or Naked Music, or Warp – there’s been lots of cool labels that have been cool for a while, and while they’ve got that glow, every release does pretty well. And eventually people go the other way. Then people say, I don’t like them any more, I liked them last year.
And now some of those labels are sadly missed.
Yeah, a lot of them. But if you look at any label, like if you look at the West End catalogue for example: they put out a lot of turkeys, and some great records. No one releases all good records, I mean Salsoul released loads of shit. But as long as there’s some good ones you tolerate the crap. I’m a big fan of the Burrells, and what they were doing then. They put out some fantastic records with unusual chords. Again, it’s quite jazzy, but with a house-y bottom end. The bass line and the drums are always pretty raw and house-y but it’s got a sophisticated musical element on top of it, chord-wise. Which is always something that I like.
It’s incredibly sophisticated. But I think it’s the kind of record you have to be careful with as a DJ. It’s very mellow.
It reminds me a bit of Paul Hardcastle’s “Rain Forest” in a way. The only time I ever heard it was I heard DJ Harvey play it in a club called Moist, in London in the early 90s. And I asked him what it was, it didn’t go down very well. It’s called “Just Before the Dawn”, and it is an early morning record. Nowadays, the sort of people who still go to a club at that time in the morning, they’re always just looking for energy to keep them going. They don’t want to hear a record like that, they want to hear something more banging to keep them going.
I think in that aspect the times have changed a bit.
Yes , very much so.
I really miss club night actually ending, and not going on forever. You have a structure – a beginning, a climax, an end. And in the early hours there’s something like this record which I found is a really good way to let the people out of the club.
I agree. I much prefer a DJ to take it down towards the end, rather than try and keep the last 50 people there by playing fast and well-known records. Purely because you know you’re going to lose the dancefloor a little bit by playing those sort of tracks. But it makes more sense to wind down rather than keep it up at full throttle right to the end of the night.
Don Carlos – Alone (Calypso, 1991)
The next record is mellow too, it’s a real deep house classic. I loved a lot of that Italian house stuff from the early 90s, a really distinctive sound.
Yeah, it was a really good era. There’s some Italian house I’m not so keen on, I was never a massive fan of Gino Latino and those things. But things like Sueno Latino on the other hand. And Don Carlos, and things like Be Noir, Omniverse’s “Never Gonna Get Enough”; there was some fantastic deep house coming out of Italy. That Shafty’s “Deep Inside”, there’s a few other ones on that label. Double Dealers – My Love, Soft House Company. Don Carlos is probably the best of all of them. It’s the chord progression, the way it turns around on the 6th bar or the 7th bar, that extra chord. It’s a fantastic record, I still play it occasionally.
I think it has aged really well. Back then they probably did those kind of records as a reaction to the early US deep house stuff, but they came up with something on their own. It had a different quality to it.
Yes, I think it’s the same as something like the Malavasi, the Change stuff. Change is obviously just a copy of Chic, but it isn’t a copy of Chic, because they gave it their own harmonic input. And some of the other Italian stuff as well. The Italian disco – not the Italo-disco – the Italian Change-type disco like Selection and Rainbow Team and whatever. Some of it is let down by the vocals but musically it’s got its own take. And it’s the same with the Italian deep house. You can tell it’s Italian. I like the way they sampled a lot of records, like acappellas. Like Montego Bay’s “Everything” which is D-train, and the Double Dealers – My Love is one I like a lot. The verse is Risse – House Train and the chorus is a Jomanda track. I think it’s funny because they can’t speak English, so the fact that the verse is about a train and the chorus is about falling in love doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s ok musically. I quite like the fact that the lyrics sometimes make no sense whatsoever.
A whole lot of Italian records have a weird approach to sampling. They just put it in a totally different context sometimes. It has a certain charm to it…
Yeah, a certain charm. There’s quite a lot of records from that era which I bought, not all of them sound great now. Steve Banzara’s “Black”, that’s another one. My ex-partner did a good EP, he had a label called Centrestage and he put out an EP, can’t remember what it was called. He licensed some of the best Italian stuff and put the Steve Banzara on there, and Centric House’s “Alright Alright”. I didn’t realise that guy Alex Neri – he wasn’t behind the Don Carlos, but he was behind a lot of the good ones: Korda’s “Move Your Body”, The Double Dealers, there’s a lot of them that are him. At least a third of my favourite Italian house records he’s involved with.
I guess there weren’t that many producers behind those records. It was maybe a pool of up to 20 people, and they were doing all of it. Under different names.
Yeah, Ricky Montanari, Flavio Vecchi… It’s a shame they stopped doing it around 93, 94.
They went into full on trance then I guess. There are still some records where they have that mellow, ambient, deep house mixes. And then the other side was full on banging progressive house.
I think around the time they were making those records, deep house was a lot more popular. Things like Marshall Jefferson, those records were probably selling pretty well. Things like Truth’s “Open Our Eyes” and those kind of records. I think there’s a lot of people who could turn their hand to many things. But they turn their hand to what they think is going to make money. And why shouldn’t they, realistically. When trance becomes very popular, a lot of people are going to start making trance. Because they’re not just looking to make music, they want to make a profit out of it. You have to be a real die hard to make something and think you’re not going to make money out of it. Especially when you’re paying for studio time. At least now a lot of people have got set ups in their house, so making music isn’t going to cost very much. Whereas then, there were costs.
Maybe the old school Italian producers will go back to producing deep house now that it’s become popular again, who knows.
I hope so! What I always think of as deep house is Larry Heard, Marshall Jefferson, Burrell Brothers, that’s deep house to me. A lot of the stuff today that’s called deep house, I just think that’s house. It’s got to have that melodic, the chords, that deep moodyness, that 5 o clock in the morning sort of vibe. I think what’s called deep house now has changed.
It’s kind of like they inserted some stereotypical deep house elements into something else, and steal the name.
Yeah. It has to have more than one chord for me to be deep house. And a lot of them just have one chord, or the same chord up and down the keyboard. But I like the more than one chord approach.
Black Science Orchestra – Where Were You? (Junior Boy’s Own, 1992)
Next one, which was a landmark record back then. A UK house record which was heavily influenced by disco. “Where Were You” was mainly an interpretation of The Trammps, and I think that must have been around the time where you were pushing that further, fusing disco originals with house. You did that at an early stage, but there was that time when it was getting very popular.
Yeah I think so. Ashley Beedle who made that is a very good friend of mine, and he’s very good at making those – it’s somewhere between a re-edit and a remix of a new production. One of the things he did which was good, he didn’t try and put loud house drums over the top of it. They aren’t too imposing. I was definitely guilty a few times of adding drums too heavy handed. So that’s one of the things that makes things seem dated nowadays, too loud drums. I think he was on a roll when he did that, “New Jersey Deep” was another good example of taking a classic record and doing something creative with it. That bit of The Trammps he sampled is just that end section. Much as I like the original, that is probably the best bit of it. I suppose back in the old days you would tolerate a record that was 8 minute longs if there was a special bit, that was the peak. But when sampling came along, you just took that moment and repeated it. Which can work very well, and other times can sound a bit flat. But that one worked well.
I felt that too. I think it adds some drama to the track. It has a nice build up, they’ve just taken this line from the Trammps which says “where were you when disco lived” which I thought was a good statement with such a record back then. I liked the idea.
Yes. And there’s this other one he did, East Village Lost Society, where he used the beginning of a Rufus track off the Masterjam album. It’s just like an interlude, and he had this speech over the top of it. He’s good at finding those spoken words, those bits of records. Sometimes that can help.
Was it around that time that you decided to keep on merging your disco influences with modern house sounds?
I guess you just do what you do. I’ve never made a conscious decision to stop doing it, or keep doing it. When you get in the studio, when you first start making records, that was one of my main influences. I guess it’s a thin balance, when you’re trying to please yourself, you don’t want to repeat what you’ve already done but you don’t want to do something you don’t like. People can be very fickle, they complain, “it’s all the same”. But if you change too much, it’s like “I preferred the disco stuff”. I think if it’s a good song, that is the most important thing. Is it a strong song. I still enjoy making it. Most of the last year, I’ve been making an Akabu album which is more sort of deep house, I’ve been trying to do that Larry Heard, Marshall Jefferson style old school house. So I haven’t been making disco stuff. But I’ve pretty much finished that, and I am making a couple of disco things. I normally make those records just to please myself and know that there’s enough people who like that sound, which makes it financially viable to a degree. But it’s a lot more expensive making a disco-type record just because you’ve got a lot more musicians. If you want to make it with a live bassist, and guitarist, and singer, straight away that’s a lot more time consuming and more expensive. But you still do things sampling a disco loop. There was something last year, I can’t remember the name, that sampled Musique’s “Summer Love”. Maybe something like the Funk Brothers. They did something pretty good with it. Sometimes you think, every disco sample’s been done. But there’s always something out there, and as technology changes you’ll be able to do different things to records that you can’t do now. When they introduced the low pass filter it completely changed everything. All of a sudden all these records that had messy percussion, you could just isolate the bassline. It’s interesting how technology changes, now it’s a lot easier to get a loop in time. You can get a whole record in time quite easily. I hope I’ll always be making it to a degree, but hopefully not in exactly the same way as 20 years ago.
Are you content with the way there was a renaissance of the fascination with disco? People are exploring the furthest parts of disco, it is getting really specialized. Did you expect it?
I didn’t expect. But what is called disco now – I mean I bought a compilation album called something disco, and there was only one track on there that I would call vaguely disco. It’s just music from the 70s. What I find funny about it, I remember at the time, even when disco was really popular, on the radio and television, a lot of people would sneer at it, saying this music is popular now but it will sound awful in a couple of years. And I think the opposite is true. It’s actually, of all the music that’s been made in the 70s, it’s the one that’s lasted and been plagiarized the most. So I think in the same way if you went to an office party in the 80s, everyone would be playing Motown records. Now, they’d be playing disco records – they’re the records that everyone knows, and dances along to and sings along to. I’m proud in a way that disco music has defied the critics who said it was this worthless, rubbish, moronic music. And actually, of all the records that were made in the 70s it’s the disco records you hear the most of on the radio, in clubs, coming out of shops, walking down the street. I’m pleased its legacy still continues.
On the other hand, it went back into the underground too. I think there are more collectors than ever who are really trying to dig really deep. It’s like Northern Soul.
Yeah, very similar. There’s people digging and digging. And there’s things coming out now, some Randy Muller unreleased album with some Cameron and some other stuff, and there’s all this unreleased disco music. I’m sure there’s loads of music made back then that never came out. That’s interesting too, there’s a lot of stuff that I think is obscure for a reason. I’m bored with those records that are like 5 out of 10, 6 ouf 10, they’re not great, they’re just really rare. Ok, they’re alright, but I’m not interested in paying £300 for a copy. I’m interested in buying a compilation album where there’s a few of them together, so I know what they sound like. It’s overground and underground really. You’ve got people collecting rare things, then you have Pop Idol doing a disco night, people doing cover versions of Bee Gees records. It’s very much in the mainstream but also in the underground, which is cool I suppose.
Tony Lionni – Found A Place (Ostgut Ton, 2009)
We’re at the last one already. This was a massive club hit last year.
Yeah. When I first heard that record it reminded me of why I still love house music. It is definitely a house record, it’s very empty and simple. It’s not got much in the way of drums. Just bass drum, snare, piano, a few filtering “neow, neow”. It’s just got a remorseless energy. Reminded me a little of the early French house music, but also of the early house-y house music from Chicago. Sometimes you hear a record like that and think “I love house music”.
So you think it’s a back to basics record that has all you need in a good house track?
Very much so. What I like about it is about half way through there’s a breakdown, and the chords change… it reminded me of the Happy tracks, that label from Detroit. It reminded me of something like that, Unit 2.
It also reminded me a bit of Inner City too.
Yeah, maybe because of the chord. Inner City use a thing called a roll chord, which you can do on a lot keyboards. You play a chord, then it memorizes the chord. Then you just play up and down, playing single notes, and it does the chord. I know that’s how Kevin Saunderson did that. Again, Inner City, “Big Fun” and “Good Life” are both records that have aged very well I think.
Yeah, that’s true. Would you say “Found a Place” is your ideal of what house should sound like now?
Yeah. House. Not soulful house, just house. I like the fact that it didn’t have prominent drums. A lot of them now have these compressed, big sounding drums. And that didn’t have that. I must admit, when I played it out, and I played it a lot, it didn’t work everywhere. The drums were too soft for a lot of crowds. I think if it had the standard, modern house drums it would be a much worse record, because it would sound like everything else. The fact that it is so empty gives the rest of the music room to breathe.