For many years it almost seemed as if Patrick Cowley appeared from nowhere, then achieved a stellar career in music in the brief period of only a few years, tragically cut short when he passed away due to AIDS, only 32 years old. There must be millions who danced or listened to his music, and he was most deservedly hailed as one of the most important artists in the history of club music ever since. Still, Patrick Cowley the person remained strangely unexplored. There were countless entries in books and websites specializing on Disco, yet they all used the same few photographs of him, and the same scarce biographical details. There were no interviews, no friends and collaborators were asked to tell stories. He dropped his musical vision, which was way ahead of its time, arguably still is, leaving only speculation as to what might have been, and where it actually came from.
Admittedly it was not that easy to find out when it actually happened, pre-internet, but when his fame as the synth wizard in the aftermath of the classic Disco era skyrocketed in the early 80s, he was also producing the first album by Indoor Life, the band of his friend Jorge Socarras. It was not music destined to shine under the glistening mirror balls of the hedonistic palaces of that time, it was dark and edgy. It was more Post Punk than Disco. Wait, I meant New Wave, nobody said Post Punk then. By all means it should have been proof enough that there was more to Patrick Cowley than the music he became famous for.
Thanks to Patrick Cowley enthusiast Daniel Heinzmann you could learn that Cowley studied synthesizer and electronic music in San Francisco in the early 70s, and then produced an album named „Catholic“ with Jorge Socarras until the end of the decade, but all the music from those years was never released. This did not change until 2007 when John Hedges, head of the Hi-NRG label Megatone, moved house in San Francisco, and invited the local DJs from the Honey Soundsystem to help him. They discovered the original reels of the „Catholic“ recordings in his basement, and later introduced them to Stefan Goldmann, who happened to be a guest at one of their events. Of course Stefan and me were not hesitating much to release it on our Macro label two years later, and we felt incredibly honoured. And all of the involved were very certain that everybody else would be incredibly glad to discover the other side of Cowley’s musical genius. But then we had to realize that nearly everybody else was perfectly happy with the image of Cowley as it were, and reluctant to change anything about it, to say the least. It was as disappointing as it was unacceptable.
Thankfully Honey Soundsystem member Josh Cheon founded his label Dark Entries around the same time the original „Catholic“ release came into being (which he reissued in 2014 with additional material), and he was very determined to not give up on finding other unreleased Patrick Cowley recordings. And even more thankfully, he succeeded. Thus „School Daze“ was released in 2013, a collection of compositions for gay porn films of the local Fox Studio company, recorded between 1973 and 1981. It would have been enough to be another welcomed piece in the puzzle of Cowley’s enigmatic artist persona, but really it is an invaluable document as to how outstanding his musical talent really was. The music is incredibly dense and atmospheric, stunningly inventive, and surely surpasses the sheer purpose of scoring what is was paid for. If you keep that purpose out of your mind it would easily hold up as an exceptional piece of early synth music.
Enter „Muscle Up“, the sequel to „School Daze“, and the music is as brilliant. A few more soundtrack excerpts, where Cowley lures spaced out atmospherics from his synths, dark and tempting. But now there are also heavy funk workouts, that might stem from his college days jamming with Arthur Adcock and Maurice Tani. And most sensational, there is an alternate instrumental version of „I Need Somebody To Love Tonight“, one of the best tracks Cowley produced for Sylvester. More pieces to the puzzle.
I am sure there is more to reveal from the vaults, and there will be even more facets to the artist, and eventually everything that Patrick Cowley produced before he became famous will be on equal terms. It really is about time.