In discussion with Aiden d’Araujo on “Rhythm Zone Vol. 1” (1989).
You chose the cassette compilation “Rhythm Zone Vol. 1“. A format that in the 80s was probably still more common for discovering new music than its according CD counterparts. Were you taping radio at a young age, and was this your first foray into purchasing what already had caught your interest?
Yeah taping radio shows was a ritual when I was a kid – got that off my Mum who would tape mixes religiously. In the early nineties around ’92/’93 we had a studio in the loft with loads of gear like Junos and Rolands. The two guys who had the studio (you may have heard one of them under his Deadly Avenger alias who released the ‘Deep Red’ LP and now scores Hollywood films) lodged with us and I remember like it was just yesterday all the trippy, ambient electronica comin’ outta the studio – I would say reminiscent of acts like the Future Sound Of London. No doubt this influenced my Mum and she amassed a series of tapes that had early electronic auteurs on then such as Pete Namlook, Move D and Biosphere (she’s still got ’em!) whose nocturnal opus ‘Novelty Waves’ never fails to transport me straight to my childhood – you remember that iconic Levi’s advert featuring the steam train with that track on it right? Anyway, all these deep as the ocean odysseys would be the soundtrack to when I went to sleep. Warp’s ‘Artificial Intellgience’ comp was another fave, and I’d always be messin’ around with the FM dial to try scope out some more otherworldly obscurities…
Another interesting development was one of my Mum’s mates who when not spraying murals (he was and still is a revered graffitti artist who very kindly sprayed the House Hunting mural for me) would host shows on Birmingham-based pirate radio station Mix FM which he would sometimes transmit from our attic. This would be my introduction to Hip Hop – whether the Britcore of Gunshot and London Posse, West Coast flavour of Snoop Dogg and Souls Of Mischief or the politically-charged Public Enemy and ghetto rap of Biggie and Wu-Tang. GZA’s ‘Liquid Swords’ and Souls Of Mischief’s ’93 Til Infinity’ always on rotation must have proper wore those tapes out on my Walkman. As well as Hip Hop on Mix FM there would be some Soul, Funk, Disco, Electro and House – which when you’re 8 years old listening to all this was a pure mind trip…
So I didn’t really need to buy tapes as there were so many avenues where I was exposed to it. Another influence was my Dad who was split from my Mum so I would stay at his on weekends 10 mile up the road in Leicester. He was in a band that covered a lot of Rock and Blues classics who were a bit of a hit in the mid-nineties with loads of bookings all over The Midlands. Anyway Leicester has a big Afro-Caribbean community and every year hosts the Leicester carnival (second only to Notting Hill in size and scope) with Aba-Shanti representing so Dub and Reggae was also the sound of my Dad’s household – he loves all the Rhythm & Sound albums I’ve got him!
Did you try several compilations and this was the one you liked best, or was this the only one at first, and by coincidence it was also the best choice to get introduced to the US import dance music styles it showcased?
This was the first I bought and I remember clocking the naff early 90s trippy artwork complete with the tag line “A galaxy of imports for under a fiver”. It was a quid so had to be copped – I thought it may be like the deep trips on my Mum’s armada of ambient tapes. It was pure coincidence that the first one I got was the best introduction to Chicago House, Detroit Techno and New York Garage. Not long after I bought ‘The Rave Gener8tor II’ tape where again the cover art enticed me and had some choice cuts on it like the Underground Resistance remix of ‘The Colour Of Love’ by The Reese Project and some Murk flavour via Liberty City’s ‘Some Lovin’. There were only a few decent tracks on this one though as was on a more hardcore tip which I weren’t feelin’ as much. Always went back to ‘Rhythm Zone Vol. 1’.
There were better known compilation efforts before to put on display for European customers what was happening in Chicago, Detroit and New York from the mid 80s on. Were you aware of those?
As I was about 8 years old I didn’t have a clue. As previously mentioned all the dance records and tapes I saw in the shops generally had a more unusual, graphic aesthetic which caught my eye and I gravitated towards.
Did, or do you have personal highlights in the tracklisting, or is this all killer no filler?
Hard-pressed to pick a favourite as like you said it’s pretty much all killer and no filler, but the first three joints on the A-Side still do it for me which include Dionne’s ‘Come Get My Lovin’ (the rare times I’ve DJ’ed out will always drop this), the Detroit Mix of Reese’s ‘You’re Mine’ (my first introduction to Chez Damier along with Marc Kinchen under their Power 41 pseudonym) plus some Gherkin flavour outta Chicago with Brett Wilcots under his Gallifre guise supplying ‘Don’t Walk Out On Love’ featuring Mondee Oliver. If you read my House Hunting column you’ll know that I’m a proper Gherkin geek (shout to the “Gherkmaster” Miles Simpson of choice London club night Thunder who’s as fanatical as me over the hallowed House imprint) so this tape has no doubt influenced my House mania.
As an introduction, this compilation is a knowledgeable and well balanced selection of New York Garage, Detroit Techno and Chicago House, and beyond. I can vividly remember that at that time local contexts or stylistic differences did not matter much, at least not in the club. For example, early Detroit Techno did sound different to Acid House from Chicago, but it was not perceived as being something else entirely. A bit later Techno grew in impact, but for a longer transitional period it was just a different shade of House. When did you learn about these differences, and did this tape help?
It was all just ‘dance music’ when I was kid. However, there was always a music mag in the house like Mixmag or DJ (when they were relevant) so from reading these I’d learn from references to ‘Chicago House’ and ‘Detroit Techno’ – absorbing the minutiae of each style in the process. It wasn’t until I was really a teenager that I could start properly differentiating between them all. Have to give a shout to my Mum’s partner at the time Rich Bee who further educated me on House and influenced me on coppin’ my first set of turntables when I was 16. Rich had a labyrinthine record collection that encompassed Jazz, Funk, Soul, Disco and more but it was his house collection that I was really interested in – he’d play a lot of the KDJ and Theo joints plus loads of Larry Heard so was reminiscent of the sounds on those early tapes I had. Once I had my decks I used to jet up to Nottingham practically every week – Funky Monkey was the first shop on my rack raiding radar and this was where I was further schooled on more House hotplates shouts to Rick and Dave! So by then I had a decent grasp of the history and differences in the respective scenes but to me they’re all just facets of House regardless…
The genre tagging is probably a very European way to get a grip on developments in music. A lot of seasoned American DJ I talked to avoided to use even general names like House, and preferred to refer to what they play simply as Dance Music. I think this compilation is a good example for how music works together as long as it is good, like in a good DJ set. Do you rate this approach over breaking down music into several small genres, or do those also serve an important purpose?
When you listen to an old mix whether it’s Farley on WBMX , Timmy Regisford on WBLS or a load of those legendary KISS mixes by Hiroshi Fujiwara or The Hump it ain’t just House there’s Disco, Italo, Garage and Techno but it all just flows together seamlessly just like on the ‘Rhythm Zone Vol. 1’ tape. Thinking about it whenever I’ve seen an American or Japanese DJ though they may be considered ‘House’ they loosely play under this umbrella whereas I’ve found more European DJ’s more ‘specialist’ – I don’t go out often now though so that may have changed and I’m talkin’ shit ha! My record collection I divide into Chicago, Detroit, New York, New Jersey etc., so in that sense I’m a total purist breaking my House records down in their respective hometowns, but in the context of a mix or when down on the dancefloor I don’t just wanna hear hours of Kerri chords or have an Acid overdose it’s gotta be mixed up as you wanna hear House in all its forms. It all just derives from Disco anyway…
Kool Kat, the label „Rhythm Zone Vol. 1“ was released on, had Neil Rushton as A&R manager, and he also wrote the liner notes for this. He started out as Northern Soul DJ and later played a quite pivotal role in bringing US House and Techno over the pond. His activities and this compilation like sure represent the digger instinct associated with the Rare Soul circuit, don’t you think?
I’m glad you brought this up as like I always do myself, you’ve played diggin’ detective and dug further to unearth some history in the tape’s origins. I loved his liner notes and used to read ‘em over and over – I think this has been a contributing factor in me obsessing over the finer details of a record whether it’s an original pressing, what’s in the run out, does it have promo sheet, studying the sleeve notes… Anyway, being a Northern Soul DJ you know he had to be a serious selector and choice collector and that shows in his Rhythm Zone comp as many of these House and Techno records still sound amazing now and have stood the test of time…
In Germany, licence labels like BCM and ZYX were very important in establishing House and Techno to a wider audience. Was it similar in the UK, or would it have reached the same level of public recognition regardless?
Well funny you should say that as a perfect example would be Kool Kat who released this Rhythm Zone comp. Though many heads probably ain’t heard of Kool Kat which was based up in my home environ of The Midlands in Birmingham, they set up a subsidiary in the form of Network Records which left a lasting legacy – licensing legendary labels such as Metroplex, Transmat and KMS from the holy trinity of Juan, Derrick and Kevin to the UK and Europe. So Network specialised in the Motor City and you had labels like Republic Records run by Dave Lee (aka Joey Negro) who licensed a lot of the New York and New Jersey sounds – think Phase II ‘Reachin’, Arnold Jarvis’ ‘ Take Some Time Out’ and Nu Groove joints including Rheji Burrell’s Metro records. Then there’s all the Chicago ones… I could wax lyrical about these all day but another example would be Damon D’Cruz’ ‘Jack Trax’ stable which released the iconic Jack Trax comps that are a great introduction to Chicago House. So yeah I think they played a major part in exposing to a wider audience and more diverse dance demographic.
Compilations are not at all as important as years ago to discover new musical interests. Were they adequately replaced by something as efficient, or did different preferences just require different formats entirely?
As music is so accessible now I think compilations aren’t the necessity they once were in seeking out new or interesting music. I think a lot of people judge on a sound clip and make an instant decision whether they’re feelin’ it. As you can buy a download for like a quid most heads will probably think what’s the point of buying a comp in which they’ll probably like a just few tracks when instead they can buy 10 downloads of what they exactly want. That’s the charm I loved about comps though that you’d warm to the tracks that you’d skip or fast-forward initially and ultimately broaden your musical spectrum. What’s encouraging though is that you’ve got a new wave of influential institutions such as Rush Hour and Strut raiding the DATs and releasing retrospectives with forgotten or unheard of artists complete with hard to find tracks and unreleased exclusives. So if you ain’t an anorak like me obsessing over original pressings then comps are still a great source in discovering new music.
Being quite a digger for dance music rarities yourself, you probably own all the records compiled on „Rhythm Zone Vol. 1„ by now. Or were there exclusive versions on this you could not find elsewhere?
I’ve pretty much had all the records on the tape at some point but you know me strictly original pressings in decent condition (at least real VG not Discogs VG!) but as this interview got me reminiscing I’ll probably obsess in trying to find ‘em all now, ha! One I’ve never come across is the Wayne Archbold remix of LNR’s ‘Work It To The Bone’ on the Kool Kat pressing which is probably languishing in bargain bins everywhere. You know how it is sometimes you just never come across that one record you’re after and I can’t bring myself to spend a quid on a record and pay the shipping – I’d rather just chance upon one when gettin’ a deep dose of dusty fingers…
Electronic Beats 11/15