I was there the night he played at Hamburg’s Front Club in the early 90’s, the first time you could ever see the DJ in the booth there, which was usually entirely closed except for some really small peep through holes. He entered the booth, set up a small fan, a bottle of cognac, hung a towel around his neck, and proceeded to play. He played very gracefully, letting each record play from beginning to end, at a moderate pace, but perfectly sequenced and mixed. I remember the crowd taking a while to get used to this DJing style, as the sets by the Front residents where usually comparably more dynamic and going back and forth, but it really told me a lesson how to let the music shine when it needs to shine and I was deeply impressed. And I remember that I felt very happy to be able to hear and also see him doing it. Still am. R.I.P.”
Now a year has passed, and a lot of things have happened since his passing. I was sure that I would never forget how much he mattered to me with everything he did, but I was also accepting that it would occupy my mind less and less with time passing by. Except it didn’t. I kept pulling old records with his “Classic Club Mix” credentials from the shelf, humming TUNES, and not tracks, taking a bow at the elegance and SOUL of the Def Mix arrangements and constantly wondering why there is so little left in my environment of what he established. So I decided to do pay my dues and start an irregular series of Hot Wax shows that simply ask: “What would have Frankie done?” I could only guess, so forgive any inadequacies.
These mixes are an admittedly self-indulgent excursion that is a very personal sentimental journey. Going back, way back, back into time etc. A time where I was over twenty years younger, the early 90’s. The music you are about to hear is what we listened to at friends’ places before hitting the club. Every weekend we were dead certain that tonight will be THE night, even better than THE night the weekend before. We were young, handsome, carefree and everything that mattered was imminent. We knew there were hours of dancing to the most wonderful music lying ahead, and we actually could not really wait. In those days the club night began timely, and it had an end. We did not even think of being fashionably late, because there could have been so much we could have missed out on. But still, there was some time left. So beers open, cigs lit, talks, laughter, scheduling phone calls, dressing up and of course, the music. The music had to be perfect. But the music also had to be different to what we would dance to later on. We are not talking about music that should not distract, quite the opposite. It should be involving, fuelling our anticipation, but not exhausting it. Of course sometimes were were out buying the latest records earlier on, and we were playing them to each other. But sooner or later the dominant sound of getting ready was mellow, slick, lush, warm, elegant, fluid, flowing, smooth, soothing, emotional, DEEP.
It was the sound pioneered by in Chicago by artists like Larry Heard and Marshall Jefferson and many others, then developed further in New York by artists like Wayne Gardiner, Bobby Konders, the Burrell Brothers and also many others. Do not mistake their music as being designed for home listening purposes. The DJs would use them, too. As a gentle introduction, or as a moment of regeneration during peak time, or as the best possible way to ease the crowd out again in the early morning, so that not a single glorious moment of what just happened was tainted by something less. A lot of these tracks had enough kicks to have you working at any time, but they also seemed to be created for special moments, closed eyes, embraces, disbelief evoked by sheer beauty.
The musical programming of that era was quite different to today. It was not steadily going up and up, it was going up and down. There were detours, breaks, constant pace shifts, even pauses. Surprises welcome. A single style was not mandatory. Changes were expected, and fulfilled, at best unexpectedly. There was a flow, but it was not built-in, it had to be achieved.
A lot of these tracks have tags like Ambient or Jazz in their titles and credits, but they did not really try to be either. The artists involved liked to display their musicianship, and their ability to establish a mood and an atmosphere. They knew how to write a melody, they knew how to arrange their layers and instruments, they were determined to sound as good as their means would allow.
One reason why I wanted to record these mixes is that I sometimes miss club music artists being musicians. And music oblivious to floor imperatives and mere functionalism. The other reason is that I was interested how these tracks would sound or even hold up if you did not just inject this feeling inbetween something else, but you pull it through, for HOURS. Would it be too much? You decide.
I’d like to dedicate this to the Front Kids, wherever you may roam. You rule.
This is a compilation of mostly electronic Japanese Post Punk, released in 1983. It contains a mixture of poppy and really weird music. I found it in the bargain bin of the now defunct Berlin record store Dense about 10 years ago. I am collecting Japanese 70s/80s Synthpop for quite a while, and it was a real suprise to find such an item there, because the according Japanese scene is very hermetic and local, and as a European citizen you either go there, or buy from Japanese sellers. I only got stuck while browsing through the bin as I read Picky Picnic being included, hailed as the Japan’s answer to The Residents, of which I own a record they once released on the German label Ata Tak. Second glance revealed these were all Japanese artists, all the better. But the best part was of course that the whole record was totally interesting and worthwhile. It contains everything I love about Japanese music from that period. Wild experiments, girlish charms, awkward references to Western culture, otherworldly interpretations of Eastern culture, and most of all just performances you cannot really compare with European counterparts. I’d like to discover more records like these, but it is getting more and more difficult, and costly, too.
Written for The Drone.