There is a whole lot of claiming who did what when and where first as far as the origins of house music are concerned, and I do not intend to complicate the matter even further. But Colonel Abrams produced an 8-track tape with Boyd Jarvis and Timmy Regisford as early as 1982 which included this, and a lot of the legendary DJs in New York City and Chicago and beyond were rinsing it. Just saying!
Colonel Abrams – Music Is The Answer (1984, Streetwise)
There is a whole lot of claiming who did what when and where first as far as the origins of house music are concerned, and I do not intend to complicate the matter even further. But Colonel Abrams produced and released this track as early as 1984, and even more of the legendary DJs in New York City and Chicago and beyond were rinsing it. Just saying!
Colonel Abrams – Trapped (1985, MCA)
Still a house prototype, but now he paired his inimatibly determined vocal style with the shoulder pads and fierce dance moves of the day and stormed the charts. It was about time!
Colonel Abrams – Speculation (1985, MCA)
The second hit of his breakthrough and glory year. Handclaps galore and another bold funky groove, mixed by NYC club music protagonist Timmy Regisford.
Colonel Abrams – Over And Over (1985, MCA)
A mighty fine demonstration that Colonel Abrams could well navigate his way beyond punchier dancefloor imperatives. A slick and beautiful R&B ballad, both in tune with other productions of mid 80s post-disco reality, yet still very much him doing the own thing he created.
Colonel Abrams – I’m Not Gonna Let (1985, MCA)
This is basically a sequel to „Trapped“, but not a few people would say it is even more irresistible. I am most probably one of many going out to clubs in the mid 80s who observed this did not go away for a long time, and got them all dancing everytime it was played. And it still does.
Colonel Abrams – How Soon We Forget (1987, MCA)
Only adding a bit of the piano stylings introduced by the Chicago house producers he paved the way for, Colonel Abrams still rode his sound in 1987. Only by then he faced a lot more competiton in terms of club music, and his efforts to satisfy the pop market with slower R&B tracks suffered from the lack of distinctive hits. Sadly he seemed to get lost in the middle and his promising career slowed down considerably. Still, this is up with what led him there in the first place.
Funktion Feat. Colonel Abrams – As Quiet As It’s Kept (Soul Creation, 1993)
After a failed attempt to revive his career as a soul singer on a 1992 album on the Scotti Bros. Label, Colonel Abrams retreated to being a vocal feature for hire on house records throughout the 90s. Even if his voice still stood out as ever, many of said releases were lacking the potential to re-establish him on a level worthy of his beginnings though. Thankfully he found a fitting production counterpart on a string of records he made with the US Garage dons Smack Productions/Mental Instrum. And yes, this is the original template for DJ Dove’s holy grail „Organized“.
Mental Instrum Feat. C.A. – Should Be Dancin’ (Freetown Inc, 1994)
Another supreme example for the congenial drive and fierceness of the collaborations between Colonel Abrams (his real name actually) and the Smack camp. Eventually there was album compiling their finest moments together, but it also failed to get his career on track again. By this point he settled on guest spots on club music records, or had to, with mixed results. Sadly nobody had the idea to give him the opportunity, team and budget to reinvent himself as the soul singer he should have been, and he vanished from sight in the years to come.
Omar S Presents Colonel Abrams – Who Wrote The Rules Of Love (2011, FXHE Records)
It was one of the most memorable moments of my time working at Berlin’s Hard Wax record store to discover that Omar S had done this record together with Colonel Abrams after the latter’s several years of silence, and then listening to it, floored by how good it was. In a way his career had gone full circle, with beautiful music produced in way that made both the song and his breathtaking voice shine. I was really sure that this record would not be the last time I ever heard him on a new record, but then it was. I was shocked to learn about the troubles he had, and that they eventually led to him passing away, and I cannot separate this song from his incredibly sad story anymore. But what a song!
What was your first encounter with „The Call Is Strong“?
Alongside Daddy Gee, Carlton was featured on “Any Love”, the very first Massive Attack single which was a cover of one of my favourite songs from Rufus & Chaka Khan. I was a huge Chaka Khan fan by the way, I went to quite a few concerts. The very first time I saw her, I even waited for her at the backstage entrance because I wanted to have an autograph. Want some trivia? In the 90s, she had been living in my hometown Mannheim for a few years. Back to Carlton, I was really impressed by his crystal clear falsetto. I think “Any Love” came out roughly about the same time as the first Smith & Mighty singles, so this was the starting point of the Bristol sound. I first heard about the Bristol sound when I read about it in i-D magazine or The Face. So I already knew about Carlton when his first album dropped. I bought it at the local WOM store where I used to work back then.
1990 was a very exciting year for club music. Why did you choose this album over others? Why was and is it so important for you?
After you approached me for “Rewind”, I thought that I would have a hard time choosing “that” record. But then I stumbled across a 12” of his song “Cool With Nature” which contains killer remixes by Bobby Konders. So I remembered how much this album meant to me. When I listened to it for the first time, it blew me away. Smith & Mighty did a fantastic production job. At that time, it was very state of the art incorporating elements of Dub, contemporary US R&B, classic Soul, Reggae, electronic sounds as I knew them from House music and even some Swingbeat bits. I fell in love with the ethereal and often spliffed out vibe of the album and Carlton’s songwriting.
How do you rate Carlton as a singer? Why do you think they chose him, and could the album have been as good with another singer?
Carlton’s voice struck me instantly. I think he is a truly underrated singer and it’s a pity that the album wasn’t successful. His voice is really unique, that must be why Smith & Mighty chose him. It was his album, not a Smith & Mighty project in the first place. When you listen to him you can clearly tell that he’s coming from a Reggae background. On “The Call Is Strong” he sounds like a Reggae vocalist singing some kind of otherworldly UK version of R&B.
The album is taking quite some detours. For example „Love And Pain“ could have been a 2 Tone ballad from years earlier, while „Do You Dream“ is right on par with breakbeat pioneers like Shut Up And Dance or 4 Hero. How does „The Call Is Strong“ work as an album? How pioneering was what Smith & Mighty did?
It was very pioneering! The sparse beats, their very English way of bringing together the Jamaican sound system culture and US Hip Hop without sounding like eager copycats. And of course, as they grew up in England, they must have been in touch with 2 Tone stuff as well when they were teenagers. You’re right, you can also trace down elements that became integral with the Breakbeat scene which was already emerging at a very early stage.
I first became aware of Smith & Mighty when they appeared with their Bacharach reworks „Walk On“ and „Anyone“ two years earlier, to which „The Call Is Strong“ sounds like a continuation. I thought they sounded like nobody else at that time. Suddenly Bristol was on the map, making a difference. But could anyone predict how big that difference would be?
You could clearly hear that Smith & Mighty and Massive Attack were making a difference when their first 12”s came out. It all sounded so new and fresh. But I really had no idea how big this Bristol thing would become. Also I had no idea how misinterpreted the whole thing would get when the term Trip Hop emerged.
There were groups emerging in the late 80s that were deeply rooted in sound system culture, but why were Massive Attack and the London equivalent Soul II Soul so much more successful than Smith & Mighty? Were they less traditional and closer to pop music’s proceedings? And why do you think didn’t Carlton manage to establish himself as an ongoing fixture?
Massive Attack and Soul II Soul had the big hit singles. But not by accident, both had good labels with a staff that knew how to work their releases. Smith & Mighty signed a major deal as well – with FFRR, at that time a subsidiary of London Records/PolyGram. The first big project was Carlton’s album, which didn’t prove to be as successful as expected. Then Smith & Mighty were kind of locked in this deal. Under their own name, they only released a four track EP on FFRR. I would say they missed the right moment due to this deal. It took them years to get out of it.Read the rest of this entry »
In discussion with Lerosa on “Electric Café” by Kraftwerk (1986).
There was „Computer World“, then the „Tour de France“ single, then a silence of several years. I was impatiently waiting for their next move, and it kept getting renamed and postponed. Then the first thing I heard at last was „Boing Boom Tschak“. I thought that was pure genius. I suppose you were already a fan before, too. How did you experience that comeback and what did you think of it?
My first encounter with Kraftwerk was when I was 14, the video for „”Musique Non Stop”“ premiered on MTV Italy, with its groundbreaking CGI it was unique at the time. The only similar music I might have had come across then was probably Art Of Noise’s „Close To The Edit“ and Herbie Hancock’s „Rock It“. I didn’t have access to a lot of music as I had no older clued-in sibling nor were my parents into music, perhaps bar my mom who loves her Charles Aznavour and Lucio Dalla, so to be honest I had no idea who these guys were but I was blown away. To me this was new music from a new band! Sometime later I made friends with a guy from Bolzano who told me to check out the „Breakdance“ movie to see Turbo do a routine to „Tour De France“, a freaky song with electric pulses that sounded like a bike chain. After a few months of looking for it I watched the movie, and heard that, too. A year later on holiday in Rimini I shoplifted „Autobahn“ and „Radio Activity“ and I loved both but also not understood them very well as they packed a lot of references to more experimental music I wasn’t quite well versed as a 16 year old. It wasn’t until much, much later that I finally heard „Computer World“. I don’t think I have heard the first two albums yet. I think for a lot of kids back then “Musique Non Stop” was their first meeting with Kraftwerk. Like a lot of people I was a bit disappointed with „Electric Café“ at first. I thought the A-Side was a wonderful statement, but the B-Side lacked the same consequence. I liked the sounds, but I was not that impressed with the tunes. But it has grown on me immensely, starting only shortly after.
Is this album perfectly flawed, a good example for an album that does not lose its impact due to shortcomings?
I think after getting the 12“ for “Musique Non Stop” and eventually finding the LP I too might have been not very enamoured with B-side with its cringey songs (in English, that’s the version I had). It was too much like the music on Italian commercial day time radio and I was being drawn to these new sounds, Hip Hop and early House, that were starting to seep in through the late night radio stations and occasional afternoon clubs we had in Italy for 14 to 17 year olds. I wanted to hear this new Rap music and these new weird electronic House beats, I had no time for the „Telephone Call“ etc. Nevertheless I was charmed by them as the melodies and arrangement were very catchy.I am not sure if I ever thought of it as flawed; it felt like a cohesive whole, just one where I failed to connect the dots, which is how I normally felt whenever I heard something new that really alienated me, say Peter Gabriel „IV“. I just always thought I didn’t know enough to understand it rather than thinking, „oh this is a bit shit“. I think it is insecurity that made me look at it with respect rather than try to judge it as an album. I don’t think I owned many albums back then at all.Whichever way it is, the B-side songs eventually have become the ones I play most often, especially „Telephone Call“, which I love very much. And likewise I love a lot strange pop albums like Peter Gabriel’s „IV“, or Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s debut album or indeed „Who’s Afraid Of The Art Of Noise“.
Ralf Hütter had a severe cycling accident that slowed the work on „Electric Café“ down considerably. Do you think the flaws of the album are there because they rushed proceedings to not lose more momentum?
Who knows. I’d like to think that this was delivered the way it is quite intentionally to showcase the connection between the new sounds and beats of the A-side and the more traditional songs on the B-side, all held together by the electronic sounds. I think I always looked at this record like that; as a sort bridge between the old and the new.
The working title of the album was „Techno Pop“, and they even renamed the album later on. But isn’t the B-Side more Techno Pop than the A-Side? Could’t they have made one album that was pop, and one that was pure rhythm?
Well, I am sure that back then I probably wished the same, I would have loved more of the A-side but in hindsight maybe that would have really made it too niche and austere an album to their ears, coming as they were from a mixed background of musicality and experimentation, I suppose they were trying to find a balance on one record rather than being too pragmatic and split it into two separate entities.
I once imagined that „Sex Object“ was actually a first glimpse of a whole other concept album that was neglected, just for the lack of a better explanation why it was included. Especially the lyrics seemed to clash with their usual man machine infatuation, they are very human. As are the lyrics of „The Telephone Call“. How human are Kraftwerk?
I think they are very human and that’s why they are so popular to this day. Their appeal goes way beyond the mere “electronic music” tag, it doesn’t rest on the laurels of introducing a lot of complex machinery to music. They articulated the new relationship between humans and the technological world with sounds that managed to be extremely human and extremely non-human. Quite the trick. Read the rest of this entry »
In discussion with Anno Stamm on “Complexification” by T Power (1996)
I assume you were familiar with Drum & Bass artists before this record came out. How did you first encounter „Complexification“?
It was a vinyl that my older brother had bought. At that time I was not going to the record stores by myself, so my older brother was basically my record store. When I came home earlier from school, I would go through his record collection and then record the vinyls that I liked the most to a cassette with the Hi-Fi tower from my father. This was always very “James Bond” like, because touching my brothers vinyls and touching the Hi-Fi tower from my father were two major offenses, which would turn out really ugly if one of them would have caught me.
Why did you choose this particular track, the b-side to „Symbiosis“, and not another classic of that era, or even a different track by T Power, like his much better known „Mutant Jazz“ for example?
For me this song stands out in many ways and I think even for T Power this song is outstanding and unique. You are rather out of your mind when you produce such a song, or you are in an extremely clear state of mind. It is a song which breaks so many rules but still manages to be simply breathtakingly beautiful. That is a goal that I admire very much in making art.
Is Marc Royal aka T Power a producer you rate particularly high in Drum & Bass history?
I must admit that I reduce T Power pretty much to that one song. I like his general sense for sound and chords but I am not really an expert on his complete musical back catalogue.
„Complexification“ is not necessarily a typical Drum & Bass track. It is much slower, and it is working with Jazz leanings in the synth and bass sounds, while the beats and groove are hinting more to the sound West London’s Broken Beat scene. But does „Complexification“ transcend musical folder categorization, or does it even have to belong to a certain context?
I chose this track because for me it is a good example for “beyond genre”. This song is perfect in every way. It is idiosyncratic and lives in its own cosmos. There are no genres in that cosmos. Sometimes that is the problem with genres. You get into a routine because there are rules, schemes, patterns and templates you work in. You get lazy in terms of decision making. This song is not lazy at all. Every note is in its exact right place but it feels like it really started out with a tabula rasa thinking – everything can happen.
Do you like both, Drum & Bass and Broken Beats, and do you treat them differently, or do they come from the same origin?
In terms of “Drum & Bass” I started with the “Jungle” phase, because as you might know I am a big sucker for the drums, especially if there are played by the devil himself. That is why I really was into that fast, wild, raw and breaky material. Actually when it was called “Drum & Bass”, that whole thing was nearly over for me. Because all the wildness basically turned into one sterile
drum-loop… with saxophone samples. There was a big shift from the rhythmic energy to a generally more chilled background music approach. So, I think they may come from the same origin – but I would treat them very differently.
There are other fine examples where Jazz elements were integrated to the sound palette of Drum & Bass. Are you interested in Jazz, and how it can be worked into other music?
When there was the trend to just sample something smooth and jazzy over a fast drum loop, that was not very interesting for me. Sampling some “blue notes” doesn’t make you a “jazz cat”. For me and most of the people Jazz is about expressing yourself through playing an instrument, and also pushing the boundaries of that instrument. So, you have to have a plan if you want to achieve that purely with software. Squarepusher’s “Hard Normal Daddy” is a good example from that time, how an electronic version of Jazz may work. He brought the real instrument into the software world in a very smart and respectful way. But in terms of Jazz is about pushing boundaries of an instrument, then one must say that in that days there were a lot of other electronic composers who would
deserve it much more to be called “Jazz Cats”. Read the rest of this entry »
As soon as the House sound left the local underground and went to the international charts, the Major record labels began scouting its most prominent artists for remix duties. The main motivation was to lend some credibility to mainstream and commercial club music, the same as it was in the Disco era that led up to House music’s pioneering days. A lot of the prolific remixers, particularly those already active throughout the early to mid 80s, could extend their career well into the following era. But there were a lot of additions too, DJs that began in the Disco era and did not give up on dance music when the classic Disco era ended at the end of the 70s, and of course new talent that just found their into the business by supplying the platters that mattered on the floor. And as it happened with Disco, House formed the basis for reworks of Pop originals that managed to surpass the original versions, either in truthful versions that just updated the beats and grooves, or more adventurous flipside dubs that stamped the self-confidence of the studio newcomers all over their source material. Here are some outstanding examples for the interaction of overground and underground.
Jimmy Somerville – Comment Te Dire Adieu (Kevin Saunderson Remix) (London, 1989)
Kevin Saunderson was hot property after the chart success of his project Inner City, but the A&R department at London probably did not enlist him to show off his underground signature of granite beats and excavating basslines, turning Somerville’s charming rendition of the Serge Gainsbourg classic into a Detroit Techno banger of the variety of Saunderson’s aliases such as E-Dancer and Reese. It’s a stunning soundclash of both original version and remix though, and both sides remain in character, and both benefit from each other. As it should be.
De La Soul – A Roller Skating Jam Named “Saturdays” (6:00 AM Mix) (Tommy Boy, 1991)
Not long after Frankie Knuckles and David Morales formed Def Productions they became to 90s New York House what Gamble & Huff were to 70s Philadelphia Soul, and turned in remixes in a sleepless studio schedule, week in week out. What distinguished them from most of their peers was that they managed to maintain a supreme quality standard while at it, for years. Here David Morales reworks De La Soul coming back from the Daisy Age with their feelgood hit for the weekend, offering three superior deep jams that are all equally brilliant. Buy double copies and just zip on by (spinnin’ and winnin’).
The Sugarcubes – Hit (Sweet’N Low Mix) (One Little Indian, 1991)
Björk the icon of clubland was not inaugurated with „Debut“, but with the remix compilation „It’s-It“ by her former band The Sugarcubes. The remixes compiled were a diverse set from which the Tony Humphries versions of „Hit“ and „Leash Called Love“ stood out (well wait, Tommy D’s remix of „Birthday“ is mighty fine as well). The record company even called them „those absurd large Tony Humphries mixes“, and deservedly so. While „Leash Called Love“ is pumping and rolling towards David Morales territory, a spectacular anthem in its own right, „Hit“ has the more typical sound associated with the New Jersey don, with all the unashamedly artificial string pads and tinny beats he so loved to use around that time, and everything about it is completely irresistible. „This wasn’t supposed to happen“, she sang. But it was.
Debbie Gibson – One Step Ahead (Masters At Work Mix) (Atlantic, 1991)
Debbie Gibson preceded the all-american stardom of Britney Spears by a decade, but when she surfaced in the late 80s the only thing that she could stick in my mind was the rather remarkable song title „Electric Youth“. I suspect Masters At Work felt similarly, as they kept literally no elements of the original song in what became one of their most beloved remixes (although there are admittedly quite a few other contenders in their vast discography). This is one for the true school Deep House fraternity, keeping you locked with a simple but unmatched hypnotic chord, while all the other sounds and rhythms come and go, creating a perfect trip that seems to last much longer than its 5 minutes plus.
David Bowie – Real Cool World (Cool Dub Overture) (Warner Bros., 1992)
Credible dance remixes for the original Star Man are surprisingly scarce, and this is arguably the finest. Def Mix’s Satoshi Tomiie at the controls, thankfully not repeating the cardinal error of most rock stars trying to connect with nightlife: mounting generic guitars on a limp dance groundwork. Instead he opts for a rather skippy groove, but his trademark keyboards are arranged immersed enough to keep up the tension for sublime 13 minutes. And don’t you dare touch that intro!
Jamie J. Morgan – Why (Extended Club Mix) (Tabu, 1992)
The contributions of the Buffalo collective to late 80s and early 90s club culture are not to be underestimated (associate Neneh Cherry did not reinvent herself with „Buffalo Stance“ for nothing). Photographer and director Morgan was another core member, and also had a few ventures into pop music. Eric Kupper, the studio wizard responsible for countless New York club classics, turns the original into a silky floating groove, with just about the right amount of floor pressure to not disturb the beauty and sentiment. As always when Eric Kupper works with this very mood, it is untouchable. And again, don’t you dare to touch that intro.
Pet Shop Boys – Can You Forgive Her? (MK Remix) (EMI USA, 1993)
There are many great remixes of Pet Shop Boys songs, but if there is one grudge to hold against them it is that it could have been so many more. Few successful remixers employed for pop artists had a contrasting signature sound such as Detroit’s MK, who turned source material into something completely his own with perplexing regularity. And as expected he turns the boisterous original into a mean and dark swinging groover. There are a lot of speculations on how Marc Kinchen chooses the lyrical content for his trademark vocal loops, but lesser minds would probably have gone for the „she made you some kind of laughing stock, because dance to Disco and you don’t like Rock“ bit. Instead he opted to accompany the breakdown with „Pain. She demands my pain. She demands meet your pain. She demands my bicycle“. This cannot be random, this is pure genius.
Daniela Mercury – O Canto Da Cidade (Murk Boys Miami Mix) (Sony Latin, 1993)
I do not know what led the A&R department at Sony to choose the Murk Boys to remix one of the most popular songs in the oeuvre of one of Brazil’s most popular female singers, maybe somebody thought at least it has something to do with Latin music?! However intended, it was a bold move. As per usual, Miami’s finest ignore whatever anthemic qualities they could have used with the original parts they were given (apart from a puzzling vocal loop worthy of MK), and strip everything down to their tried and tested booming grooves and monolithic basslines. Compare the original to this mix to get a glimpse of how radical and nonchalant you could treat your employers and get away with it. The intro? Do not dare to touch it!
Deee-Lite – Try Me On (Plaid Remix) (Elektra, 1996)
Deee-Lite assembled a diverse array of remixers for their compilation „Sampladelic Relics & Dancefloor Oddities“, but it was Plaid’s mix that seemed to kick them off their holographic hoopty just before they actually disbanded. This is not playfully psychedelic, it is REALLY tripping. Try to imagine the three of them throwing their wonderful stage moves to this eerie low riding sub bass adventure, it is just not happening. But times had changed, and times were not day-glo anymore. But Deee-Lite went out with as much style as they entered.
Mama Cass – Make Your Own Kind Of Music (Yum Club Mix) (MCA Soundtracks, 1997)
Hot on the heels of the soundtrack to „Beautiful Thing“, which consisted almost entirely of songs sung by The Mamas & Papas’ Mama Cass, came this 12“. Louie „Balo“ Guzman was more renowned for the harder variety of the New York House sound of the 90s, but then again a lot of his own productions and remixes already displayed the healthy amount of eccentricity required for the task of transforming a 60s Pop standard into a 90s club anthem. The way he molded the song into a working club track structure is beyond virtuoso, and the added instrumentation even adds to the song’s beauty. You may think this is really tacky (and flutey), but think again. If played at the perfect moment, this record can change lives. I have seen it happen.
In discussion with Trusme on “Forevernevermore” by Moodymann (2000).
I doubt that „Forevernevermore“ was your first encounter with Moodymann. Did you eagerly await his third album, and how did it grab you?
100% I didn’t know who Kenny was till I found a copy of “Forevernevermore” in my friend’s record bag. He had left his records at my house and I was doing the usual noseying though the records when I found this CD. I was completely into Slum Village, MadLib and Jaydee collecting the samples from Jazz to Disco. When I first played this CD, everything just became clear in my mind. This is the sound I was looking for, from Hip Hop, House, Jazz, Soul and Disco all rolled into one. I became obsessed, wanting to understand the production techniques and went on to discover the whole world of Detroit right after this. Three years on, Moodymann was playing my first LP launch in a pub on Oldham street, home to where I had been buying his records for the past few years. KDJ and Theo were just No.1 at that time in Manchester and I couldn’t help but be influenced by the whole sound.
It seems that Moodymann matured up to the release „Forevernevermore“ in terms of the album format. „Silent Introduction“ felt like an anthology of 12“ material, even though it worked as an album. But with „Mahogany Brown“ he already aimed at a listening experience more true to the format. Would you say he topped this with „Forevernevermore“?
Yes, for sure. The whole LP worked as a cohesive hour of music yet there was something at every turn that was unique and compelling to me as a listener. I related to this LP in more ways than one, due to it’s almost Hip Hop nature with intros and outros connecting the tracks and glueing the whole piece together. There are so many seminal tracks on the LP that are still played out in the clubs today, yet they are tracks that remain LP cuts and for home listening only. This ideology is what I have embraced in all four LPs that I have produced over the last 8-9 years, with something for the dancefloor, something for the car and wherever else that one listens to LPs these days.
You told me that you wanted to talk about the CD version of „Forevernevermore“, which has lots of interludes and skits, and hidden tracks. Do they form an alliance with the music that almost works like a radio play? What is the special appeal of it?
When I think of an LP, I think of A Tribe Called Quest, Marvin Gaye or The Verve even. All these LPs are constructed to be a continuous piece of music, in which the listener is taken on a journey from the beginning to the end. With the CD format, there is extra playtime in which intros and outros can give a context to the background and making of the LP. On the “Forevernevermore” CD you are taken into the home of KDJ, as he sits playing with ideas on the piano with his child, to the studio discussions and even to listening to his local radio for inspiration. Hidden right at the end of the CD is a live recording of three hard-to-find cuts from the KDJ label, mixed together after 2 mins of silence. In many ways the CD provides the platform for further expression as an artist in the format of an LP.
I think the sound of „Forevernevermore“ was a step forward in terms of his distinctive sound. It was still dense and immersive, but also more refined. Do you think Moodymann’s sound evolved on „Forevernevermore“ in comparison to earlier works? And was it for the better?
This was for sure in an LP sense his best work. It is what most people say as their favourite work, when talking about Moodymann. He carved a sound out all for himself and also derived a unique long player format that until then was not seen in the dance scene. Most underground dance LPs were merely a collection of 12” tracks but this felt more like a well thought-out process, something like Daft Punk would execute. I believe Peacefrog Records also helped in this process and pushed KDJ, as they did all their artists to reach even further. In many ways, earlier LPs were a collection of his previous works but “Forevernevermore” was an LP made from beginning to end with a single LP idea and it feels very much that way.
Tracks like the Disco led „Don’t You Want My Love“ display a confidence to transcend mere club credentials for traditional songwriting, a path he followed ever since. Is there a side to Moodymann the producer you prefer to others, or is it not necessary to differentiate his persona as an artist?
The marriage between your typical MPC studio production and live instrumentation was what set out Kenny on his own. Working with local artists like the percussionist Andres, bass with Paul Randolph and keyboards by Amp Fiddler, on top of that raw production sound was just so unique. The juxtaposition of quantised groove and loose musicianship created a genre of its own and is still being replicated today. This LP was the beginning of that sound and Kenny is still using this formula very much in his productions today.
How do you rate the albums Moodymann released since „Forevernevermore“? Were they up to par with your expectations?
“Black Mahogani” is on par for me if not more refined than “Forevernevermore” but maybe it’s the rawness of the LP that better relates to me. With the following LPs I have enjoyed the productions but felt slightly less connection to the music I listen to and make today. Not that it’s not great music, but I started to feel that the tracks in the EP releases didn’t have that Peacefrog touch of which I’m such an admirer. The LP process began to evolve towards the creation of a new sound where he begins to sing and perform more as an artist and less in the background as a producer. Read the rest of this entry »
The now defunct UK magazine The Face used to end each issue with a one-liner, but when I read the words “Vocals Matter” there sometime in the mid 90s, it deeply afflicted me. Was there really a need to point this out? In fact there was. A vocalist and a song were basic elements of House Music since its early days in the Mid 80s. Which was not really surprising, after all House was a direct continuation of what started in the mid 70s with Soul and then Disco, and instrumentals where the exception, and not the rule. Then Garage House already displayed its origins in its name, the combination of the music played in both New York’s Paradise Garage and Chicago’s Warehouse. But after its heyday in the first half of the 90s, Garage House’s popularity was gradually declining. The clubs got bigger, and the sounds followed suit. The songs, however, seemed to get weaker in the process, and eventually a good tune became the exception. It might be a bit simplistic to argue that it is much easier to produce a good track than a good song, but comparatively there are not many artists left even trying. I am publishing an ongoing chronological series of mixes consisting of personal Vocal House favourites from the past until the present, and I picked a few overlooked gems for this guide.
Dance Advisory Commission – Free Your Mind (Yesterday’s Mix) (12th Avenue Records 1991)
The sole release on this imprint operated by Ben “Cozmo D” Cenac. Produced by David Anthony, who revived this track for a release on Emotive the following year. But the original record has the better versions. Eternal self-liberation on the floor imperatives, carried by a subtle Hip House aftermath breakbeat, which is just effortlessly swinging.
Swing Out Sister – Notgonnachange (Mix Of Drama) (Fontana 1992)
The Def Mix productions cannot be overestimated in Garage House history. 1992 was probably the year that saw more Vocal led House releases than any other year, as the Majors employed an increasing number of club DJs and producers to sprinkle some nocturnal stardust and dancefloor credentials on their chart bound artists. And so you have the most consistent remixer of the genre, Frankie Knuckles, turning UK Blue-Eyed Soulsters into a showstopping symphony of baroque proportions. His way of arranging pianos and strings into lush elegance is really distinct. It is also totally timeless.
Darryl D’Bonneau – Say You’re Gonna Stay (New Generation 1992)
The original masterpiece, hidden on a mini-compilation by a label supposedly affiliated with New Generation, the home of most of the weird and wonderful Larry P. Rauson productions. The track had a second life on Jellybean in 1995, albeit in way less intense versions. The interaction of main and background vocals here is pure perfection, the vocal performance is anyway. The song is an eight minute plea for forgiveness that is beyond par. I would not believe anybody telling me that she actually did not forgive him after hearing this.
K. London Posse Featuring Dawn Tallman – Caught In Luv (Rhythm Mix Vocal) (K4B Records 1994)
From 1993 on Garage House was played to increasingly bigger crowds, and the sweet melodies of former years were now often replaced by a Gospel led urgency, and heavier sounds. Producers like Masters At Work, Mood II Swing or Louie “Balo” Guzman showed the way, and many producers followed. Including Kingsley O., who released a string of high quality records on his K4B label that paired Diva plus team delivery with considerably twisted dubs. Buying double copies to combine both to best effect became mandatory.
Loveland – Hope (Never Give Up) (Junior’s Factory Vocal) (Eastern Bloc Records 1994)
NYC’s Sound Factory was the temple of the new booming Garage House sound, and Junior Vasquez was its adamant high priest. His rules and requirements for his floor are exemplified by this remix, one of many he did in those years. On this occasion riding on the ever reliable Robin S template developed by Sweden’s Finest remix team Swemix/Stonebridge, but adding those tribal rhythms, those rave stabbing chords and particularly introducing that rollercoaster structure that was diminished to one or two drops in recent years. The vocals do not serve not much more purpose than barely holding it all together, but they are still needed.
Brothers’ Vibe Featuring Teddy McClennan – Can U Feel It (Vocal) (Jersey Underground 1996)
The Rodriguez brothers paying their dues to Larry Heard’s eternal classic of a very similar name. It may lack its puzzling blissful emotionality, but it manages to catch up as deep, dark and dubbed out companion and it kicks you mesmerizingly, with your eyes closed, into realms you were probably not yet ready to enter. And you do not even care if you ever get out again.
Urban Soul – What Do I Gotta Do (Eric Kupper Club Mix) (King Street Sounds 1997)
Roland Clark was an early voice of the New Jersey sound back to the very early 90s, his shattered falsetto perfectly accompanied by the dramatic melancholia of his productions. Eric Kupper, man of many a thousand beautiful moments in House Music history, expectedly manages to add further bittersweet intensity to the equation, and a direct route to wailing with the best of them. If you think that House most songs are superficial and one-dimensional, you might just listen to the wrong ones.
The Klub Family – When I Fall In Love (Main Vocal Mix) (Funky People 1998)
There cannot be enough praise for the contributions of Blaze to the canon of songs in House music. Few were as committed to the tradition of Soul within the genre, and few could update said tradition with a sound so distinctively their own. Thus they were an exception when House came into being and they remained an exception for the years to come. Sometime inbetween, they helped to pave the way to the more spiritual and conscious sound celebrated at NYC clubs such as The Shelter and Body & Soul, and then they ruled it. Never ever write them off.
After a productive but rather short period on DJ International in the early 90s, Craig S. Loftis reappeared with this stunning record (the Blaze inspired “You Are All I Need” from one year later is also well worth tracking down). At that time Joe Smooth had vanished from my radar as well, but even if they had only done this one tune, I would be forever grateful. The way this track maintains a floating excellence over such a monolithic funked up groove is just incredible. And then comes the dub version, and you better watch out.
Big Moses – Deep Inside (Vocal) (Big Moe Records 2004)
Moise Laporte is best known for his sublime “Brighter Days” from 1996, but I cannot recommend this record enough either. I really despise a lot of “Soulful Garage” for its bland Pseudo-Jazz drenched noodlings but here all wrong musicianship temptations are kept in check for a well-balanced sophisticated groover straight for the Modern Soul floor. May the girls and boys keep on swinging, and may the faith be kept.
In discussion with Shanti Celeste about “Set It Out” by Omar-S (2003).
So what was the first time you heard this track?
I wish I could say it was in a club where I had a life changing experience bla bla bla, but it was actually a much more ordinary scenario. I was buying some birthday records on Juno just after it was repressed in 2009. I didn’t know much about Omar-S at that point, had heard the name once or twice, but that was about it. So the answer to that question is – the first time I heard this song was on the mighty Juno player.
What drew you to it? The simplicity of the groove? The addictive synth line? How it erupts into a heartfelt song? Or something else? Or all of it?
All of it! The vocal and the beautiful rolling pad in particular though, then the nice toms and the clap, too! I just think it’s a beautiful track, it can make you feel so happy and grateful. I love singing so I just start belting out along with it as soon as I hear it or even when I play it in a club. It is just so simple but so powerful.
For me this is foremost a prime example of a very fine Vocal House record. Lyrics, singing and sound work perfectly with each other. It seems nothing is missing, and there is nothing to improve. But is it really as simple as it sounds?
Yes and no, there isn’t that many elements which I guess is what makes it simple, but it is cleverly constructed. I always think that spreading a synth line across four bars creates more interest because it gives room for all the other elements to play without sounding too loopy and repetitive, even if it is that way. Also let’s not forget what a great vocal can do to a track, in some cases it can completely transform it.
I think his track „Who Wrote The Rules of Love“ with Colonel Abrams also comes close to what Omar-S achieved with „Set It Out“. Are you a fan of his in general? Are there other tracks you like nearly as much?
I agree, that’s also really good and again a perfect example of a good Vocal House track, if I’m putting it down to just a feeling though, I prefer „Set It Out“ but they are so close! These are probably my two favourites. I do like a lot of his others as well, he has done soooo much! One of my other favourites is him and Kai Alcé’s „Not Phazed“.
I like that Omar-S is absolutely not very fussy about either producing or marketing what he produces. He is not very concerned about other opinions on what he does either. Is this the way out of modern PR obligations, just delivering the tunes?
I think part of it is a way of delivering tunes! Imagine if he did the whole PR thing every time he released a record, especially at the start when he was releasing lots, it would be a PR overload! And now people trust him and will probably buy his records anyway.
There is whole lot of discourse about Detroit in club culture. But does the origin of Omar-S really matter with „Set It Out“?
To be honest, I’m not sure. To me it just sounds like Omar-S!
UK also has a healthy tradition with Garage House, even if it evolved into something different. But to my ears the production of this track is not too dissimilar to UK club styles, or am I wrong?
I actually think there are other more garage-y tracks from Omar-S that sound more similar to UK styles. „Set It Out“ is quite straight and I always think of UK Garage House as a lot more swong. But I guess that“s the beauty of music, eh? Everyone hears it in they’re own way.
What is important if you infuse a dance track with vocals?
Tricky, I will always notice a good vocal track if I like the vocal and the way that it’s been placed on the track. It’s very important that it’s effortless and soulful but not trying to be too gimmicky and „classic house vocal’. Also sometimes it helps if they use the whole accapella, like in „Set It Out“, or if it’s a vocalist that they arrange with more of a song structure. I like the way it sounds when it’s chopped as well but it has to be done right. Basically, it has to to work great and not just for the sake of it.
I must admit that I much prefer this kind of vocals in a dance track to the majority of tracks of recent years that include a singing style usually more associated with indie records. But I would not go as far as to maintain you cannot create a good club song without a Soul aspect. But what does a good club song actually require?
For me it requires a physical and an emotional aspect. So a really good groove that you just can’t help but dance to and a melodic aspect of some kind. I’m not saying it has to be super melodic with noodly bits everywhere, although that’s the route I tend to take because I just can’t help myself. But something to go along with the groove that’s making you dance your ass off.
Is there a way that „Set It Out“ is reflected in your own productions?
Maybe yes, it’s probably influenced me in more ways than I know considering that I have listened to it so many times over the years!
The defunct Face magazine used to have these little messages at the bottom of their last page. I always have this one particular issue in the back of my mind where it read „Vocals matter“. But do they still?
I loved a lot of David Bowie songs throughout my life. His landmark albums from the early 70s were still a staple of the radio shows I recorded to cassettes from the mid 70s on. Glam anthems, way ahead to my ears then what became of it in the charts around that time. Glam outfits that were equally way ahead. David Bowie was already somewhere else, of course, anticipating the Disco phenomenon I would soon so love, with Philly’s finest. Then following that up with the Berlin trilogy that would inspire legions to create something great, and look great while doing it, too. Then, when I ran around in 60s clothes in my early 80s coastal smalltown youth, I discovered that he already had been there in the best way imaginable, and his early Pye singles were exactly the attitude and sound I was looking for. He was the definite face. He made no mistakes. He even descended to the kids he created with „Ashes To Ashes“, and he blessed them, as they worshipped him. He was a terrific actor on screen as well, making good use of his ever magnetic charisma and sexually confusing identities there, too. Whatever he did, you watched him very closely, else you could have missed out on crucial developments.
When „Let’s Dance“ was announced as being produced by Nile Rodgers, another inerrable hero of mine, I had the highest expectations, but then could not help feeling let down. There were moments, but not enough of them. And in the period of the mid 80s shortly after, pop’s most successful stars could earn a fortune without even the slightest vision (let alone sound), and David Bowie simply became one of them. As soon as he was dancing in the street with Mick I was just embarrassed. Even his outfits were embarrassing. I was really surprised that this could happen. Enter the years of hit and miss. For every glimpse of his former cool self resurfacing, „Absolute Beginners“ or „Hallo Spaceboy“ for example, he took decisions that were unforgiveably below his par, think Tin Machine, among others. Given, you cannot be visionary forever, however visionary you once were. And David Bowie was more constantly visionary than anybody else, for a long time. But the visions at one point were had by others. Not surprisingly he displayed a clever instinct for picking the right ones to utilize for his purposes, but still they were attached. I did not mind, he was performing the elder statesmanship with grace, and as so many artists were still working ideas he already had before, there was nothing left to prove, only if he wanted to. So screw the stock bonds. I sincerely felt happy for him and his family. He deserved it. Then he kind of disappeared.
When he reappeared in 2013, it felt like out of the blue. „Where Are We Now?“ was the first song of his in years I listened to repeatedly. It was beautiful and it felt good to have him back. I was slightly surprised by its sadness, but I thought it was quite a statement to base its sentiment about the most lauded creative period of your career. It challenges comparisons, and I was sure he was still creatively ambitious enough to try and deal with them, no matter what he achieved before. „The Next Day“ was a good album, too. He did not try to reinvent himself, he looked back on what he invented. I visited the Bowie exhibition that was doing the same in Berlin, just in time before it closed, and I enjoyed it very much. It all came back, rather predictably. His stage outfits on display proved he was a small man, but he surely did not have a small mind.
I did not expect that he would follow that retrospective phase so soon, if at all. And I absolutely did not expect that he would follow it up with an album like „Blackstar“. As before, David Bowie chose to remain silent, relying on producer Tony Visconti to reveal the news of its release. I read his trusted cohort doing that in an interview while travelling. He spoke of references like Kendrick Lamar, Death Grips and Boards Of Canada, and that rock and roll was to be avoided. David Bowie recruited a potent jazz quartet from a New York bar for the recordings. It was all rather promising. When I got asked to write these lines I initially wished I could have listened to the entire album when he was still alive, as I was already overwhelmed to the point of numbness by the reactions to his sudden demise. But when I then listened to it, it became obvious very quickly that he was fully aware that he would have passed away once the public would be fully exposed to it. And that it is pivotal to picture the dying artist for the whole experience. The songs are brilliant. Complex and dense, or just stunning, indeed avoiding rock and roll stereotypes, even if the jazz only adds to the picture instead of dominating it. The mood is intense, but it is not entirely dark. Thinking of the motivation behind this album, David Bowie sounds astonishingly swinging, his beloved voice delivering clever lyrics ranging between the horror of his own decay and the feeling of arriving there content, at ease with himself, with truths simultaneously personal and universal. The video to „Lazarus“ is frightening to watch, but comically absurd as well. The last photographs of him taken show him in a sharp suit, lauging. The way he orchestrated his own requiem is incredible, exactly as he wanted to, and as only he could. Being David Bowie, setting lasting examples yet again. Superior, even in death.