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BANG THE PARTY! 2-DISC RELEASE

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Celebrating our 7th Birthday we have put together a 2-Disc compilation package spanning 30 years of influential and inspiring music both rare and classic to BANG THE PARTY…mixed with generous love and appreciation by ANDYCAPP and a sleeve designed by graffiti artist DARCY OBOKATA. The complete package will be available for a mere $5….why..cause that’s how much it cost to make…so it is essentially free. We are offering SIDE ONE free, right here to download….

SIDE ONE

MICHAEL GREGORY JACKSON – Risin’ Up
GREGG WRIGHT – Searching For The Love
BONEY M- New York City
DISCONNECTION – Dead On The Case
MIM SULEIMAN – Nyuli (Instrumental)
EASTBOUND EXPRESSWAY – Never Let Go
DAVE SAMUELS – New Math
CHATEAU FLIGHT – Instant Replay
MAURICE FULTON – Revenge Of The Orange
EDDIE HARRIS – La Carnival
LTD – Holdin’ On
BRAINSTORM – On Our Way Home Pt. 1&2
RSW – Mash Up
IDJUT BOYS & QUAKERMAN- Gurner’s Choice
LANCELOT LAYNE – You Think It’s Soft (Trevor Walker Remix)
TUMBLACK – Chunga Funk
TUMBLACK – Bateau La Passe

SIDE TWO

TAKE THREE – Tonite The Night
FUNKAPOLITAN – As The Time Goes By
INVERTO – Miura
LADYVIPB – Pain In My Brain
ALLISON DAVID – One Last look
FUNKI PORCINI – Sally Wants To Be A Surgeon
MARIUS CULTIER – Zouk
LINDSTROM – The Contemporary Fix (EYE Remix)
LES GAMMAS – Whenever
D’ANGELO – Spanish Joint
E.S.G.-Moody
EROT – Two Songs For Annie
THE POP GROUP – 3:38
RUSS MCDONALD – Looking From The Cooking Pot
LUV YOU MADLY ORCHESTRA – Moon Maiden
MAXAYN – Doing Nothing, Nothing Doing
SYCLOPS – A Lovely Sunday
BUILD AN ARK – Always There

BANG THE PAR T.V. Ep.02 – MUSCLE & HEAT

LUKE SOLOMON (The Freaks, Classic Records)…. Interview

2011_Luke-Solomon-shot-2-4x5-film-for-press2Attack meets British house producer and DJ Luke Solomon at his home studio to discuss the concept of legendary status in music, the problem with retro house and the perils of chart success.

“Some people are so scared of what you’re supposed to say, how you’re supposed to behave,” Luke Solomon tells us at his North London house. “It goes back to that whole thing of making yourself marketable. I think that’s perhaps been one of the reasons why I haven’t got on as well as I otherwise would, because I refuse to bow down to those things. It’s not how it should be.”

Luke would freely admit that he isn’t a household name. Where other DJs and producers of his generation have courted celebrity and the wealth which comes with it, he seems too principled and too humble to join in with all the shameless self-promotion that requires. But, having been dubbed the unsung hero of British house music, Luke’s contribution to dance music over his two decade career is substantial.

His incredible passion for music – and especially house – has seen him run the celebrated Classic Music Company label with Chicago house legend Derrick Carter, inadvertently score a crossover top 10 UK hit single with ‘The Creeps’ by his group Freaks and work with the likes of Damian Lazarus, Rekids, Crosstown Rebels and Visionquest. As a talented and versatile producer and a consistently forward-thinking DJ, Luke deserves to be held in the same high regard as any of his more famous peers.

Attack: Who was it who first described you as the unsung hero of British house music? Was it Andy Weatherall?

Luke Solomon: Yeah, Andrew Weatherall. It’s a little frustrating in some respects to get this legendary status thrown around. Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredibly flattering, but you’re trying to translate it to money and record sales and stuff and I have to work incredibly hard to get by. I’ve got a nice house, fortunately I’ve got a wife that works and I’ve had some success over the years – for one odd reason or another – with pop music, but for a continuous income I have to battle and battle. In a way that’s a good thing because it keeps me ambitious. I’m still trying to prove myself.

But as you get older you become part of the furniture. People kind of say, “Oh, that’s Luke Solomon. We know what he does. That’s fine. He’s just there.” I think your chances are reduced even more. You get to that situation with promoters too. You get put into a pigeonhole. It happened to me with Classic and Derrick - people assume that I do something that Derrick has become famous for. Derrick became a bigger beast than the label itself so people make that assumption. It can be frustrating.

It would be easy in your position to get frustrated by other artists making more money and becoming more famous.

Yeah, it is. I’m not bitter about it but I am envious. I see people whose careers I’ve helped launch fly past me and earn thousands of thousands of pounds and of course I think, “Fuck! Why isn’t that me?” But if I look at it as a whole I’m incredibly proud of what I’ve achieved. To have someone like Andrew Weatherall announce me in such a way… I look up to people like Andrew and Derrick and Harvey and think if I can achieve something like what they’ve achieved I’ll be a happy man.

Unfortunately, money gets in the way sometimes, though, doesn’t it? I’m self-employed, I don’t have a pension, I don’t do any of that stuff, but as long as I’ve got a body of music that I can be proud of and when I’m old my kids have got something that can get them through university, I’ll be happy.

It must still be good to be able to earn a living doing something you really love.

It is. I still get the biggest buzz from sitting in the studio and making music then going out at the weekends and playing to people who appreciate it. It’s a wonderful thing. And I’m optimistic about the music industry now. From speaking to people about how digital sales are starting to take effect, I’m optimistic about that.

It’s mad. It’s quite amazing to watch it. I’m going from the days we used to sell thirty, forty thousand copies of an underground record. Look how many copies Isolée sold, or DJ Sneak’s ‘You Can’t Hide From Your Bud’. To suddenly watch that taper away, no one seemed to know what was going on, then to see the rise of digital, then to watch vinyl become an alternative method for people putting out music and promoting themselves. I think that’s brilliant. I love it.

People see it as quite an elitist thing in some respects and I get a lot of people I know saying it’s only people with money who can afford to buy vinyl, but I used to save every single bit of my pocket money up when I was a kid to go and buy a cassette. That wasn’t cheap, it was a lot of money. Economies change, things get more expensive, that’s just how it is. Five pounds to me in the 80s is probably the equivalent of ten, fifteen quid to a kid now. I look at what toys my kids can buy with a fiver. They can get fuck all!

As things have changed, are you happy with the direction you’ve taken?

I don’t think there’s anything that I’ve ever done which I’ve done in a half measure. I overdo it sometimes but it’s art. Deep down I know when I’ve done something that I’m proud of. The only thing that I regret being part of is ‘The Creeps’ in its final version. It became a pop song and it wasn’t our version. We rewrote top lines and stuff.

That was more about the knock-on effect of having a top 10 pop record and it was hard to deal with. The financial blip which happened as a result of ‘The Creeps’ and the fallout and the after-effect of having that money made me think that if it ever came round again I’m not sure I’d want it anyway. It’s a weird situation to be in. People’s perceptions of you change. They suddenly look at you slightly differently and talk to you in a different way because of the success.

I started getting booked to go and DJ at parties that I was a million miles from. I’d start playing the music I play and then get kicked off. I was like, “Why am I being booked to play at these things in the first place? I don’t give a shit that they’re going to pay me four thousand quid, I don’t wanna play here.” It’s the most soul-destroying thing I’ve ever had to do. Give me three hundred quid and a dark basement and I’ll have the best night of my life.

How did you first discover dance music?

Dance music first kind of crept in when I started going to raves. Living in Weston, we used to drive all around the West Country if someone said there was something going on one weekend. I didn’t know what the music that I was dancing to was, but it blew my mind.

Then someone gave me a tape of mad acid tracks, which had a massive effect on me. I was already hearing dance music, but then I heard this other dance music which was very psychedelic and out there. I used to play that tape all the time, take it to parties. We went to this one party with all these yuppy, hoorah Bristol kids – some friend of a friend of a friend thing. We turned up in all our mad flowery dungarees and tie dye and stuff and they were listening to George Michael or something. I remember putting this cassette in and all these rich kids were like, “Turn it off! It’s horrible!”

The first dance floor you cleared…

Haha, yeah! But I’ve always had a massive kick out of discovering things that no one knows about and playing it to get a reaction, just to see what that reaction is. I think one of the most rewarding things is when you blow someone’s mind by playing them something. I’ve got a good group of friends where it’s like “Have you heard this? Have you read this? Have you seen this film?” I love that idea of turning people on to stuff.

It’s a common trait among DJs.

Yeah, absolutely. It’s not enough just to listen to music, you’ve got to play it to someone else. It’s still the greatest kick, to have someone go, “What the fuck is this?!”

I think the greatest, most inspiring thing right now is hearing people like Richard Barratt – DJ Parrot – from Sheffield. He’s making this stuff as Crooked Man. Obviously I’m a big fan of stuff like Sweet Exorcist from back in the Warp days and Cabaret Voltaire. Chris Duckenfield told me about it and when I heard it it was like, “Oh my god, this is gonna change things.”

As soon as I latch onto something like that I’ll champion it forever. I think it’s a really important thing to do. It’s like, “You’ve gotta hear this. It’s brilliant.” Other people hear it and think it’s brilliant too, then they pass it on. It sends this word of mouth thing out and I think it’s still one of the best ways of getting people to hear music that they wouldn’t normally hear.

What do you think of the rest of the house scene at the moment?

There’s a lot of retro going on at the moment, which bothers me quite a lot. There’s a lot of looking back and replicating the past instead of being inspired by the past.

What kind of thing in particular?

The whole new mid-90s garage revival that’s back around again. I like to hear someone like Eats Everything where he’s taking a sound or a rhythm or melodies from the 90s but it sounds quite modern because he’s doing something original with it, but there’s a lot of people just trying to copy exactly what’s happened already. OK, they weren’t there the first time round, but I was

You look at someone like Motor City Drum Ensemble, you can argue in some respects that he’s very much retro, but there’s something that he does that makes it contemporary. There are people who do get it right. Take Rush Hour, it’s almost a retrospective label, but there’s an element of it that makes it exciting and they do it properly. Same with people like KiNK and Neville Watson. Someone in Chicago might disagree with me if they were there the first time round, but I do think that there’s a lot of retrospective retro which doesn’t do anything original.

Do you think it’s maybe inevitable as dance music grows into, what, its third decade?

Well, where can you go with any music now? It’s that whole Bill Drummond argument that every melody’s been played. I don’t think there’ll ever be any kind of music that’ll come along and have a revolutionary impact.

But I still hear music that excites me. I don’t get bored. I’m having a moment with R&B and hip hop again, which I didn’t think would happen. Things like the Frank Ocean album, which I think is fantastic, and the new J Dilla album. There was a time when I’d given up on hip hop. I guess it has to go through an evolution again and it feels like it’s happening again for the first time since Pharrell. It’s exciting because that had a really good effect on dance music, to the point where I couldn’t live with another Missy Elliot sample on a house record.

Going back to what you mentioned earlier about discovering dance music, how did you first make the transition from being a DJ to an artist?

I was working in a record shop round the corner with a guy called Ty Holden and we’d both become friends with Rob Mello. Ty suggest we go into Rob’s studio in West London so we went over with some ideas and worked on an EP which we released as The Leveller. That was me, Ty, Rob and Zaki.

Were you musical before that? Did you play any instruments?

No, not at all. I had a really disjointed upbringing and I was kind of passed around. My parents didn’t really have that kind of focus. I did a lot of art and went to art school so I was creative but eventually the art found its way into a different world. Eventually I met up with Justin and then we started buying bits of equipment. We started out with an Atari running Cubase and a lot of borrowed things: Jon Marsh of The Beloved‘s mixing desk, two S950s and a lot of samples.

Since then the whole approach to making music must have changed massively. What have you been working on recently?

Since then the whole approach to making music must have changed massively. What have you been working on recently?

I’ve finished an artist album which we’re going to put out next year. I take a long time to make records because I have to be completely right in my own head. If I can walk out of the studio and say, ‘This is how I wanted it. This is how it should be,’ then certain things have to take a creative process in order for it to work. The Difference Engine was me making a DJ set, effectively, using various musicians and live approaches to electronic music.

For this record I wanted to make a more Balearic album, which kind of covered my broader spectrum of music that I play as a DJ, very vocal-led with a lot of musicians on it. I recorded everything here then went and mixed it with Pete Hofmann on a couple of Neve desks, used lots of plate reverbs and things. I ended up with an album which Rekids didn’t feel was the right follow-up to The Difference Engine, probably because it fell out of the world of dance music quite heavily, but I’ve gone back to it and kind of remixed it with a slightly different approach. The plan is to release it as a full-length album on Classic.

As well as that I’ve also made a clubbier album as The Digital Kid. That’s more of a clubby… I always play things to people thinking they sound really clubby and they tell me it’s not. ‘Doesn’t this sound like something you’d play in clubs?’ ‘No, not really.’ ‘Oh, for fuck’s sake!’ So it’s one of those again.

I’m also just about to start recording with Roddy Radiation from the Specials for the next Mother Rose single. If you told me when I was 16 or 17 that I’d end up having Roddy Radiation coming to my house… Wow. Career highlight, for sure.

  • Words: Greg Scarth.
  • Date: 1st October 2012

The Return Of D’Angelo????

He was once hailed as the next Marvin Gaye. Then, after his ripped body threatened to overshadow his music, he vanished into addiction. So what the hell was he doing recently singing his heart out in a Pentecostal church in Stockholm? And how are his abs? Amy Wallace witnessed D’Angelo’s ecstatic return to the stage—and hung out with the master of the sacred and the profane as he finishes his first album in a dozen years.

The massive weight gain didn’t make Michael “D’Angelo” Archer see the darkness that was looming. Neither did the hermit-like isolation, the shattered friendships, the years wasted without a new record in sight, or even the car accident that nearly killed him. By the time he careened off a lonely stretch of road near Richmond, Virginia, in September 2005, hitting a fence and rolling his Hummer three times, he’d already failed two stints in rehab—including one where his counselor was Bob Forrest, the guy on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. Bob had been cool, D’Angelo says, but his message of sobriety didn’t take. “I went in under a fake name so people wouldn’t know who I was, right?” D’Angelo tells me, in his first sit-down interview in twelve years. “So, you know, Michael never got treatment. It was this other character that was in there. And the moment I left, I went straight to the fucking liquor store.”

Which helps explain why, months later, high on cocaine and drunk off his ass, D’Angelo found himself ejected from his car on that balmy Virginia night, hurtling through the pitch-blackness, flying. When he hit the ground, he broke all the ribs on his left side—and dealt another blow to his foundering career. Once he’d been the heir apparent to the giants of soul: Marvin, Stevie, Prince. (The rock critic Robert Christgau was so transported by D’Angelo’s live show that he called him R&B Jesus.) But shortly after the wreck, discussions ended with several top music executives, including Clive Davis at J Records, who’d been considering signing him to a $3 million contract. Then D’Angelo’s manager told him he was done with him, too.

Still, D’Angelo couldn’t feel the bottom, even though it was right beneath him. He shows me how close, reaching toward the floor with his well-muscled left arm, the one inked with 23:4, for the Twenty-third Psalm. It’s early March, just a few weeks after he’s finished a sixteen-day mini-tour of Europe—his first live performances (not counting church) in more than a decade. We’re sitting on a black leather couch in a Manhattan recording studio on Forty-eighth Street off Broadway, a quiet sanctum despite its proximity to the circus of Times Square. Through a bank of windows is the room where he has recorded many songs for his (very) long-awaited third album. Dressed in jeans and a white T-shirt, his hair in short tiny braids, D’Angelo looks good at 38—more solid than in his famously shirtless six-pack years, but clear-eyed and radiantly handsome. “I didn’t really think I had a problem like that,” he says, taking a hit off a Newport. “I felt like, you know, all I got to do is clean up and I’ll be fine. Just get in the studio and I’ll be fucking fine.”

What finally made him see, he says, was the passing of J Dilla, the revered hip-hop producer, on February 10, 2006. They’d just talked on the phone, D’Angelo says, when suddenly, J Dilla was gone at 32 after a long battle with lupus. It was like a blinding light had been switched on. Why did so many black artists die so young? He’d been haunted by this thought for years. Marvin. Jimi. Biggie. “I felt like I was going to be next. I ain’t bullshitting. I was scared then,” he says, recalling how shame engulfed him, preventing him from attending the funeral. “I was so fucked-up, I couldn’t go.”

Shame, guilt, repentance—D’Angelo knows them well. To say that he was raised religious doesn’t begin to capture it. He’s the son and the grandson of Pentecostal preachers. To D’Angelo, good and evil are not abstract concepts but tangible forces he reckons with every day. In his life and in his music, he has always felt the tension between the sacred and the profane, the darkness and the light.

“You know what they say about Lucifer, right, before he was cast out?” D’Angelo asks me now. “Every angel has their specialty, and his was praise. They say that he could play every instrument with one finger and that the music was just awesome. And he was exceptionally beautiful, Lucifer—as an angel, he was.”

But after he descended into hell, Lucifer was fearsome, he tells me. “There’s forces that are going on that I don’t think a lot of motherfuckers that make music today are aware of,” he says. “It’s deep. I’ve felt it. I’ve felt other forces pulling at me.” He stubs out his cigarette and leans toward me, taking my hand. “This is a very powerful medium that we are involved in,” he says gravely. “I learned at an early age that what we were doing in the choir was just as important as the preacher. It was a ministry in itself. We could stir the pot, you know? The stage is our pulpit, and you can use all of that energy and that music and the lights and the colors and the sound. But you know, you’ve got to be careful.”

···In 1995, when D’Angelo—or D, as he’s known to his friends—released his platinum–selling debut album, Brown Sugar, he looked, on first impression, like the rappers of the time, with his cornrows, baggy jeans, and Timberland boots. But when he played and sang he instantly stood apart, a self-taught prodigy in touch with the ultimate muse. His groove hearkened to something purer, and whether crooning or caterwauling, he performed with fervor, like he was channeling the masters. A musician’s musician, he played his own instruments, arranged and wrote his own songs. He was only 21 years old.

Many would rise to praise him—not just critics, but his peers. Common, who calls D “one of the most impactful artists of our day and age,” remembers being in his car when “Lady” first came on the radio. “I was calling people and saying, ‘Have you heard this?’ ” he says. George Clinton, the godfather of P-Funk, compares D’s second album, Voodoo, to Gaye’s groundbreaking What’s Going On. And Eric Clapton’s reaction to hearing Voodoo was captured on video. “I can’t take much more,” he says, reeling. “Is it all like this? My God!”

But for many, it was skin, not just music, that helped D cross over from R&B maestro to mainstream sex object. In 2000 he released the smoldering video for “Untitled (How Does It Feel?),” an instant sensation that made fans everywhere, especially women, lose their lustful minds. It’s easy to find on YouTube: 26-year-old D’Angelo, naked from the hip bones up, staring straight into the camera, licking his lips and writhing in ecstasy. The video propelled him to superstardom—but it claimed its pound of flesh. D struggled mightily with the way his body threatened to overshadow his music. Then he all but disappeared.

“Black stardom is rough, dude,” Chris Rock tells me when I reach him to talk about D. “I always say Tom Hanks is an amazing actor and Denzel Washington is a god to his people. If you’re a black ballerina, you represent the race, and you have responsibilities that go beyond your art. How dare you just be excellent?”

After Brown Sugar went platinum, Rock put D’Angelo on The Chris Rock Show. Later, when D was mixing Voodoo, Rock hung out some in the studio. No surprise, then, that the first thing out of Rock’s mouth after “Hello” is a joyful “He’s back!” But he adds a sobering downbeat: “D’Angelo. Chris Tucker. Dave Chappelle. Lauryn Hill. They all hang out on the same island. The island of What Do We Do with All This Talent? It frustrates me.”

I tell Rock that Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, the drummer for the Roots and one of D’s closest collaborators, has ticked off much the same list. Questlove has a theory about what happens to black genius—what he calls “a crazy psychological kind of stoppage that prevents them from following through. A sort of self-saboteur disorder.” Rock says he understands.

For a black star, Rock says, “there’s a lot of pressure just to be responsible for other people’s lives—to be the E. F. Hutton of your crew. Everything you say is magnified. I mean, street smarts only help you on the streets. Or maybe occasionally they

will help you in the boardroom, but boy, you wish you knew a little bit about accounting.” There is pressure to be original but also pressure to be commercial, to make money, to succeed. Sometimes the two run at cross-purposes.

I ask Questlove what he thinks has held D back. He says it’s not just the way “Untitled” turned D’Angelo into “the Naked Guy,” though of course that didn’t help. It’s something bigger. “We noticed early that all of the geniuses we admired have had maybe a ten-year run before death or, you know, the Poconos,” he says. “That renders D paralyzed. He said he fears the responsibility and the power that comes with it. But I think what he fears most is the isolation”—the kind that fame brings.

Questlove believes D’s “eleven-year freeze” must end, not just for the artist’s sake, but for the culture’s. “I’ve told him: He is literally holding the oxygen supply that music lovers breathe,” Questlove says. “At first, it was cute—’Oh, he’s bashful.’ But now he’s, like, selfish. I’m like, ‘Look, dude, we’re starving.’ When D starts singing, all is right with the world.”

···Michael Archer grew up not knowing Jesus’ name. To some black Pentecostals, God is known as Yahweh and the son of God as Yahshua or Yahushua. “We would go to other churches and people would be saying ‘Jesus,’ ” he recalls. “I was like, ‘Who are they talking about?’ ” The piano, on the other hand, was something he understood innately. At 4, he taught himself to play Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Boogie Wonderland.”

When he was 5, his parents split, and the boys went to live with their father. “Mom was struggling,” he says of his mother, then a legal secretary. Michael played the organ at his father’s church and helped lead the choir. When he was 9, however, his dad “was battling his own demons,” and the boys went to live with their mom for good. After that, “me and my father really didn’t have much contact with each other.”

In those years, Michael was drawn to his maternal grandfather’s Refuge Assembly of Yahweh, up in the mountains outside Richmond. The region had been a hub of slave trading before the Civil War, with Richmond being a place where 300,000 Africans and their descendants were sold down the James River. Then and now, church was a place where loss could be mourned, pain salved. But what attracted Michael was the way fire and brimstone infused the music. In the temple, Michael saw his elder brother Rodney speak in tongues; he witnessed healings and exorcisms. At one Friday-night revival, he noticed a woman in a pew a few rows up. She was acting strange—tugging at her clothes, foaming at the mouth, ripping at the Bible. “She was possessed. E-vil,” he says, breaking the word in two. “It was a long, hot, steamy night, and that demon disrupted it.” He recalls his grandfather and the other ministers praying hard as the woman crawled on all fours, screamed, and ran outside to jump on the hoods of cars. “The demon was raising holy hell, and my grandfather came outside. He had big hands, and he didn’t say a word. He just—” D’Angelo raises his palm to me—”and she falls out. That’s it. End of story.”

Already Michael was developing into the musical connoisseur that D’Angelo is today. His Uncle CC was a truck driver who moonlighted as a DJ, and he had a huge record collection. This was the beginning of what D now calls “going to school”—delving deep into jazz, soul, rock, and gospel history, from Mahalia Jackson to Band of Gypsys, from the Meters to Miles Davis to Donald Byrd, from Sam Cooke to Otis Redding, from Donny Hathaway to Curtis Mayfield to Sly Stone to Marvin Gaye. When Michael was 8, Gaye had just made a comeback with “Sexual Healing” and won two Grammys. “Everybody was talking about him,” D’Angelo recalls. “Everybody.” So just after Sunday sermon on April Fool’s Day 1984, when Michael learned Gaye was dead at 44—shot by his own father—he was crushed.

That night, D’Angelo had the first of many dreams about Gaye. It was in black and white and took place at Hitsville U.S.A., Motown’s Detroit headquarters. D was playing piano while a bunch of famous Motown stars milled about, waiting for Gaye. “When he finally showed up, he was young, very handsome, the thin Marvin. Clean-shaven. Very debonair,” he told an interviewer back in 2000. “He came straight to me and shook my hand and looked me dead in the eyes, and he said, ‘Very nice to meet you.’& He grabbed my hand and wouldn’t let go.”

After that, whenever Gaye’s music came on the radio, Michael felt a chill. The opening bars to “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” made him get up and leave the room. It was as if the power in Gaye’s music had been linked, somehow, to his tragic end. “I would be petrified,” he says—so petrified that his mother took him to a therapist. But the dreams of Gaye—himself a preacher’s son—didn’t go away until Michael turned 19. That was the year he changed his name to a moniker inspired by Michelangelo. That was also the year that his demo tape found its way into the hands of Gary Harris, then an A&R executive at EMI Music.

At their first meeting, D played a little Al Green on the piano and appeared to be just another “young kid with a lot of mystery.” Earlier, Harris had seen a video taken at a talent show when D was 8. “He’s playing the chords from ‘Thriller,’ and then he starts singing: It’s close to midnight. Something evil’s lurkin’ in the dark. He was killing it,” Harris recalls. “We used to call it ‘getting the spirit’ in church. He’s the rarest of breeds: a genuine live attraction.”

The church warned D’Angelo against secular music. “I got that speech so many times,” he says. ” ‘Don’t go do the devil’s music,’ blah blah blah.” But his grandmother encouraged him to use his gifts as he saw fit. Not long after Harris signed him, D dreamed his last Marvin dream, this one in color. “I was following him as a grown man,” he tells me. “He was a bit heavier, and he had the beard. He was naked, and all I could see was his back and that cap he used to wear all the time. And he got into this whirlpool Jacuzzi with his wife and his daughter and his little son, and that’s when he turns around and looks at me. And he goes, ‘I know you’re wondering why you keep dreaming about me.’ And I woke up.

Angie Stone, the soul diva who sang backup vocals on Brown Sugar, says that from the moment she met D, “I knew a superstar was on the rise.” But “there was an innocence there that if we weren’t careful was going to get trashed,” adds Stone, who became romantically involved with D during that period and remains fiercely protective of him. “It’s not a little bit of God in him. It’s a lot of God in him. Sometimes when you have that much power, Satan works tenfold to break you.”

As D’Angelo caught fire in the mid-’90s, the star-making machinery worked overtime to mold him into a bankable headliner. Stone remembers an event in Manhattan in September 1996 that was billed as Giorgio Armani’s tribute to D’Angelo. Stone—thirteen years older than D—was three months pregnant with their son. They headed to the event together in a limo, but as they neared the venue where D was going to perform, it suddenly pulled over. “He was asked to get into another car, where he would be escorted by Vivica Fox,” Stone says, her voice breaking slightly. The lissome Fox had just appeared with Will Smith in the blockbuster Independence Day. “It was a Hollywood moment. They wanted a trophy girl. I had to walk in behind them to flashing cameras. It started the wheels turning of what was yet to come.”

The A-list was circling now, wanting a taste of D’s authentic flavor. When Madonna turned 39, she asked him to sing “Happy Birthday” at her party. One press report had her sitting on his lap and French-kissing him. In fact, two sources say that ultimately D rebuffed her advances at another gathering not long after. At that event, the sources say, Madonna walked over and told a woman sitting next to D, “I think you’re in my seat.” The woman got up. Madonna sat down and told him, “I’d like to know what you’re thinking.” To which D replied, “I’m thinking you’re rude.”

But the lure of fame was constant, the temptations everywhere. While his label hoped for a quick follow-up album, D retreated, citing writer’s block. He would later say that the birth of his first child, Michael Jr., got him back on track, but Voodoo—partially written with Stone—would be a full five years in the making. D fathered a daughter, now 12, with another woman, and has a third child, now almost 2.

Three weeks after its January 2000 debut, Voodoo hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts. Some early reviews were tepid (only later would Rolling Stone list it among its 500 best albums of all time), but it sold more than a million units in five weeks (and 700,000 since). The record would eventually win two Grammys, for best R&B album and best male R&B vocal performance for “Untitled.” But as D began to fall apart, the video would be the only thing many fans remembered. “The video was the line of demarcation,” says Harris. “It sent him spinning out of control.”

Paul Hunter, the director hired to make the video, says his work was misunderstood: “Most people think the ‘Untitled’ video was about sex, but my direction was completely opposite of that. It was about his grandmother’s cooking.”

I’ve stopped by Hunter’s office in Culver City, California, to hear how D’Angelo came to be filmed bare-chested (but for a gold cross on a chain around his neck), wearing only a pair of precariously low-slung pajama bottoms, looking like a wolf circling a bitch in heat. Illuminated from every angle, he spins very slowly as the camera fetishizes his every ripple and drop of sweat. I’ve imagined a lot of things that inspired the song’s rousing lyrics (Love to make you wet / In between your thighs cause / I love when it comes inside of you), but collard greens weren’t among them. Hunter is quick to explain that he, like D, was raised in the Pentecostal church.

“When I used to sing in the choir,” Hunter says, “after the rehearsal, you go in to eat. I remembered seeing the preacher looking at a lady’s skirt one week and then, the next Sunday, talking about how fornication is wrong.” Such mixed messages about the pleasures of the flesh were intertwined with the pleasures of the palate—part of the same sensual stew. “So I was like, ‘Think of your grandmother’s greens, how it smelled in the kitchen. What did the yams and fried chicken taste like? That’s what I want you to express.’ “

The video was the brainchild of co-director Dominique Trenier, D’s manager, whose goal—some still see it as a stroke of genius—was to turn his client into a sex god. D’Angelo had been working hard with his trainer and was cut down to muscle and bone. Never in his life had D been this taut and virile, and Trenier seized the opportunity to create a true crossover artist without losing his loyal base. Initially, Hunter says, to capture the heat they were hoping for, “we were going to build sort of a box for a girl to come and mess with him. We all said, ‘Well, how can we push it?’ “

But when the shoot began at a New York City soundstage, the fluffer turned out to be unnecessary. D’s memory was all he needed to bring it home. The video may have looked like foreplay, but it was actually about family, Hunter insists—about intimacy. Later, when I tell D’Angelo this, he says, “It’s so true: We talked about the Holy Ghost and the church before that take. The veil is the nudity and the sexuality. But what they’re really getting is the spirit.”

The shoot took six hours, and it changed D’s life. Trenier got his wish: Thanks to D’Angelo’s luscious physicality, albums started flying off the shelves. But the trouble began right away, at the start of the Voodoo tour in L.A. “It was a week of warm-up gigs at House of Blues just to kick off the tour, draw some attention, break in the band,” says Alan Leeds, D’s tour manager then and now. “And from the beginning, it’s ‘Take it off!’ “

Questlove, the tour’s bandleader, was alarmed. “We thought, okay, we’re going to build the perfect art machine, and people are going to love and appreciate it,” he says. “And then by mid-tour it just became, what can we do to stop the ‘Take it off’ stuff?”

D’Angelo felt tortured, Questlove says, by the pressure to give the audience what it wanted. Worried that he didn’t look as cut as he did in the video, he’d delay shows to do stomach crunches. He’d often give in, peeling off his shirt, but he resented being reduced to that. Wasn’t he an artist? Couldn’t the

audience hear the power of his music and value him for that? He would explode, Questlove recalls, and throw things. Sometimes he’d have to be coaxed not to cancel shows altogether.

When I ask D about this, he downplays his suffering. Watching him pull hard on another Newport, I realize that he finds it far easier to confess his addictions than his insecurities about his corporeal self. Self-destructing with a coke spoon—while ill-advised—has a badass edge. Fretting over what Questlove has called “some Kate Moss shit” seems anything but manly. If given the chance, he tells me, he would absolutely shoot the video again. But he does admit to feeling angry during the Voodoo tour.

“One time I got mad when a female threw money at me onstage, and that made me feel fucked-up, and I threw the money back at her,” he says. “I was like, ‘I’m not a stripper.’ ” He was beginning to sense a darkness beckoning. He recalls a particular moment onstage at the North Sea Jazz festival in 2000. The band was in the middle of “Devil’s Pie,” his song about the spell fame casts upon the weak—Who am I to justify / All the evil in our eye / When I myself feel the high / From all that I despise—when he felt an ominous presence in the crowd. “That night I felt something that was like, whoa,” he tells me. E-vil.

On the last day of the eight-month tour, Questlove says D’Angelo told him, “Yo, man, I cannot wait until this fucking tour is over. I’m going to go in the woods, drink some hooch, grow a beard, and get fat.” Questlove thought he was joking. “I was like, ‘You’re a funny guy.’ And then it started to happen. That’s how much he wanted to distance himself.”

While the tour was a success, both critically and commercially, it left D broken. “When I got back home, yeah, it wasn’t that easy to just be,” he says. “I think that’s the thing that got me in a lot of trouble: me trying to just be Michael, the regular old me from back in the day, and me fighting that whole sex-symbol thing. You know: ‘Hey, I ain’t D’Angelo today. I’m just plain old Mike, and I just want to hang out with my boys and do what we used to do.’ But, damn, those days are fucking gone.”

···Upon his return to Richmond after the Voodoo tour, D stepped into what he calls “an avalanche of shit.” First he lost a few people who were close to him, including his Uncle CC, whose record collection had been the bedrock of D’s musical education, and his beloved grandmother. After that, “I just kind of sunk into this thing.”

It’s not that D wasn’t working, exactly. “I was in the studio,” he says. “But I was also partying a lot. A little too much.” He liked cocaine, he says, “because I could be a bit of an antisocial. It made me really open up and talk.” But the problem with doing coke, he says, is “you can drink like a fish and it don’t bother you. It was good in the beginning, but it got out of hand.” For the first time, he says, “people started to go, ‘Yo, man, you’ve got to get it together.’ “

Executives at his then label, Virgin, were exasperated. Momentum is money in the music business, and D was squandering his. Sometime in the mid-2000s, Virgin and D’Angelo parted ways. Then D had a falling out with Questlove, who’d played a track off the album-in-progress on an Australian radio station—a cardinal sin in D’s eyes. Things had begun to unravel. In January 2005 a bloated, bleary-eyed D’Angelo was arrested in Richmond and charged with possession of cocaine and marijuana and driving while intoxicated. Trenier, horrified by the mug shot that appeared in press accounts, drove from New York City to Richmond to pick D up—then drove him to California so D wouldn’t have to be seen in public in an airport. Soon, D was in rehab at the Pasadena Recovery Center. But he wasn’t listening.

The near fatal Hummer accident came in mid-September of that year, after D had received a three-year suspended sentence on the cocaine charge. Still, he didn’t think he’d bottomed out. Only five or six months later, after J Dilla’s passing, would D finally reach out to Gary Harris, the man who’d first signed him. D told Harris he wanted to talk to Clapton, with whom he’d performed a few times. Harris tracked down a number. “I was like, ‘Yo, I need some help,’ ” D recalls telling Clapton, who founded the Crossroads treatment center in Antigua. D would be welcome there, Clapton said, but it would cost $40,000. Harris called a former boss of his: Irving Azoff, the famed personal manager, who didn’t know D but knew his work. Harris says Azoff agreed to cut a check.

Getting D to Antigua was an odyssey in itself. First off, he had neither a driver’s license nor a passport—a challenge when trying to board an international flight. Second, while he’d begged for this intervention, his commitment to it waxed and waned. When Harris first arrived at D’s Richmond mini-mansion on a Sunday in late April 2006, the kitchen was littered with empty alcohol bottles, and D was a mess. “What should have taken a day took four days,” Harris says, recounting their journey from Richmond to Charlotte to Puerto Rico, where “it took me two days to get him out of the hotel.” Even once D was admitted to Crossroads, Harris says, “he was calling everybody he knew to get a ticket out.” At his first two rehab centers, D had been able to evade and outsmart the counselors. At Crossroads, he was forced to deal. “It was like sobriety boot camp,” he says. “They are up in your shit.”

After his month in Antigua, it still took eighteen months for D to ink a new deal, this one with J Records (which would become RCA) in late 2007. But even then, in D’s world, nothing happens quickly.

Everyone around him knows about D-time, a pace so slow that it could test even the most patient saint. Over the next few years, there were creative stops and starts. There were also setbacks. On March 6, 2010, D was arrested and charged with solicitation after offering a female undercover police officer $40 for a blow job in Manhattan’s West Village. He reportedly had $12,000 in cash in his Range Rover. Asked to explain, he says, “It was just me making a stupid decision, a wrong turn, on the wrong night.” He adds, “I’m not the role-model motherfucker. Look at all the shit that I’ve been in.”

Questlove and D were back in touch now, but the drummer admits he kept D’Angelo at arm’s length. For a while it seemed they’d only talk after someone died. Michael Jackson’s passing had them on the phone in 2009. Then, in 2011, just hours after Questlove missed a call from Amy Winehouse on Skype, she, too, exited the stage. “D’s the first person I called,” Questlove recalls. “And I was just honest, like, ‘Look, man, I’m sorry. I know you’re thinking I’m avoiding you like the plague.’ I just said plain and simple, ‘Man, there was a period in which it seemed like you were hell-bent on following the footsteps of our idols, and the one thing you have yet to follow them in was death.’ ” He told D that if he’d gotten that news, it would have destroyed him. “That was probably the most emotional man-to-man talk that D and I had ever had.”

Such honesty was only possible, Questlove says, because D’Angelo was finally getting his act together. He’d kicked his bad habits—well, most of them. “Any person who’s dealt with substance abuse, it’s an ongoing thing,” D tells me. “That’s the mantra—one day at a time—right? So you’re going to have good days and bad days, but for the most part, I have a grip on it.” He feels the forces of good are on his side now. “I don’t know why it didn’t happen sooner. It’s just the way Yahweh ordained it.”

His newfound discipline is evident in the way he has thrown himself into studying a new instrument, practicing for five and six hours a day. “The one benefit of this eleven-year sabbatical was he used 10,000 Gladwellian hours to master the guitar,” says Questlove, who compares D to Frank Zappa. “He can play the shit out of it, and I don’t mean no Lil Wayne shit.”

Alan Leeds, the tour manager, senses a conscious decision on D’s part to push beyond the beefcake. “I wonder if that isn’t partially a way to take the attention away from that Chippendales shit, because when you’re standing up playing guitar, there’s a little less attention to what you’re wearing and whether it’s on or off and having to choreograph your moves,” says Leeds, who’s previously worked with James Brown and Prince. “It prevents you from having to calculate that shit.”

Still, D is back in the gym, and it’s not just vanity that’s tugging at him. He knows physical presence is key to any live performance. And though he’s still finer than fine, with swagger to spare, he’s no longer the chiseled Adonis from the “Untitled” video. Eating little more than fish and green apples, D’s been working to trim down his five-foot-seven frame, which just a few months ago had topped 300 pounds. In January, on the eve of his European tour, his managers told me he still had another twenty-five pounds to go. Which is why when I boarded the plane for Sweden, I wasn’t surprised to see D’s personal trainer—Mark Jenkins, the same one who got him into underwear-model shape twelve years ago—a few rows up.

···When you haven’t been onstage in more than a decade, a lot of things go through your mind. For D, it boils down to a question: Is this really happening? Backstage in Stockholm, before he steps into the light, the rumble of his fans tells him the answer is yes. Fittingly, this venue is an old Pentecostal church. Packed into pews, where red leather-bound hymnals are stacked neatly for Sunday worship, the audience of 2,000 is excited to the point of near levitation. No one was sure D would show tonight, and in fact he almost didn’t. He missed two flights before his managers finally delivered him to Newark airport. “He Got on the Plane. Praise Jesus,” Tina Farris, his assistant tour manager, would blog later. “The knot in my stomach is slowly unraveling.”

When he finally takes the stage (“In a minute!” he teases the audience from the wings. “In a minute!”), he sports a black leather trench coat that hits his black pants mid-thigh and a big-brimmed black hat. He calls this look Chocolate Rock. His hair is arranged in two-strand twists, and silver crosses hang on chains that bump against his chest. Also around his neck is the strap of his black custom Minarik Diablo guitar, named for its devilish horns.

He steps into the spotlight, the guitar slung low, his face aglow. If you could somehow access the voltage in the air, you could turn on all the lights in Scandinavia. First, the strains of an old song, “Playa Playa,” cut through the din. Then a Roberta Flack cover—”Feel Like Makin’ Love”—and then, seamlessly, a bluesy new tune, “Ain’t That Easy,” whose lyrics acknowledge, I’ve been away so long. The crowd catches the double meaning and roars as D peels off his jacket, revealing a black undershirt and sculpted arms. He glides through a mix of the old (“Chicken Grease,” “Sh*t, Damn, Motherf*cker,” a cover of Parliament’s “I’ve Been Watching You”) and the new (the infectious “Sugah Daddy,” and “The Charade,” a battle cry that D says “is telling the powers that be, ‘This is why we are justified in our stance’ “). Is he rusty? A little. But his presence grows with each song.

At one point, he grabs the hem of his wife-beater with both hands and tugs it up—one, two!—in time with the song. The brief reveal of his midsection is a flashback to the trying days of 2000, but it’s 2012 now, and the shirt stays on. When the band rips into its encore, “Brown Sugar,” it feels like D has rounded third base and is about to slide to safety. “Good God!” D yelps, kicking the mike stand away, then catching it with his foot before it flies into the audience. “Give my testimony!” he shouts, blowing kisses from the stage.

The show is a triumph, and soon Twitter and Facebook are on fire. He’s really back—no longer a specter. D’s band—he can’t decide on the name, but he’s considering the Spades—radiates happiness and exhaustion as they load onto the tour buses, nicknamed the Amistad I and II after the slave ship. The next night he fills a 1,600-capacity club in Copenhagen, and afterward the buses leave on D-time—a full twelve hours behind schedule. By the time they arrive at the hotel in Paris on Sunday, January 29, sound check for that night’s show is just three hours away. Still, despite having traveled 760 miles across Denmark, Germany, Belgium, and France, D and his trainer head directly to the tiny hotel gym. Coincidentally I’m there, too. I ask if D wants privacy. He does. As I head for the door, he steps wordlessly onto the treadmill, a weary man with many miles still to go.

But that night, at the tour’s first 5,000-seat arena, Le Zénith, D’Angelo is revived. Toward the end of the show, after a medley featuring snippets of the melodious, bumping “Jonz in My Bonz” and the gospel-fueled “Higher,” he hits a single percussive note on the piano that reverberates and fades away. Then he hits it again, and all of us in this cavernous hall begin to scream. It’s the beginning of “Untitled,” which he didn’t perform in Stockholm or Copenhagen—which he hasn’t played in public, not once, in a dozen years. After a few bars, D stops abruptly and stands up. The crowd cheers as he leans on one end of the piano, his chin in his hands, catching his breath. What happens next is the most soulful, palpable connection I’ve ever felt between an artist and an audience. As D sits back down and starts to play again, the audience spontaneously begins to sing. How does it feel?—four words coming from thousands of throats, urging him on. He responds gratefully, “Sing it again, sing it again.” And they do, loudly, prettily, right on tempo: How does it feel? “Oh, baby, long time,” he sings, “that this has been on my mind.” People are crying, swaying, raising up their hands. I’m one of them. It’s impossible not to be overcome as this sexy anthem, this source of so much pain, is transformed before us into a crucible of love. “Thank you so much,” he says, his fingers fluttering on the keys as he brings it home. Then he stands up, kisses both his hands, and opens his arms to the crowd. The blue lights go dark.

I’m reminded of something Angie Stone says about D. “D’Angelo is always going to be D’Angelo,” she tells me. “You can’t take too much away from the gift itself. I’m sure there’s still some fear there, because it’s been a long time out of the spotlight. And when all the spotlight he’d got lately has been negative, there’s a rebirth of some kind that needs to take place.” God willing, we’ve all just witnessed it.

···

Upon D’Angelo’s return to New York City in mid-February, his friends and colleagues began to worry a little. D-time speeds up for no man. Russell Elevado, D’s longtime engineer, told MTV Hive that D wanted to finish his album “as soon as possible, but once he gets into the studio he gets into his own zone…. Altogether there’s over fifty songs that he’s cut since we started. I think he wants to put twelve songs on the album.”

Questlove tells me the same thing. “To get five songs out of him, we had to throw away at least twelve that I would give my left arm for,” he says. “I don’t mind that, because I literally feel he is the last pure African-American artist left.” Still, as weeks pass, Questlove admits, “My first fear was him not doing this at all. Now my new fear is, okay, the tour is over. Now what?”

For nearly a month, D mostly holes up in his apartment on the Upper West Side. Jenkins comes by regularly to sweat D in his private gym. He fasts for a few days, and the weight is coming off, but it seems D is headed back into his pre-tour cave. Only music persuades him to go out. Late in February, after he and D go to see Björk together, Questlove addresses a tweet to the Icelandic artist, saying, “amazing job last night. even d’angelo was mind blown & he leaves the house for NOBODY.”

So when will he release his new album? D can’t say for sure. His managers and his label are pushing hard for September, before the Grammy deadline. But nobody’s banking on it. Sounding like a man who’s all too familiar with D-time, Tom Corson, RCA’s president and COO, says simply, “This year would be nice.” In mid-April, D and his band are back in the studio, this time in Los Angeles, supposedly adding the final touches. But everything hinges on D letting the music go.

“I’m driven by the masters that came before me that I admire—the Yodas,” D tells me, using the term he and Questlove have coined for their heroes. He tells me of a music teacher who told him that when classical composers like Beethoven made music, “people didn’t understand it, and it got bad reviews,” D says, recalling how his teacher said Beethoven responded: “He’s like, ‘I don’t make music for you. I make music for the ages.’ “

That’s all well and good, Chris Rock says—as long as D actually releases his music. “You’ve got to earn it, man,” he tells me, adding that the only reason fans aren’t disappointed by Jeff Buckley, the celebrated singer-songwriter who recorded just one album, is that he drowned. “Body of work, babe. It’s all body of work at the end of the day. I mean, the only way D’s going to be a great artist with the output he has now is if he dies.”

I can’t help but think about J Dilla, whose death was the pivot, D says, on which his comeback began to turn. Dilla was the ultimate underground artist—prolific beyond compare, a legend in the hip-hop world. When he died, he’d made so much music with so many people—from De La Soul to Busta Rhymes to A Tribe Called Quest—that his legacy was secure. For all of D’Angelo’s otherworldly talent, for all the passions he distills and reflects when he’s in front of an audience, for all his perceived connections to Beethoven and Michelangelo and Marvin, and yes, to Jesus himself, the same cannot yet be said for him. Can Dilla, the overachiever, spur the underachiever to reach his true potential?

Back in the Times Square recording studio, I tell D I want to read to him something from a fan who posted recently on Prince.org, a site frequented by devotees of all things funky. The fan is worried by reports that D is trimming down, he writes, because of the havoc the “Untitled” video wrought: “While it’s cool that dude is getting in better shape, I hope he’s not trying to get back to the way other people picture him or want him to be. Dude just needs to get his head straight.”

I look up from the page. “Is your head straight?” I ask.

“Straight,” D’Angelo says, his eyes locked on mine. “Yes, my head is straight.” Just because you’re black, he adds, doesn’t mean you have to look or sound a certain way, “or, you know, act ignorant or what have you, whatever the fucking gatekeepers have us doing because they think that that’s the formula to make money. And a lot of motherfuckers, they just fall right into line.” D has a term for artists like this: “minstrelsy.” If he’s learned nothing, he’s learned this: He’s no minstrel.

I ask him about Internet reports that the new album is called James River, after the Virginia waterway whose swampy banks provided hidden refuge for escaped slaves. No, that’s no longer the title, D says, but he doesn’t say what is. I let slip that I’ve heard about another new song he’s written called “Back.” I just want to go back, baby / Back to the way it was, it goes. And then: I know you’re wondering where I’ve been / Wondering ’bout the shape I’m in / I hope it ain’t my abdomen.

I tell him I’m impressed that he’s addressing his body directly, using wry lyrics to confront and reclaim this difficult chapter of his life. He murmurs a thank you, but he looks a little unsettled. “Wow,” he says, when I ask if the song will appear on the album. “I don’t know if that’s going to make it.”

Later, when I reach Janis Gaye, Marvin’s second wife—and a longtime D’Angelo fan—I tell her about the dreams D had of Marvin, and she isn’t surprised. Her own children dreamed of Marvin on the night he was killed, and D is just a few years older. “Marvin is a protector, and I’m sure there was something in Marvin’s spirit that saw something in D’Angelo’s spirit,” Janis says. I tell her about Rock’s stern admonition that D needs to step it up, and she agrees. She even has a suggestion: “He should go to Marvin’s Room, the studio that Marvin built,” she says of the famed studio on Sunset Boulevard where Gaye recorded many of his hits. “Go in and take his fifty songs. Not to sound kooky or out there, but Marvin will help him to choose.”

Amy Wallace is a GQ correspondent.

ANDREW WEATHERALL – Entering A love From Outer Space

Walking through East London, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the barrage of lights, dirt and skirts is representative of life at its fastest and most empty – but Lord Sabre Andrew Weatherall, who toils in a bunker concealed deep under the streets sopping with lager and city boy nights out, is still in love with the place…

“No amount of All Saints shops can eradicate the stain of 400 years of skullduggery. I’m hoping that the screams and blood of the Ripper victims will stay ingrained in the walls a lot longer that the latest shops…”

Mischievous words from a man whose passion for eclectic sounds and eccentric wardrobe has led him to being cast as the John Peel of our times. Weatherall has been a benchmark of impeccable taste since frolicking in the primordial soup of acid house at the fag end of the 80s. He’s a self-confessed Luddite, whose fingers may be on the pulse of all things electronic, but whose clothes and facial hair suggest has stepped out of another age.

A Love From Outer Space (ALFOS) is this techno timelord’s latest venture – an evening and ethos created with first lieutenant Sean Johnston. Launched in 2010 at the Drop (now known as the Waiting Room) in North London’s Stoke Newington, a basement venue for 120 like-minded souls, the evening was billed as an “oasis of slowness in a world of ever increasing velocity” – and underlined how Weatherall and his henchman were out of sync with a modern universe glistening with tablet computers and hollow gestures.

But ALFOS has maintained its 122bpm pace - it is the rest of the aural electronic world which has chosen to slow down and dance in time with them. The nights at the Drop spawned a cultish following, leading to Thursday nights on Church St running over with ravers, students, straight from work dancers and Weatherall devotees, all desperate to hear what part of the pulse his fingers had grasped.

18 months later and the residency may have come to an end but the pair’s mission is ongoing. The new Masterpiece three-CD compilation, to be released in May on Ministry of Sound, is the culmination of Weatherall’s inspired crate digging. Following in the footsteps of fellow dance veterans Gilles Peterson and Francois K, it’s a landmark summary of a 20 year love of leftfield sounds and a friendship, originally brought about by “acid house conduit” Jeff Barratt of Heavenly Records and cemented by Sean chancing his arm and acting as Weatherall’s chauffeur to gigs.

“He played me this 110bpm, what I call ‘hypno-beat’, without wanting to be responsibile for kick-starting the ‘hypno-beat” special edition of Mixmag,” jokes Weatherall, feverishly tweaking his tache over a joint and a cup of tea in his basement headquarters on Shoreditch.

He says the parties were an instant success: “The music suited a school night and a 2am finish – and I was pleased with the lady count. Many of the punters would be guys like me and Sean. They’d have to explain the night to their girlfriends; ‘it’s a Weatherall gig but it’s all right. You’ll like it. It’s a little bit weird but it’s pretty groovy. No honestly you’ll like it’. Looking at the crowd, that seemed like the scenario.”

It was summer 2011 that ALFOS left its moorings in N17 and began causing a stir in other rave zones. Sets at T In The Park in Scotland and a riotous boat party and main stage set at Electric Elephant in Croatia sparked massive reactions both on the dancefloor and online and led to the pair grabbing a monthly slot in Glasgow. “I love London,” says Weatherall. “It’s the best city in the world but I also like how nicely perverse it is to host your residency hundreds of miles away from your home city.

“But our crowd in Stokey used to travel,” he adds. “Some used to come from Glasgow to Stoke Newington. We haven’t had anyone going the opposite route and travelling from Hackney Wick to Glasgow. But people are gradually getting wise, and gradually getting the idea that we’re damn good value for money. You book us for the whole night and it’s much cheaper than booking three or four other DJs.”

It is from these deliberately low-key beginnings that the latest piece of the ALFOS puzzle falls into place. Masterpiece is billed as a “distillation” of the influences and breakdown of the tackle that Messrs Weatherall and Johnston based their club night on.

Stretched across these three CDs, kicking off with The Asphodells’ “A Love From Outer Space” and culminating with the original by ARKane, this release came out on Ministry of Sound – an unlikely collaborator for a renowned auteur who appears happier digging deep underground rather than use a platform based in the more corporate and shiny side of dance. “The incongruous connection is part of the reason for doing it,” explains Weatherall. “Sometimes surprising people can be done by going for the more obvious thing. And the guy Gavin who is doing it put out the Watch The Ride compilation I did a few years back. I knew I wouldn’t have to compromise and it would be a good opportunity to get a lot of great music out to people who might not have heard it via a commercial outlet.”

But doesn’t this raise some contradictory questions about the position of the artist and the age-old talking point of ‘selling out’? “I interviewed Throbbing Gristle many years ago,“ he recalls. “I said to Cosey (Fanni Tutti, key agent provocateur of the Gristle) that taking the money from a corporate gig and putting it into an underground thing is fine as long as you’re funding interesting work.”

“But Cosey said ‘No – because that money is tainted. And anyone who you give that money too – their art is tainted as well.’ Part of me agrees with her stance, but the scales are tipping towards the idea of getting out music that people wouldn’t otherwise hear. I don’t think it’s tainted. People are intelligent enough to hear a piece of music that has been attached to a commercial project. They’re not gonna go ‘oh that’s that bit of music – we must go out and buy a Volkswagen’ or whatever it is I’ve advertised! Or I must go to the Ministry of Sound – they’re probably not – they just like that music.”

Casting a curious eye down the lengthy tracklisting of Masterpiece, it’s arguable that perhaps only the most dedicated digger will have much of a clue as to what is going on. Tornado Wallace, Apiento and Name in Lights are just some of the artists to be featured but then there are also choice hunks of cosmic grooves from these two chaps themselves – Weatherall remixes of the Horrors and Toddla T, as well as an appearance by Sean’s burgeoning Hardway Bros project. It’s clear from the breadth and scope of the release and their sets that these two live and breathe records. Sean admits to having cut his vinyl habit down to a miserly 5,000 bits due to the pressure of a young daughter and girlfriend. But what exactly is the ALFOS sound and where has it come from?

Weatherall explains: “Much of ALFOS is very ‘hypno’. It has New Beat elements, early house elements, but we’re not playing loads of old tunes. It’s not about nostalgia. It’s just distilling that spirit I had when I first started out and I never considered myself a DJ. I just played records.”

And seeing them DJ over the past year – whether it be at Electric Elephant festival in Croatia, at the Garage in Islington in February or at the recent totally ram-jammed Easter special at Corsica Studios – it’s clear that dancers are moving in sync with their low-slung grooves, often without knowing who many of the artists the pair are pushing actually are.

“I’m always perverse – if there’s a big record, I’ll turn it over and listen to track two on the B-Side. A lot of the music people ask about – nine times out of ten it’s probably the B-Side to something they’ve got and they’ve just been playing the other side. I don’t want to give the game away but that’s basically it. Okay this is gonna be a big record – people are going to be into it – but it’s going to have a limited shelf life. This track on the B-Side that people think is obscure and a grower is going to have a bit more longevity.”

Sean continues: “They’re all out there. It’s just that we’re digging in different places to other people. There are a few obscure things we play, but the majority of any of our sets is made up of music we’re sourced from outlets open to anyone. It’s not stuff we’ve been sent, downloaded or promoted.”

The world keeps turning for both these players of the most modern sounds. And the calls for Weatherall to accept his status as the icon for all sonics left, weird and possibly dangerous continue. Unsurprising due to his tinkering and raving with Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine and in the Sabres of Paradise – he’s watched rave culture morph from afar until it’s formed its current mongrel shape. Where does this leave him?

“I can maintain this image of being a Luddite and this supposed disdain towards technology and the internet. But in the background I’ve got a management office that maintain an online presence, Sean who controls the ALFOS publicity – I’m in an enviable position where I can pretend to be an Edwardian painter. But it is a bit like the Wizard of Oz – all this stuff is going on and it all seems modern but when you pull the curtain back, there’s just me surrounded by steam pulling levers.”

The pair mention Andy Blake and Joe Hart’s South London based World Unknown party as possible contemporaries but seem more than happy to be continuing at their own pace amid their own orbit. “There might be other places that I don’t know about, which I think is marvellous,”continues Weatherall. “I kind of like the fact that I don’t know. I might go out tomorrow and get handed a flyer and there’s been something going on for months and months.”

Over a final cig, both are happy to admit there is no game plan. This isn’t a career – this is just a way of moving as mavericks. Gentlemen – strap me in and take me to the cosmos…

Words: Jim Ottewill

 

THE WAREHOUSE: The place house music got its name

In honor of its 35th anniversary, RA’s Jacob Arnold looks back at the origins and the heyday of the legendary Chicago nightspot.

In the mid-’70s, Chicago was still America’s second largest city. Yet after the financial collapse of a number of independent soul labels a few years earlier, its recording industry was virtually non-existent, and its club scene was heavily segregated. Into this vacuum stepped Robert Williams, a promoter whose parties brought together straight and gay youths of all races. His club, The Warehouse, closed before the first Chicago dance tracks were recorded by artists like Jamie Principle, Jesse Saunders, J.M. Silk, Farley “Jackmaster” Funk, and Chip E., but it set the stage for house music, popularizing after-hours clubbing and DJ edits in Chicago and launching the career of Frankie Knuckles.

Williams grew up in Jamaica, Queens, NY, then moved to Harlem where he studied law at Columbia University. In the early ’70s, he began dancing at Manhattan clubs like The Sanctuary, Better Days, and The Gallery, but it was David Mancuso’s parties that made the biggest impression. “I liked the intensity of it,” Williams explains. “He gave parties in his loft, private parties—membership only…. People were taking drugs. They were on LSD, most of the time, but it was wild. It made it super intense. And the music was great.”

As a juvenile officer at Spofford Juvenile Center in the Bronx, Williams met future DJs Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles after they were caught skipping school. Williams encountered them again at East Village clubs like The Dome. Admits Williams with a smile, “They were much better dancers than I was.”

Williams moved from New York to Chicago around 1972 to escape the rat race, but he found Chicago’s nightlife underwhelming. After a few apartment parties with his fraternity brothers at Phi Beta Sigma, Williams and a half dozen friends founded US Studio, a venture inspired by Mancuso’s loft parties. In 1973, they opened Chicago’s first after-hours juice bar in a commercial space at 116 South Clinton Avenue.

At a time when most Chicago bars closed at 3 AM, US Studio was able to stay open all night as a liquor-free establishment. “We charged two dollars,” Williams recalls. “[And] we had five hundred people. It was so crowded that the police came to raid our party… but they had a difficult time getting in.” After just a couple of weeks, the building burned down between parties. “We lost a little equipment,” Williams explains, “but we bounced back.”

US Studio subsequently found space at 1400 South Michigan Avenue, across the street from a fire house. Unsurprisingly, inspectors shut the space down after just a few months. Next, an industrial realtor rented the group 10,000 square feet of loft space on the seventh floor of 555 West Adams Street. DJ Craig Cannon remembers, “We’d get in this elevator… confined, but the closer that you get to the floor where the party is, the louder the music gets, so it builds anticipation. By the time the elevator’s door opens, you’re practically running out of there.”

By this time Williams had been voted president of the group. Chicagoans Bennie Winfield and Michael Matthews were the DJs, but Williams made regular drives to New York to get music from Mancuso and Levan. He brought back exclusive soul and disco 12-inches by artists like First Choice, B.T. Express and LaBelle.

After two years on Adams Street, a dispute over membership fees resulted in most of the group leaving Williams to form “The Bowery.” As luck would have it, this splintering of US Studio resulted in the launch of The Warehouse at 206 South Jefferson Street. According to Williams, Adams Street “was a little large for us to maintain,” but The Warehouse, which could be glimpsed out the old club’s rear windows, was just right. A lease was signed in June 1976, and a couple of months later the space opened for parties, though initially they were just twice a month.

Meanwhile, disco music’s popularity began to skyrocket. Remembers DJ Michael Ezebukwu, “Back then Chicago was full of clubs. It was Den One, it was the Ritz, there was Le Pub, Broadway Limited… that’s just a short list.” Ron Hardy attracted a black crowd to Den One some nights, but for the most part it was a white club featuring the talents of Artie Feldman and Peter Lewicki.

There was also Dugan’s Bistro, Chicago’s largest gay disco, which opened in 1973. Its DJ, Lou DiVito, won two consecutive Billboard awards for best regional disc jockey, but the club was notorious for turning away African Americans. “They would ask us not only for the regular ID, but passports as well,” Craig Cannon explains. In response, the club was picketed and leafleted by a group calling itself the Committee of Black Gay Men.

By this time there were other black-owned after-hours lofts, including Lonnie Fulton’s Social Sounds and Michael Fields’ Castle in the Sky, and it became evident that The Warehouse would need a new disc jockey to stay competitive in Chicago’s growing club scene. Williams first asked Larry Levan, but he didn’t want to leave New York. He then approached Frankie Knuckles, who had taken over for Levan at New York’s Continental Baths before it went bankrupt. Knuckles agreed to come out for a “grand opening” in March 1977.

Williams enlisted Richard Long and Associates, also from New York, to install a custom sound and light system, but initial parties with Knuckles were a bust. Says Williams, “The music was fantastic, the sound, but… I guess there was controversy, propaganda, against Frankie. [People said,] ‘I don’t really want to hear that New York stuff.’” Knuckles returned to New York for a time, only visiting Chicago periodically for special parties.

It wasn’t until Knuckles spun at a few of The Bowery’s events that he developed a following. Williams explains, “[It was only] then they started coming to the Warehouse. So then Frankie decided he liked it, so he said he’d relocate for me.” According to Knuckles, this was in July 1977, almost a year after Williams had started holding parties in the space.

While there was no sign on the building, and the official name was “US Studio,” dancers started calling the club “The Warehouse” early on, and Williams adopted the name. Like its predecessors, the Warehouse was a nineteen-and-over, members-only juice bar. Knuckles usually kept the party jumping until eight in the morning.

“That place was three levels,” Cannon remembers. “You walked up the stairs and paid, and then you walked down the stairs to the party, and then there was a basement below that.” With no air conditioning, The Warehouse relied on fans and open windows in the summer. Cannon recalls the breeze made for a beautiful effect, especially when the open-beam ceiling was draped with crepe paper: “When you turned the mirror ball, you turned the fan on, and it was decorated, everything seemed like it was moving.”

Asked if there was acid in the punch, Cannon exclaims, “Oh, definitely. Everything was spiked. It was just crazy.” Williams recalls that they “had marathons which lasted a couple of days. Like twenty-four hours. Kids would go home, change clothes, come back.”

For its first couple of years, The Warehouse was one of Chicago’s wildest discos, but it wasn’t until 1979 or so that it began to embody a distinctive scene. Around this time, a black middle class “preppie” culture was developing in South Side private schools, including the Catholic high school Mendel. Teens who listened to Devo and The B-52s on Herb Kent’s Punk Out radio show began forming their own party promotion groups which rented spaces and distributed flyers, or “pluggers.” One such group was future producer Vince Lawrence’s Infinity Space Eclipse, which began throwing parties with an IZOD dress code.

Knuckles began to spin at North Side clubs to supplement his Saturdays at the Warehouse, starting with Carol’s Speakeasy (in Den One’s old building). In October 1980, Dave “Medusa” Shelton, a young clubber with curly blond hair (whose first party as a promoter had been held at The Warehouse the year before), opened his own juice bar, 161 West. Knuckles DJed there Friday nights. A Gay Life print ad from October 1980 describes dancers “jacking their bodies all night,” over two years before the first house record.

As electronic music gained a foothold, Knuckles began to mix New Wave records with his usual soul and disco cuts. Knuckles’s top ten list for April 9, 1981 (published by Brett Wilcots in Gay Chicago) includes such unlikely records as “Jezebel Spirit” by Brian Eno & David Byrne and “Walking on Thin Ice” by Yoko Ono alongside more predictable choices by People’s Choice, Billy Ocean and Grace Jones.

While Chicago’s more adventurous “progressive” fans were buying records at Wax Trax!, which also sold leather and studs, Knuckles and many other DJs shopped at Importes Etc., which started life as a counter in a used car dealership run by owner Paul Weisberg’s father. The store began a symbiotic relationship with Knuckles, labeling records “heard at the Warehouse”—which was soon shortened to “house.” In a 1987 obituary, DJ and Gay Chicago columnist Tom Parks credited Importes’ Dick Guenther with coining the term as a “promotional gimmick.”

Alongside imports, Knuckles began playing fresh edits of disco tunes that were already a few years old. Knuckles explains via email, “My close, dear friend Erasmo Rivera was in school for sound engineering. One of his classes was on editing, and he was cutting up everything. I began giving him records to re-edit.”

Williams says those edits drove the crowd wild: “You’d be like, I [have] that album at home, and it doesn’t sound like that. What the hell is going on?” For example, Knuckles’ edit of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes’ “Baby, You Got My Nose Open,” starts at the break, then loops the passage, “All you men, all you men” before concluding with “…out there.” Another signature track was The Dells’ “Get on Down.” Knuckles would repeatedly tease two bars of crowd noise and the spoken word, “All right, let’s get it on!” before launching into the rest of the break.

Around this time, Knuckles was in high demand. In 1981 and 1982, he DJed for parties at Sauer’s, Pyramid, Annex 2, The Smart Bar and Metro. As Knuckles expanded his audience, The Warehouse benefited from the diversity. Cannon enthuses, “My fondest memory is the mixed crowd. Racially, ethnically, sexually. That was the best thing. I hit on all the straight guys, unbeknownst to me.” Knuckles confirms, “It was hip to act gay and hang out at gay clubs, but not actually be gay. You figure that one out!”

By all accounts, the Warehouse’s final year was also its wildest. The club was consistently packed with teenagers, many of whom were underage. Williams remembers parents coming to look for their children. According to Knuckles, older members were driven out. The club was overcrowded, and there were even several stick-ups inside. Knuckles sensed things spinning out of control, admitting that “the club was no longer safe.”

In November 1982, Knuckles left The Warehouse to open his own club, The Power Plant. “I felt I had reached a point where I couldn’t go any further with the Warehouse,” Knuckles explains. With The Warehouse gone, other after-hours clubs rose to take its place, including The Playground, First Impressions, and Shelton’s Medusa’s. Williams himself opened the Muzic Box [sic] several months later, where DJ Ron Hardy rose to local stardom. These new clubs (and the sudden availability of inexpensive synthesizers and drum machines) set the stage for local producers. In early 1984, electronic dance music by Chicago teenagers began to hit stores and the airwaves.

Three short years later, despite spawning several UK chart toppers, Chicago’s house scene became a victim of its own success. Many of its best-known producers signed to major labels, where they were quickly cast aside in favor of hip-hop. Meanwhile, Medusa’s latest dance club, which alternated house and industrial nights, came under attack by local residents concerned about teenage delinquency. In January 1987, a city ordinance passed requiring juice bars to follow liquor bar hours. It went into effect that April. Williams took his parties back underground, but Chicago’s club scene would never be the same.

Words / Jacob Arnold

Published / Wednesday, 16 May 2012

DISCO IS MUSIC FOR THE DISILLUSIONED – Article From 1978

Disco is music for the disillusioned. It isn’t art: no auteurs in disco, just calculated dessicating machines. It isn’t folk: no disco subcultures, no disco kids seething with symbolic expression It isn’t even much fun: no jokes, no irony, only a hard rhythmed purposefulness. Disco is the sound of consumption. It exists only in its dancing function: when the music stops all that’s left is a pool of sweat on the floor. And disco’s power is the power of consumption.

The critics are right: disco is dehumanising – all those twitching limbs, glazed-eyed, mindless. The disco aesthetic excludes feeling, it offers a glimpse of a harsh sci-fi future. ‘What’s your name, what’s your number?’ sings Andrea True in my current favourite single, and it’s not his telephone number she wants, but his position in the disco order of things. The problem of pogoing, I’ve found, is not that it’s too energetic for anyone over 30 years and 11 stone, but that it requires too much thought.

Popular music has always been dance music; disco is nothing but dance music. It has no rock’n’roll connotations; off the dance floor it is utterly meaningless, lyrically, musically and aesthetically. Every disco sound is subordinate to its physical function; disco progress is technological progress. The end doesn’t change but the means to that end, the ultimate beat, are refined and improved – hence drum machines, synthesisers, 12″ pressings. And disco is dance music in the abstract, content determined by form. Popular dance music of the past, in the 1930s say, was a form determined by its content.

The content was developed by dance hall instructors and sheet music salesmen and band leaders whose rules of partnership, decorum, uplift and grace, can still be followed in ‘Come Dancing’: the music is strictly subordinate to the conventions of flounce and simper. In contrast, when Boney M, German manufactured black American androgynes, sing for our dancing pleasure, ‘Belfast’, it means nothing at all. Any two syllables arranged and sounding just so would do and how we dance to them is, of course, entirely our own affair. There are no rules in disco, it’s just that individual expression means nothing when there’s nothing individual to express. I trace disco back to the twist, the first dance gimmick to be taken seriously and the first dance step to be without any redeeming social feature. I blame disco on Motown, the first company to realise that if the beat is right, soul power can be expressed without either the passion or emotion that made it soul power in the first place.

Disco is nothing like muzak. Muzak’s effect is subliminal; its purpose is to encourage its hearers to do anything but listen to it. Disco’s effect is material; its purpose is to encourage its hearers to do nothing but listen to it. Not even think.

Disco music is only disco music in discos. These days there are CP discos, women’s discos, anti-fascist discos, students’ discos, youth club discos, cricketers’ discos, punk discos and reggae discos. The disco form can be used by anyone who’s got a record player, records and a large enough room. But a proper disco exists only to be a disco and the records it plays exist only to be played by it. The Musicians’ Union hates discos because they put live musicians out of work.

I hate discos because they seem like such a soft way of making money: a DJ doesn’t do anything except buy records and put the needle on them – I can do that too. The whole enterprise is parasitic: if there is such a thing as disco creativity it happened in secret studio places long before. The best discos are the best just to the extent to which nothing unexpected happens – feet never falter, taste is never threatened, offence is never taken because never given. If you want a surprise don’t go to the disco.

Clubs with records as their only means of entertainment came to Britain from the continent in the early ‘60s. Before then DJs and records had been used in ballrooms (cf the pioneering career of Jimmy Savile) but not as alternatives to live music and, initially, discos simply served two sorts of incrowd: rock aristocrats seeking social exclusion and soul freaks seeking musical exclusion (as they still do in the Northern Soul clubs). The main British disco development occurred in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s as live rock became increasingly undanceable, expensive and in the wrong places (colleges and concert halls). British disco went teenage pop and, in a commercial sense, it mostly still is.

The style of consumption involved is working class provincial. Bouncers, louts, uneasy sexual posturing; dance hall culture really, but cooler and smarter than in the ‘50s, and with flashing lights and much better music. Women do most of the dancing, men most of the drinking, and none of them take disco as seriously as, perhaps, they ought. Because meanwhile in America discos are the setting for adult chic consumption, part of the culture of singles rather than of teenage courtship, anonymously safe places for elaborate displays of apathy. Can’t imagine drunks in Manhattan’s spruce discos, bumping buttocks with Susan Sontag and Lennie Bernstein.

The European connection is that discos in Paris are more like they are in New York than they are like they are in Nottingham. And French and Italian teenagers are, anyway, chic-er than Britons of any age. But the most wonderful Euro-discos of all are the ones in the holiday belts – Costa Brava, Riviera, Costa del Sol. Cellars which are open permanently in the summer months and in which earnest Northerners – Dutch, British, Swedes, Germans, develop their own singles culture, their own disco style. I can only explain it by noting that they dance to Donna Summer in their sandals. Ah disco! Ah Baccara!

As a rock writer, I’ve always been a frustrated DJ rather than musician. ‘Hey you,’ I’ve wanted to shout, ‘Listen to this!’ The model was John Peel, music lover and eclectic. I certainly didn’t fancy the provincial disco DJs I knew – big, hearty philistines who knew nothing about the records they played but enjoyed the patter and had dreams, like Albert Finney in ‘Gumshoe’, of moving from master of ceremonies to master of a comic routine. But this was a doomed approach anyway, survival from dance hall days. Real disco DJs aren’t entertainers at all, have nothing to with music. They’re technologists, men (very few women) of the future: their job is to play the audience. It’s a job I want again. By 1984 it’ll probably be called ‘consumption-coordinator’.

Discos are where people dance and dancing can be anything from the shuffle to a pre-rehearsed and elaborate routine to a straight display of cartwheels. What disco dancing isn’t is a) musical interpretation and b) self-expression. The opposite of disco dancing is what Legs and Co. do on ‘Top of the Pops’ – ie choreographed responses to the ‘meaning’ of a song.

What they do is so embarrassing that I usually turn the picture off, but I turn it back again for the rest of the show because, at an admittedly low level, it does reveal the difference between the Anglo-Collective disco style – all those dumpy little boys and girls looking nervously at each other – and the American-Individual style (on the clips from ‘Soul Train’) – all those intense boys and girls looking determinedly at their own feet. Most disco dancing has little to do with elegance, grace or agility, which is OK by me because if it did I wouldn’t do it.

Rock music, dance music, has always been a form of sexual expression – girl meets boy physically. The social problem has then been the control of this expression – hence the moral about rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis’s hips etc. Disco’s greatest achievement has been to develop a form in which sexuality is expressed and controlled simultaneously. Critics have missed the point of the standard formula – machinery plus orgasmic sighs.

The problem is not that the sighs are fake, but that it wouldn’t make any difference if they were real! Disco isn’t a frustrating music – preventing the climax from occurring – but a music of control – preventing the climax from being disruptive. It’s a noisy form of some Eastern mystical discipline and the only puzzle to me is why disco is so important an aspect of gay culture. I’m not gay, so I can’t say, except that it seems as if disco stylisation allows gays public displays that are sexual without apparently being offensive to the usual custodians of public morality.

The only thing to say about disco music as music is that it has given extraordinary opportunities to pop’s previously second class citizens – its session singers, engineers, Bee Gees. The technicians, in other words, who always could produce any sound to order but used not to know what to do with them. They know now.

Previous popular music has only reflected the world, in various ways; the point of disco, however is to replace it. •

© Simon Frith, 1978

JEROME DERRADJI presents The Birth Of House Music!

Jerome Derradji is proud to present his latest full length, 122 BPM – The Birth of House Music to be released in June on Still Music. .

122 BPM is  the story of how a father and his son changed Chicago’s Dance music scene in the 1980s and went on to take the world by storm, leaving an impression that will last forever with just a couple of 12” releases the world would soon know as House music. Nemiah Mitchell Jr and Vince Lawrence couldn’t have known what their contribution to House music would become. Their story provides the missing Chicago link between soul, disco, new wave and then House, between the radio and club DJs and their audience, between the old generation and the new generation. This is the story of the first House records ever made – long before Trax or DJ International were even dreamt of.

The compilation includes numerous unreleased tracks and beyond hard to find house tracks made in Chicago in the early to late Eighties from the catalogues of Mitchbal Records and Chicago Connection Records.

It will be released in June 2012 and includes a 3 cd set – including a 1 hour exclusive mix from Jerome Derradji – with a 28 pages booklet documenting the story of Mitchbal and Chicago Connection Records, a gatefold DLP and an exclusive D12″ featuring the uber rare Frankie Knuckles’ Unfinished Business – Out Of My Hands remixes along with the original classic disco release by Chicago disco band OMNI .

Once again, thanks to all of you for your outstanding support.
Jerome – Still Music Chicago

CLICK HERE FOR A SAMPLE VIA SOUNDCLOUD

Jerome Derradji Presents: “122 BPM – The Birth Of House Music -  Mitchbal Records  & Chicago Connection Records- CAT# Stillm3cd006, Stillmdlp006 and Stillmd12034

Tracklisting 3cd Boxset


Cd1 Jerome Derradji ChicaFlange House Mix

1 – Mr Lee & Kompany – Jackmaster Jerome Derradji Edit
2 – Mitchbal & Larry Williams – Do That Stuff Dance Mix
3 – Mitchbal & The Housemaster – When I Hear The Music
4 – Risque Rythum Team – The Jackin Zone
5 – Jeanette Thomas – Shake Your Body
6 – Libra Libra – I Am Music (Instrumental)
7 - Unfinished Business – Out Of My Hands (Club Mix)
8 – Dezz & Grant – The House Is On Fire
9 – Mr Lee & Kompany – Can You Feel It
10 – Z-Factor – Fantasy (feat. Jesse Saunders) Instrumental - Jerome Derradji Edit



CD2


1 – Jeanette Thomas – Shake Your Body 
2 – Mitchbal & The Housemaster – When I Hear The Music
3 – Unfinished Business – Out Of My Hands (Club Mix)
4 – Dezz & Grant – The House Is On Fire
5 – Mitchbal & Larry Williams – Do That Stuff Dance Mix
6 – Libra Libra – I Am Music Instrumental
7 – Mr Lee & Kompany – Jackmaster Vocal Mix
8 – Z-Factor – Fantasy (feat. Jesse Saunders) Instrumental
9 – Risque Rythum Team – The Jackin Zone
10 - Mr Lee & Kompany – Can You Feel It



CD3


1 - Z-Factor – I Am the DJ (feat. Jesse Saunders)
2 - Libra Libra - I Like It (Club Mix)
3 – Risque´ Rhythm Team – More Than Just A Dance (Backyard Mix)
4 –  Libra Libra – Where Did My Love Go Vocal
5 - Z-Factor  - (I Like To Do It In) Fast Cars
6 - Mr Lee – I Can’t Forget (Vocal Mix)
7 - Z-Factor – I Synthesize
8 - Z-Factor – My Ride
9 - Risque Rhythum Team – That’s The Beat
10 - Libra Libra – I Am Music (Ninja Mix)
11 - Mc Ghee – I Got Broke Breakdancing Instrumental
12 - Mitchbal & Friends – Love Is The Answer  Farley “The King Of House Music” Jackmaster Funk Remix (Bonus)

Tracklisting DLP
Lp

1 

A1 – Jeanette Thomas – Shake Your Body

A2 – Z Factor – I Am the DJ (feat. Jesse Saunders) Jazzy Mix

B1 – Mitchbal & Larry Williams – Do Dat Stuff Dance Mix

B2 – Libra Libra - I Like It (Club Mix)
Lp 2 

C1 – Z-Factor – Fantasy Instrumental

C2 – Risque Rythum Team – The Jackin Zone

D1 – Z-Factor – (I Like To Do It In) Fast Cars

D2 – Mc Ghee – I Got Broke Breakdancing Instrumental

Tracklisting D12″

A1 – Unfinished Business – Out Of My Hands (Love’s Taken Over) Vocal Mix
A2 – Unfinished Business – Out Of My Hands (Love’s Taken Over) Instrumental Mix
B1 – Omni – Out Of My Hands (Love’s Taken Over) Long Version
B2 – Omni – Out Of My Hands (Love’s Taken Over) Short Version

CLASSIC NIGHTCLUBS – The Shelter (New York City)

Opening in 1991, The Shelter has become a sanctuary where racial and sexual diversity are a force for togetherness, and where the post-Garage dance community can express themselves freely amongst friends. Following the closure of the weekly Body & Soul party in 2002, the club started by DJ Timmy Regisford, Freddie Sanon and Merlin Bobb has taken on even more importance and meaning, within the increasing sanitisation and restrictions of post-Giuliani New York.

Arriving on a deserted Varick Street in West SoHo as the hum of a bass drum emerges through the exterior of an anonymous building, we enter one of Manhattan’s last subterranean havens. Rhythmic, deep and very intense, the gospel release of Dennis Ferrer’s ‘Church Lady’ summons us to the heart of the dance floor, where the dancers are immersed womb like in the music.

Through the loud yet beautifully clean sound system, the whoops and call and response hollers of the congregation creates a profound spiritual intensity, as the ritual of the dance unfolds. While the community from Harlem across to Queens are just waking up and dressing for church, a middle aged black woman walks slowly across the dancefloor, her arms raised in exultation towards the booth; where DJs Timmy Regisford and Sting International move monk-like in the darkness. Opening my eyes just as the heavy strings and drum break of Inner Life’s ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ raises the hairs and sends a shiver up the spine, I survey the scene around.

To my left on a small sofa, two Garage elders in Adidas bottoms nod out as if in a lucid dream of days gone by, while one of their topless soul brothers screams in synch to Jocelyn Brown’s devotional lyrics. As talc is scattered around the borders of the spotless dancefloor, Lonnie Liston Smith’s ‘Expansions’ increases the energy. Somewhere between the swirling angularity of Wildstyle era breakers and the balletic grace of eighties jazz troupes like The Jazz Defektors, a young crew drop some incredibly elegant yet raw moves, while a lone dreadlocks plays imaginary keys on the dance floor. Lost in the groove now, a young Japanese girl smiles knowingly at us first timers, while Sting International works the EQs between Babe Ruth’s ‘The Mexican’ and Man Parrish’s ‘Hip Hop Be Bop’ before dropping into a trio of classic acid cuts including Mr Fingers’ ‘Can U Feel It’.

Looking around at the euphoric faces and sweaty embraces, Larry Heard’s Trax classic needs no answer. As we step out into the afternoon sun, refreshed and inspired by our Sunday morning epiphany, I make a promise to return to New York to tell the story of some of those who have made Shelter their home.

It’s early June when I land back in New York having arranged to hook up with Ben Johnson, the Londoner who has become Shelter’s warm up DJ and owner of the Syam Music Group including Un-Restricted Access (URA), in partnership with Timmy Regisford. Sitting outside a SoHo Café in the humid summer heat, he explains why the DJ dubbed ‘The Maestro’ had such a restorative impact on him when he arrived in New York in the mid nineties. “When Timmy was rocking The Shelter back in the day it was one of the only places you would here Afro-Beat and jazz and all these different types of music. He could do this and make it work partly because he had the courage to play 12 hour sets, feeling the connection with the dancers.”

It is the combination of mood and movement that makes Shelter such an intense experience. “When I first saw the dancers I was just amazed,” he recalls. “There were guys doing Capoeira moves and back arches, landing on one arm. And then all these different fusions, from African, Latin, tap and breaking and then the two step with everyone just so together and accepting, it was just beautiful – rhythmic and very spiritual.”

Meeting up with Freddie Sanon later in the day he explains the genesis of the club. “After the radio show at WBLS had finished around two in the morning we had nowhere to go, so Timmy, Merlin and I started talking and said we needed a place, somewhere we could call home. We felt the only appropriate name to call it was The Shelter because with the Paradise Garage closing there was no where else for us to go to – we were homeless.”

Starting out as a reunion party for the Garage, The Shelter soon became a regular weekly. “We wanted to continue what the Garage had which we felt was special, a club where all these interesting people could get together and get loose,” he continues thoughtfully. “A place where you could be gay, you could be straight, black or white – somewhere that you could get release from every day life… We wanted to keep that going – a feeling of being at a house party.”

When Sanon first started going to clubs like the Gallery in the mid seventies it was as an under eighteen and for him it is vital the crowd at Shelter crosses generations. “We need a place where everyone is accepted. When you come to the club you can see a sixty year old dancing next to a fifteen year old who has sneaked in. The only way of keeping this scene going is to bring in our kids and our nephews down to the club. That is our only hope that this lovely thing we have will continue. We need to pass the culture on for this to survive.”

Taking a walk down to the Lower East Side later that evening I am determined to speak to some of those dancers whose story has become an overlooked footnote in the history of New York dance music. Outside a gallery bar on Orchard Street I meet Louis Kee AKA Loose, a veteran of the scene and one of the members of the Melting Pot collective whose DJ Kervin Mark is dropping the house and broken beats indoors. “I started dancing in Manhattan in 1979, going to the Loft, the Garage and Better Days,” he recalls. “At that time there was a real fusion of jazz and disco. When you went to the underground clubs the dancing was very intense, we did everything from ballet and gymnastics to martial arts and then these Nicholas Brothers moves.”

In parallel to the early UK jazz dance scene, the movements were influenced by the jazz tap style of dance from the thirties known as hoofing, as well as a myriad of other dance forms that reflected the moods and modes of DJ’s like David Mancuso at the Loft. “On the one hand you had the gay community doing their pre-voguing and then you had the rawness of early breakdancing. It was a real underground thing that came from what people had in their soul. For those of us who came through that it was all about the family thing as well, to have value in yourself and your community.”

I ask how accepting the house community has been of the young breakers who crossed over to house dancing in the nineties. “Well here is a group of people who would not have been accepted at a regular house club but at The Shelter they were freely open to people with dance skills,” he replies. “As long as the feeling is right and they understand the spirit of the community. So now a lot of the energy is actually coming through the breakers and they are taking it to a new level. You see, in the dance community you always have a home, somewhere that you first heard this music that made you want to be a dancer.

So for us it was the Loft and the Garage and now these kids are calling Shelter home. Although they didn’t go to those clubs they learned from those that did how to act, how to be warm and fun and also just as importantly not to compete and to see the dancefloor as a communal place. It doesn’t matter what colour you are or what sexual orientation, as long as you are there expressing yourself in peace. It’s also great that we’ve got this youth now in the scene.”

Two of the youngest members of the Shelter family are The Martinez Brothers, the church raised sons of an ex Garage head from the Bronx who are breathing new life into the house scene. Sitting in a park around the corner from Dance Tracks record shop, the younger of the brothers 15 year old Chris, recalls their personal conversion to house music: “We actually wanted to be hip hop DJs but our father came in and said ‘nah I don’t like the message they are sending out’. So he brought home some house CDs and started introducing us to the music he used to dance to at the Garage and we just fell in love with it.”

Eighteen year old Steve picks up the story: “Our first party was a Danny Krivit boat ride which was just amazing man. I’d been to a lot of hip hop events but I’d never experienced an atmosphere like that with everyone screaming and going nuts so that is what caught me most.” The Body & Soul DJ has been one of the many supporters of the brothers, inviting them to play at the 718 Sessions, which along with occasional parties like Ruben Toro’s Temple is vital to the scene.

The brother’s first New York DJ slot was at the Shelter. “That was the first time we had ever been to the club and also seen Timmy play so it was like ‘this man is a legend’. The way he works the system and blends and rides the records. No one does that like him. He is the man.” Another fan is Dennis Ferrer who has just released the brothers first 12” ‘My Rendition on his Objektivty label. “We hooked up with Dennis on My Space, sending him messages and mixes,” explains Chris. “So he helped us with The Shelter gig and with our productions. He’s become like an Uncle.”

TMB continue a long and proud heritage of Latinos in New York dance music. However, their journey into house has not always been an easy one: “Our friends were mostly into hip hop,” says Steve, “but when they heard what we were listening to they said what is up with you listening to this gay music, what’s the matter with you, are you a homosexual or something. So we would just go ‘nah’ whatever’”

Back in the day, when DJ’s Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash extended and cut up the drum breaks from the early dance underground, hip hop and disco had a natural connection. However, the creation of musical ghettoes through both social and cultural conditioning has resulted in many hip hop crews holding similar views to Chris and Steve’s friends and similarly house people being turned off by the nihilistic message of much of today’s hip hop. One figure who has broken down the barriers is Quentin Harris. Raised on a diet of Funkadelic and Motown in his Detroit home by his musical parents, this gay black American entered the music business as a trumpeter at Maurice Malone’s open mic sessions at the Hip Hop Shop on 7 mile alongside the likes of Slum Village and Jay Dee who became a big influence on the young producer.

Around the same time, Quentin would also hang at the underground house parties like Heaven where DJ Ken Collier held court. For Harris the unsung Collier was not only an inspiration as a DJ but also as a gay black man on the house scene. “The man played with so much energy. He would literally make the walls of the room sweat. Also around that time I was really fighting with the whole ‘am I gay thing?’ what should I do, should I come out or will there be too many problems for me. So it was very empowering to go there and see this gay black man who was so respected within the community.”

As producer for New York hip hop group The Masterminds, Quentin found himself spending more and more time in the city and became immersed in the house scene. “I would go to places like The Sound Factory and the original Shelter,” he recalls eagerly. “I was just absorbing all this in – the music and the madness. I just got so wrapped up in it. Coming from Detroit where I had experienced Ken Collier I was looking for something like that and to me Timmy had the same kind of intensity.”

While it took a move to New York to really inspire Harris as a house producer, his techier and soulful productions are clearly indebted to his hometown. “Detroit has been a major influence on my work,” he states. “When you go there you will totally understand techno. It’s industrial and dirty and that is reflected in the music. When you listen to Clear by Cybotron which came out in 1980 that song still sounds fresh today, and I always loved things like that which were minimalist but powerful. So I learned a lot of that from both techno but also Jay Dee whose beats were very stripped down but they took you somewhere.”

Following an inspired edit of ‘Cloud 9’ by Donnie, and India Arie’s ‘Ready For Love’, things have been gaining momentum rapidly towards his debut LP ‘No Politics’, which develops Harris’ role as a producer for singers like Cordel McLary, Colton Ford and Jason Walker. Meanwhile, his recently opened Kiss My Black Ass session seals his connection with the post Sound Factory/Tracks ballroom community, bringing flamboyance and performance back to New York nightlife.

As the conversation flows, we naturally move on to the division that has been created between the house and hip hop communities. “House got labeled not only as gay music but also repetitive but my argument to anyone in hip hop is that their music takes from all forms of music,” suggests the man who has had his feet in both camps. “So to say these two don’t belong together, they are crazy because if you look at it there is soul, funk and disco and house and hip hop are both an offspring of that. So they are both continuing that lineage from James Brown. Another problem is that a lot of powers that be think that people are not intelligent enough to appreciate different types of music so they keep giving people the same thing.”

Cut to the floor of The Shelter on Sunday morning at 8am and the fiercest of the young dancers are dropping the most extravagant and expressive of moves, as Timmy Regisford builds the atmosphere and intensity. As they drop, spin and do some incredible handstands and swirling windmills I invite a key figure on the house dance scene, Conrad Rochester to say a few words about the scene he has seen develop. “The first time I really got into the house Dance side was in the park on the Lower East Side watching these guys doing bridges with kung fu slippers on, and I wanted to know where they hung out. That’s when the Garage and the Loft came in. It’s been building from there and now through all this new blood at The Shelter we’ve got something really exiting happening.” As a promoter for nights at Shelter and other clubs around New York and beyond, Conrad is responsible for bringing in the dancers and building the scene on a global level.

As an educator and networker he is taking on a similar role to Perry Louis and his Jazzcotech collective in London. “I have just formed House Dance International hosting workshops and competitions with kids from all over the world so this is growing all the time,” he says excitedly. “We need to show the industry to respect the dancers because they need us. I don’t think we’ve been respected enough in the past so that is why it is so important for us to network and put this thing out there, and to connect all the young kids with the elders.”

As the conversation flows he talks passionately about other dancers on the scene like Ejoe Wilson, one of the most influential house dancers and host of the weekly Soulgasm session, Cricket the “experimental b-boy’ who has been integral to opening the doors of House music to b-boys, and Archie Burnett one of the hardcore Loft heads whose freestyle voguing and whacking earned him a role in the film ‘Check Your Body At The Door’ alongside Conrad who also features in Josell Ramos’ documentary ‘Maestro’.

But he is most animated when talking about the fusion of b-boy and house culture and the exiting possibilities it is opening up. “The dancing is changing radically. When I look at some of those kids I’m like ‘wow’ – it’s on a whole new level. They do their variations and power movements so crazed out and abstract. Then you have another level of style which is double jointed – taking the voguing and whacking forms of disco (which was an overlooked influence on the popping of b-boys) to a whole new style, by tapping back into the breaking.”

Outside the venue where Freddy Sanon is welcoming late guests, while keeping an eye out for the NYPD who constantly monitor the club, Conrad introduces me to a wonderfully bright spirit called Melanie, one of the many young female dancers crossing over from other dance forms. “I started dancing when I was three,” she explains. “My family is Puerto Rican and my father would teach me the hustle and salsa. When I was about six years old my mother put me into professional dancing – doing jazz and ballet.

My first experience of dancing at clubs was going to hip hop and Latin clubs but it is only at The Shelter where I have really experienced this feeling. Before then it was just learning the movements but here it was just total self-expression. Intertwining with all these different spirits you come in contact with so it’s on a different level. The first influence of this is African and of course I connect with that through my Latin side. But it’s just a whole multicultural fusion that is going on and house is the epitome of that modern tribal thing in New York. It’s so deep and free.”

Conscious that the role of women is often overlooked on the dance scene, Freddie Sanon introduces me to Donna Edwards, who started DJing in Queens back in 1982 before graduating to the clubs of Manhattan and eventually to become the first female DJ to play at The Shelter. “The first underground club I went to was Better Days where Tee Scott was DJing. He was a major inspiration,” she recalls. “He also played at Empire Skate Rink and I skated every Tuesday night.” I am interested to know about the interaction between the clubs and the skate scene and in particular how much of an influence skating was to the graceful style of dancing that developed around clubs like The Loft. “I think the swirling and jumping has definitely crossed over from the skate rinks to the clubs and that’s because pretty much everyone I knew that skated went to the underground clubs as well.”

It’s 2.30pm as I head back inside The Shelter where Timmy Regisford is squeezing the last drop of emotion as the house lights are raised. Some stand rooted to the spot their hands raised in the air shouting in jubilation towards ‘The Maestro’, others move organically around the floor swirling and stretching while a muscular ballet dancer swirls gracefully across the floor doing a pirouette. As the last bars of Mos Def’s ‘Umi Says’ ring out at 3pm, and the intoxication amongst the dancers reaches its zenith, I am reminded of the intensity and community interaction of the rumba parties on the streets of Havana; such is the meaning of the ritual of the dance to those who make the pilgrimage week after week to this righteous session.

As I head out of the venue, I am introduced to an ex Garage head Frankie Paradise a well known face on the scene. “I was a loyal member of the Paradise Garage and as a gay man it was important to be geared towards the right sort of crowd, somewhere that you could be safe,” he explains softly. “So I found myself moulded by that whole community. And for me that is continuing through The Shelter and I have been supporting it since day one. I love the fact that they have been able to hold on to this and give what’s left to the community. All cultures and differences coming together – it’s a spiritual thing where for a little while we all feel as one. Letting our minds go. For me Shelter is the last spiritual mecca in New York City. And what I feel here I’ve never got anywhere else but the Paradise Garage.”

This recurring comparison between The Garage and The Shelter is something I put to the press shy but rather genial Timmy Regisford when I finally sit down with him on my final day in New York. “We set it up because we wanted to keep the spirit alive of what the Garage represented and what underground music meant to the City,” he says. “If we had not opened up the space there would have been a void. With Shelter that family thing evolved much more I think. At the Garage people knew each other but with Shelter it became much more family orientated. Those people left over from the Garage realised how special it was and started to really bond and called themselves the Shelter family.”

Timmy Regisford has built a reputation for his epic12 hour sets which take the dancers through a whole range of emotions. “I play music that I love that I would want to hear as a dancer. I know that because I come from the dancefloor so I know what they expect. I like to challenge them as well though and to take chances and I am lucky to be in a place where if it is quality music where they would embrace it.”

It’s an all embracing approach to music he learned as a radio DJ under Frankie Crocker at WBLS in the early eighties. “He heard me spinning in a club and I went there and worked as an intern for three years for no money then he offered me a job,” he recalls fondly. “I had one of my biggest musical educations under him. I learned so much under his wing it was just priceless what that guy impacted in my life. He taught me that there was more than just dance. There was jazz, blues, Latin and African.”

It was this love of African music that saw Timmy dropping cuts at The Shelter way before other DJs picked up on Afro-Beat. “I started experimenting in The Shelter and found that this music worked so I started looking into the roots of it, and went to Nigeria and licensed Fela’s music to Motown and signed his son Femi and produced his first two albums for the label. So that is my passion. I love African music.”

I wonder if his new album ‘Africa Is Calling’ is making a statement to those ears that are closed to the plight of the great continent. “I don’t think African music has been embraced as any other music. Be it jazz r&b or salsa,” he replies firmly. “Just like Africa itself is the only place that people don’t really care about. I’m a firm believer that if we as a society wanted to build a better future for people in Africa we could do that. Just the powers that be choose not to.”

I close by asking Regisford about his role as a mentor to other DJ’s such as Sting International and Quentin Harris. “I’ve never seen myself in that role,” he says humbly. “Sting is a guy who is like a brother and a real music lover. He has a real passion for music that is unbelievable. I am also very happy with the way Quentin is developing to become one of the strongest DJs and producers around.”

While his productions skills have been put to multi-platinum use producing Shaggy, Sting International remains firmly committed to the underground scene, something that started working as a DJ in Brooklyn. “The DJ sound systems are the roots of it all for me,” he states with a soft drawl. “So it was a street thing to begin with. Richard Long had started doing sound systems for the clubs like Bond International and Paradise Garage but also for reggae clubs in Brooklyn, one called Love People and also The Empire Skate Rink.

So they were all influences on sound and I got close to him and then I got tight with some of the guys who worked for him after he had passed away. So it just rolled from there getting heavily into the technical aspects of the sound and living through that whole era developing a reputation for that clean heavy sound. The Shelter is just another part of the sound systems so it’s just a stem from what Richard Long set up back in the day. I play the system just as I did on my mobile back in the day. I do it the same way.”

Entering the room, Freddie Sanon adds a few words to encourage others to embrace the spirit of Sting, which has seen him develop his own following down at The Shelter: “We need other young DJs to have the same passion and to take time with what they do. People just need to take more time and relax into what they do. Life is going so fast we need to take time for ourselves. Don’t come in to the club with the rushed attitude. I don’t think people appreciate what we have in life just getting up in the morning and being alive. We need to have that all around us and all the love and appreciation that comes with it – that gives life to us.”

As I head back to my apartment to get ready for the Soulgasm party later that night I am reminded of what Conrad Rochester told me in the back room of Shelter, a sentiment that holds true for anyone who experiences the love and communality of this long running session. “What is great about The Shelter is that it gives us an opportunity to escape from our everyday dramas and problems. We can come here and express ourselves. House has always been underground and it’s time for people to see this and to join us, because it deals with so many different styles and cultures from different urban communities. All you have to do is to tap into your free spirit and to express who you are through dance.”

© Andy Thomas

Originally published in Straight No Chaser Final Issue Summer, 2007

THE JOY OF DISCO – BBC Video Documentary

A special treat this Sunday for all our disco-fan readers outside the UK, The Joy Of Disco is a BBC documentary about that much derided music genre that seemed to come out of nowhere to change the world in the late 70s.

I’ve seen a lot of documentaries about disco, and this is undoubtedly one of the best. Featuring new interviews with many of the key players (Giorgio Moroder, Nile Rodgers, Nona Hendryx, David Mancuso, Tom Moulton, Kathy Sledge, Nicky Siano and lots more) and some great, rare footage of top nitespots like The Gallery and Studio 54, this is a real treat for the disco fanatic.

But what really makes The Joy Of Disco so good (and well worth a watch, even if you are not a disco fan) is the placing of the music in its proper historical and social context. Disco was black, urban music that became the soundtrack to the gay liberation movement and, according to the program makers:

foregrounded female desire in the age of feminism and led to the birth of modern club culture as we know it today, before taking the world by storm.

All up to the (seemingly inevitable) racist and homophobic “Disco Sucks” backlash. That put paid to the faddishness of the genre, but ultimately, by driving it back underground to the gay and black clubs that spawned it, helped make it stronger than ever and actually did very little to kill the sheer joy of the music itself.

The Joy Of Disco explores these issues in the kind of detail they deserve. It aired on BBC4 on Friday night, and some industrious soul has already put it up on YouTube to share the love (yes, it’s another case of get it before it’s gone). This is highly recommended viewing – you won’t see anything this interesting, exciting or fabulously funky on your screens this evening

Posted by Niall O’Conghaile