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GREG WILSON'S DISCOTHEQUE ARCHIVES #1

A guide to dance music's pre-rave past

Greg Wilson's Discotheque Archives
Greg Wilson's Discotheque Archives

We've drafted in Greg Wilson, the former electro-funk pioneer, nowadays a leading figure in the global disco/re-edits movement and respected commentator on dance music and popular culture, to bring us four random nuggets of history; highlighting a classic DJ, label, venue and record each month.

A seminal DJ who doesn't even regard himself as a DJ, preferring the description 'musical host'...

At the start of the 1970s, with the hippie ideal of peace and love in tatters and the Vietnam War dividing Nixon’s America, a revelatory presence emerged in New York to help sow the seeds of disco culture.

David Mancuso had attended lectures and private parties at acid guru Timothy Leary’s League For Spiritual Discovery HQ in NYC. Following Leary’s lead, Mancuso experimented with LSD in his own New York loft-space home, making eclectic and atmospheric ‘journey tapes’ to provide musical accompaniment for these gatherings.

People got up and danced from time to time and, when this aspect of the experience started to gain momentum, Mancuso improved his soundsystem and re-organised his space. Gay/straight, black/white — all were welcome so long as they brought the right vibe through the door. The Loft parties, as they organically came to be named, were very much an inclusive experience.

Two decades on, when — following acid house — some people began to talk about DJs as though they were shamanic figures, they were perhaps guilty of taking their ecstasy-induced euphoria a bit too far. However, if there was anybody worthy of this title, it would surely be Mancuso — often described as a somewhat mystical figure - for he was consciously guiding his guests on a sojourn of self-expression, helping them lose their inhibitions in a safe environment, in order for them to move closer to their essential / childlike nature.

The Loft was a rite of passage for the great and the good of the New York club scene — Levan, Siano, Knuckles, Krivit, Humphries, Kevorkian and so on. It would also set the standard with regards to sound reproduction in a dance space, inspiring the systems at NYC’s Studio 54 and Paradise Garage further down the decade, and later UK superclub Ministry Of Sound.

Gradually fading into obscurity during the following decades, despite his parties continuing throughout, Mancuso experienced a major renaissance with the new millennium, the release of the first ‘David Mancuso Presents The Loft’ retrospective by Nuphonic in 1999 serving to belatedly bestow him the reverence he merits. Regular London Loft parties brought him to our shores, then, in 2004, Tim Lawrence put the meat on the bones of Mancuso’s extraordinary acid-laced adventure via his book, Love Saves The Day — A History Of American Dance Music Culture 1970-1979.

During the early ‘80s it seemed that the whole of New York was buzzing with new ideas, but one area more than any other caught the spirit of the times. This was, of course, the Boogie Down Bronx, where hip-hop had been developing more or less in isolation since DJ Kool Herc began to rock the block in the early ‘70s. New York was primed for something big to happen and at the turn of the 1980s Sugar Hill Records found itself at the forefront of a musical revolution. 

Dubbed ‘The Mother Of Hip-Hop’, former ‘Pillow Talk’ hitmaker Sylvia Robinson and her husband/label co-owner, Joe, were pioneers of the emerging hip-hop sound, scoring a worldwide hit with The Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’ in 1979. This was just a taste of things to come, however; the label was later responsible for the trailblazing cut-up ‘The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel’ by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, a record made purely from other records, whilst Flash & The Five’s ‘The Message’ in 1982 would announce hip-hop’s coming of age. This would also spell the end of the relationship between Flash and rapper Melle Mel — the split resulting in two Grandmasters, Mel going on to record another Sugar Hill classic, ‘White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)’, a cautionary tale of cocaine, as Grandmaster & Melle Mel.

1982/83 were the years that the electro sound began to re-define dance music, with Afrika Bambaataa, Arthur Baker and the Grandmasters at the vanguard of this new musical movement. There was a great openness of expression in New York at the time with black musicians drawing influence from white artists like Kraftwerk, Human League and Gary Numan, mirroring developments in downtown New York, where white artists were taking inspiration from black music. The rulebook was being re-written throughout NYC, and this would have a huge impact both in the US and overseas. In a sad twist of fate, Sugar Hill and another innovative label of the time, 99 Records, would both fold as a result of a dispute surrounding the copyright of ‘White Lines’, which had been clearly based around Liquid Liquid’s underground favourite ‘Cavern’, but without any credit.

A legal battle ensued that was eventually won by 99, but Sugar Hill couldn’t pay up and declared itself bankrupt. Under the stress of it all Liquid Liquid gave up a very promising career, no doubt deeply embittered by the whole experience. It wasn’t until 1995 that a cover of ‘White Lines’ by Duran Duran (of all people) finally brought its originators some long-overdue royalties.

Whilst mod originated in London's Soho during the late ‘50s/early ‘60s, by 1967 the club scene in the capital had moved more towards psychedelia. Mod, however, continued to hold sway up north, with the weekly all-nighters at Manchester’s Twisted Wheel — a magnet for the scooter-riding hordes.

The Twisted Wheel had opened in 1963 at its original location in Brazennose Street, with DJ Roger Eagle, a black music evangelist who’d moved to Manchester from his home city of Oxford in 1962. Eagle is regarded as the forefather of Northern soul, even though he’d gone off in a different musical direction before the scene took root at the club’s subsequent Whitworth Street premises towards the end of the decade.

The music played there, predominantly soul releases on labels like Motown, Stax and Atlantic, might be described as the original discotheque music. The scene found a new momentum when at the Twisted Wheel and other soul music strongholds in the North and Midlands, DJs began to dig ever deeper in their quest to unearth rarer records, especially those released by smaller labels from Detroit, where Motown was based. One of the main DJs pioneering the shift towards ever-rarer singles was the wonderfully named ‘Farmer’ Carl Dene. He dug back into his collection whilst resident at The Catacombs, a smaller but important Wolverhampton venue, building a reputation for unearthing previously hidden gems, including 1964s' 'Hey Girl Don't Bother Me' by the Tams, which would subsequently become a UK #1 in 1971. These he’d loan to the DJs at the Wheel where they’d receive greater exposure, kick-starting a vinyl gold-rush, unsurpassed in terms of the sheer insane passion and commitment it would engender.

As funk came to the fore in the early ‘70s, there were a significant amount of people who clung onto that ‘60s soul vibe. This trend had been spotted a couple of years previously by Dave Godin, a champion of black American music since the ‘50s who was largely responsible for the formation of the Tamla Motown label in the UK. It was Godin who coined the term Northern soul in reference to the type of records Northern football fans who stopped off at his London shop, Soul City, might buy on their trips to the capital in the late ‘60s.

After visiting the Twisted Wheel, Godin, also a writer for Blues & Soul magazine, eagerly enthused about the energy of the scene up North, becoming one of its biggest advocates — causing the movement to gain greater profile. It’s thanks to individuals like Godin, Eagle and Dene, who, via their obsessive love of black American music, laid the foundations for the remarkable subculture that was born of this venue.

 

There are certain records that 'split the atom', creating a totally new sound – serendipitous moments in time when an artist pulls a rabbit from the hat and forecasts a change ahead.

This is the sort of musical alchemy mustered up by Radio London reggae presenter Tony Williams when, in 1980, he produced ‘Love Money’, his first attempt at a dance track, inspired by two then recent hits — the Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’ and Dennis Brown’s ‘Money In My Pocket’. The twist was that he did this track with reggae musicians, inadvertently creating a hybrid sound in the process — it was funk, but not as we knew it, its dub sensibility setting it apart. The vocal side, which, to the best of my knowledge is the first example of a rap on a British release, was called ‘Money (No Love)’ and credited to Bo Kool, whilst over on the flip was the instrumental version, ‘Love Money’ by T.W. Funk Masters.

The UK jazz-funk scene was then in full swing, and this became a big underground tune, which went bigger still when the following year another, even more dynamic version of ‘Love Money’ was made available on the Champagne label.

I’d later come to learn that ‘Love Money’ in its various guises would also become a classic underground tune in New York and then in Chicago, and is included in both The Loft and Paradise Garage’s top 100 lists. Fast-forward to 2004 and I’m reading a selection of 12 tracks picked by Master At Work, Louie Vega, in Wax Poetics. ‘Money (No Love)’ is included, but it’s a case of mistaken identity — the magazine under the impression that the Tony Williams behind this record was the American jazz-drummer.

I mentioned this to Wax Poetics’ Andrew Mason, and he rectified the error in an article based around an interview I did with the real T.W. The incredible part of the story is that Williams had absolutely no idea that he’d been responsible for such a momentous record, inspiring New York DJs towards a more dub-based approach to their production and remixes, changing the parameters of dance music in the process. Only last year, during a panel discussion on edit /remix culture at London’s ICA, François Kevorkian confirmed that this was the catalyst record for his dub leanings, his next mix, of D-Train’s ‘You’re The One For Me’, starting the ball rolling in 1981. ‘Love Money’ would later be referenced in 1986 in the Larry Levan-mixed ‘Love Honey, Love Heartache’ by Man Friday.

 

Written by Greg Wilson

Edited by Josh Ray 

'Mr. Mancuso' illustration by Pete Fowler

www.gregwilson.co.uk

 

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