20.8.17

Trojan Compilations of the Eighties

Before the torrent of Reggae reissues in the nineties and noughties courtesy of Blood and Fire, Pressure Sounds and Soul Jazz the main people reissuing roots were Heartbeat, Greensleeves and, naturally, Trojan.

Thinking back to my teenage years these compilations and their pop-art simplicity (frequently courtesy of the Intro Design studio where I would work on and off years later) definitely "imprinted" on me. 


This, from 1981, was given to me by the advertising director Steve Lowe. He is the magically funny guy who made the legendary Maxwell commercial featuring Desmond Dekker's "Israelites". This was definitely put together with 2-Tone fans in mind.


And this great LP, almost a mixtape, I was hipped to it by the great Reggae Discography by Ed Ward in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock'n'Roll (a book I stole off my friend Francis). Definitely worth hunting that article down, indeed the whole book is excellent...


I picked this up in the original FOPP in Glasgow. The Tighten Up Series came out in the seventies but here the first three were stuck in one box. I remember caning this and Big Youth's "Dreadlocks Dread" at a very early student party in the city. One of those moments when it became clear I might actually have some fun in the city. Nice Luke Sutherland bouncing around.


Compiled by Chris Lane - a fascinating guy who went knocking at the Black Ark studio years before anyone else and ended up living there for a period with Scratch.



Two more single artist compilations. This Big Youth one especially fantastic with lots of rare cuts.



Two very nice DJ compilations.




The three Upsetter box sets. Before the Lee Perry reissues got under way these were like manna from heaven.






And these last five from "The Producers Series". The Joe Gibbs and Clancy Eccles I knew at the time from friends. The Niney and Keith Hudson I would look at covetously in record stores. The Lee Perry one I've always had - a great comp.

13.8.17

Now That's What I Call Avant-Electronics



Gotta admit, barring the Minimalism of Steve Reich and Philip Glass which generally relies upon played instruments, I like my Avant-Garde music to be electronic. Failing that as experiments with magnetic tape. All yer Morton Feldman, Nancarrow, Ligeti, Nono, Pierre Boulez, and Cage is OK, but this is the stuff that excites me.

I set myself the task of putting together only ten of my favourite Avant-Electronic tunes. As crass an endeavor as was ever undertaken; but something like a primer for someone who may have never heard this stuff before. Naturally there's cool stuff that I left out: Karlheinz Stockhausen, Tod Dockstader, Richard Maxfield, Ilhan Mimarglu, Roland Kayn and Jacques Lejeune - but as far a greatest hits from my own perspective this works.

In no particular order.


Terry Riley: Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band

A North African reverie.



Michael Czajkowski: People The Sky

Everything Morton Subnotnik nearly delivered. Very nice piece by The Seth Man here.



Michel Redolfi: Immersion

Shades of head music. As fun as concrète ever got.



Laurie Spiegel: Patchwork

Electro-Reich.



Harrison Birtwistle: Chronometer

Chiefly a vehicle for EMS's Peter Zinovieff.



Basil Kirchin: Emergence

Stone tablet of UK Avant-garde. Liner notes by Eno.



Bernard Parmegiani: Dedan Dehors

Hands down my fave by Ol' Hornblower.



Francois Bayle: Erosphere

His most seductive.



Iannis Xenakis: La Légende d'Eer

Overpowering. The ultimate.



Folke Rabe: Was??

Beautiful.


12.8.17

Musica Caipira


Great piece by correspondent Andy Cumming on the underground strands of Brazil's Country music "Musica Caipira". With an accompanying playlist at Spotify.

8.8.17

Strut

As you have probably noticed recently I have been writing more about compilations and the act of compiling. With the playlist we are at a juncture in terms of the way people consume music. Just as in the early noughties it was obvious the writing was on the wall for record stores, does the bell now toll for the compilation?

The default record connoisseur's view of the compilation is that they are a degraded cultural object. The connoisseur is supposed to disdain the compilation and the compiler's art. She is the compiler herself; she does not need self-appointed experts sifting through, organising and regurgitating her culture for her. The collector is innately a snob. He wants the raw elements himself: the twelve inches, the seven inch picture discs, the albums with only one good track on them, not some mediated assemblage.

I take a different view. As much as it is in my instinct to track down the holy grails themselves, and indeed cobble together my own mediations, I also have a profound appreciation for other compilers. People with different visions of how the world pieces together; people with different priorities; people with deeper localised knowledge. Perhaps, above all, people with the sheer guts and determination to wrap up those packages and, at financial risk, make those original pieces of music available in durable, tactile formats. Because, at the end of the day, a playlist is only going to survive as long as someone's account subscription.

When it comes to the title of greatest reissue label there are a few impressive organisations: Rykodisc, Luaka Bop, Sounds of the Universe, Blood and Fire, Numero Group, Honest Jon's, and Soundway all of which have put out blindingly good releases. There are also the redoubtable reissue operations organised through Universal (which have swallowed the catalogs of Island, Vertigo, Decca, Liberty and EMI) and have produced stellar compilations. But if there's a reissue label which on account of its peerless good taste and reliability has set itself head and shoulders above any other it has to be Strut.

I contacted Strut supremo Quinton Scott and over a few of the label's signature releases got the answers to some questions I'd been wanting to ask for years.

[Please note: All the following records and CDs are from my own collection, were paid for with my own hard-earned cash and not were not provided by the label.]


Disco Not Disco

This, from 2000, when the label really leapt to my attention. Certainly there were things in here I already knew but plenty that I didn't. I'd never heard Yoko Ono's "Walking On Thin Ice", Don Cherry's "I Walk", Nicky Siano's "Move" and (shamefully) the Steve Miller Band's "Macho City" - all indispensable, and when mixed with the grab bag of Left-footed disco from the ZE, 99 records and Sleeping Bag labels, and splendid liner-notes it formed an utterly seductive whole. After the slightly confused Andy Weatherall "Nine O'clock Drop" compilation, at last here was a Post-Punk, Avant-Disco collection that delivered. In Spades.

This was one of the very first Post-Punk Retro exercises. Were you surprised by the ecstatic reception to the release?

I think I knew that this was a really strong release as soon as Dave Lee mentioned the concept and sent over a cassette containing the first selection of tracks – there was a lot of interest in original leftfield New York disco in the early 2000s and those influential original clubs from the ‘70s. Dave and Sean P came up with such a strong title and 100% great tracks that summed up that whole dancefloor post-punk ethic perfectly.


Disco Not Disco 2

The follow-up was even better. Having eliminated the most obvious axis Sean P (who I remember working with when I was employed at the Music and Video Exchange) and Joey Negro dug deeper into the crates and came back with a completely wild and essential selection. Here the more obscure stuff, to me certainly, was The Coach House Rhythm Section's "Time Warp" (Eddy Grant's timeless slice of electro), Barry Waite's proto-post-punk frug "Sting" from 1974 (sounding exactly like A Certain Ratio...), Connie Case's wicked "hall-of-mirrors" Electro-Disco "Get Down" and, proving my ignorance of the field at the time, Laid Back's key "White Horse". Again it plays from start to finish with panache.

Where did Sean and Joey dig up these rarer tracks?

It was definitely important to come up with an equally strong selection for that volume and Dave and Sean did balance up a wider selection of styles really nicely on it - it felt like a natural progression from the first album. As to where they found the tracks, both had been serious collectors well before these albums and the whole New York disco era was part of their musical DNA, so it was really second nature to them. I think we only went back and forth a handful of times before we agreed on the final tracklist.


Disco Not Disco 3

With the last volume, the emphasis shifted more towards Post-punk's bleak "death disco". In fact it reminds me very much of the Launderette compilation I made for close pals in 2001. It would be impossible to hear many of these tracks without absurd expense. It still puzzles me why the entire 99 records output hasn't been corralled into compilation.

Was there a sense of picking off tunes to round off the series? Any that you'd like to have sandwiched in?

This wasn’t designed as a closing volume as such – again, it was more a next step and Bill Brewster contributed some great tracks for it. It definitely filled in some of the obvious gaps with tracks from Factory Records and more from ZE Records and there were quite a few UK tracks in there but it’s such a fertile area that you could keep going infinitely. I remember that we wanted a Yellow Magic Orchestra [track] in the final selection but had problems with the licensing at the time.


Larry Levan Live at The Paradise Garage

Without a shade of a doubt Strut's double CD "Larry Levan Live at The Paradise Garage" is the pre-eminent Levan compilation. Universal's "Genius of Time", compiled by Bill Brewster, and Rhino's "Journey into Paradise" are excellent surveys - but they lack that "je ne sais quoi?", that vibe. Cut straight from the mixing desk, and featuring Larry's famously slack DJ-skills, this is nonetheless positively billowing with that mystical Paradise Garage atmosphere. Refreshingly there's no attempt to organise or retrospectively tweak Larry's tastes (never as Rock or Post-punk influenced as is widely claimed...)

How did you come across this particular session?

This was through Danny Krivit, I think, who introduced us to Mel Cheren at West End Records in New York. He had a reel to reel tape of a Larry Levan set at the Garage, the sound quality was really good and, as you say, Levan’s mixing was reassuringly erratic! There had been bootlegs of his sets around but nothing official and, in 2001, there was huge interest in finding out more about the background to mythical NY clubs like the Garage, so the timing was very good and this went on to become our best seller on the label. It was a great project to work on – Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton created amazing notes for it and we talked to many people involved with the club from DJs like David DePino and Joey Llanos to dancers who were regulars. It was nice to be able to properly document such an important chapter in dance music’s past and we did try and go beyond just putting out a straight compilation.


Funk Nassau: The Compass Point Story 1980-1986

The Compass Point studios, set up in the Bahamas and staffed by the crack Compass Point All-stars band was Chris Blackwell's evil, Blofield-esque, masterplan. The recordings, frequently produced by Steven Stanley, have an unmistakable, but difficult to pin down quality. Somehow at once loose and exquisitely polished there is always a fascinating, exotic quality to their tuning and a specific flair to their natural reverb that elevates even the most cursory tracks to status. As well as classic and well-known tracks this also includes lesser-known beauties like Cristina's amazing "You rented a Space" and Guy Cuevas' "Obsession".

Having long been a frantic fan of Wally Badarou and the Compass Point sound I was surprised it had taken me so long to only recently discover the release which came out in 2008. On closer inspection it appears that the utterly essential collection of tropicalised Disco, Post-Punk, Funk and New Wave only came out on CD. I'm guessing this was tooled up in that window just before it became clear that vinyl wasn't going to die.

Was there a reason this only came out on CD? Can you outline Strut's policy with regards to CDs? A number of people complain online that the vinyl releases have less tracks.

I really can’t remember why we didn’t put this out on vinyl at the time. You may be right that the vinyl resurgence hadn’t quite kicked in at that point. Whatever the reason, it was a bad decision! It is just a reason of economics that vinyl editions tend to have less tracks than our CD formats. We would often need 4 pieces of vinyl to fit on all of the tracks and the whole thing would become cost prohibitive unless a box set was particularly warranted. So, we do unfortunately end up having to cherry pick tracks for our 2LP releases.


Bob Blank: The Blank Generation. Blank Tapes NYC 1975-1987

A very nice homage to one of the under-acknowledged heroes of  new music. Bob Blank ran an ultra-cheap recording studio in downtown New York which, thanks to Bob's generosity of spirit and splendid open-mindedness, managed to draw into its orbit the luminaries of underground music. With typically excellent liner-notes by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton the organising principle is one of the most explosive imaginable drawing at it does from Latin, Disco, Free Jazz, No Wave and New Wave. There was must have been something in the Manhattan water supply.

Is there a particular reason for the label's fascination with the music of New York from this particular era?

I think there was a huge interest in club circles all the way through the 2000s about this era of New York music. It was such a fertile time in so many ways. Bob Blank had always been someone who had been name-checked as a producer for particular tracks but his full story needed to be told – he was a brilliant technician operating from his own independent studio and, from Arthur Russell to Fonda Rae to Sun Ra, he was responsible for many hugely important records that still stand the test of time. He’s now a big player in the world of US ballroom dancing.


Change The Beat: The Celluloid Records Story 1979-1987

Celluloid was the child of internationalist Jean Karakos, heavyweight dude responsible for the peerless BYG/Actuel French Free-Jazz releases of the seventies, and young buck Bill Laswell. Split equally between ground-breaking French Post-Punk, New Africa, the earliest Hip-Hop swords of death, and timely reissues Celluloid always felt more like bazaar than an actual record label. Paradoxically, given Karakos' fixation with New York, the best things here are probably Parisian gems by Mathmatique Modernes and Nini Raviolette. Featuring great liner-notes here by that Marianne Faithful of Post-Punk Vivien Goldman.

Do you ever feel the sense that as a label you've covered some areas of music in sufficient depth? Perhaps you find yourself fighting away pitches for minor or insignificant labels, scenes and artists?

Yes, that’s a good point. I think that, with compilations, you are always only going to manage to skim an area of music so you can really only try and offer a good snapshot of an artist or a scene with one album. Celluloid is probably the best case of all for that – it is just so massive and sprawling as a label that we could really only give a flavour of the many different styles Karakos released on it. We have had to turn down pitches for smaller projects, yes. I would love to be able to release them all but the business side does always have to come into it, weighing up which albums will attract a wide enough interest beyond a small niche audience.



FAC. DANCE and FAC. DANCE 02

Together these two surveys of Post-Punk Disco on Factory Records stand as a mighty archive of Bernard Sumner and A Certain Ratio Donald Johnson's collective Disco productions. OK, so echoing my comments about Bill Brewster's SOURCES compilations, in practical terms some concision might not have gone astray here. The absolutely essential tracks here are perhaps few: Section 25's monstrous "Looking From A Hilltop", Marcel King's delightful "Reach For Love", 52nd Street's "Cool as Ice", Durutti Column's sparkling "Madeleine" and from the second set ACR's "The Fox", ESG's "Moody" (of course, innit), Biting Tongues luminous "Meat Market Separatist" (shout out to my old pal Ken Hollings), Durutti Column's "Self-Portrait" and Fadela's "N'Sel Fik" (I'd never heard that "We Are IE" sample in its original context before!)

Sumner's and others' productions here can be a bit wooden. Put it this way, when Martin Hannett hits the desk you certainly feel the sparkle. But frankly as a record collector geek I'm quite happy with this "clearing house" aesthetic. Give it all to me! Don't skimp - that's how I feel. Let me come to my own conclusions thank you very much.

A technical question. When you license stuff are you always supplied with digital remasters by labels who you license from or do you have to occasionally remaster from tapes or sometimes vinyl? What's your attitude to "needledrops" - that's to say ripping from vinyl records?

I wish we had digital transfers each time but it’s unfortunately much more rare than you might think. The ‘Fac. Dance’ albums were fine on that front, mainly because of the great digitising work James Nice at LTM had already done but, on some projects, no master tapes exist at all and you are left having to restore from vinyl as the only source available. Thankfully, there are a handful of amazing specialists out there who are masters of the art of manual vinyl restoration and the results they get from less than mint copies are staggering. They are the hidden heroes for a lot of reissue labels.


Trevor Jackson presents Metal Dance: Industrial, Post-Punk, EBM Classics & Rarities 80-88

This was a classic example of the Strut label stretching boundaries. After the Post-Punk revival other potential avenues for investigation seemed to open up including Brazilian Post-Punk and NDW but it was the Industrial Dance axis which Trevor Jackson explores here, and which was also covered by Veronica Vasicka's "The Minimal Wave Tapes" and the excellent Cold Waves + Minimal Electronics compilation which gathered the cultural momentum and delighted Hipsters.

Jackson's compilation on the one hand steered closer to a notional mainstream with tracks by Cabaret Voltaire, DAF, 400 Blows, Fini Tribe, Yello and 23 Skidoo - but balanced this on the other with delicious lesser-known tunes like Buzzcock Pete Shelley's "Witness The Change" and Hard Corps' "Je Suis Passée".

You've worked with some notable record geeks from very different musical zones: Trevor Jackson, Duncan Brooker, Bill Brewster, Richard Sen, Sean P and Joey Negro. How do these people beat their way to your door? Or do you seek them out?

It varies from project to project. Trevor approached us with the idea for ‘Metal Dance’ and it was a natural fit for the label. With some compilers, I work with them going back and forth to hone the right tracklist. With Trevor, that album was almost fully formed from the start – he has such a strong vision as a curator. All of the names you mention go way beyond just being collectors and DJs – they have such a feel for music. Duncan Brooker is the one guy I have worked with regularly since the first ‘Nigeria 70’ release in 2000 - he has a true collector’s nose for sniffing out incredible vinyl and is by far and away the most instinctively gifted person I work with on curating all areas of world music, jazz and funk.


Nigeria 70: The Definitive Story on 1970s Funky Lagos

Along with Soundway's "Afro baby The Evolution of the Afro-Sound in Nigeria 1970-79" - this set was the foundation of the subsequent deluge of African reissues. And not just the foundation stones either - the two releases were arguably never bettered. It's not always the case, but when done adroitly sometimes the first statements in a spree of reissues can completely nail it. No other subsequent African compilations, perhaps barring Honest Jon's excellent "Lagos Chop Up" and "Lagos All Routes" equaled the consistency of Quinton himself's work here.

With this one you HAVE to get the CD because the record misses many of the best tracks included. I also have the label's nice Lagos Jump and Sweet Times compilations but they don't quite reach the heights of this masterpiece.

This was a massive project to co-ordinate wasn't it? A labor of love?

Yes, it really was. It was a team effort between me, Duncan Brooker, Nigerian music producer Kayode Samuel and a radio producer called Sue Bowerman at the time. Laolu Akins from the band Blo helped hugely in setting things up in Lagos. Duncan had opened the doors to a whole world of great African rare grooves with his ‘Afro Rock’ album and we set [out] to create an album that would properly showcase that amazing Nigerian scene of the ‘70s and tell the story beyond Fela and Tony Allen through the music and an audio documentary. It came together during a 3-week trip there – looking back, I’m happy we did it because many of the interviewees we talked to have since passed away and their stories really needed to be preserved.


Darkest Light: The Best of The LaFayette Afro Rock Band

Combing through my collection I saw that I also had a bunch of single artist compilations which I loved and which also came courtesy of Strut. Checking the dates, this came out in 1999 [Catalog number StrutLP03] predating even the Disco Not Disco compilations. Historically speaking it feels like a final statement of the Funk reissue scene spearheaded by Soul Jazz. The very impulse of releasing this excellent record by the French funk crew speaks of a willingness to look beyond what were the standard sources of the time.

Did the label feel like you were going to bring a different refreshing perspective to whole reissue business when you started?

I think I primarily wanted to explore areas that hadn’t previously been tackled before in compilations and, with the interest in the New York scene and the lack of African compilations up to that point especially, it felt like there was a lot of work that we could do. Soul Jazz was already a seminal label for compilations by that point, a really important label. I did set up Strut to be progressive in its ideas but I also purposely wanted the label brand to take more of a back seat and for each album to stand up as an important release on its own merit. That hasn’t always worked in our favour (a lot of people who buy our area of music still don’t know the label) but I don’t regret that decision overall.


Walter Gibbons: Jungle Music. Mixed With Love. Essential and Unreleased Remixes 1976-1986

An absolutely essential collection of Walter Gibbons' remixes. Liner-notes culled from one of Tim Lawrence's papers.

Any favorite projects from over the years?

Nigeria 70 will always be a landmark project for me, Sun Ra’s ‘Singles’ was also a massive undertaking with Art Yard and Sun Ra LLC and was hugely rewarding. A personal favourite, though, is the ‘Calypsoul 70’ compilation of Caribbean soul, funk and reggae styles. One of Duncan Brooker’s best pieces of work, I think, ahead of its time and a really varied listen from start to finish. You can listen to it as much as a deep connoisseur as you can with it grooving away in the background at a Summer BBQ.


Sun Ra Singles: The Definitive 45s Collection 1952-1991

A sumptuous banquet of previously unheard records. Collectors like myself rack's are stuffed to bursting with Sun Ra LPs. But singles? Not one. Perfectly illustrating the role and value of releasing compilations. No one has ever heard these historically significant recordings!

How did Strut get involved in this release? I notice the presence of Ra archivist label Art Yard.

Yes, Peter Dennett at Art Yard had quietly been releasing important Sun Ra reissues for many years on his label and we began working with him 3-4 years ago on a series of Ra compilation projects to try and give people some introductions to his music. Irwin Chusid at Sun Ra LLC had also pulled together the master rights for much of the Sun Ra catalogue for the first time so the timing was good when we started out on these projects. He, Peter, Sun Ra Archive’s Michael Anderson and a handful of dedicated collectors were all involved in painstakingly piecing together the jigsaw of Ra’s singles. It was an incredible team effort.


Richard Sen Presents "This Is Ain't Chicago" The Underground Sound of UK House and Acid 1987-1991

Well, you know, that's a proper title isn't it! Sounds like one of the preposterously long-winded monikers I give my own mixes. Lots of gems here like the crazed and criminally unknown US "Born In The North" alongside better-known tracks like M.D.Emm (Mark Ryder)'s "1666".

Me and my pal Sacha chatted to Richard about this disc when he was working the counter at the now defunct Music and Video Exchange in Soho. Richard, who was DJ-ing back in the day, joked very self-deprecatingly that these were just tunes he found in the basement of that same shop. Tsk.

I've stuck this last because it seems to point to the next great area for compilers - the great boom of electronic dance music between 1989 and 1995. It seems like that people have only just started scratching the surface of this. Terry Farley's two compilations "Acid Rain" and "Acid Thunder" spring to mind, but really there have been scant attempts beyond that. You'd half imagine that someone would have tried to put together a big compendium of 'Nuum tracks. Or even a proper Detroit Techno compilation. OK, so there are a few label-only things out there (including Strut's Dance Mania compilations) but I wonder what the obstacle to more catholic and colorful dance compilations can be? Licensing hassles? Uncleared samples? Has the market not caught up - or will it never?

Yes, another good question. I think the difficulty with these kinds of back catalogue club genres is in finding areas with wide enough appeal and focus to work as a compilation. With Dance Mania, there was a palpable interest in their whole sound for a while through DJs like Nina Kraviz; not much of it had been reissued before and it felt an obvious one to do. Richard’s collection had a unique focus to it through pulling together early UK house and rave and brought a new angle to a well-worn story. With Detroit techno, obviously something like a UR or Transmat compilation would naturally work but a more general compilation of techno would always be much more tricky to market, I think, however you brand it. Selling compilations is just a lot harder now and doesn’t afford labels the same freedom as, say, ten years ago. It may need a label to take a decision to create a series that they develop over time but it would need a really strong identity and a lot of marketing to make it work, I think.

-

Strut seems very much alive and kicking but, in the era of Spotify playlists and Mixcloud do you question where things are going?

The reality is that we regularly look at everything we do in detail to adapt to the new digital terrain. Even though Spotify is now well developed, we are still finding that the interest in LPs (and surprisingly CDs) is still healthy – I think that will continue for now for labels that are putting out high quality new music and rare older music that hasn’t been widely reissued before… but don’t ask me how it will be in 5-10 years’ time!

Head to the Strut store to find these and many other excellent releases.

[Many thanks to Quinton for taking the time to answer my questions.]

5.8.17

Lost In Vinyl Cambridge

Black Barn Records Cambridge

All you other Woebots are just imitating



A few months ago some nice people from Stanford University approached me with an offer to buy this URL. They had developed a web-bot to help students suffering from depression called, you guessed it, Woebot. I was reluctant to sell up and move on, and we couldn't agree terms; but their team found Woebot.io which in any case is the hip URL ending to have these days. So everybody is happy. Or appropriately miserable.

I set up a google alert for "woebot" about a million years ago which is generally dormant (lol) but a few weeks ago it sprang to life with alerts for the Stanford team from impressive places like WIRED, Slate and Forbes magazine. This latest Woebot is the talk of the town. 

I know the team are aware of the limitations of the app. It's not a proper substitute for one-on-one therapy but that often isn't affordable or readily available. It still seems capable of providing some relief to people suffering mental health problems. The head of the team Dr. Alison Darcy was "blown away" by the results of trials into their own app. Here's a video of it in action.

The Woebot app offers "No couches, no meds, no childhood stuff. Just strategies to improve your mood" which classifies it as using techniques derived from CBT. The other day me and my pal Luke were discussing Cognitive psychology (CBT) vs Psychodynamic psychology (Freudian). CBT is effective, but if you really want to dredge the metaphorical supermarket trolleys from the canal of the mind you have to go the Psychodynamic route.

Psychology in itself is certainly something which I find increasingly interesting. You can make a good case for the explosion of the counterculture going hand in hand with the work of Freud, Jung and Reich - as an irruption of self-expression from the psyche.