That’s June sorted so!
Photography by Niamh Moriarty
Virgo Four make their Irish live debut tomorrow night at The Grand Social, with support from Lunar Disko’s Andy Doyle, Fatty stalwart Nico Keano and Pablo from Downtownsounds/Fatty Fatty.
Here’s a brief and concise history of these pioneers who almost got left behind…
With the recent resurgence of interest in Chicago house music in the past few years, Virgo Four are amongst the most significant winners. Their self titled debut was re-released by Dutch label Rush Hour in 2010, and has been feted as one of the finest LP’s ever to emerge from a genre far more focused on the 12 inch single.
The band comprised just two members, Eric Lewis and Mervyn Chambers, and they were lucky (or unlucky!) enough to record on the iconic Trax label, which released so many of the genre’s timeless classics. Trax was also notorious for questionable business practices – paying some artists small advances for records that would sell in their tens of thousands, not to mention printing tunes onto used vinyl, resulting in a frustratingly muddy sound quality on many of their releases.
Thanks and praise are due that V4′s first single ‘Do You Know Who You Are?’ did not suffer too harshly from this policy. Built around a circular, swooping synth motif, it stands today as one of the true jewels in house music’s crown – beautiful, melancholic yet hugely uplifting music that sounds like it could have been made yesterday.
The other moments on that first Trax EP aren’t half bad either – take your pick from the driving, acidic ‘In A Vision’, with it’s propulsive Karftwerkian hook at centre stage…
Or the hypnotic, funk fuelled minimalism of ‘Take Me Higher’ and the slowly building piano led surge of ‘Going Thru Life’…
Having recorded that EP as Virgo Four, they then followed it up with another under the moniker ‘M.E’, another 4 tracks of haunting melodies and big 4/4 kicks, like the eerie ‘School Hall’
and the sinister dancefloor call of ‘Ride’
These 8 tracks were issued as an LP by Radical Records in 1989 under the name ‘Virgo’, creating much confusion due to house pioneer Marshall Jefferson’s project of the same name. After that, the duo kept on making sweet music with each other, but found it difficult to get distribution deals for it, with just one EP emerging under the moniker ‘Ace and The Sandman’ in 1992. It lived up to the high standards they had set themselves with this glorious, acid laced deep house gem…
The band then faded into obscurity, and little or nothing was heard from them for nearly two decades. Since Rush Hour’s reissue of the original ‘Virgo’ album three years ago, however, they have been all over the world, playing gigs in the four corners of the globe.
They and their new label put some of those unreleased tracks to fabulous use on the appropriately titled ‘Resurrection’ album in 2011, a compendium of thirty tracks that they had worked on over the years. The lead track ‘It’s A Crime’ was remixed to some effect by Caribou, bringing the band’s glorious sound to even more eager ears.
While some feel ‘Resurrection’ didn’t quite hit the heights of the work on Trax, there was still plenty to recommend it – the blunted tones of ‘Sex’, for instance.
Or the strange, elegiac ‘Moskaw’
The band are apparently working on new material as well as continuing to excavate their stash of tapes for lost and hidden gems. Check them jamming it out for The BoilerRoom, a lovely little taster of what you might expect from them on Saturday at The Grand Social. See you down the front!
John Morales grew up in a Latino neighbourhood in 1970′s New York City, soaking up percussive sounds from across the musical spectrum and learning to DJ with dinky little 45′s before the advent of the 12 inch record. Eventually he began to cut his own specially constructed edits and dancefloor medleys at the city’s famed ‘Sunshine Sounds’ studio and from there he moved into studio work. The first remix officially credited to him was his drum heavy take on Inner Life’s ‘I’m Caught Up In A One Night Love Affair’, featuring the disco dream team of Jocelyn Brown, Patrick Adams and Greg Carmichael.
This was the start of a long association with Adams and Carmichael, for whom he also mixed this joyously spaced out number.
Not to mention this freaky deaky favourite, much loved by the likes of Maurice Fulton, Theo Parrish and Farley ‘Jackmaster’ Funk.
In the 1980′s he began to work with Sergio Mumbai as ‘M+M’, mixing hundreds of records for major label big hitters like Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin and The Eurythmics while sticking close to his disco lovin’ roots.
The association with Mumbai ended in 1989, but Morales continued working on music into the 1990′s, until a major health scare stopped him in his tracks for many years. His good friend (and creator of many proto-house classics himself) Paul Simpson brought him back into the fold a few years back, handing him work on a remastered version of Marvin Gaye’s ‘In Our Lifetime’ LP. The much loved BBE label helped to bring him further back into the fold, and his appearance at The Sugar Club this coming Saturday will serve as a launch party for the third volume of exclusive Morales mixes of much loved disco classics.
Can you tell me first off about your early experiences DJing? Were you doing a lot of it prior to becoming a regular in the studio? Can you describe your style back then?
My DJing started as a youth, my father owned a bar and when they took the jukebox out, asked me to play music. I was maybe twelve and used an old box record player that played 45’s and I continued through my youth in small bars and after hour clubs.
Dimitri from Paris was instrumental in bringing you back into the DJing fold. Tell me a little bit about that.
When Dimitri was releasing his Night Dubbing Compilation on BBE he asked if I would play with him at the release party in New York. I was hesitant at first as I had not played in many, many years and not knowing the new technology… he encouraged me, telling me it was like riding a bike. I thank him for giving me the opportunity to play again. That was the beginning of my new journey which continues today.
So, you are coming to Dublin for the first time. Doing some research on you has brought up the fact that you had only DJ’d a handful of times in the last 30 years.
Yes, I returned to full time DJing again in 2009 and now DJ all over the world. It has been a fantastic journey getting back to my roots and I hope to keep bringing great music to new audiences, including yours.
Since your return you have played some really renowned events. I’ve seen you talk about being honored to play Southport Weekender and you have also played at Horse Meat Disco. What did you think of the party there?
The parties are great. People receive me and my music with joy and expectation, the crowds know their music and respond well when they hear their favorite songs. It’s a great feeling to see all the people really enjoying themselves.
When you were interviewed for Million Dollar Disco, Al Kent said he regretted not being able to talk about certain things with you; in particular Leroy Burgess, Greg Carmichael and Patrick Adams. So I’m gonna ask the questions myself! First off, tell me about the dynamic between Greg and Patrick; how they worked together in the studio, what their particular strengths were, and what you enjoyed about working with them.
Patrick and Greg are the beginning of my musical journey, they were both great. Patrick in my opinion is one of the great producer, writer, arrangers and today continues to be my friend. Greg had a good ear for talent and was able to discover many good musicians and was a good producer. He is not doing music anymore.
Leroy is a man who was responsible for a raft of underground disco classics. I would like to hear some thoughts on him too. In particular, can you tell me about the making of Barely Breaking Even? It’s a masterpiece! It’s interesting that the Universal Robot Band first came out in 1976, but Barely Breaking Even was made in 1982. Why the long gap?
Leroy is one of the most talented people I ever worked with, his writing skills, his impeccable keyboard work, an unsung hero of the dance music community. The early days I worked with Leroy, Greg and Patrick were magical, represented by the music we created. As for the delay in Barely Breaking Even, I guess it was about timing.
I’ve seen you talk about the fact that in contrast to today’s mechanized, locked groove dance music, many of the songs you love vary their tempo through the course of a song. Barely Breaking Even is a great example of this, it’s a right bastard to mix with! Can you elaborate on what you think has been lost in today’s dance music due to the widespread lack of proper, instrument based musicianship?
A subject I’ve spoken about, you cannot re-create the feel of a group of live talented musicians that I was fortunate to witness, locked in an improvised groove that varies so slightly in it’s movement and the magic it creates. A few 2 bar loops put together cannot replicate that, no way. The vibe, the feeling is lost in today’s music. While there are some good things being done today, they just don’t carry the soul of what we were doing back in the day.
Al Kent also mentions Began Cekic as someone you might have done some work with. He did some really great dancefloor tracks, but they were basically pre-sampling reworks of disco classics. Other figures from the NYC underground like Tee Scott have spoken about him as a bit of a dodgy character in terms of business practices, and he now works in construction in New York, a famously non-dodgy business! Can you tell me about your relationship with him?
Began was a bit shady in my opinion, we worked with him on a few things but didn’t have much contact with him out of the studio.
I’ve seen some of your earliest remixes went uncredited, even when released on major labels. I suppose there was less of a focus on the DJ and remixer then. Can you name some of the records you worked on for which you weren’t mentioned on the sleeve?
There were quite a few uncredited mixes and the omission was for various reasons You are right in the fact that in the early days, credits were not always on point or thought of. I have come to terms with those tracks and best leave them be.
Can you tell us a little bit about your current style of DJing. What can we expect when we have you over to play in Dublin? Are you aware that you’re playing on St Patrick’s Day? Are you ready to play to a very drunk and happy dancefloor?!
My current DJ sets are comprised of Disco Boogie Classics mixed with a blend of Soulful House tunes. I play tunes people know they can enjoy and dance to. They can be all the drunk they want, just keep em out of the booth… lol. I’m looking forward to seeing you guys.
John Morales plays the Sugar Club this Sunday, March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day. Admission is €10. See the previous post below for more details.
Appropriately named YouTube video of one of John’s medley mixes:
John tearing it up at a Miami Winter Music Conference street party last year… All together now: Paaaartaaayy!
Really looking forward to Paddy’s Day this year as we have John Morales, a bona fide living legend of the New York disco scene joining us to rock the blazes out of the Sugar Club. This is also a special night for John as it is the eve of the release of volume three of his acclaimed M&M Mixes compilation for BBE.
“The original process of ‘re-mixing records’ was intended to provide an alternative listening experience which had been optimized for people who went out to dance at Discos. John was one of the early pioneers who loved music, understood his craft and HAD RESPECT FOR THE CREATIVE WORK from which his mixes were derived” – Patrick Adams
Fatty Fatty Phonographics has just reissued Daniel Wang and Brennan Green’s jaw dropping remix of Block 16’s ‘Electrokution’, which after a messy gestation via London’s Nuphonic Records, blew our tiny little minds apart when it came out on his Balihu imprint in 2003. It’s also been a favourite of DJ Harvey, I-F and The Unabombers, not to mention nu-school whippersnappers Bicep and Leftside Wobble. We caught up with the man himself to talk about how the record came about,how learning the theremin changed how he thought about music,and lots of other stuff in his past, present and future.
According to the sleeve notes of his suggestively titled EP ‘The Probe, The Strobe’, Daniel Wang began making music ‘out of frustration and love’. The love came from hearing the amazing disco, electro and house classics that fired underground Chicago and New York dancefloors. The frustration came from hearing too many identikit house records that lazily sampled these classics without bringing enough of the love along with them.
Wang set about righting these wrongs 12 inches of loud cut black vinyl at a time, crafting a deeply disco infused left of centre house sound with hypnotic layers of loops and lifts from those self same classics he had fallen in love with while living in Chicago. In a world of anonymous bedroom producers the text heavy and oh so opinionated record sleeves on his self run Balihu imprint were a cheekily refreshing break from the norm.
Wang soon moved to New York to continue his musical education, holding down a day job at the musical instrument shop Dr.Sound while getting to hear the likes of Tony Humphries, Tee Scott, Francois K and Masters At Work by night.
These New York legends had all picked up on his unique sound, as had up and comers Darshan Jesrani and Morgan Geist of Metro Area.Those two were busy constructing their own unique melting pot of sound, sharing a love of Garage/Loft classics, deep boogie and the raw sounds of early Detroit techno and Chicago and New Jersey house. Wang shared notes with them and ended up releasing a full LP named ‘Idealism’ on their Environ label in 2001, as well as a smattering of 12 inches.
At the time, few of the prominent house DJ’s in New York picked up on Metro Area, and Wang was disgusted by what he increasingly felt was a closed minded, closed shop. Their records were a cult success in Europe however, and when collected together on their self titled debut album, ‘Atmospherique’ and in particular ‘Miura’ broke through on European dancefloors in a way Wang never had. Suddenly a lot more people were listening in to see what was coming next from these disco dazed New York based producers.
By this stage, Wang had been moving away from the sample orgies of his early records and was attempting to use as much of his own musical improvisation as possible. He had been overdubbing self played keyboard parts onto his records since the ‘AfroAsiaTechnubian’ EP in 1995, and now he wanted to step things to the next level by composing his own material from scratch. He had become enamoured with the strange sounds of the theremin while working at Dr. Sound, playing it during DJ sets and liberally spraying it all over on his 2001 Environ EP ‘Nocturnes’.
For those who don’t know, the theremin is “an electronic musical instrument which allows the musician to control two properties of sound: volume (loop antenna) and pitch (rod antenna) and is played without being touched by the musician. It senses the electrical capacitance of the human body in mid air”. Thanks, guy on YouTube. And yes, you read that right – you play it by not touching it! Have a look at the original theremin virtuoso Clara Rockmore here to get an idea of this fantastical instrument from outer space - just watch the intense physical and mental concentration as expressed through her undulating eyebrows…
“The background to this is that I never had the chance to learn to read and play music in the traditional sense” says Wang. “My mom was a bit hippie liberal but also ignorant; she saw no value in learning music in its own right. As a child I often heard her say (with no irony at all) ‘Black people go to church just to sing and dance, what has that got to do with Christ or spirituality?!
My father loved opera and played trumpet, but he suppressed these hobbies to have a stable job as an engineer. Plus, we moved around a lot and didn’t have much money, so I never got any lessons. When I discovered the theremin in 1998 or so, it was like a late chance in adulthood to recover something. Our sales rep told us that I had probably sold more theremins than any other store salesperson in the USA, and thus, in the world. I was such a nut that I’d explain the physics, and then give our customers a personal lesson, asking them to move their hands and match the notes to a piano tone, and when people realised that it was not this nonsensical unapproachable thing they had imagined, they would shell out the 300 or 400 dollars to buy one…
It sort of became my ‘gimmick’, you could say, but I really did take an intense interest in it and could play it reasonably well sometimes, and I realised that playing this rare instrument live in public would put me one little notch above DJ’s who only played records, and that it would emphasize the emotional and melodic aspect of what I do, compared to most DJ’s who seem to only care about keeping a steady beat”
A colleague at Dr. Sound named Pamelia Kurstin helped to develop this nascent interest in the theremin. According to Wang, she is now ‘generally accepted as the greatest theremin player there has been, so far’ and you can see why during a Ted Talk as she expands on the theme of the concentration involved in playing the theremin….. Wait till you see what she starts doing around 2.45…. But do not attempt to listen on shitty Steve Jobs sponsored computer speakers. You won’t be able to hear it as the frequencies are too low. And while we’re on the subject here, try not to listen to any music on shitty Steve Jobs sponsored computer speakers. You’re taking so many of the frequencies out of it you might as well not be listening at all. Plug it in, plug it in!!
Pamelia was already proficient on about twenty instruments before taking on the theremin, and was able to bring a musician insight to Wang’s attempts to pull himself out of his sample based mode of creation.
“I was always concerned with the specific contours of basslines and melodies, but watching Pam play, I started really having revelations about what ties all music together. Pam taught me to think purely in numbers, which is how any good composer or jazz musician must approach all harmonies and counterpoints: basic 4th and 5ths, using 3rd, 6th, 7th, or 9th tones, for her this was instinctive but for me, it helped me break out of a lot of restrictions I had. I mean, the essence of European music is modulation and counterpoint.
If you consider ALL traditional musics, whether Indian, Chinese, African, Arabic, they’re all stuck in one monotone, until Bach came along and created cyclical modulations away from the root note (roughly speaking). If you think of a DJ set this way as opposed to just keeping the beat, then the whole DJ set becomes like one big continuous symphonic movement, which dovetails with the way some people discussed disco music during the era of “The Saint”…
DISCO NOTE: ‘The Saint’ was a New York nightspot where the residents were famed for their ‘sleaze’ spots – in the early morning they would gently ease the madouva dancers down from the frenzy of the peak-time 125 bpm disco by playing slower, prettier, funkier and more melodious music, spliced with unexpected blasts of classical and big-band jazz, not to mention other musical curve-balls such as playing familiar records at drastically different speeds.
The term ‘sleaze’ refers more to the fact that it was a time when people looked to pick up a partner rather than being an essential character of the music itself. When taken as a whole, the sets do indeed take on a quasi-symphonic character, such as this wonderful set from Jim Burgess at the club’s closing party in 1988.
Around the turn of the century Wang had found himself spending more and more time in Europe, forging strong associations with, amongst many others, London’s Nuphonic label. Nuphonic was home to the likes of Idjut Boys, DJ Harvey, Ashley Beedle and Faze Action, and had recently released ‘Electrokution’ by Block 16, a collaborative effort between Raj Gupta (aka Ray Mang) Idjuts/Harvey collaborator Pete Z and Glen Gunner.
Their 2001 ‘Morning Sun’ LP was on the cusp of release, ready to be declared ‘Album Of The Year’ by The Unabombers, and the lead single lived up to it’s name, a jittering, skittery modern electro track with heavy disco drums and shape-shifting string arrangements. Unfortunately, all was not well on the Nuphonic horizon, with major financial problems leaving the label on the brink. Danny takes up the tale…
“I truly can’t remember exactly who approached me first about the remix, but I had become good friends with Raj Gupta and Pete Z after spending time in London. I played a quite terrible theremin live set with Pete saving my ass by providing backup on piano, and Raj’s wife also happened to be close friends with other DJ friends in NYC as well. I also met James Hillard in the Nuphonic office, he was still a skinny little boy, not yet the gay bear icon of Horse Meat Disco which he has become. They had released maybe 50 white label promo copies of our remix just before it was announced they’d gone broke, so the joke is that we bankrupted them (laughs)”.
Having been delivered all the individual tracks by the band, Wang “recorded it all on my tiny Korg D16 workstation, I mean this little blue box with a 4-inch wide LCD screen and 12 faders” and set to work with Brennan Green on an audacious, outlandish 13 and a half minute remix that doubled the original’s length. The duo added all sorts to it, including a bouncy drum machine breakdown, the unique, yearning sounds of the theremin, some squalling 70’s disco-rock guitar, an utterly ludicrous 21st Century jackin’ disco section, and topped the whole thing off with a dub reggae coda where the eerily beautiful sounds of the melodica take centre stage.
Let’s start at the end, with that very unexpected 3 minutes of trippy dub. It’s hard not to think of Augustus Pablo, dub reggae’s king of the melodica, during this bit…
“We are referencing Augustus Pablo explicitly and with great admiration because I was enamoured with one particular track of his at the time, maybe it was ‘The River Niger’…… I had the whole album, most of it sounded uninspired and sort of sunny-lazy to me, but this one track had a spark of inspiration in it”
Danny’s in China so he can’t open the links we are sending him (fascists hate dub music don’tcha know) but it appears he is talking about ‘East Of The River Nile’, or as he calls it: ‘This one… with three distinct notes on melodica which anchor it, going middle (long noooote), up then down. Then the bass grooves subtly underneath it’
“The gag is that we repeated bits of the solo from a big “Garage Classic” called “Double Journey” by Powerline on Prelude Records. And we removed the kick drums on every other beat to get that “dub reggae” rhythm sound. I really do love the sounds we used in this part, very melancholic and unearthly at the same time”
You manage to pull all these different musical sections on the records together with the help of spacey dub like effects – echoes, reverb, drastic eq-ing etc – is there a direct influence there too, or does this come more from the use of such effects on old disco remixes?
“Dub reggae. To be honest, the influence is very indirect, coming from the use of delay and reverb I heard on Prelude and West End records, whose engineers like Francois Kevorkian were obviously influenced by King Tubby, Studio One, etc.
“So it’s a particular technique and feeling, but dub music on the whole, that interests me very little, because it’s often a muffled rhythm over an indistinct and forgettable harmonic development, perfect for people under a hot sun lost in a cloud of ganja, it’s kind of numb and passive really, but it’s beauty is not in harmony, but rather in its distortion of time and space.I own a few compilations of classic dub, and I rarely have the urge to listen to them again and again.
At the same time I recognize that on the opposite end, you have Europop (or worse, Jap or Korean pop) which is too regular, too bright and cheerful and over-composed, lacking bass power, lacking randomness, spontaneity. So ideally between these two extremes you have disco music which exploits the best of these African sub-genres and of European chordal sophistication”
(The solo they grabbed sections of occurs between about 1.10 and 1.40)
“The truth is, Brennan told me recently that he always kind of loved AND hated this remix” he continues “In a way, the whole thing was a very vain and self-conscious way to show people what we could do with modest instruments, 12 tracks and a bit of cleverness. I’m still always amazed at these minimal-techno or IDM-electronic-whatever producers who own all this cool vintage gear, they have 128+ tracks on Protools or Ableton, all they can make are stupid loops removing a kick drum now and then and they actually take themselves seriously!
By this point I already felt very strongly that it’s better to approach any remix or original production as a chance to be creative rather than to borrow or steal… For me the remix only really takes off in the second half with the ‘cosmic disco’ section as you call it. The first half, which references the original and then goes “Symphonic” (with the theremin) and “Electro” (with the drum machine breakdown) always felt like it’s going through the motions a bit. Luckily the strings serve as a kind of introduction, leading to the more percussive and funky parts in the latter half of the remix. But the “rock” and “dub” sections in the second half have much sharper and more expressive sounds and solos from both Brennan and myself”
Mr Green turned down a chance to talk to us about the record, saying that you could do enough talking for both of you. He wasn’t wrong! Tell me a little bit about what he brought to the table for this remix.
“Percussion and bass are really among Brennan’s strong points.I remember clearly that I just couldn’t get the keyboard bassline on the “rock” section correct, it has a sort of portamento note which makes it “roll” at the end of every 2 bars or so, Brennan got on the keyboard and got it within 3 or 4 takes. A lot of the percussion was from him too, in fact Brennan just went to Brazil last month and spent a small fortune on hand percussion instruments, he has been playing pandeiro (a slithery sounding Brazilian version of the tambourine) masterfully for a few years now.
On the other hand, I think the “distorted rock guitar solo” was mostly me, or half Brennan half myself maybe. I was always into that sound, whether from rock bands like Journey or disco-rock productions like those of Moroder. We didn’t use a real guitar though, it was faked, using synths through an analog distortion pedal.The 808 was also a Korg digital beat box, not a real 808. I still hear the difference, but our variation was acceptable for me, after all the remix was about this funny concept of clashing and blending styles and not about showing off what we owned in the studio”
From a DJ’s perspective, it’s always been the first half of the record that works better on the dancefloor, with the hypnotic strings and theremin sounds and the sharp, staccato riff holding the dancer’s interest before the big ‘cosmic disco’ surprise. It is only the braver DJ who doesn’t mix out once the ‘rock’ and ‘dub’ sections start sinking their sonic teeth in about 8 minutes into it… But even then people will go with it because in all likelihood it’s something they haven’t heard before, and it’s certainly not a straight down the line dancefloor record from that point… People like to be surprised sometimes!
“I know that it sounds awesome on the dance floor because I heard several DJ’s in New York play it at the time, and people really went crazy for it without knowing what it was – that’s always the biggest encouragement for any DJ, isn’t it?”
That’s what makes us so surprised to hear that you have a love/hate relationship with the record – it always works for the dancers and you always get people leaning over the decks and asking ‘What the hell is that?!’
“With Brennan it’s maybe 40% Love 60% Hate I would say, but with me it’s 85% Love 15% Hate because actually I AM proud of it, but the hesitation is more and more from realizing what we could have done better – like put in a real chorus or bridge with chord changes… Brennan and I were more rebellious back then too. I suppose I wouldn’t do a remix like this again in 2013, I’d try to be more subtle nowadays (laughs).
All of this sounds like musicianly navel gazing to us, especially when you consider that two of underground dance music’s ‘crazy cults’ ( Wang’s words) in the form of disco king Harvey and Dutch Italo-disco/electro don I-F were caning the record at the time. In fact, both get a shout on the original Balihu 12 inch for ‘hearing it’. There are few better arbiters of taste around…
“They played and promoted this remix of ours right away, and I think both even sent me emails encouraging us and telling us how much they liked it. Although there are some crazy cults round these two guys in particular, I also feel that there is justice in the DJ world after all, that these really funky, lovable, amazing characters have lasted for these past 15 or 20 years…… and it’s because they keep their ears open and have never succumbed to the boredom and pressures of commercialism”.
The wider world might not have been able to open their ears to Danny and Brennan’s take on ‘Electrokution’ at all if it hadn’t been for some stubborn persistence on Wang’s part. He tells us that it was simply ‘My pride which wanted this thing released on vinyl, that’s all. The three members of Block 16 merely had to approve the vinyl release, so there was no legal problem at all…’
And thank fuck for that persistence because a true 21st Century masterpiece might have been lost altogether! In it’s cheeky boldness it was possible for us to hear a braver new future for dance music, one not so constrained by the oh so straight 4/4 beat that still dominates most dancefloors overground and underground. It sat as well with modern house records as it did with classic leftfield disco nuggets like Loose Joints’ ‘Tell You Today’ or Giorgio Moroder’s ‘Evolution’.
Nowadays Danny himself is less likely to throw out hyperbolic opinions on the dance music scene than he was at the height of the minimal techno madness, when he famously used the word ‘fascism’ when describing a night at some German tech-hole or other, chatting instead about the simple science in the fact that people want a good, solid beat underpinning the music they hear on a dancefloor. He’s keener to talk of the little niche he has carved for himself in a world with a much greater appreciation for the influence of disco on the dance music scene we know and love today, even if it is a ‘monster with 40 heads…dominated by ‘Dull loop-based techno without melody or harmony’. Oops, there he goes again!
“At the end of the day I’m simply grateful for the fact that our little brand of eclectic, odd, queer disco music has secured a little corner of the world. Not just myself, I mean Horse Meat Disco, Harvey, I-F, Todd Terje (I love “Inspector Norse” and I admire his person and his natural musicality so much), Rub N Tug, Brennan Green, all the usual suspects. Also, after travelling the world a lot, I became much more realistic. I’ve met people who can still hardly carry a tune after years of musical training, I’ve met girls and boys in remote places (Eastern Europe, Russia, Japan, Middle East) who never went to Paradise Garage but who can sing and dance as if they were born there.
You can’t ask people to appreciate more music than their ears, minds, and feet are actually capable of perceiving. Why some people hear things and some people don’t is one of those accidents of nature which I’ve learned not to pass judgment on. Like me, I have good ears, but I could never ride a skateboard for 10 feet even if my life depended on it!!”
A year or so after the record came out, Danny made his Dublin debut for Downtownsounds, and it really did appear the man was on a roll. In the run up to the night we were positively salivating over a biog on the Environ site that promised ‘With the spirit of Karen Carpenter and Clara Rockmore guiding me, here come classical-reggae and nu acid-disco for 2004!’
The ‘nu-acid disco’ part was already being fulfilled by the likes of the wondrous, arpeggio-drenched ‘Echo By Midnight’
But unfortunately the avalanche of deep disco joy we were expecting turned into a trickle, with the amount of releases from him since covering the fingers on one hand. What happened Danny, what happened?!
“It’s really simple, for the past 9 years or so I have setting up an entirely new life for myself! I didn’t really plan it this way, when I moved to Berlin in 2003 it was just an instinctive reaction to the conditions in the USA: restrictive and commercialised nightlife,George Bush as president, cost of living, and I never really liked most of the gay people I met in New York. Berlin of course offered a new start for me and tens of thousands of émigrés in the past decade. But when I arrived, I still had financial debts and my legal status was uncertain. So I just took any DJ jobs I could get, which left little time for producing.
Also, about 4 years ago, I was able to move into a very cheap 1960s communist-style Plattenbau (flat-apartment), but I’ve had to renovate the whole place by hand, which has been totally fun, but my studio equipment has been sitting in cardboard boxes.So that’s why I’ve been silent, but it’s a good thing, because I’ve really had time to listen to lots of classical, jazz and pop and think about how I could reach up to a level better than what I had done before”
Danny’s DJ sets have always been a riot of musical colour and fun fun fun – at that first DTS gig he stood beside the support DJ banging a cowbell and smiling and waving to the crowd, that old Mancuso maxim about the DJ having one foot in the booth and one in the crowd writ large. And our old friend Mr. Theremin made an appearance too as well, leading to smiles and many quizzical looks on the floor.
Add all that to the fact that he can talk the hind legs off a donkey and it’s unsurprising he got lots of repeat bookings all over the world.This has helped his old productions reach more and more ears, culminating in a mammoth retrospective on Rush Hour at the tail end of 2009. He is taking his time about the next musical steps, because a big big leap is required first -
“The transition (from sample based music) was pretty much complete in 2001, on the two Environ releases “Silver Trophies” and “Nocturnes”. “Berlin Sunrise” only contains a rhythm sample on the B-side dub mix, “Echo By Midnight” has no samples at all.It just took some practice to realise that recording your own handclaps or congas is just as easy as sampling them, even easier maybe. And I always played all the strings and horns on the keyboard by myself anyhow.
With all the “nu-disco” bands like Crystal Ark or Escort now recording everything live, part of it is just that the technology became affordable for everyone. When I started Balihu in 1993, there were no digital multitracks below 20,000 dollars or so. So all I could use was a 2MB Akai sampler”
When we get to talking about ‘Tell You Today’ and ‘Evolution’, Wang ends things on a hugely hopeful note –
“Those are the great exemplars of disco fantasy for all of us. When I get a few more things right in terms of cyclical chordal progressions and production values, then I can really release a few things on that level, which will happen in the next few years…..I am very optimistic”.
‘Downtownsounds Classics Vol 1’ is in all good disco loving record shops right now, flipped with a Pablo and Shoey Rejig of Sweet Cream’s disco screamer ‘I Don’t know What I’d Do If You Ever Left Me’. Grab yourself a copy here
Have a look at it’s lovely full colour sleeve, front and back:
Note from Fatty Fatty/DTS Towers – Danny is dead wrong about ‘King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown’ by Augustus Pablo, a classic LP which introduced us to the power of dub way way back. It’s got plenty of beautiful chord changes and gloriously wistful melodies as well as those unexpected dub-wise twists and turns, and sounds far from numb and passive to us. But then again we do love our reggae and dub, so much so that we took our name after this classic reggae ode to the more rotund woman…
Here somebody smart has put together Jacob Miller’s original with the one that Pablo ‘dubbed’ for the title track of this LP – you’ll struggle to get a better demonstration of what it is that dub is attempting to do…
In fact, you can decide for yourself on the LP, ‘cos here it is on YouTube…
While working at Dr.Sound, Wang was lucky enough to meet a legend from another time in the form of Dr Robert Moog, inventor of the synthesised keyboard that bore his name, as well as a variation of the theremin which he sold so successfully at Dr. Sound. The Moog is perhaps most famous for providing the instrumentation for Walter Carlos’ soundtrack to Stankey Kubrick’s ultra violent classic ‘A Clockwork Orange’
“Of course, spending several days intensely with Dr.Moog at the trade fairs seems like a fantastic myth now. But he was extremely approachable, friendly and practical, like the cool grandfather we all wish we had. He even personally sent me emails inviting me down to the Moog offices in Ashville to visit. He was full of modesty and good cheer every time he visited our store in New York, always thanking us for our efforts to sell his products, although I can say that I did my part too!”
Danny gets Zen on the theremin…
“Another thing with the theremin is you cant cheat because you can only play what you hear in your head. It is very unlike a piano, which can mechanically reproduce correct or accidental tones from touching any key. With a theremin, 99% of what you play is false unless you clearly know in your head the notes which you intend. But if you use this approach on guitar or violin, it makes music much more instinctive, because it’s not mechanical finger movement, it’s the mind itself which directs you to find the tones.
This also resembles what Zen Buddhists preach: that the mind shapes the vision of one’s world. It must be said that Pamelia is half-Oriental, and that we found a sort of family-like sympathy as friends, especially now that she lives in Vienna and I in Berlin. That’s the whole story. And I’m still playing theremin, I just haven’t had much chance to release any new music,but the theremin will surely appear again soon on my records”
DISCO NOTE 2: Though the sleeve proudly announces ‘No samples’ were used in the making of ‘Nocturnes’,we’re sure Mr. Wang won’t be too put out if we mention that he half inched the bassline for ‘Black Boots and Sine Waves’ from this mid 80’s dancefloor wrecker, even thanking Eric Duncan from Rub’N’Tug ‘for the bass’ on the sleevenotes. And what a bassline it is! It was on a brilliant BBE compilation called ‘NightDubbin’ a few years back, compiled by Dimitri from Paris and mixed by dem Idjut Boys…
We are extremely excited to announce that the first volume in Fatty Fatty Phonographics’ ‘Downtownsounds Classics’ series is out now, featuring a bit of a lost classic in the form of Daniel Wang and Brennan Green’s mix of Block 16’s ‘Electrokution’. The flip features a Pablo and Shoey Rejig of Sweet Cream’s brassy uptown disco screamer ‘I Don’t Know What I’d Do (If You Ever Left Me).
The whole package comes wrapped in a deliciously colourful sleeve with artwork that will be an instant blast of nostalgia for those who followed us from The Belvedere up to Crawdaddy, Kennedy’s and Ri-Ra.
Fatty Fatty Phonographics Top Dog and DTS resident Pablo has stuck a mix together that showcases the signature Downtown sound: pure Detroit/Chicago house music, punky funky leftfield disco, soulful singalongs, and a few curveballs so nobody starts nodding off on the dancefloor cos it all sounds so fucking samey. Below is an in depth guide to the tracklisting…We’ll also have an in depth interview with Mr Wang here for you early next week…
Black Science Orchestra – Where Were You? (Original Dope Demo)
‘Where Were You?’ was the brainchild of Ashley Beedle and a revolving cast of characters including Marc Woolford and Rob Mello. Their first two singles for Junior Boy’s Own exploded all over the New York house scene in 1993/94. Frankie Knuckles cites this record as one of the touchstones of that vibrant New York scene, but often fails to mention that it’s this promo version, stripped of the 4/4 beats and turned into something far funkier, that he used to work the crowd with.
It’s not available on that YouTube thing, but this one is close enough and it features lots of celebrities absolutely madouva at Studio 54 – check Diana Ross sitting on top of the DJ Booth about 3.45 in.
StreetChoir – Workin’
Fantastic raw percussive house music conjured from an unlikely source, Van Morrison’s ‘I’ve Been Working’ from his 1973 album ‘Van Morrison His Band And The Street Choir’. From the days when you went into record shops to get your new tunes, this white label was one that everyone wanted to get their greedy little mits on. It was dropped to quite devastating effect by The Loft’s DJ Cosmo back at Ri-Ra in 2006.
Moodymann – The Third Track
What is there left to say about Moodymann at this stage? A monumental modern music maker and still the bar that we judge every house production by. Here he slashes up tiny snatches of Bionic Boogie’s rinky dinky disco classic ‘Risky Changes’ in a way that only a big funky black man from Detroit could. Listen close!
Adonis – Reck The Joint
From London white label mystery via Detroit all the way to Chicago, where house music was born and Adonis was one of it’s kings. Known primarily for this awesome piece of house history:
The appropriately titled ‘Reck The Joint’ was one of the many acidic visions he was privy to in the late 80’s.
House Break 1
A sweet drums only dub version of an early 80’s electro track. Be the first to leave the title of it in the comments below and you’ll bag yourself a free copy of ‘Downtownsounds Classics Volume 1’.
Out Come The Freaks – Was (Not Was)
Was (Not Was) were a punky, funky New Wave band from Detroit who created messy disco influenced slabs of dancefloor goodness on the ZE label, also home to Kid Creole and The Coconuts and a freaky deaky cast of thousands. LCD Soundsystem may have been giving them a bit of listening time while making their debut album…..
’Out Comes The Freaks’ was their signature tune, one they revisited over the course of 3 different versions in the 80’s. They were certainly a band alive to the possibilities of the 12 inch single, employing the inspirational Detroit DJ Ken Collier to make this stripped down version in 1984.
This is one of only a handful of remixes from the mythical man of records that inspired the likes of Derrick May and Juan Atkins with his shit-hot mixing style – meet the man himself, Mr Ken Collier.
Rick James – Ghetto Life
”Hey Charlie Murphy, what did the five fingers say to the face?!” Once again, what more can a man say about Rick James? Now immortalised as a cocaine loving yahoo with a serious attitude problem:
This is perhaps his finest moment, with a razor sharp funk riff riding on Rick’s tales of growing up in the ghetto. Check the man out in his strutting pomp here…..SLAP!!
Gino Soccio – Remember
We have Darshan Jesrani of Metro Area to thank for this one, with it’s devastating bassline, singalonga chorus and oh so deep and dark synth lines. His epic set from 52Funk @ The Belvedere in February 2004 can be heard in it’s entirety here
Block 16 – Electrokution ( Daniel Wang and Brennan Green’s Evolusive Mix)
And what indeed can we say about this slab of dancefloor destroying musical madness from DTS favourite Daniel Wang and cult disco warrior Brennan Green? Taking the skittery modern electro stylings of the original and adding a bouncy drum machine breakdown, the unique, yearning sounds of the theremin, some squalling 70’s disco-rock guitar, an utterly ludicrous 21st Century jackin’ disco section, and topping the whole thing off with a dub reggae coda where the eerily beautiful sounds of the melodica take centre stage, this absolutely blew our minds apart when it first came out back in 2003, and we couldn’t wait to have it pressed up again on a lovely black slab of vinyl…..
Sandy’s Gang – Hungry (Sean P Edit)
Produced by the Phil Spector of disco, Patrick Adams, this stompin’ 1976 disco soul cut became one of the great after hours DTS anthems. Instant dancefloor reaction!
Listen to side A of DTS Classics Vol 1 in here (in all it’s thirteen and a half minute glory)
Check back soon for a full interview with Daniel Wang on the making of this record and lots of other stuff in his inspiring past, present and future.
‘Downtownsounds Classics Vol 1’ is out now. Bag yourselves a copy here