Friday, 26 September 2008

Italian House Obsession

Back in at the very start of the 1990s I had a problem. An addiction even. It wasn't anything cool or rock chic like hard liquor, smack or even glue, but… Italian house records!

I used go get paid weekly, in cash, on a Thursday evening and every Saturday I’d make the pilgrimage into Soho to what was the Mecca of piano driven continental house stormers, Trax Records on Greek Street.

Trax is still there but it’s become a bit of a niche gay music shop, specialising in the hard house. It always sold music for the gay scene but for a few years around 1990-92, when musical taste of straight, gay and mixed clubs was much less polarised than it is now, it was the place for everyone to buy their European house records in London.

This was a time before the advent of the internet and armchair record shopping, so if you wanted those hot tracks that you’d hear Rampling play at Pure Sexy on a Wednesday, you had to be there, at the shop, on a Saturday, before the handful of copies that were in the country sold out. And if you went on holiday for a fortnight, that was it, you may never the records that came out while you were away again!

This was also a time before listening posts in record shops, so it would be 4 or 5 deep at the counter of Trax, and you would be vying for spot near the front of the ruck of pony-tailed geezers, checking the weekly whiteboard chart and trying to catch the eye of Craig or Oscar, as they spun new tune after new tune to the assembled throng, hoping you'd secure the records you desired so and not be left with the gut wrenching disappointment of the spotty ted next to getting the last copy!

Fortunately, my dedication to the cause meant that after a while I got a knowing nod when I walked in and asked if I wanted copy before they all went. Well I think it was my dedication. It might have been the amount of dough I was blowing, because I often I left the shop without enough money to go out that night and on more than one occasion, without enough money to buy proper food the following week - so a diet of baked beans on toast and piano solos beckoned…

So what happened to all these precious, had to have 'em, couldn’t live without 'em, records? Well a couple of years ago I had a big clear out of records when I moved house, pruning back about a thousand unwanted platters that didn't matter - including a lot of the old Italian house. It was wrench to chuck records I had gone hungry for but some of it was so terribly dated, they just had to go. Not dated in a good way either, dated in a ‘what was I thinking’ way. There's only so many pigeon English raps a man can take!

Not all of it though. Some of it is still bloody good and will always be bloody good. And it isn’t all pianos either, those Italians could turn their hands to a variety of styles and really ruled the London house scene for those two years.

So this is it, my top 50 Italian house records from the very early '90s that I'm well pleased I hung onto.

The sound of Soho, at time when long haired geezers in leather trousers roamed the streets, clubs Flying, Pure and Yellow Book were the places to be be, and Danny Rampling was our king.
(in no particular order)

1. Olympia 'You Want My Love' (Discomagic)
2. Nexy Lanton 'You Too' (Discomagic)
3. Mechanix Enterprise 'Let's Get Down' (Mighty Quinn)
4. Data Bass 'Piano in the Night' (w['dvblju(:)])
5. Josette Martail 'Woi Mama' (D&W)
6. J.T. Project 'Bulgaria' (BHF)
7. Precinct 13 'Listen to your Heartbeat' (LBDN)
8. Pako 'Pakito Lindo' (Italian Boy) >>youtube link<<
9. The Redmen 'You're My Way' (w['dvblju(:)])
10. Velvet 'Hold Me' (DFC) >>youtube link<<
11. Johnny Parker 'Love it Forever' (C.B.R.) >>youtube link<<
12. Soft House Company 'A Little Piano' (Irma) >>youtube link<<
13. Be Noir 'Give Me Your Love' (Irma) >>youtube link<<
14. Dilemma 'In Spirit' (Energy) >>youtube link<<
15. La Banderita 'Mediterranea' (In-Lite)
16. Raimunda Navarro 'Jungle Fever' (Discomagic)
17. M.C.J. feat. Sima 'Sexitivity' (Energy)
18. Adonte 'Feel It - Remixes' (Flying)
19. FPI Project ‘Feel It’ (Paradise Project)
20. CRo2 'Work!!' (Flying)
21. Seechi 'Keep on Jammin'' (Energy)
22. Ominverse 'Never Get Enough' (Antima) >>youtube link<<
23. Smallage 'Together' (Irma) >>youtube link<<
24. Alex Lee 'Take It' (Mighty Quinn)
25. Arkanoid 'Limit' (Hi Tec Music) >>youtube link<<
26. Baffa 'Piano On' (Energy) >>youtube link<<
27. Seechi 'I Say Yeah/Flute On' (Energy) >>youtube link<<
28. Claps 'My Love' (Inside) >>youtube link<<
29. Kwanzaa Posse 'Wicked Funk' (Flying)
30. Chico Seechi Project 'Whip of Rhythm' (Creative)
31. Nightlife City Rama 'Running So Hard' (Mighty Quinn)
32. Gong 'Masterblaster' (D&W)
33. Rap Delight 'Back Again' (Italian Style)
34. SBAM 'Take Me Away Now' (Rare) >>youtube link<<
35. J.T. Company 'Don't Deal with Us' (JT Comp) >>youtube link<<
36. Aqua Regia 'NYC Smile On Me' (DFC) >>youtube link<<
37. Funk Machine feat. Loose Bruce 'N.O.I.D.' (Flying)
38. Fidelfati 'Groovin' (New Music)
39. DJ Power 'Everybody Pump' (Pan Pot) >>youtube link<<
40. Valli Melody 'Party Time' (Hot)
41. A.S.H.A. ‘J.J. Tribute’ (Beat Club) >>youtube link<<
42. Roy the Boy ‘French Paradise’ (Endless Wave)
43. Afrika Bambaataa ‘Just Get Up & Dance (DFC) >>youtube link<<
44. F.Zappalà & D.J. Professor ‘We Gotta Do It’ (Media) >>youtube link<<
45. 4 For Money ‘B.D.J. (Disco Magic)
46. Atomosphere ‘Atm-oz-fear’ (Beat Club) >>youtube link<<
47. Frank K ‘Everybody Let Somebody Love’ (Unknown)
48. D-Rail ‘Bring it On Down’ (DDD) >>youtube link<<
49. Ava Cherry ‘Fever’ (Bull and Butcher)
50. Sueno Latino ‘La Puerta Del Sol’ (DFC)

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Mitchbal Records (inc. a minimix)

In the long history of house there are few labels whose records as hard or expensive to obtain as those put out by the small but hugely influential Mitchbal Records.

An obscure independent label hailing from 300 W. North Aveneue, Chicago, it originally acted as a vehicle for soul 7”s produced by Nemiah Mitchell Jr (Mitch) and David Baldwin (Bal) in the early 80s. However, unbeknown to Nemiah, there was a severe dose of right time, right place waiting just around the corner.

Nemaih had a son, a son called Vince Lawrence, who along with his good friend and aspiring DJ Jesse Saunders, was fully immersed in the underground disco scene in Chicago at that time, dancing the night away to Frankie Knuckles at the Warehouse or Powerplant, and Ron Hardy’s Music Box where the style of music being played was getting coined, by local record shops, ‘house’ after the Warehouse.

At the time this was a style rather than a genre, taking in all sorts of sounds - tracky edits, druggy disco, Italo imports, new wave oddities and classics from New York and Philadelphia. But this was all about change with the release of a handful of records.

Legend has it that the first proper 'house' record ever released on vinyl was Jesse’s 1984 remake of Mach’s disco medley/mash up ‘On and On’, a record co-penned by Vince and possibly even funded by his Dad, Nemiah. But around the same time Vince and his father did release their first Mitchbal house effort, ‘Fast Cars’ under the name Z-Factor.

The actual date of release is a bit of a mystery. The label says 1983, which would make it the first ever house record, but as ‘On and On’ is universally acclaimed as setting this milestone in 1984, there might have been a little bit of foul play to try a steal that accolade when the labels went to print! We’ll probably never know but the record itself is a bit of an odd one. The A-side has a truly awful spoken word, vocal about having sex in Ferraris and is best avoided, but the SFX Mix on flip comes on like Chicago style blueprint for Visnadi’s ‘Racing Tracks’ . In recent years it’s been championed on CBS (I-F’s internet radio station) and the, somewhat inevitably, bootlegged as part of the Automan series.

This release was promptly followed up by ‘Fantasy’, which was produced in partnership with Jesse Saunders, and had a real Italo feel to it, appropriated the bass line Vince and Jesse used for ‘On and On’ (if it ain’t broke!). However, it too was marred by another dreadful vocal, so head straight to the instrumental mix.

Before 1984 was out, Nemiah, Vince and Jesse had also released ‘The DJ’ and the so rare it’s almost mythical, Z-Factor ‘Dance Party LP’, which featured all of the tracks mentioned above 3 more.

The following year ‘The DJ’ was remixed into ‘I’m the DJ’ and in the shape of the ‘Jazzy mix', which again ditched the dodgy vocal, a more mature sound, more readily recognisable as house as we know it today emerged.

Save for a couple of lame efforts by McGhee (who?) and Mr Lee, no more house really appeared on Mitchbal after 1985, although the label’s offshoot, ‘Chicago Connection’, went on to release the all-time house classic ‘Shake Your Body’ by Jeanette Thomas and Frankie Knuckles’ corking cover of Omni’s disco bomb ‘It’s Out of Our Hands’, under the name Unfinished Business, before that too signalled its departure from the scene with another rubbish Mr Lee release.

Vince went on to team up with Adonis and form Trax’s house supergroup Virgo, Jesse went on to tell everyone who would listen he invented house music, and Nemiah still produces his music (God knows what it sounds like though).

If you want to hear these Mitchbal records to today, you have a small number of choices. You can pick up the repressed Dance Party LP (available via discogs), you can weigh out between £50-£100 a shot for the 12”s, or take the easy option, and listen to this mini-mix I’ve done of the 12”s of Fantasy, Fast Cars, and I’m the DJ.

Just hit 'play' below - and don’t say I don’t look after you!

Friday, 19 September 2008

Summer(ish) Chart

These records have been big round mine this summer. They're not all new by any stretch of the imagination (if you want that sort of thing, just go into Phonica and ask) but they all feel relevant in one way or another right now. I've dug out a soundclip or even the whole track on youtube of pretty much all of them, so you can tell if I'm talking shit or not!

1 - Proper Vs Boogie 'Magnificent Speech Funk – Laurent Garniner edit' (Rush Hour)
Proper sums this up well. The track is built around a vocal sample, originally released last year on one of the Amsterdam Family series EPs, it's had now had an edit by Garnier that really tightens it up and turns it a jackin' monster. Initially released as part of Rush Hour's LTD series (only 150 copies pressed) it's due a full release soon with additional mixes. It's gonna be MASSIVE! Check a sound clip >>here<<

2 - Chicago Music Syndrome 'Work It' (Dance-Sing)
I managed to pick up a deadstock of this for a fiver. Amazing, basic, raw house music from 1985 that still sounds rough as. Fairly obscure too, so it ain't played out. Check the whole track >>here<<

3 - S.L.Y. 'I Need a Freak' (Elite)
I've had this on a tape a of last night of Pure Sexy for about 15 years and never known what it was, then a few weeks ago I was playing a pile of interesting old Chicago records and found it AT LAST! Produced by Frankie "Hollywood" Rodriguez and Julian "Jumpin" Perez out of Chicago in 1988, it appropriates large chunks of 'Love Hangover' but just houses it up big time. It is the wrong mix (the Black Freak mix is the one) but there's a version >>here<<

4 -Tribe 'Livin' in a New Day – c2 remix' (Community Project/Planet-E)
Carl Craig is basically a fucking god. And this is the best mix he's done this year, moving away from the big room sound to produce something that would make you knees go weak if you heard it in your kitchen. This was actually a pretty pony jazz track before Mr Craig reworked it too. Awesome. >>clip<<

5 - Project Democracy 'Is This Dream for Real? – Pyschedub' (Underdog)
Mental, dark, scary shit from mind of Marcus Mixx circa '87, that's right, 21 YEARS AGO! Music from another world. Full track >>here<<

6 - Omni 'Out of Our Hands' (Fountain)
Fantatsic little independent disco hit on the tiny Chicago based Fountain Records label in 1981. Actually massive on the esarly house scene, so massive that Frankie Knuckles covered it as Unfinished Business. Well, I say covered, it sounds like EXACTLY the same record, note for note, with a big machine kick drum stuck under it, the cheeky git! Anyway, the Omni rules. Clip >>here<< and the full length Knuckles cover/rip-off version >>over here<<

7 - Sten 'Way to the Stars' (Dial)
I first got turned onto Sten by his 2004 LP 'Leaving the Frantic'. Listening back to that now, it's sounds very much of its time and would sit well alongside Mobilee and Poker Flat records of the same era. His latest offering demonstrates his sound has matured and now has more of a flavour of Detroit than Berlin. Lovely stuff. Clip >>here<<

8 - Circle City Band 'Magic' (Circle City)
Killer, killer but hard to find disco (dare, I say boogie). Not that much else ay to say about this other than check that bassline – OOOOF!!! Full track >>here<<

9 - Unknown Artist - Try To Find Me Vol.1 (Golf Channel)
Following up on the success of R+B Drunkie and Ghost Note, both mainly from the hand of Mark E, underground New York label release this EP of edits. Well I think they're edits. They definitely sample (Chic Flashback for a start) if they don't edit but they're bad boy disco cuts that really hit the spot. Only 100 copies around at the mo and no idea who the artist is, but sure more copies will hit the street soon. A-side clip >>here<< and B-side clip >>here<<
10 - Alma Faye 'It's Over' (Casablanca)
I actually bought this record for the other side then played this side and realised it was a trillion times better. Proper original disco sleaze, that MUST have been big on the balcony of The Saint (if you know what I mean). Makes you want to oil up and throw yourself to the boys… full song >>here<<

11 - JC Freaks 'The Rock – Oracy Mix' (Wandering)
This is a bit of a weird one on new Mojuba off-shoot, Wandering. Weird because if you listen to the soundclip it really doesn't sound all that. Same goes for flicking through it in a record shop. But listen to the whole track though (like you're meant to) and the groove slowly burrows deep into your brain and before you know it, you're hooked, you don't want it to stop and realise Oracy have worked their magic on another brilliant, subtle piece of house music. >>Clip<<

12 - Trinidadian Deep 'What Is It – Ron Trent mix' (Future Vision)
Ron Trent has been a busy, busy boy in the last couple of months – re-releasing Altered States, putting out some of his Cinematic Travels on vinyl, 'unearthing' a few old Prescription gems in a warehouse (hmmmm), and putting out about 50 (okay, 4) records on his revitalised Future Vision label. All of these records are decent (definitely check the collaboration with Robert Owens and the dub of 'Look Beyond') but his mix of 'What It Is' on the Caribbean Logic EP is the pick of the bunch, replacing all the noodle with bounce. >>Clip<<

Monday, 15 September 2008

Those Obscure Objects of Desire (pt.1) – Mojuba Box Set

This is the first in a occasional series of rambles about stuff that will definitely improve my quality of life (well maybe) and in all likelihood, probably can't afford. Kicking things off, I am currently lusting after something I definitely can't afford, the super limited edition Mojuba Records Box Set
Mojuba are one of the new wave of German house labels operating out of Berlin, eschewing the more minimal sound associated with that part of the world, for a fuller deep house sound. Deep house, you say? That's kind of boring… Well not in this case, it's an updated and thoroughly modern take on the sound, with the undoubted jewel in the label's crown being the utterly fantastic Oracy, whose 'Hold Me' is one of the best house tracks of 2008.

To add to the mystique and appeal to the train spotter in every record collector, each release is first available on very limited coloured vinyl, before becoming more widely available on normal vinyl but with each of the paper sleeves of these initial runs adorned with a small hand cut fabric patch. Later runs just have a sleeve stamp.

This sort of thing shouldn't make me excited but it does!

Then to make matters worse, they've only gone and released a lush, super limited box set, bringing the first 9 releases together with a special limited edition disc that is otherwise only available from the label itself. The box set is pressed up on clear vinyl with all the original label stamps, and gorgeous packaging.

And it's not just a pretty box, the music is outstanding. I've got many of the records included, but not all of them and if I'm honest, the pretty box sealed the deal. Unfortunately, they only made 111 copies, they were only available through Mojuba direct sale… and I didn't get one.

Hey-ho. Here's a few short clips to give you idea of what I'm on about - click on the track you want to play:

Sunday, 14 September 2008

The Sound Factory, New York, 1992

When I flew out to New York for the first in November 1992, I had one DJ and one club in my thoughts and they were Tony Humphries and Zanzibar. London was in the thrall the Hump, having recently witnessed the Rampling’s ‘Voluptuous’ party where the great and the good of London clubland packed into a warehouse to hear (and see, as there was a lot of DJ watching that night) one of the true house heavy weights showcase his talents. My friend Steve, who had moved out there year before, had even whetted my appetite with some tapes of his weekly Kiss mix show.

However, upon my arrival Steve seriously dampened my London centric enthusiasm by telling me that ”No one in New York is really into Humphries right now”. He went on to explain that the real buzz was centred around some bloke called Junior Vasquez, who I vaguely remembered reading about in Disc Jockey magazine a year or two before, and his club, the Sound Factory.

The first Saturday of the trip arrived I remained unconvinced, but Steve allayed my concerns with the promise that if I didn’t like the Factory we’d head out to New Jersey the following week, so I agreed to give it a go.

We met up with more friends, including a gay stylist called Roberto, a guy who worked for Area 10 Records and their mate, Chez Damier, then got involved in some serious fag lad action round Roberto’s apartment that saw me leave for the night’s proceedings with my Balearic barnet in a French plat and wearing full on eye make-up… so I spent my first night at the Factory looking like a (rough) bird!

The Factory didn’t get going until the early hours, so we got in the mood by visiting the Roxy to hear Frankie Knuckles spin. It really did feel like a ghost of a club. The décor seemed faded and old, and a few forlorn looking roller skaters on the mostly empty dancefloor, around which people sat uninterested drinking in booths and Frankie played loads of his own records whilst dry humping some young skinny lad in the booth! This alone was mildly entertaining, we didn’t hang around and we were soon heading uptown to 27th street and the Sound Factory.

I don’t remember much about the queue, there was a door picker, but the people we were with ensured we breezed in (maybe the eye liner helped too). The club itself was much as I would have imagined the Paradise Garage to look like - a fairly cavernous warehouse type space with old round steel pillars, with the DJ booth was built up high in the wall at one end. There were 4 large speaker stacks which seemed to be built into the floor in the 4 corners of the dance floor and the lighting system was built around a vast Secret Sundaze shaming disco ball suspended above the middle of the floor. There was drinking fountain on the way in, an alcohol free juice bar over on one side of the room and the entrance to a chill out room on the other. The whole place was spotless too and they even had cleaners walking around throughout the night sweeping any fag ends that made it onto the floor!

The crowd was fairly mixed ethnically but mainly black hispanic and almost exclusively gay, though there wasn’t a cruisey vibe, they vwere definitely there to dance and you could almost feel the energy on the dance floor. A lot of people were rocking the banji boy, vest and baggy jeans look, but there were muscle marys, club kids and the most fabulous gorgeous drag queens that had you thinking ”maybe”, too! On each of the speaker stacks there was a naked, oiled, muscle bound go-go dancer, whose only props were small hand towels used to hide their dignity from the crowd. However, they weren’t gay, as one of the oily bastards tried to cop of with my missus during his break!

Junior played all night from midnight to midday, so he really had the opportunity to build and shape the music throughout the night. By 3am it was really just starting to get going, with it really going off around 6 or 7am. The music wasn’t just that Sex Trax sound we’ve come to associate with the Factory, it was more of a mix of slighter harder edged US stuff like the Coral Way Chiefs ‘Release Myself’and Liberty City ‘Get Some Loving’ on Murk, 4th Measure Men ‘4 You/Just a Dream’, early wild pitch stuff, UK tracks like X-Press 2 ‘London Xpress’ and the Farley and Heller mix of Happy Mondays ‘Stinkin’ Thinkin’’ and DSK and more traditional US house, like Aly-us.

But it wasn’t just the music, it was the way it was put together. Junior knew his records, he knew his crowd, he knew his system and he worked them all expertly. The system was fantastic – really loud and so clear you could talk on the dance floor. Junior would play jet plane noises that swept from one side of the club to the other and the sound was so sharp it felt like it cut through your body. He used FX like that and the light system, which was in perfect sync with the music, to build the tension on the dance floor. At one point he left us listening to and Gregorian monks chanting! And another we heard the sound of rain gradually fading up into the music then slowly taking over as the club sank into pitch darkness. The rain turned into a thunder storm with lightening streaking across the ceiling courtesy of strategically placed strobes, I stood there in the dark clapping and screaming my head off along with 1,000 sweat soaked queens, as the tension just built and built, then eventually, after what seemed like forever, we heard the words “It’s gonna be a lovely day, for you and me” (from that S.O.U.L. S.Y.S.T.E.M record) and BANG every single light in the club hits a massive disco ball so it feels like the sun has actually dropped onto the dancefloor, night had turned into day and the whole place erupts like nothing I’d ever seen in a club erupt before. Amazing.

Another highlight was the Sound of Blackness ‘The Pressure’. I remember reading Danny Rampling’s chart in DJ Mag and him commenting next to that entry “6am at the Sound Factory” and me thinking “Yeah, it’s no Gat Decor though” or something like that. Then I found myself standing on the dance floor of the Sound Factory at 6am as that accapella intro came in and suddenly, it all made perfect sense. It’s probably the most beautiful record I’ve heard in a club by the time it was played, it was like he’d built up ‘the pressure’ so much on the dance floor this was the release. And what a release! The geezer from Area 10 records started to cry when he played it! And when it finally kicked in the place went ballistic. To this day when I hear that intro it gives goose flesh.

As the crowd started to thin a little after 7am the drag queens and trannies took over one side of the club, working an imaginary cat walk along the side the dance floor, throwing shade and generally trying to out do each other. They weren’t like your English ‘builder in a dress’ trannies either, they were actually slim, pretty, well preened and dare I say, quite fit! To a long haired 22 year from London it was like another world and I could have just sat back and watched them for hours…but the music was too good to sit down to!

I know it’s a DJ cliche these days but I really did feel like we went on a musical journey that night. It was almost like a religious experience. I remember standing on the dance floor, blown away by it all, thinking “When I get back to London I’m going to sell my turntables because I’ll never be able to play like this and even if could, I wouldn’t be playing at the Sound Factory and there isn’t any point DJing anywhere else!”

I think we finally stumbled out into the New York daylight around 10am. I never made it to Zanzibar on that trip because while I was there I only wanted to go one place on a Saturday! People seem quick to knock Junior these days, saying he can’t mix, his music is/was boring but at that moment in time, in that that space, with that crowd, he was perfect and no matter what anyone says, I’ll always have those memories.