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The life and death of the Sound Factory

The life and death of the Sound Factory

It’s nine in the morning, sometime in 1991, and Junior’s been pumping the dancefloor since midnight. Glistening bodies are moving in shadow, a sea of dancers working with the steady power of a machine. Everyone is loose with angles and movement and focused on this single never-ending moment. The groove is repetitive, relentless. Time is suspended, hanging by a silver string. Everyone’s locked into the music: stepping, dancing, ready to keep this precious thing going as long as the bass keeps rolling. Then with a flash the half-light becomes darkness, the huge mirror ball drops its needles and goes black. The Goddess of Light has plunged the club into mystery. And the music stops. Dead.

Brought to this sudden stop, everyone is surprised, looking upwards to the booth, desperate for what comes next. It’s silent. Reverential. Something amazing’s about to happen. Slowly a feedback growl emerges in the dark centre. It’s so distorted it hurts. As it gets louder, it moves around, whipping from speaker to speaker in some wild phasing effect. Above the thunder comes another noise: a rough ridge of saxophone throttling overhead. It’s a tiny chunk of Ultra Naté’s ‘Rejoicing’. The looped sample flits around for a lifetime, licking our faces for a minute or longer. Random flashes of white light pick out corners of the huge bare room, making everyone desperate for a beat, straining for the release.

When it can’t last any longer a Hell’s Angel strides across the dancefloor with a stick, edging people out of his way. The sax throttle is even louder now, and it’s joined by another sound: an identical monster noise that doesn’t come from the speakers. Suddenly – with its engine growl bursting the heads of a thousand dancers – out of the crowd and up onto the stage roars a Harley Davidson carrying a dance gang of go-go boys.

This kind of theatre was rare, but the moment was pure Sound Factory. A devoted crowd in the hands of a single DJ, focused with absolute pin-drop dedication on the music and the experience.

The other unforgettable moment was the night Larry Levan died. Deep into morning Junior played an age of silence, followed by church organs. The lights became stained glass turning to white crystal, and people cried. Before their cheeks were dry, he flew into the most uplifting set you could imagine, a Sunday noontime release of life-affirming disco. We celebrated, we danced, we worshipped, we became family. Every week a thousand people absolutely together.

In the ’90s the place was written into legend. UK clubland adopted New York house and garage as its central inspiration, and this grand club took on the status of myth, joining the ranks of dance music’s most important places. Producers made records specifically for the Factory, records were broken there that would later (much later) become worldwide hits; people travelled to New York just to spend a Saturday night and Sunday morning there; and its DJ Junior Vasquez became a household name despite the fact that he refused to play anywhere outside his beloved club. In a Mixmag feature listing 100 things to do in your clubbing life, at number one the pinnacle was ‘Dance at the Sound Factory, New York.’

These were the glory years for New York house music, and this was the most magnificent place to hear it. Nowhere in the Factory could you not hear the dancefloor. Junior would keep a driving relentless bass groove going for hours, while changing rhythms, tempos, styles: playing around but never once losing your mesmerised attention. He could work a record for astonishing periods: teasing you with the tiniest sample deep underneath everything else, hinting at it until you’re desperate to hear the body of the track, then once he’d brought it in, working beats and dubs and vocals until he’d rinsed out every great moment of a song. He would loop sections up on a sampler to do this, child’s play now but a radical thing back then, first to keep you in suspense, then to turn a climax into the most intense, double-tracked crescendo.

This was the time of tribal house, of DJ Pierre’s hypnotic Wild Pitch style, of Murk, of Strictly Rhythm, Tribal, Maxi, Nervous, King Street, Eightball, as well as UK and European imports that fitted the bill, like Junior Boys Own and Guerrilla. Many of the monster global tracks of the time had been made to measure for the Sound Factory. Danny Tenaglia, Armand van Helden, Cajmere, Marc Kinchen, Masters At Work, Peter Rauhoffer, Farley and Heller, Mood II Swing, all made records with its power in mind. A track like ‘Plastic Dreams’ had the perfect otherworldly dislocation; those clanging notes would drop from its ceiling and devastate the place. X-Press 2’s ‘London Xpress’, with its frantic typewriter climax, would have the room in tatters. Later in the morning there were spacey US garage dubs leading into a sprinkling of ‘classics’ – soulful house and disco vocals. New records would leave everyone in a frenzy of enquiry: What was that amazing track he’d just worked for the last forty minutes? The label folk gathered under the booth to do their spotting. As the city’s crowned king, Junior had tracks months, sometime years, before they were released.

Some of his power came because he was an industry focal point, very much like his hero, Larry Levan. And the Factory was a conscious copy of the Garage. ‘I idolised Larry,’ Vasquez admitted. ‘I still do to this day, he was the greatest. And I do live a bit in the past when it comes to that, and I keep striving, wanting to create that feeling that lounge, that booth.’ In this way, Sound Factory represented the latest chapter in the family tree that had branched unbroken since disco, travelled through clubs like Paradise Garage, the Saint, Red Zone, Better Days, and Vasquez’s own Bassline, right through to Shelter and Sound Factory. There was a sharp divide between the Shelter, which was more churchy, less druggy, more organic and melodic in its tastes, and the Factory: more hypnotic, more tribal and unreal.

Sound Factory was created by Vasquez and Christine Visca, who had opened Bassline together in 1988, together with Phil Smith, one of the co-owners of the Garage, and Richard Grant. It closed its doors on January 12th 1995, the result of behind-the-scenes shenanigans over the club’s future. The world-beating sound system was put in storage, Junior declared that he would never play anywhere unless it bore the name ‘Sound Factory’; and Grant announced within days that he already had a new venue waiting to bear the prestigious name once again.

After a few months hiatus, Junior resurfaced at a series of one-off nights at the massive Roseland Ballroom, and then signed a deal with Peter Gatien, eye-patched owner of Limelight, Palladium and Club USA, to play at the revamped Tunnel, a club in an underground railway siding that was famous as a yuppie playground through the opulent ’80s but had been closed for years. Richard Grant opened his new place on 46th Street using the Sound Factory name, with Jonathan Peters in the booth and a much straighter crowd on the floor. Phil Smith, who had already created a smaller spin-off, Sound Factory Bar on 21st St, which Louie Vega and Frankie Knuckles made home, revamped the original Factory building and re-opened it with a Phazon sound system as Twilo. Danny Tenaglia was its original star, enjoying a belated residency in his home town, and from 1997 Twilo was home to Sasha and Digweed, marking the point at which a more European sensibility, the progressive house and trance roots of what would become EDM, staked its claim on the future.

In truth, the Sound Factory died long before it closed its doors. The victim of its own success, as it grew older it witnessed dramatic changes in New York’s nightlife demographics. The mid-’90s were the years when house and techno broke into younger, whiter bodies, and the family of dancers who’d arrived each week for worship since 1989 saw their hallowed ground fill with spectators and tourists, not to mention younger clubbers with huge trousers and downbeat drug tastes. By the end the gayness, the blackness, the slinkiness was gone. The edges were choked with Israeli smokers and tentative rave kids visiting a famous club. Ketamine took control of the whiter, gym-queen quarter of the floor, and Junior’s music lost much of its bounce as he aimed harder and harder beats at this swaying mass of hugging Chelsea Boys. The Club Kids increasingly changed the vibe too, bringing their gender-fuck freak power to a place that had previously had a purer focus on music and dancing. Much of its original black and Latin constituency had left, and by 1994 it had largely ceased to be a gay club. The boys still held the majority, but not by much, and the atmosphere of unspoken complicity was long gone.

The person who suffered most from these changes was Junior Vasquez himself. In its final year, Sound Factory – ‘The House That Junior Built’ – was filled, not with dancers who loved his music, but with people who worshipped him as the world’s most celebrated DJ. He said the main reason he refused to come to Europe was because people would just stare at him in awe rather than share in the dance. However, this is exactly what happened in the Sound Factory itself. It became cool to be there. People came down because they thought they might see Madonna.

His music was always intimately bound into the time and space of the Factory – few DJs have had such a personal identification with a single club – and after its closure it was difficult for him to find somewhere that felt like home. ‘That’s a big part of my nightmare now: I created that club, and in essence and by rights, I should have retired. I should have probably not played ever again. I made my mark.’ After the Factory’s passing, he admitted that as a DJ he depends heavily on feedback from his audience, and went on to say he hadn’t felt it in a long time.

In its heyday there would be a mere handful of people away from the dancefloor, while the rest writhed and jumped till cramps and exhaustion set in. The $18 entrance fee (later $20) was for a seven or eight hour workout. You only left the floor to visit the juice bar, the drinking fountain or the toilets. After it became Twilo it started serving alcohol, they had to install twice as many urinals, and the floor became sticky with drinks to the point it was hard to dance.

The other big change was the arrival of Giuliani, who became mayor in 1994. There had been a strange night or two in Factory’s final weeks when the place was raided by the fire department – no doubt at Giuliani’s behest. This was the start of him making his presence felt in clubland with his ‘Quality of Life’ campaign, by enforcing cabaret licenses and forcing smaller venues to put up ‘no dancing’ signs; by investigating the drug trade in the city’s larger venues, and by harassing clubs like Sound Factory with impromptu ‘inspections’.

They called Sound Factory the last big secret. As club-lord Peter Gatien explained after its closure, the economics of a one-night-a-week club with no alcohol just didn’t stack up any more. Twilo went on to be an incredible and important club, not least for Sasha and Digweed’s long residency, but it was a new thing: a stop on the international club circuit, rather than a genuinely underground venue, and never recaptured the atmosphere of that mythic room: the intimate communal experience of a single club built round a single DJ and a devoted, unchanging crowd, open on a single night each week. Those days were gone.

Sound Factory’s other resident, for six months or more in 1990/91 was Frankie Knuckles. I narrowly missed his time there and by all accounts it was a highlight of his career. Through my Factory years, he was ruling the Roxy, a former roller rink, where his melodies and symphonies ignited an incredible crowd, feathers and sequins to the fore. But by chance, Frankie was at the Factory for what would be its final night. ‘It’s really amazing because I hardly ever go to the Sound Factory unless it’s Junior’s birthday or something,’ he told me. ‘But the night that they closed, I was there. That was the last great room: there’s not going to be anywhere like that again, a room that size and a sound system that enormous.’

Sound Factory was at 530 West 27th Street between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues, a dirty warehouse block patrolled by hookers and lowlife. You would file in around 4 or 5am just as dawn was breaking, perhaps after a night’s sleep, or maybe after a long distracted trek up from hearing Frankie at the Roxy, and you’d leave the reality of New York’s cold concrete to be enveloped in its bass cocoon, completely removed from the rest of the world. It was a huge simple space made small and intimate by the power of the music it contained. You were treated like an honoured guest: fruit, cookies, cold water and coffee were yours for free, there were hundreds of dollars worth of flowers gracing the entrance, and fresh decorations every week. At the exit there was always a huge bowl of condoms, and a pile of pencils and notepads to exchange phone numbers.

A dark bare room, a huge single mirror ball, four giant speaker stacks. No booze, no bystanders, not much chat, not much cruise. Just the music. Sweaty black bodies, shorts, towels, eyes and smiles. Wild Pitch epics climbed and built for hours, hypnotised dancers followed the music every step. You would see incredible things there. Professional dancers would arrive from performing somewhere, and proceed to tear up a chunk of the dancefloor. Dealers served in Spike Lee caps – the X for ecstasy – as Banji boys ran around like street urchins. Junior had always encouraged the ballroom families and The House of Xtravaganza would make a runway in the corner, perfecting their millimetre-precise voguing along the side of the stage. Junior would grab a flashlight and pick out the more fabulous dancers, throwing down some bitch house track to exaggerate the competition.

The first time I went was after a swirly night at the Roxy. We walked the nine blocks north, past morning garbage trucks, and stepped off the planet. Forget the wonderful camp of the Roxy, here was intensity, devotion, a womb. As we made it a weekly devotion, the club’s family adopted us, two English journalists scraping a living. I was pulled into endless nights of tribal stomping; my girlfriend June gave them a swish and vogued convincingly off the bat, declaring herself ‘Queen of the House of Nubia’ and battling all comers with a pout and a smirk. I’d get butterflies lining up against that wall, feeling the heartbeat of that monster system. I can remember the rough warehouse bricks against my back, the take-off zone.

It was my clubbing beginning. I’d missed the raves, skipped out from London as hip hop and rare groove were still ruling my soundtrack, without really getting my feet properly wet with house. So for me the Sound Factory was clubbing year zero. Being in love with the fierce English girl in the neon pink bikini, pounding the Factory floor amid a sea of our friends, as Junior mixed ‘Acid Crash’ with some Wild Pitch workout for what seemed like forever, then took us down into an intense mind-fuck of jazzy organ, taking off again with an acapella of the screaming diva of the hour.

I’ve never been anywhere else where the dancing was so important. Not flashy, just really elegant and really physical. It was all about putting your body into this big powerful machine – about moving gracefully, creating the rhythm, generating energy. You danced your heart out to become part of something secret and sexy and alive. Definitely the closest I’ll get to church. After the Sound Factory, even the most amazing night is a little more clumsy, a little less devoted, a little more ordinary.

Frank Broughton

This is an edited version of a story that first appeared in i-D.

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton

The Four Aces: Legacy in the Dust

The Four Aces: Legacy in the Dust

In September 2023 we were proud to show Legacy In The Dust – The Four Aces Story, with an introduction by director Winstan Whitter. On the night, Newton Dunbar, founder of The Four Aces, now in his 90s, also came down and said a few words. In his struggle to keep the club open in the face of constant police surveillance and aggression, Newton was arrested 14 times. The film details the club’s immense cultural legacy and its role in shaping music and Black Britishness over three decades.

New York had the Apollo, London had the Four Aces. Prince Buster, the Upsetters, Ann Peebles, Percy Sledge, Ben E. King, Desmond Dekker, Jimmy Cliff, Roy Shirley, Alton Ellis, the Ronettes, Jimmy Ruffin, Billy Ocean: just some of the soul and reggae artists who came to Hackney to play Newton Dunbar’s Four Aces Club in the ’60s and ’70s. At a time when black British culture was largely out of view, this local nightspot became a truly international stage.

In the ’80s, in the face of near-constant police surveillance and oppression, The Four Aces was a safe space for London’s sound systems, and Count Shelly, Fat Man, Jah Shaka and Sir Coxsone regularly shook its foundations. It drew its audience from all over London, and reggae-loving stars including Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger and Bob Marley all dropped by. John Lydon, Chrissie Hynde, The Clash and The Slits were regulars.

photo © David Corrio

It was at The Four Aces that the sweet vocal style of reggae known as lovers’ rock was born. An enterprising young DJ, Lloyd Coxsone, who’d been dropping a few soul tracks into his sets, saw that the eager schoolgirls singing over dubplates at his weekly talent contest could easily be turned into little pop stars. He roped in producer Dennis Bovell to make it happen. Fifteen-year-old Louisa Mark’s ‘Caught You In A Lie’ on Safari was the first – a hit in 1975 – and scores more followed, epitomised by Janet Kay’s 1979 hit ‘Silly Games’. Lovers’ rock, with one foot on a Caribbean speaker stack and the other in a Hackney school disco, was an important milestone in the forging of black British identity.

As if all this wasn’t enough to put The Four Aces on the cultural map, as acid house dawned and repurposed the sound system formula, the club gave its space to the long-running Labrynth, drawing thousands to hardcore raves. Run by Joe Wieczorek, with residents Adrian Age, Vinyl Matt, Kenny Ken and Billy ‘Daniel’ Bunter, it was an important laboratory for the evolution of house into hardcore and jungle, and was where The Prodigy played their very first live show. While the M25 raves were creating mayhem in the home counties, from 1990-97 Hackney had its own home-grown version week in, week out.

Ben E King at The Four Aces
British Jamaican hitmaker (and future Desmonds star) Count Prince Miller rocks the Four Aces
Motown legend Jimmy Ruffin (R) greets Four Aces owner Newton Dunbar before taking the stage.

The Four Aces was on Dalston Lane, a little East of Dalston Junction station: between where Sainsbury’s and the CLR James Library are today. The vast space was originally the North London Colosseum and Amphitheatre, home to a Victorian circus, and boasted a rich interior of carvings and plasterwork. Now, inevitably, the spot is given over to luxury high-rises, but in the soil under those hipster hutches there’s enough musical history to fill volumes.

In Director Winstan Whitter’s 2008 film Legacy in the Dust – The Story of the Four Aces, the club’s evolution is described lovingly by its artists, DJs and punters. Whitter has a personal connection – his dad was chef and bartender at the club. The film has great live footage, photos, memorabilia and music, but the most evocative thing is its brilliant interviews. Speaking from the heart, a motley cast of characters, some famous, many not, tell you emotionally, and often hilariously, how important The Four Aces was in their lives, giving testimony to the power of a nightclub to create community.

As well as these heartwarming voices, the film powerfully explains London’s role in shaping the world’s black music. showing how reggae evolved as much in the UK as in Jamaica, and how the political implications of the sound system – freedom from authority to play whatever you want – was as much an ingredient of acid house as it was of reggae, dub and lovers rock.

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton

We’re excited to announce a very rare screening of Legacy In The Dust – The Four Aces Story, with an introduction by director Winstan Whitter, on Friday 8 Sep, at 8pm, at Everyman King’s Cross, followed by dancing at Supermax next door. Tickets are extremely limited, grab yours here.

Ballroom Blitz, 1991

Ballroom Blitz, 1991

‘Work, bitch!’ From deep in the vaults, here’s Frank’s brief glimpse into the New York ballroom scene: a Sunday night of runway and voguing in October 1991, accompanied by some programmes from the era, including this first one from the great Sound Factory Ball in 1992, dominated, if memory serves, by the club’s own House of Xtravangaza. A shout-out across the years to Joseph and Reggie and the other Roxy girls, to the banjee boys of the Factory floor, and to the House of Elite for welcoming us into their family for the night. Additional reporting by June of the House of Nubia.

 

Runway Punishment

“There’s a score to be settled and only those walking bitches will survive.”

‘I’m looking for what Madonna didn’t have, and what she wished she had, and what she might have if she keeps watching.’ Devin Elite, master of ceremonies and Father of the House of Elite, is spurring a pair of bodystockinged duellers into a frenzy of head-to-head voguing. The two gentlemen on the catwalk have the moves of dancers, the attitude of Dynasty starlets, and lycra that curves in all the right places. They twist their athletic bodies around, posing and pouting and writhing aggressively on the floor, but even when they’re face to face glaring daggers at each other they’re not allowed to touch.

‘It never gets too violent,’ Devin explains, ‘It’s just very competitive. Everyone’s jolly and friendly until the music starts, and then you see the crazy fucking effort, the sweat popping and all the antics.’

It’s Sunday night in a masonic hall in downtown Brooklyn and the event is ‘Couture Allure ‘91’. An outrageous parody of a fashion show, it’s a chance for some of New York’s black gay population to dress up in the wildest of outfits and strut along the catwalk to pumping house music, fulfilling their dreams of being models and superstars, and showing the world just how wonderfully incredibly gorgeous they are.

Makeup is applied, outfits sorted, and precision voguing moves perfected on the sidelines. In this very ordinary hall, with very ordinary lighting, are gathered some of the most extraordinarily beautiful men and women alive. Except that pretty much everyone in the room, whether rippling with dignified manliness, or glowing with cutesome femininity, was born male.

Balls like this one have been happening for more than thirty years, and despite the popularising efforts of Madonna and Malcolm McLaren they remain a decidedly underground phenomenon. A product of the bygone days of glamorous Harlem drag queens, the scene remains exclusively black and Hispanic, and balls are kept very low-profile. Hardly surprising since they evolved as a fantasy escape from the all too common reality of bigotry and misunderstanding.

‘You have two strikes against you if you’re black and gay,’ says Wayne, a teacher and activist, ‘These people aren’t likely to become white or straight so they’re mimicking white straight culture – being characters they’d never be in real life.’

The people involved are organised in ‘houses’. There are currently 47 of these, with names like Milan, Extravaganza, Armani, Revlon, Ashanti, Africa, and tonights hosts, Elite. Each consists of a ‘mother’ and a ‘father’ and their ‘children’, and like families they offer mutual support and encouragement, as well as providing the team groupings for the competitive balls. Most house members emphasise the positive nature of the houses, and are unhappy when they are disparaged as gay street gangs.

‘I can’t speak for everyone, but I have a particular curriculum my house members have to follow,’ stresses Devin, ‘They have to be actively in school or working. I prefer to be strictly positive. I started the House of Elite for the sole purpose of showing everyone else in the ballroom what it should be like.’

Music thumps into action, kickstarting the ball into life. The children of the House of Elite parade themselves along the runway and take the stage as our hosts for the night. Although the hosting house is traditionally barred from competing, they are keen to show off a few moves before the contest begins. Devin arrives to take his place at the head of his house wearing a fabulous outfit halfway between a mafia chieftain and a Las Vegas magician. A table in the wings groans under a mass of golden statuettes (like Rolls Royce figurines in 30’s bathing trunks), and one by one the judges take their seats.

Contestants are either ‘gentlemen’ (straight-acting gay men), or ‘ladies’ (trans women) and they compete for prizes in diverse categories dreamed up by the hosts to set the tone for each bout. Some of the more outlandish might include: ‘Runway Punishment – There’s a score to be settled and only those walking bitches will survive’, or ‘Big Bad Girls vs the Small Call Girl vs the Amazon Hooker’; and ‘Costume – Cher vs Grace Jones’, and there are always ‘realness’ categories, for example ‘9-5, white collar only’ where the aim is to ‘pass’, to look like an unquestionably straight businessman. Another favourite used to be ‘Drug-Dealer Realness’, where quilted jackets, cellphones and briefcases full of bags of white powder were the order of the day.

Tonight’s categories underline the current fashion for taking images and idols from the worlds of haute couture, advertising and television. In one, ‘Body with Production’ the gentlemen are invited to compete as living versions of the beefcake in Calvin Klein’s Obsession ads. This offers the spectacle of hunksome young musclemen getting greased up with lotions and potions, slipping off their trunks and cupping their bare essentials for modesty’s sake (with a less modest two hands). In ‘Double Take’ the ladies are asked to, ‘recreate a look of your favorite model from a magazine – You Must Bring Magazine’.

‘Everyone’s a little less on costumes now and a little more into a ’90s kind of look,’ Devin explains. ‘They’re more into European effects and looks compared to back then. Now they’re wearing tights and they’re creating an androgenous look, and they’re doing a lot of things with hair and so on.’

But what about voguing? We’ve all seen Ms Ciccone strike a pose and we’re itching to see the real thing. Seeing as the V-word is notably absent from the programme tonight, where are the coverstar moves, the waving hands, the pouting stares? It seems ‘voguing’ is no longer the thing to say. ‘Performance’ is the favoured term these days, and ‘precision is a must’. When the fellas come out on the floor to do their thing what’s most striking is the speed and agility of their movements. There’s none of this slow-motion activity that Madonna foisted on the world; instead we get an intense flurrying of limbs, plenty of grooving around, and a deal of raunchy gymnastics. It’s fast, it’s millimetre-accurate and it looks as if it probably hurts.

It’s a close call and the finalists are called back to fight it out. Voguing started in battles like this as a way of cursing out your opponent without saying a word. Where rapping evolved as a way of warring with words, voguing takes things a step further, being a means of showing yourself to be dripping with glamour, style and attitude and your opponent as being a dowdy uncoordinated loser.

Frank Broughton, 1991

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton

Glossary

LADIES OF DISTINCTION – Women who were born female.

LADIES OF SPECIAL PREFERENCE – Gay women.

GENTLEMEN/BUTCH QUEENS – Gay men who dress/act straight.

LADIES/FEM QUEENS – Trans women.

OVERNESS – A total state of being. Perfection. What everyone competing in the ball is striving to achieve and display.

SPOOKABLE – If you are spookable, you are not what you appear to be. Your cover can be blown. The opposite of overness.

REALNESS – Looking completely convincing in your assumed gender.

WALKING – Entering the competition. Walking down the runway.

BATTLE – When the two finalists fight it out together on the floor.

THROWING SHADE – Giving off attitude. Spoiling for a showdown. (Also SHADY, SHADING)

READING – Cursing, throwing shade in the form of verbal attitude.

OVAH! / IT’S OVAH FOR YOU – The supreme compliment, meaning that the person thus addressed is brimming with overness.

Sleeping Bag went bang

Sleeping Bag went bang

From its early days as a conduit for the out-there ur-disco of Arthur Russell and the innovative electro of Mantronix to house era hits with the likes of Dhar Braxton and Dionne, Sleeping Bag was one of the most influential New York labels of the 1980s. They saw themselves as the anti-Studio 54 kids coming to shake up the music establishment, and for much of the decade they did. Eventually, the label became mired in vicious disagreements on direction, building up insurmountable debts in the process, a tale as old as the industry itself…

1981 was the year that the movie Escape From New York was released, an apocalyptic vision of a future in which Manhattan had become a high security prison. On the real streets of New York, things were equally grim. ‘Back then, I had no dreams: I had nightmares,’ said Curtis Sliwa, who had recently formed the Guardian Angels to patrol crime-ridden neighbourhoods. ‘I was a night manager of Mickey Ds in the Bronx. I had crime problems in the restaurant. I had to go over the counter and deal with them individually. I was getting rheumatism arthritis from dialling 911. It was a joke. Instead I had cops coming in and tryin’ to scam me for free food.’ There were 2,166 murders in 1981 (in comparison with 648 in 2013) and reported felonies had reached a record level of 637,451. 

But things are not always necessarily as they seem. Escape From New York was actually shot in St Louis in Missouri and amid the desolation were explosive pockets of activity that made New York City arguably the most creative musical place on the planet.  ‘I liked the bleakness, because you could dream in that,’ said Andy Warhol collaborator Penny Arcade.  ‘You could dream new things. The Lower East Side was like a marketplace. All the sidewalks were covered with blankets and people were selling things like broken light bulbs.’

The disco scene, which had begun in the downtown area of Manhattan in the late 1960s had, by 1981 (despite the crash of disco elsewhere in the US), blossomed into a vast array of clubs from the artful and grubby, to the glamorous or sanctified: Danceteria, Mudd Club, Paradise Garage, The Loft, Better Days, The Funhouse and Studio 54. At the start of 1981, the original owners of Studio 54, Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager were released from prison after serving sentences for tax evasion. 

Dance music was in flux. No longer dominated by disco, DJs’ playlists had opened up to include Latin, early hip hop, rock, post-punk, funk and pop music. Blondie’s ‘Rapture’ was one of the big hits of the year, there were also unlikely club smashes for Modern Romance, former Buzzcock Peter Shelley, Ian Dury, ESG and Talking Heads’ offshoot Tom Tom Club. Club music had not been so varied since the early days of disco. 

Enter Sleeping Bag Records. With its cute koala bear logo and off-the-wall name, few record labels epitomised the straitened, evolving circumstances of the 1980s than Sleeping Bag. It was born in total opposition to the slick business operations at Salsoul and Prelude and its output couldn’t have been more different, either, taking in the leftfield manoeuvres of Arthur Russell, Konk, Class Action’s nifty reading of ‘Weekend’, Mantronix, Joyce Sims’ electro-swoon, Nocera’s freestyle, Dhar Braxton and Hanson & Davis’ house-not-house and, if you include sister label, Fresh Records, EPMD, T La Rock, Todd Terry and Just Ice. 

Jump to the beat

It all began on the corner of Thompson Street and Prince Street when Will Socolov and Arthur Russell bumped into each other. They had originally met through the Loft, where they were both regulars (Will’s father was David Mancuso’s lawyer). When Arthur’s Loose Joints project had run into financial difficulties, Will had persuaded his father to lend them some money to finish it. Will had recently returned from a sojourn in Hawaii.  ‘We started talking and after about half an hour Arthur said, “Would you like to start a label?” And I said, “Sure.” It was as simple as that.’ 

They both agreed it wasn’t going to follow the rules of other leading labels in the city – and with Arthur Russell’s involvement, there was little chance of that. ‘It was a reaction to the smooth disco look of Nehru collars and Jheri curls. Arthur and I never fitted into that and never wanted to fit into that,’ says Socolov. ‘We were young kids who were into dancing. We hung out with friends who were very hippie-ish in their mentality. I wasn’t but I was a New Yorker and I really enjoyed a lot of different things and different cultures and I wasn’t going to be stereotyped. So we made Sleeping Bag as a reaction to that whole Salsoul, dressing sharp Studio 54 thing. We wore dungarees and sneakers.’

Their first breakthrough single, ‘Go Bang #5’, certainly delivered on that promise. Written by Arthur Russell and culled from his Dinosaur L album, 24 —> 24 Music, and remixed by François K, it had an immediate impact on the city and carried on the trajectory that Russell’s previous explorations in disco (Dinosaur’s ‘Kiss Me Again’ and Loose Joints’ ‘Is It All Over My Face’) had begun. ‘My view of what I had to do with those tapes is organise and focus them,’ recalls François of the ‘Go Bang #5’ sessions. ‘I had to give it an appeal where at least people would listen to it and get into the marvellous and incredible things he had in there. As a mixer, I feel that when I did ‘Go Bang’ I really focused that record. I stripped it down. I spent hours and hours going over each track until I found the elements that were really strong. And the less things that were around them, the better they sounded.’

François gets extra bang for the buck

Will Socolov remembers the first time he took an acetate to the Loft.  ‘I went to get in line with everybody else and one of the guys called me over: “Hey Will, David’s been waiting for you.” He opened the door and said, ”Come in.” I went in and said hello. David was cueing up the next record, but he took it off and he was very particular how he played and how picked his music so this was unusual. He put “Go Bang” on, and people were just coming up to me, one after another saying, “Fuck Will, this is incredible”. They loved it. So of course I called Arthur and he came down.

‘When he heard it, he came up to me and said, “I’m ruined!”
”What?!” 
“I’m ruined. Did you hear those drums? They’re muddy.”
I just started laughing. He laughed too. Arthur was kind of like that. He would say very dramatic things but he would either realise or know what he had said or he had done it for effect. He started laughing and I started yelling at him, “You’re out of your fucking mind! Have you ever seen this place go as crazy?”’

Hot on the heels of ‘Go Bang #5’ came ‘Weekend’, a cover of the Phreek tune that Larry Levan had made massive at the Paradise Garage. ‘Bob Blank knew I went to the Garage and was friends with Larry and he said let’s do a cover of “Weekend”,’ recalls Socolov.  ‘I said, ‘That’s a great idea.’ I wasn’t really into the idea of doing covers generally but the reason this was so appealing was because Atlantic Records fucked up the original release. They didn’t do the right version and they just fucked up constantly. So we were like let’s do this. Everyone wants to the right version of “Weekend”. I asked Larry about it, he flipped out, he was excited about it.’

‘Class Action was my production,’ claims Blank. ‘I’d engineered the original Phreek version in 1979 with Patrick Adams. Anyway, Chris Wilshire, who was the backup singer on the original sessions, one day said, “You know, we do ‘Weekend’ and it’s a big hit in the clubs”. So I got together with Fred Zarr, before he worked with Madonna, and we put it together. It was very Prince derivative, it really sounded like Vanity 6.’ With a Larry Levan remix and full support from the Garage resident, the new version of ‘Weekend’ became a big New York hit. 

Sleeping Bag’s greatest hits

One of the reasons for the success of these two singles was the support they both received from the doyen of New York R&B radio, Frankie Crocker, whose show on WBLS was instrumental in breaking many new dance records (Crocker was a regular patron at the Paradise Garage and friend of Levan). One of the legends of the New York recording industry, Juggy Gayles, had been assisting Socolov in promoting the records to radio. Gayles was already in his late 60s when he first met Socolov and had been promoting records since the early days of the record industry, working as a song plugger on hits like Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas’, before setting up his own publishing company United Music and scoring further smashes (though whatever profits he made often disappeared down the race track). Juggy was also a regular fixture at disco clubs in the 1970s, working on hits like ‘Fly Robin Fly’. 

 ‘I met up with Juggy a couple of times and paid him,’ says Socolov. ‘He really liked me and we ended up starting to talk a lot and when “Weekend” was the next release and he came up to me and said, ‘I’d really like to be involved. I think you’re gonna be great, kid, you got great ears, you really understand it.’ He really knew how to rub my ego up. So I got involved with him. One thing I knew about the business was that neither myself nor Arthur really liked the record promotion side, because I was very ignorant about it.’

Will Socolov’s business relationship did not last long with Arthur, primarily, according to Socolov, because Arthur seemed incapable of delivering music for the label. For his part, Russell felt he was being frozen out of the label when songs such as ‘In The Light Of A Miracle’ were not deemed suitable for release. However, Russell did have a problem with finishing songs. ‘When a song was done and it was a record and it was out and was successful, he would be saying, “Now we have to work on it and improve it”,’ remembers Blank. ‘He had no perspective that it was done.’ Even though Sleeping Bag was delivering interesting leftfield music, it was essentially a dance label and Arthur’s work was veering off into all manner of interesting directions, few of them capable of moving a dancefloor. Not a bad thing, for sure, but not necessarily something that would enable the label to stay afloat. Despite this, Socolov and Russell maintained a relationship. 

After Gayles joined the label, he bought into the company as Socolov’s partner and shortly after brought in his son Ronald Resnick, who he had been rescued from drug problems in Los Angeles.  ‘Juggy would tell people: “I’m bringing him back to save his life”,’ says Socolov. ‘My joke would be: “And yeah, to ruin my fuckin’ life!” He was a real fuckin’ asshole. He’s dead now and whatever but he was a really bad guy and theirs was a fucked up relationship. We’d be having meetings and they’d get into screaming fights. It would be so embarrassing for me to be in a meeting and completely oblivious to the fact we’re sitting with other people and how embarrassing this is.’ This dysfunctional partnership would eventually cause the company to implode. 

The next phase in the company was driven by a teenager Will Socolov met through Danceteria DJ Freddy Bastone. His debut single sold 70,000 copies and launched the career of one of the most influential producers of the 1980s. ‘I was with Freddy Bastone and Mark Kamins and this kid is talking to Freddy and says, “Please Freddy can I come?”,’ remembers Socolov.  ‘Freddy’s looking to me to make the decision. I turned to him and said, “What’s your name?”’
“I’m called Kurtis but they call me Mantronix.”
‘I said, “Come on, you can hang out.”

‘He told me he had a demo he was working on, it was just an instrumental, and so he said, ‘It’s really hot and people love it.’ 
“Is that true Freddy?”
‘He said, “I’m telling you the truth. Everytime I play it in the club people go crazy.”
‘That’s all I needed to hear.’ The following week, Socolov came down to Danceteria to hear Bastone play the demo. ‘Freddy put on the track, an instrumental of “Fresh Is The Word” and the place went crazy. I turned to Kurtis and said, “How soon do you wanna do the record?” And that was it. We went in the studio and started recording.’

Fresh is the wuuuurd

Kurtis Mantronik’s impact was immediate. His hand was on many of the big records enjoyed by the label over the next three or four years: Just Ice’s ‘Put The Record Back On’, ‘Hungry For Your Love’ by Hanson & Davis, Joyce Sims’ ‘Come Into My Life’ and the Lyrical King (From The Boogie Down Bronx) LP by T La Rock, as well as an amazing run of his own productions that brought a brave new approach to hip hop and electro. (Interestingly, Socolov tried to get Russell and Mantronix to collaborate, but the partnership never really yielded anything:  ‘Arthur had met Mantronix, they didn’t work together at all well. Kurtis was a kid and Arthur was too… esoteric. ‘) 

Sleeping Bag began to compete with other labels in the field like Def Jam and Profile, led by the inspired hand of Mantronik. ‘It’s important to us to break apart the stereotypical notions surrounding hip hop,’ Kurtis told Jack Barron in the NME. ‘That’s why I say we aren’t simply a hip hop group. We’re into hardcore confusion and we’d like to be as influential and groundbreaking as Art Of Noise or Kraftwerk were in their day. ‘

In the dance world, as disco became memory and the electronic instrumentation on Italo-disco and forward-thinking labels like Prelude began to dominate, so a new sound emerged. In Chicago, they called it house. In New Jersey and New York, they simply called it club. Whatever it was called, Sleeping Bag were on it. Dhar Braxton’s ‘Jump Back’ was one of them. Although the production was credited to Jhon Fair, who’d had a hit the year before with Chocolette’s ‘That East Street Beat’, much of the work was done by a young kid working in the office packing records. ‘Robert Clivilles was the guy that really made that a hit,’ says Socolov. ‘It wasn’t Jhon Fair. He was furious because he said he produced the record. But it was one of those situations where I couldn’t give Robert credit, because it was Jhon’s record.’

There were other hits for Sleeping Bag as it glided through the post-disco period into house music, aided by producers and remixers like Timmy Regisford, Frankie Knuckles, Bruce Forest and Bob Moss and Jerry Ferrer, who delivered one of its greatest singles, Kariya’s ‘Let Me Love You For Tonight’, a club smash in the States and minor chart hit in the UK. Although it went on to be sampled heavily (most notably by Bizarre Inc’s ‘Playing With Knives’), it proved to be one of the label’s final hurrahs.

‘I know why the label collapsed,’ asserts Socolov. ‘I stopped working there. Ron would talk his father into stuff then Juggy would start busting my balls. It was two against one. We bought a building in Fulham. We spent a ridiculous amount of money. None of my other friends had opened up a company there. We were licensing our records and people were putting them out. We were making a lot of money. But Ron said we were going to have our own label but we didn’t have the infrastructure. We didn’t need it. Anyway, I asked Juggy to buy me out for $400,000 and he said no. So I offered him the same and he said, “Fuck you. This company is worth £20m. Give me $20m for my half.”
I said, “Juggy you’re crazy.”

‘He tried to get people to back him but nobody did because they knew I ran everything. They fucked everything up. I said to Juggy look I’m gonna stay home. I’ll come in and sign the cheques but I’m going let the company go. I stopped working and that’s what happened.’

Sleeping Bag continued trading for a while, releasing music that was already on the schedules. They released a new Joyce Sims album but without Mantronix’s sure hand on the tiller, there was no hype and no interest. ‘Ron freaked out and started screaming at his father: “We’re gonna ship 50,000 copies!”, recalls Socolov. ‘His father went back and did these deals, they took tons of product and then they returned it all. We lost a fortune on that. All of a sudden the European operation was eating up money like crazy so we had to shut that down. From being a thing that was supposed to produce money, it became a disaster. Believe me a record company can fall apart quickly, especially when the main person is just not involved anymore.’

To make matters worse, Mantronix jumped ship and the label became embroiled in a law suit, which they eventually won, but at great cost. ‘It fucked up my relationship with Kurtis because he said, “Get rid of Ron, get control of the company and you run the label and I’ll make the records”’, says Socolov. ‘I didn’t want to do it. We ended up winning. We spent about $100,000 and we won about $20,000. That’s how we won on that lawsuit. It was a mistake but Ron kept pushing it.’ Shortly afterwards, Sleeping Bag folded. 

Success in the music industry is built on confidence and sand. It’s surprising how quick that can disintegrate. Sleeping Bag was no exception. It all ended suddenly and acrimoniously. Socolov went on to found Freeze with former Sleeping Bag cohort Todd Terry (where, among other things, they released Jay Z’s debut album), Juggy Gales died in his sleep, aged 86, in early 2000. Ron Resnick also died later in the decade. 

What is left is a treasure trove of music that perfectly plotted New York’s development in the 1980s, from the post-disco sounds pioneered by Arthur Russell, via Mantronix’s re-imagining of the nascent hip hop scene, to the last cries of club and house by Kariya and comrades. It’s all in here.
Bill Brewster

This piece was originally included with the The Sleeping Bag Records Anthology, which came out in 2015. You can buy the compilation here >

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton

Chi Chi Valenti took back the night

Chi Chi Valenti took back the night

A true goddess has the power of creation in her fingertips – able to conjure meaning and joy from the sludgy soup of life. One such deity is Chi Chi Valenti, writer, journalist, poet, performer. Her mind has willed into existence thousands of hours of reality substitutes, showing clubland how much artistry you can pour into a night out – not just music, lights and people, but art, poetry, theatre, costumes, choreography, drag, politics, comedy, theatre and cultural commentary. Guided by the confrontational philosophies of Situationism, and most often in partnership with her husband, DJ Johnny Dynell, Chi Chi brought us some of the most hilariously twisted nights in clubland history, most famously at Jackie 60, their long-running Tuesday weekly.

Jackie ran from 1990-99, founded by Chi Chi, Johnny, fashion designer and dominatrix Kitty Boots and dancer/choreographer Richard Move, with Pyramid Club legend Hattie Hathaway joining in its later years. With a devoted crowd adhering to the detailed xeroxed themes, the night was so successful that in 1994 Johnny and Chi-Chi were able to buy the building that housed it, renaming it Mother.

Do The Jackie Hustle: Chi Chi and Johnny and friends pose to promote their 1992 single

Like many downtown club faces, Chi Chi was sparked into motion at the dawn of the ’80s by the Mudd club, where she worked the door. ‘Those early years drew me in and began my life’s path,’ she says, recalling the grittiness of the city, when she had dead birds thrown at her, and was even shot at. Mudd club was their ‘cradle of civilisation,’ where Johnny cut his DJing teeth alongside Justin Strauss and Anita Sarko. As he enthuses, ‘Punk was new, disco was new – DJing, scratching, rapping, breakdancing, graffiti – it was all new.’ Johnny quickly found himself spinning at many an after-hours, and from 1982 at Danceteria, and he had a dancefloor hit in 1983 with ‘Jam Hot’. After marrying that year, the couple’s clubland ambitions grew, until they debuted the Jackie 60 formula at 14th Street nightspot Nell’s.

Nightlife power couple: Chi Chi Valenti and Johnny Dynell, early ’80s

As well as the weekly Jackie 60, there was its spin-off, the annual Fleetwood Mac extravaganza, Night of 1000 Stevies, and spoken-word extension Verbal Abuse, which became a poetry magazine, Motherboards, set up as an online clubbing directory and archive, and from ’96 the flourishing sex-positive Click and Drag night, billed as a ‘cyber/fetish/gender-hacking’ party. But with the rampant gentrification of ’90s NYC, Mother found itself surrounded by the forces of money and dullness, and the couple made the brave decision to end on a high in 2000 rather than wait for the inevitable pressure from their new neighbours. Mother closed on the last Tuesday of the twentieth century, with all concerned proud that while the Dadaists’ Cabaret Voltaire in 1916 had opened the ‘nightclubbing century’, they had closed it. Frank Broughton

Through the noughties Jackie went on the road, and the following piece was written in 2005 when the club came to London as part of Arthur Baker’s Return to New York party.  

Taking Jackie Further, 2005

from Time Out London, by Frank

It’s no secret that in post-Giuliani New York, nightlife is not, shall we say, looking its best. Thanks to a resuscitation of the long-ignored cabaret laws, more than three people moving rhythmically can lose a bar its liquor license. Thanks to the new mayor’s puritanical anti-smoking rules, all sense of relaxation is out of the window, as nightbirds are forced to choose between their drink, which they can’t take outside, and their smokes, which they must. And most devastating of all, the accelerated gentrification brought about by the axing of rent controls means all the interesting, creative, warped or freakish people – all the different people, proudly incapable of holding down a nine-to-five – have been priced out of town. Today’s typical Manhattan joint has acres of interior design, a grave No Dancing sign, roped-off £200 tables, and a plague of identikit rich kids mewling into mobiles.

Given this atmosphere it’s great to hear that Jackie 60, New York’s omnisexual theatre of clubland provocation, and for a decade at the end of the twentieth century the unerring Tuesday end-up place, is still on its feet. Known for fabulous costumes, diverting performance, splendid music and above all, that rarity in clubland: intriguing ideas.

People wrote entire plays for Jackie 60, designed whole fashion collections, choreographed performances for its stage that went on to wow mainstream halls of culture, such was the creative energy it inspired. Jackie was a centrepiece for glamorous, decadent, thoughtful silliness, with drag, bondage, kitsch and sex never far behind.

Jackie lived (and occasionally died) on its elaborate weekly themes. How about ‘Santa Is Burning’, a Christmas vogueing spectacular; or ‘Backroom Bodega Beeper Boys’, or ‘Mermaids on Heroin’, or ‘Kittens With Attitude’ or ‘Fiddler In The Hood (The First Kosher Gangsta Musical)’. If you’re feeling a little mediaeval, there was ‘Jackie 1360 – The Dark Ages’, and at the other extreme, who could forget ‘Klingon Women’, with a dress code that included ‘Romulan formal wear’ and ‘Horseshoe crab foreheads’.

The club ceased trading as a weekly in 2000, forced out of its once grim meatpacking neighbourhood by clean streets, sushi bars and ‘yuppies with an angry sense of entitlement’. Since then the founders have had time to produce ever more opulent one-offs. ‘For the closing Wigstock, we did a complete Gilbert and Sullivan production,’ explains Chi Chi. ‘At Coney Island we took over the sideshow and did a club piece called Dreamland, based on exactly the kind of entertainment that would have been there in 1910. We did a Halloween night in a New Orleans wax museum, and we’re going back this year. We’re bussing people out from the French Quarter to this derelict ante-bellum plantation house.’

Jackie 60’s current events, titled ‘Jackie Further’ to distinguish them from the original club, are resolutely site specific. And so the London night, of course, is built around… Paris. Ever contraire, Jackie started its obsession with fin-de-siecle France just when mainstream America was rabid with Iraq-war-borne anti-French sentiment [France refused to join the invasion]. Johnny and Chi Chi persisted with the theme for Cabaret Magique, a weekly East Village burlesque soiree, and this is what they’re bringing us on Saturday. Ruling ‘big mama burlesque queen’ Dirty Martinez will perform, Kitty Boots and her House of Domination will give their split-knickered twist to the can-can, Johnny will be throwing French cafe music into the dance mix, and Debbie Harry, a Jackie regular (and occasional bartender), will drop by to join the party.

So start putting together your outfit. The (suggested) dress code includes ‘Twenties glamour, Full Evening Dress (Oughts through Forties), Montmartre Bohemian vs East Village Performance artist, Weimar homage or the ever-popular Moulin Rouge on Crack style.’

To get a flavour for the event, visit www.mothernyc.com, the huge online community they’ve created in the last few years. Here you’ll find a catalogue of themes, photos, graphics and dramatics from Jackie’s long, inventive history, not to mention a vast living, breathing collection of peacocks, deviants and creative freaks. New York nightlife may be spluttering a little, but this New Yorkest of clubs is doing just fine. Frank Broughton

2005, Chi Chi Valenti

interviewed by Frank

I’m sure you miss doing Jackie 60 as a weekly, but it must have been pretty frantic coming up with all those themes. That’s a decade where you’re thinking of something pretty in-depth, every week. How long did it take you?
Literally, it would take at least three full days. We’d come out of one – I’m sure for people that do certain kinds of TV filming, it’s the same thing – we’d be completely dead the following day, and then start production for our next night the day after that. For instance, the whole place would need to be decorated. The new soundtrack, the costumes, it was incredible. There was a bigger team of people through most of those years than just us.

What was the process?
We all kept separate themes that we liked… We all had ones that were on our list. Kitty’s tended to be very punk or Bowie or something, and mine were like the really intellectual ones that no one ever wanted to do, and Johnny’s were really accessible and boy-driven. Occasionally one of mine would really take off. Night Of 1,000 Stevies was mine.

Three Stevies among a thousand: Miss Guy, Chi Chi and Jackie 60 regular Debbie Harry in 2005. Photo Jackie Factory

That was a long-running theme, the Stevie Nicks thing? It’s like Steviestock.
That’s still going on. We get a thousand people a year now. That has outlived everything. We’re coming up on our 14th edition of that. It’s going to be at Irving Plaza. That is something. I just really love her and thought it was a really sick idea for a night. I had no idea.

We did a night called Low Life, based on the Luc Sante book, which was totally fabulous. That’s the kind of thing of somebody reading that book and then saying, ‘Let’s do this as a theme.’ Maybe because that was up my street, because I love New York history and stuff. We did the whole Suicide Bar on stage, with the girls. Interestingly, the actual Suicide Hall building, 295 Bowery, right by CBGB, is being torn down by the city after this long fight. One of the tenants is Kate Millett, the feminist author. She’s on the floor that actually was the Suicide Salon, and before it goes down she wants to give it to us to do a Jackie, so that will have to be very impromptu, and right before the wrecking ball.

Johnny’s themes were more accessible. like when Adam Goldstone’s record ‘Up All Night (Won’t Make The Gym)’ came out, he had an idea to do a whole night of Chelsea queens and rebuilt the David Barton gym onstage. David gave us the towels to put on everyone.

There were a few themes where we always said, ‘If we ever do this, it’s been so long in coming that either the world will end or Jackie will end.’ One of them was the thing that started Martha, the dance series that Richard Move does, and that was the Acrobats of God. He kept saying, ‘Next year we’ll do it,’ and then he finally did it. It was his Martha Graham – he performs as her but he speaks as her as well… and then he has a whole company doing Martha-like dancing. It got so big he started doing it as a series when we opened the club as Mother. It got so big, his next performance after Mother was at the Town Hall. That was one Jackie theme that took years.

We still speak a kind of shorthand with each other that no one else would get. Having done all that research, having learned about all of that music, has been incredible for everything we do. But I would never want to go back to that. We did that production for a decade. And we did it for four years, while owning a full-time venue. We probably aged a lot in that time. I feel a lot younger now.

And the city’s changed so much. Without dwelling on the negatives too much, New York nightlife isn’t what it used to be.
And that’s really why we started doing something again, for the very same reason we started Jackie. We wanted to have a place to go… but our work was subsidised in the beginning by Nell’s. It began as a free series. We’ve been lucky that it’s still important to people that we do our work in New York, so we get help from people, because it’s not even the financial climate that it was when we started Jackie. It wasn’t great then, but so many people have left… they’re not drop-ins and they can’t just walk across town any more.

I was reading an interview you did when you closed Mother, and one of the things was that there was no longer the local audience that would come and understand what you were doing. You also talked of the animosity of the people in the new Meatpacking District, even though you were the spearhead of why that was a cool place to live.
I’m glad we did what we did. We had no way of knowing everything else that happened. So many people have totally lost their businesses. We got to make the decision.

Are there silver linings? Is there anything underground emerging to react against what’s going on?
The tremendous silver lining for us… After we closed the club, we started this big online community called the Motherboards. That’s been the silver lining. A lot of the work we do… like this enormous art show that we did in May, which took club-based artists – costume designers and performers – from all over the country, and they collaborated on this show of the visual work that was at CBGB for a month, and it was a whole big performance night. A lot of them had never met until three days before the show, when they started coming into town. We did the entire Major Arcana of the tarot, with people portraying different cards in tableaux, and they created digital work, costuming. There were about 50 people who collaborated on it.

That’s been incredible, even in terms of feeding events, because people are so spread-out, to Philly and other places, but they can just read that this thing is going on, come in with their costume and introduce themselves as a performer. So there are these levels of collaboration that are possible, and ways for people to reach us and reach what we are doing that never existed before.

For me, that’s been a big old silver lining. It doesn’t tie us into paying these insane rents, or mean that we have to be at the same spot every night. You bring people together online, then throw occasional events and bring them together in the flesh.

Even the smoking thing, even though that’s been devastating in general for nightlife, it’s actually been really great for us, because we’re in the East Village and people are regularly driving by and see me standing out there smoking and they’re like, ‘Oh, this is where the new place is.’

Where is the new place?
Tapis Rouge [now permanently closed] is on Avenue A at 1st Street. It says ‘Salon Prive’ outside. We found it because they have this huge African night on Sundays, and we would go past and go, “Wow, what’s going on here?” It’s a perfect size. It holds on two floors, maybe 300 people, so it’s half the size of Mother, but two distinct floors.

Does it have a dancing license?
It has a dancefloor, let’s just put it like that. There are really interesting things going on with that, and I’m very involved with that ‘legalize dancing’ stuff.

People are fighting that?
It really moved forward in June, especially by Legalize Dancing NYC, which is an umbrella organization I’m involved with, which also includes the original Dance Liberation Front people. All the different organisations that were doing it on their own kind of banded together. That’s been a help. Norman Siegel has been involved in our legal stuff, the great civil liberties dude. We’ve been banging away, meeting with City Council people, doing these events, drumming up the press. Then in June, really out of the blue, Commissioner of Consumer Affairs Gretchen Dykstra, contacted the group and said, “We’re doing these hearings about the cabaret laws, because we’d like to remove dancing from the cabaret laws. ‘Well, that would be OK.’

So, it would no longer apply against dancing? You could dance without a license?
In venues below a certain size.

Well, that’s what it was all about, anyway.
Sadly, anything over that size is Webster Hall, and has the money to get a cabaret license. So, they had these hearings and in the public sections of these hearings 60 people spoke, including me and everyone from ballroom dancers to the director of Summerstage, agents for DJs that had gone out of business because no one was bringing people to play here, record store owners who have gone out of business… Everybody was saying, ‘Here are the numbers, and this is not related to 9/11.’ That didn’t help, but Giuliani had already destroyed it.

Post-Jackie 60, what direction have you taken things?
For these shows, which are actually called Jackie 60 Further, it’s been a lot of one-off, on-site things specifically for the site we’ve done them in. We did the Siren Festival at Coney island, where we took over the sideshow for two hours and did a long club piece called Dreamland, based on exactly the kind of entertainment that would have been there in 1910. So, it uses all the elements – the MCs, Jackie’s DJing, the House of Domination, the costumes – but it specifically makes it for one place and one time.

For London specifically, we’ve decided to do Paris. Johnny [Dynell] and I are also doing a weekly series here called Cabaret Magique, and we’ve got this repertoire of French incoherent, pre-Dadaist influences for the performances. People think it’s insane to be doing a French-influenced night in New York, especially since it started during the [Iraq] war.

Because of all the anti-French feeling…
A lot of the music we use for that is in French, but it’s also a tongue-in-cheek take on Frenchness, with lots of French cliches, like ‘Sexy Eiffel Tower.’ When we were thinking of what Jackie Further should do there, we thought it’s even weirder to bring Paris to London through New York. We always like to have that second twist in things.

You probably revel in being contrary, with this “freedom fries” thing going on.
We’ve always had close connections with Situationism and obviously Dada – this sort of bridge that we felt – and then, like a month before the war started, we thought, let’s actually do a French cabaret. This is more fun, because a French cabaret that you’re doing every week is great, but to take it one more step and bring it to London, I’m really curious to see how it goes.

What specific things can we expect?
Well, performance-wise we have several members of the House of Domination, and they’re going to do updates on the can-can, their own version.

The original was pretty risqué.
Well, they have the split knickers. We’re doing showgirl elements that are based on – not reconstructions, but definitely a homage to – the can-can costumes of Kitty Boots, who’s our fourth partner in Jackie and a legendary costume designer. We’re also bringing over a burlesque queen. I think she’s played in London before, she’s really incredible. Her name is Dirty Martini. She’s absolutely the best of the whole burlesque wave here, in terms of incredible reconstructions, being able to do all the physical things involved in burlesque.

There’s an enormous burlesque renaissance in New York. We were involved in seeding some of that, but there’s a whole thing that goes along with that other school of burlesque, that’s more like Frank Sinatra. It’s a little too straight, the ’50s, ’60s burlesque. So, even though Dirty is fantastic at that, what she loves to do, and we asked her to do, is step back. Our showgirl is much more tied in to the late 19th century and then 20th century, up to about the ’20s. Those are our references.

And this is what’s going on at your weekly night Cabaret Magique?
Yeah, and we have spoken word, and people do the shadow puppets that used to be done in Montmartre. It’s very retro, but picking out an incredibly wide range from, say, 1870 to 1950 at the absolute latest, so it’s not retro to one period. And even musically… Like, at Jackie, the way the dancefloor room always has a dance track, and there’s another room… There’s a lot of charleston, and Django Reinhardt and stuff like that, and you’ll actually see people doing the charleston. So that’s been fun, but we’re very clear about not wanting to re-do Jackie.

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton

Take Back The Night, by Chi Chi Valenti, 1990

All who remember basement rooms or the promise whispered in afterhours stairways,

take back the night.

All who have lost their way to drugs or cures and all who have simply lost their nerve,

take back the night.

All who have grown up restless in a thousand sleeping cities,

only to come here and ask

‘Where is the magic city I have dreamed of?’

take back the night.

Take it back from mere attitude and return it to grand gesture.

Take it back from every futures trader yearning for a new life.

Take it back from sweater consultants and out of town investors.

Return it to ruined men with no feeling for the masses, and no stomach for the shameless sell.

Take it back from the understudies of understudies.

Take it back from little black cocktail dresses, and the girlfriends of near-famous men.

Return it to difficult women,ragers,top girls who blow smoke defiantly

and slouch in fashion’s face.

Take it back from gay-bashers and gay supremists alike,and return it to

lonesome cowboys and rock-and-roll fags.

Take it back from crusading police captains and self-appointed neighborhood saviors.

Take it back from vodka companies and crack dealers.

Take it back from New York Magazine.

We have heard it whispered every now and again.

Somewhere a monster is feeding that will raise its head angry and swallow

everything in sight.

Somewhere, angels wait in cheap rooms and lush apartments,

and even now they are dreaming.

Of a six o’clock dawn with the music beating down sheer voodoo and nobody ever again afraid of a disease. Take it back.

Of a great light returned to the city that never sleeps.

This light will burn away the usual well-placed spots and flashbulb radiance. Take it back.

Illuminating arches of perfect young spine on crumbling staircases,

Cigarettes held meaningfully as scepters.

And the grand march on that morning:

Glistening bleached blondes and righteous sissies

Boys with angel faces and checkered pasts

Exhausted painters/ Elegant junkies who fell off fire escapes too early

dreadlocked camel traders from afterhours black markets

the Teutonic diva who began with Madame Butterfly and ended up playing Camille

the obscure stars of super-8 movies and Times Square backrooms

Children so ancient at sixteen they seemed destined to die of old age

The fragile slum goddess who traded all her chiffon and fame for a gift of prophecy,

Kamikaze poets with tongues sharp as sacred hara-kiri knives.

At once they will rise out of restless beds and rush out secret doorways.

No press kits will proceed them.

They’ll come silently, by taxi, through the ruins of the night city, to a basement lost

to the sleeping world.

They will push past the doorway curtains

Back to a room where the real Loleatta Holloway is wailing and a baby Jean Harlow waits

in bias-cut satin just beyond velvet ropes.

They will roll down the rugs or sprawl carefully on couches.

Their makeup will be perfect.

They will take back the night.

Chi Chi Valenti, 1990

Originally published as the last page of the last issue of the original Details Magazine. Republished 1992 in Verbal Abuse #1

Ruf Dug romps the Furtive 50, 2023

Ruf Dug romps the Furtive 50, 2023

The votes have been counted, the adjudicators have adjudicated and the king has abdicated (subject to confirmation). The number one slot on this year’s Furtive 50 goes to the Mancunian scourge of worldwide discos, Ruf Dug, aided by the delightful Private Joy, with their wistful paean to streetsoul, ‘Don’t Give Up’. We caught up with the Dugster, tending to his ferrets on the allotment, and asked him a few questions. Answers (and the full rundown of the Furtive 50) below. 

So tell me about the genesis of Don’t Give In? How did you meet Private Joy and how did the tune come about?
I genuinely can’t remember making the beat. To me the Rhodes sounds like ‘Summer Madness’ and the piano solo is a cross between ‘Promenade Sentimentale’ from the Diva soundtrack and Moby. I sent an instrumental demo to Gerd Janson with a bunch of other tracks and this was the one he was really crazy for, but I couldn’t quite see it myself. It was his mega A&R skills that led to the vocal, he texted me one day saying, “Do you know anyone who can sing on it?” Private Joy is Pops from Lovescene who I’d previously collaborated with on ‘Make This Right’. This track seemed tailor made for her genius.

How do you make music, is there a set process? Do you fiddle about with machines until something emerges or is it a bit more focussed than that? 
Yeah it’s just constant fiddling and hoping that what I’m doing manages to keep my attention held long enough to finish the fucker. If I can get to 80% done without being totally bored of the tune I can usually finish it then. I’m definitely not one of these producers who has their workflow nailed and bangs out an album a week.

When you’re making tracks/songs in the studio what are you visualising; how other people will hear them playing in a club, playing on the radio? Or what?
I don’t know if I visualise much when I’m actually making the tracks… Defo more moods and feelings rather than images and even then I think the feelings are kind of abstract: dark/light, up/down…

How did you get into dance music in the first place? 
Xmas 1984, got my first ever Walkman and a Now That’s What I Call Music tape, put it on and heard Giorgio Moroder & Phil Oakey’s ‘Together In Electric Dreams’ and that synth line at the start totally reprogrammed my brain and things have never been the same since.

Did you always want to be a DJ/producer or was it a happy accident? 
About a similar time we were on holiday in Ibiza, I would have been about 10, and saw a mobile DJ in a bar somewhere, playing all the hits. It was the first time I’d ever seen two decks, slip-cueing, headphone monitoring etc and I was hooked.

What’s your most memorable gig and why was it so good? 
My first ever gig was at an outdoor squat party in Sydney down the end of the runways of Sydney airport. The sun was rising, I was playing with a broken hand and a bunch of ravers were mooning planes as they were coming into land.

Which is more fun: DJing or producing? And why?
DJing. I’m a pretty decent producer but I’m a fucking amazing DJ and I love it.

If you had to pick one record you’ve produced that best represents your sound, which one would it be? 
I’m very fond of ‘Don’t Give In’ and you’re only as good as your last tune right? This is the one for me.

Have you ever seen a DJ playing who changed the way you approached the job?
Derrick May, Theo Parrish, Simon Caldwell, DJ Gemma… all DJs I saw in Sydney when I was first starting out that informed me on a million different levels.

What are your plans for 2023? 
Working on my audiophile system more and doing more parties, more broadcasting and more tunes. Many thanks to all who enjoyed ‘Don’t Give In’ enough to vote for it! DjHistory has been one of my biggest teachers over the years so to receive this honour is genuinely meaningful to me. I’m buzzing a LOT!


FURTIVE 50, 2022

Furtive 50, 2022
  1. RUF DUG X PRIVATE JOY – Don’t Give In
  2. ALEX KASSIAN – Strings Of Eden
  3. PINKY PERZELLE – No Games (VS&THOG Mix)
  4. RHEINZAND – Facciamo L’Amore
  5. LADY BLACKBIRD – Lost & Looking (Cosmodelica Remix)
  6. ETERNAL LOVE – Altar EP
  7. CONFIDENCE MAN – Holiday (Erol Alkan Rework)
  8. A MOUNTAIN OF ONE – Star
  9. STR4TA – When You Call Me
  10. LANOWA – My Fantasy EP
  11. SAY SHE SHE – Forget Me Not 
  12. EDDIE CHACON – Holy Hell
  13. MAGREHBAN FT. OMAR – Waiting
  14. NAT HOME – Witching Hour
  15. COYOTE – Kate’s Bush
  16. GENIUS OF TIME – Sunswell EP
  17. CRUISIC – Pacific 707
  18. CHRONIXX – Never Give Up
  19. LEA LISA – Love To The End
  20. DANNY TENAGLIA – The Brooklyn Gypsy
  21. CHERRIE BEA – Jafar’s 21st
  22. BOLIS PUPUL – Neon Buddha/Rendez-Voodoo
  23. EMMA-JANE THACKRAY – Venus (BSO Remix)
  24. TORNADO WALLACE – Dream Corner EP
  25. TIGERBALM – Kete (Mang Dynasty Remix)
  26. THE ZENMENN & JOHN MOODS – Out Of My Mind
  27. JUSTIN DEIGHTON, PETE HERBERT, LEO ZERO – Sentiments Of Soho Theatre
  28. ATHLETES OF GOD FT. LADY BLACKBIRD – Don’t Wanna Be Normal
  29. JAMES ALEXANDER BRIGHT – Wheels Keep Turning
  30. DJ LEINAD – Souvenirs (Deep Dean Remix)
  31. CANTOMA FT. QUIN LAMONT LUKE – Alive (Conrad’s Vacant Lot Remix)
  32. HIDDEN SPHERES – You Are Not Your Body
  33. DAVID HOLMES FT. RAVEN VIOLET – It’s Over If We run Out Of Love
  34. OMAR S – Can’t Explain
  35. ALEX BOMAN FT. BELLA BOO – Nowhere Good
  36. CAPINERA – Suonno
  37. MAU P – Drugs From Amsterdam
  38. BSS – De Regenboog
  39. GUINU – Palago (Jose Marquez Remix)
  40. HAAI & JON HOPKINS – Baby, We’re Ascending
  41. JAMES RIGHTON FT. BENNY ANDERSSON – Empty Rooms
  42. JACK J – Only You Know Why
  43. GRAMRCY & JOHN LOVELESS – High Dive
  44. OVEOUS X DON KAMARES – Legacy
  45. PIG&DAN – Make You Go Higher (David Morales Stereo Mix)
  46. CARLOS NIÑO & FRIENDS – Actually
  47. RCHARD SEN – My Definition Of Funk
  48. MAXINE SCOTT – Erykah U Bad (North Street West Vocal)
  49. RON TRENT PRESENTS WARM – Cycle Of Many
  50. CURSE OF LONO – Think I’m Alright Now

 

Body & Soul was NYC

Body & Soul was NYC

Bill BrewsterThe Face, March 1999

SIX O’CLOCK on a freezing Sunday evening on Hubert Street, down by the Holland Tunnel on Manhattan’s Lower West Side. The street is deserted save for a truck backing up to a loading bay. You have to look hard to find the open doorway up past the sloping pavement and, even then, there’s nothing out of the ordinary — no lights, no crush barriers, no wide-shouldered bouncers in nylon jackets. Nothing to suggest that this is the entrance to Vinyl, home of New York’s club-of-the-moment, Body & Soul. There isn’t even a queue.

Once inside, however, the atmosphere is warm and welcoming. Passing through the warren of corridors, past the unobtrusive security, the first thing you notice is the chill-out area, with its collection of welcoming and obviously well-worn sofas. Beyond that, a couple of makeshift stalls sell Body & Soul T-shirts, hippy sweaters and hats. Even the main part of the club — a large plain square bathed in simple spotlights — seems surprisingly intimate for a venue which can hold up to 1,200 people. There’s just the dancefloor, a raised stage and, up to the side of DJ booth, a compact bar area serving energy drinks, sodas and mineral water. There is no alcohol on sale.

Body & Soul is a club which exists purely for the appreciation of music. It’s not a place for copping off with drunken strangers or getting ripped on E and pogoing all night on a podium. Aside from a few joints being passed around, there’s scant evidence of the heavy drug use — Ketamine in particular — which blights many New York clubs. Besides, the resident DJs at Body & Soul have seen it all before. Between them, François Kevorkian, Joe Claussell and Danny Krivit have been instrumental in providing a nocturnal soundtrack for New York City for the past 25 years.

Not that Body & Soul is just some trainspotter’s heaven. People don’t come here for a Sunday afternoon chill-out session — they come to dance. New arrivals pause at the edge of the dancefloor, stripping off coats and sweatshirts, stowing their outer layers in holdalls and bags which they then stack neatly behind the huge speaker stacks — a process we only fully appreciate after spending 50 minutes in the queue for the cloakroom. Out on the floor, it’s easy to see what makes the club special. The crowd is a unique composite of the New York club scene: colourful young ravers; groups of black and Puerto Rican club veterans; bare-chested gay musclemen. At the bar a clutch of DJs and musicians swap tips and records. As veteran DJ Kenny Carpenter puts it, relaxing at the bar: ‘You never see a crowd this mixed in the city.‘

As if in sympathy with the cross cultural mix, the music constantly shifts, from New York disco classics like First Choice’s ‘Double Cross’ to current dance hits and underground house mantras. There are some tracks, though, which everybody knows. Tracks which are the essence of New York club culture. When the guitar lick from Frontline Orchestra’s 1981 perennial ‘Don’t Turn Your Back’ bursts from the speakers, there is a chorus of knowing cheers. And, despite the early hour, steam starts to rise up in wispy plumes from the dancefloor, mingling with the knots of balloons and coloured paper butterflies suspended over the dancefloor.

IT’S NOW three years since an English ex-pat called John Davis approached François Kevorkian with an idea for a club. Davis wanted to hold a weekly Sunday afternoon party with Kevorkian as one of the featured DJs. Amazingly, Kevorkian — one of the longest-serving DJs on the New York club scene — agreed.

‘I was going to do something on a Sunday with [late New York pioneer and resident at Paradise Garage] Larry Levan,‘ says Kevorkian. ‘But we were playing together in Japan and when we came back he died, so it kind of took the wind out of me for quite a few years. I’d forgotten about it by the time John Davis came on the scene.‘

The idea that Davis and Kevorkian had was simple: they would host an evening that, despite being staged in a club, would feel like a house party. Sofas would be strewn around for people to chat on. There would be balloons suspended from the ceiling, along with cheap, gaudy trinkets that enhanced the DIY aesthetic. As for the music, there’d be none of the hard house and techno that powered the city’s big clubs like Twilo, Limelight and the Roxy. The music would create a mood rather than pound the dancers into submission. In fact, the whole atmosphere would be dictated by the music. Even alcohol would be off limits, with only soft drinks available at the bar. Another unique feature was the trio of DJs who, rather than play distinct sets, would play on-and-off throughout the afternoon and evening.

The idea was nothing new; Davis and Kevorkian would be the first to tell you that. In many ways it was a return to the past, when people went to clubs like Shelter and the Sound Factory specifically to hear one particular DJ. With dance music in general still an underground phenomenon in America, many promoters have turned to the UK dance press for ideas and inspiration. Over the past five years many clubs have started hosting ‘theme’ nights featuring, say, house one night and techno the next. Some even went as far as booking British DJs like Sasha and John Digweed as residents.

So when Body & Soul opened its doors in July 1996, it was as much a cultural statement as a nightclub. From the decor to the DJs, it offered a new experience to seen-it-all New York clubbers. As musical director, Kevorkian took responsibility for hiring the DJs. But rather than just hiring the newest, most fashionable spinners in town, he, ‘decided to call the two people I felt were the most talented I could think of’. Their names were Danny Krivit and Joe Claussell.

Krivit, now in his early forties, has been DJing in New York since the seventies. His stepfather Bobby used to run Ninth Circle, a gay hangout in the West Village, and managed Chet Baker for a time. His mother was a jazz singer on the New Jersey circuit. Danny also has probably the most revered collection of dance music in the city. Joe Claussell, meanwhile, ran an early New York house label, Jungle Sounds, and is now part-owner of the Dance Tracks record shop and a label, Spiritual Life.

As for Kevorkian himself, you could almost trace the entire history of New York nightlife through the experiences of this famously eccentric, French-born DJ, remixer, producer, studio proprietor and label owner. ‘He is, basically, a genius,‘ says Charlie Grappone of West Village record store Vinylmania. ‘He really knows dance music. He’s been in it since its inception. He’s mixed records that still have strength today. When he said he was going to start a label I just knew it was going to be successful. There was no way it could fail.’

Yet when I ask François himself about Body & Soul, he remains silent for a time, as if unwilling to draw too much attention to himself.

‘As far as the party goes,’ he says, finally, ‘John Davis is my partner and equally responsible for the party. I find it unfair to be the only representative of Body & Soul; I can only tell you what it’s like to be part of it. I very much value that team, whether it’s the staff at the door, the host or the coat-check people. It’s a whole bunch of people who love doing it. And I think it shows.’

NEW YORK has long been regarded as having the best clubs in the world. Not only are the clubs themselves legendary — Paradise Garage, Shelter, Sound Factory — but so are the DJs: Larry Levan, Timmy Regisford, Junior Vasquez. In this sense, Body & Soul is merely the continuation of a great tradition. One which many in the city feared had died with the closure of Timmy Regisford’s black gay mecca, Shelter, in the early ’90s (the club has since reopened).

Of course, this past can be restrictive. More than anywhere else, New York’s club history looms ominously over every promoter who discovers an old disco, every DJ who cues up a record, every keyed-up punter in search of a new place to dance. But at Body & Soul, the past is actively celebrated rather than treated with reverence. The days of the ‘Fun City’ which existed under Mayor John Lindsay in the early ’70s may be long gone — the current mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, is the most reactionary New York has seen for decades. The club population may have been decimated by Aids — many people will tell you that once Aids took hold, they couldn’t face going out to clubs because all they could see were the ghosts of friends who were no longer there. But Body & Soul is the living proof that New Yorkers — black and white, gay and straight — still know how to party like it’s 1979. As the veteran DJ Kenny Carpenter puts it: ‘You know what I feel like? Since I come from that era of DJs, I feel like I’m still running with the torch.’

Even so, there is far more to Body & Soul than ’70s classics: the evening’s soundtrack shifts effortlessly from Donna Summer to Armand Van Helden to Basic Channel’s minimal techno masterpiece, ‘Phylyps Track’. Context is everything. As far as Kevorkian, Krivit and Claussell are concerned, you can’t chart the future without a map of the past.

ON A DRIZZLY Saturday afternoon we meet François K at Axis, the recording studio he operates 16 floors above the site of Studio 54 on West 54th St, Manhattan. Typically for a man whose CV encompasses almost every genre in popular music, sessions here have involved such disparate talents as fellow DJ Danny Tenaglia and Mariah Carey. More recently, though, this has been the room where he fashions the strange, compelling fusions of dub, house, techno — or whatever else takes his fancy — that are the hallmark of his label, Wave Music.

François became a DJ by accident. After arriving in New York from his native France in 1975, he wanted to pursue a career as a drummer. The idea was to find like-minded musical buddies and form a group. However, he landed a job playing drums along to the DJ at gay discotheque Galaxy 21 on 23rd Street. It was there that François unexpectedly found himself at the centre of an explosion of club culture.

Coincidentally for Kevorkian, one of the foremost revolutionaries was the resident at Galaxy 21, Walter Gibbons. Gibbons’ trademark was drums. Indeed, he was cutting up breaks and drum tracks well before Grandmaster Flash. He was also one of the first to remix records purely for the effect they would have on the dancefloor. ‘He had an amazing instinct for drum breaks,’ says Kevorkian, ’creating drama with little bits of records.’ Kevorkian’s first forays into production were re-edits of drum mixes Gibbons played live, like Rare Earth’s ‘Happy Song’ or ‘Erucu’, a Jermaine Jackson production that first surfaced on the Mahogany soundtrack. As a result of these early edits, François was offered the post of A&R at fledgling disco label Prelude. In his first week in the job, he remixed Musique’s ‘In The Bush’. It ended up going gold.

‘It was really my first experience in a studio,’ François says, his French accent now submerged in a New York drawl. ’And the record just blew out. Everywhere you would go in the summer of ’78, they were playing that fucking record.’

At the time, not only was François a regular fixture at all the major rooms — The Loft, Better Days, Paradise Garage — he would often be found playing at downtown after-hours gatherings like AM-PM. ‘John Belushi would be there all the time,’ he says. ‘Billy Idol would be lying on the floor half-drunk.’

Yet, by the early ’80s, Kevorkian had more or less stopped DJing altogether and he wouldn’t start playing again on a regular basis until 1990. Instead, he began to concentrate on remixing and production, developing a unique, dub-influenced style inspired in part by reggae producers like King Tubby and partly by an early UK dance track incorporating dub elements: Funk Masters’ ‘Love Money’. It was a style which proved equally effective whether applied to disco — the reprise of D Train’s ‘You’re The One For Me’ on their eponymous album; rock — Dinosaur L’s ‘Go Bang!’ and The Smiths’ ‘This Charming Man’; or early electronica. ’I pride myself on being the only person that has worked with most of the major electronic music figures,’ he says, ‘whether you’re talking about Depeche Mode, Erasure, Kraftwerk, Eurythmics or Jean-Michel Jarre.’

Great dance music is constructed as much from silence as it is from sound; what gets left out is as important as what goes in. And part of what makes François Kevorkian such a great producer is his unerring sense of what to leave out. Two decades on from those classic early mixes he continues to conjure new rhythmic textures — from the strange, echo-laden depth of recent Wave productions like ‘Time & Space’, ‘Mindspeak’ and ‘Hypnodelic’ to the sparse, dub-orientated tone poems he has wrought from Talvin Singh’s ‘Vikram The Vampire’.

In fact, over the past year, Kevorkian’s profile has risen steadily thanks to the quality of the Wave releases and the label’s burgeoning old-school offshoot, Wave Classics. Yet the release most likely to transcend his specialist-shop status here in the UK is the mix CD released as part of the Essential Mix series on ffrr.

‘It’s just a take on our scene here,’ he says, simply. ‘I think it’s incredible when someone just says, ”Pick what you think’s really great and let’s put it out.” What else can you ask for?’

BY 7PM THE dancefloor at Body & Soul is packed, the crowd growing more excitable with each record. Yet at times the response to the music — as when the O’Jays’ classic ‘Love Train’ comes in — is strangely devotional. An alternative form of Sunday worship. As one of Kevorkian’s contemporaries Steve D’Acquisto told the New York Post 25 years ago: ‘Nobody goes to church anymore, and if you listen to those songs, you’re getting religious and political instruction.’

Just after 10pm, the lights go up. To round off the evening, Danny Krivit throws on Lyn Collins’ rare groove anthem, ‘Think’. The crowd go into a wild hip-shaking frenzy. I look up and see François himself excitedly jumping up and down in the DJ booth. Then, as the track plays out, a Puerto Rican girl called Rosie accosts me. ‘It’s the bomb! I been meaning to go here forever,’ she shouts. ‘I cancelled a flight out of town so I could come here tonight. I had to. And it’s great, everybody getting off on the music, not the drugs. It’s the vibe, man.’ Bill Brewster

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton

Men in sheds started things off

Men in sheds started things off

In the aftermath of the Second World War, hobbyists and tinkerers set to work stitching together the equipment for mobile DJing. One of these ‘men in sheds’ was Boston’s Ron Diggins, creator and controller of the wonderful Diggola.

In the wilds of Lincolnshire a 2008 auction of ’40s and ’50s DJing equipment sheds light on the career of a pioneering post-war disc jockey, one of the very first mobile DJs. Monster wooden consoles, ancient Bakelite gear and big clunking wind-up double decks, strictly for 78s. The equipment belongs to Boston hero Ron Diggins, who died in 2007, having started DJing in 1947 and enjoying a career spanning 50 years.

It was the notorious Jimmy Savile who revolutionised British nightlife by spearheading the Mecca organisation’s move from dance bands to DJs at the end of the ’50s. But in the austere post-war years leading up to this, Savile was certainly not alone in realising the mass entertainment potential of recorded music.

“We couldn‘t get plywood in those days, so soon after the war. So I had to make it out of coffin boards.”

Ron Diggins was a professional radio engineer with a business providing public address systems. ‘I‘d been playing background music and doing voiceovers out the back of my van at school sports days and the like,’ he told the Boston Standard. ‘It was nothing to do with dancing – that was the last thing on my mind.’ But in September 1947, the farm girls from the Swineshead Land Army decided Ron’s gear could be put to better use: ‘They were passing the office, saw the van and came in to ask if it could be used for dancing. They were having a harvest supper with some of the Italian POWs. Well, I’d never thought of it before, but I didn’t want to lose the booking – so I said I’d give it a go.’

Ron’s waltz and quick-step 78s proved wildly popular, no doubt because his record selections gave audiences slightly grander music than they were used to. ‘When I started out, the ordinary village halls danced to live piano and drums – that’s all. If it was something extra special, they’d have a violin as well.’

In 1949 he built his famous ‘Diggola’ a wonderful art deco mobile DJ booth modelled on the bandstands of the jazz era. The first of six, it came complete with double decks for 78s, a home-made mixer, lights, microphone, amplifier and ten speakers. ‘It took me about six weeks to build the first Diggola. We couldn’t get plywood in those days, so soon after the war. So I had to make it out of coffin boards.’

Diggins was not alone in his pioneering efforts. In his Radio 4 documentary ‘The Other Mobiles’ Chris Eldon Lee tracked down a series of DJs operating in the 1940s and ’50s, including Bertrand Thorpe, who as far back as 1941 was rocking the crowds with his 30-watt amplifier. Bert recalls how he’d stand with his back to the audience flicking three 40-watt light bulbs on and off in time to the music.

In the ’50s Ron Diggins’ fame had spread so widely around south Lincolnshire that he had to hire two other DJs to keep up with his bookings. His success angered the Musicians’ Union, who used their clout to prevent him playing larger venues. So sadly, though he’d set his heart on it, Ron never played Boston’s Gliderdrome. He retired in 1995 after playing around 20,000 parties. The most he ever charged was £50.

‘I’ve invented nothing,’ he insisted on his 90th birthday. ‘I put the same things to a different use, that’s all.’ Frank Broughton

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton

Thanks to The Boston Standard, Chris Eldon-Lee and Eleys Auctions

What is Balearic?

What is Balearic?

Up until the ’80s the word Balearic meant nothing more than a collection of islands huddled near the Mediterranean coast of northern Spain. It was the sort of place you might go to if you booked your breaks from the pages of a Thomson’s Holidays brochure. But then something strange happened. British DJs, holidaying on the island of Ibiza, discovered a DJ called Alfredo Fiorito and before we knew it, the Balearics – the location – also became a musical genre: the Balearic beat. So what is Balearic? Is it simply a genre, or more of a feeling? Did it ever exist outside of the confines of DJ Alfredo’s record box? A fuzzy and scattered set of records that may or may not include Wang Chung, Phil Collins and Simply Red? Or is it simply, as dance writer Frank Tope once jokingly defined it, ‘pop records that sound good on pills’?

A Short History Of Ibiza

Ibiza has always retained a mythical hold in people’s imagination. Its location in the Mediterranean meant it was perfectly positioned to offer sanctuary for transients travelling to or escaping from somewhere else. It was a favourite haunt of the Carthaginians’ whose goddess of sexuality, Tanit, populates trinket stalls on the island to this day. Its first settlers were the Phoenicians, who gave it its name (it derives from their god of safety, dance and protection, Bes); and thereafter by the Romans and the Vandals, the Arabs and the Catalans, the Jews (fleeing persecution) and Americans (draft dodgers, most of them), fugitives from justice and injustice, pirates looking for place to hide or trade; finally, it was the hippies and the jet set.

Ibiza is a tolerant place. You’d have to be to welcome/endure so many visitors over two thousand years. Despite the despotic Franco’s brutal reign on mainland Spain, it became known as an island that was particularly sympathetic to gay men and women, well before most of mainland Europe; Santa Eulalia was a popular gay tourist destination from the 1950s onwards and Ibiza has remained one of the top three gay holiday spots worldwide ever since. The island’s first gay disco, Anfora (snuck away in a cave in Dalt Vila) opened as long ago as the early 1960s. Pacha’s Piti Urgell recalls the contrast in attitudes between Ibiza and the mainland. ‘Once the police came to our club in Sitges and they said that that it wasn’t up to standard because it was too dark to read. My brother told them, “Well, that’s not a problem because nobody comes here to read!”’

”Ibiza was pretty much left on its own”

Willie Crichton, Bar M

An American Jack Hand (aka Bad Hand Jack) helped launch Ibiza’s musical scene when he began booking jazz musicians to come and perform on the island, including Billy Eckstine and Jon Hendricks (sadly, Jack lived up to his nickname and was later convicted of murder in Barcelona).

Thanks to its reputation among the gay community and among a strata of super-wealthy individuals, movie stars, actors and playboys found its secluded bays perfect for either relaxing or getting up to no good, away from the prying eyes of a hungry celebrity press.

Errol Flynn spent time there, along with Ursula Andress, Denholm Elliott (who made it his home), Nikki Lauda, Goldie Hawn and Roman Polanski. ‘Ibiza was pretty much left on its own,’ claims Bar M’s Willie Crichton. ‘This is why, in a way, we were able to have what we had. It was a well-kept secret. This was a bastion of liberty in the country. It was like an independent republic.’

Movie star Errol Flynn having it large in Ibiza in the ’30s

Seminal hippie movie More, which employed a Pink Floyd score, was shot on Ibiza and nearby Formentera, and provided further temptation for the long-hairs of Europe to head for the Mediterranean. The Ibiza of 35 years ago was somewhat different to today’s commercialised island. Hippies would hang out in the open, often literally since many of them never bothered to wear clothes. ‘The show was not in the clubs it was in the streets,’ recalls Argentinian Nino, aka Captain Birdseye. ‘I mean the street was a club. You walked to the harbour and there was a crazy world there with the hippies and the hippie market, people naked on the street, drag queens, Germans on their motorcycles. But in San Antonio there were package tours and one of the attractions for the tours was to come and see the crazy people so they brought the tourists down to look. The people did not feel comfortable being looked at, so they took refuge in the clubs.’

The first modern-style club to be opened on Ibiza was Pacha. Even then it was already a burgeoning empire, with clubs on the mainland (their first place opened in Sitges in 1967). Pacha was opened by the Urgell brothers, Ricardo and Piti, the latter also being the founding DJ. Piti played a mixture of British rock (Island Records was a favourite label with bands like Spooky Tooth and Traffic particular favourites) and pop and soul. The early ’70s was somewhat different to now. ‘There were two floors and two worlds,’ explains Piti. ‘The touristy side was on one floor and the hippie world was on the other floor. The same music but totally different scenes on the different sides. Lots of hippies would come, but the tourists would come and they would also pay. The hippies would just bring their dogs.’

Pacha parties grew legendary. One such night involved a flamenco performer dancing with a horse on the main dancefloor. Another involved transporting the whole club on a boat to Formentera. And then there were the White Parties. ‘I’ll always remember the first White Party we threw in ’76, three years after it opened,’ chuckles Piti. ‘Everybody had to wear white. They were saying, ”What shall we do to make this party special?” So we put two UV lights so you could really see the white. Everybody made a really big effort. So when they put the lights on so the clothes glowed, everyone took them off and danced in the nude. The atmosphere was incredible. The challenge was to make a better party than that one because that one was just so amazing. But we never managed it.’

Jean-Claude Maury

Jean-Claude Maury is a mysterious character who steps into the frame just as the camera lens blinks. His story collides accidentally with that of Ibiza and Balearic music despite the fact he is rarely, if ever, mentioned. He is the Zelig of the Balearic scene, a Frenchman, originally from Marseilles, who lived in Brussels. His background was originally as part of the punk rock explosion, but he first came to prominence as a DJ at the Mirano, a swanky Belgian club that is often described as the Studio 54 of the Lowlands. He was a primary influence on the Belgian new beat scene and championed the dark leftfield pop that became such a fixture in sets in Antwerp and beyond. It was Jean-Claude who broke Max Berlin’s ‘Elle Et Moi‘ and also did a very passable cover version under the name Joy. In Ibiza he was originally the DJ at Glory’s (which had French ownership) before moving on to Ku, where he was resident when Alfredo was making his name at Amnesia. 

Jean-Claude Maury (black shirt) and Gerardo Queiruga at Ku Ibiza in 1983

When asked about the DJ who influenced him most, Alfredo cites Jean-Claude Maury. ‘He was a very simple guy, without a massive ego. And, although he wasn’t young, he had a love for the music, particularly, and he had great taste. Other details are sketchy. Was the Jean-Claude who played at the opening night of Pacha Sitges in the late ’60s, the same person? And how much did he bring his new beat influences to bear on Ibiza?

Certain tunes offer a clue. Mag & The Suspects’ ‘Erection‘, for example, was massive with Belgian DJs like Fat Ronny and also a big Balearic tune. Connections like these show that Jean-Claude Maury almost certainly had an influence on the sound that eventually became defined as Balearic. And when you consider them side by side it’s not hard to see the links between the music played in Belgium during the years leading up the new beat explosion with that of Ibiza and Alfredo. The difference is probably just a healthy dose of sun to wash away the doom and acid rain. 

DJ Alfredo

In the very same year that Pacha threw their infamous White Party, a young Argentinian journalist arrived on the island by way of Madrid and Paris. Alfredo Fiorito was visiting a friend. He never left. His first job on Ibiza was selling candles on a market stall. A few years later he was running a friend’s bar. The bar also had some decks, a mixer and a small collection of records, so Alfredo doubled up as barman and DJ. He had but one ambition and that was to become resident at Amnesia, then an ailing open-air club that no one seemed able to make into a success. As to why he wanted this job, he says simply: ‘It was the most alternative place in Ibiza.’

Amnesia had originally been a finca that had belonged to the Planells family for several generations. They sold it to the aristocratic Maria Fuencisla Martinez de Campos y Munoz in 1970, who turned it into a hippie enclave replete with art exhibitions, live performances by stoner bands with a side order of mung beans. It became a discotheque in May 1976 when a Madrileño called Antonio Escohotado began leasing the finca from its owner. He chose the name Amnesia (having discarded the markedly less snappy the Workshop of Forgetfulness). 

Amnesia was not a success for several years. Trevor Fung recalls going over to play there in 1984 after two Belgians bought the club. ‘There was no one in there. No one. Dead.  I played there for about two weeks. It had just been bought and they’d just got it going. Didn’t happen. Lost my job.‘ During that same summer, Alfredo finally got his chance. ‘By the end of August, we had not had one person in the club,‘ he laughs, knowingly. 

By the end of that season, it was the hottest club on the island. What changed their fortune was switching from regular club hours to after-hours – and a little Alfredo magic. It all happened by accident. ‘One night we’d been waiting to get paid and some of the people in the club, my work colleagues, asked me to play for them while we waited for the money,’ explains Alfredo. ‘Some people came down from Ku, heard the music and stayed there. Fifty to sixty people. The next day there was 300; the day after 500 and four days later there was a thousand in the club. Just like that.’ From then on, Amnesia opened at three and closed at midday. 

The music that Alfredo compadre Leo Mas and a cadre of island DJs began to discover and promote over the next few years formed the original Balearic playlist (many of which were later codified on the FFRR compilation Balearic Beat Vol. 1). Although many of these records were mainly European and often English, they’d remained a mystery to many of the travelling British contingent – mainly because they were all soulboys for whom the idea of listening to music made by white people, especially white English people, was anathema. 

Trevor Fung was an early devotee of Alfredo’s and soon got to know him. ‘At the time what I used to do was bring him stuff from the UK and he used to buy it from me,‘ he says, ‘I used to look through his records going, ”Where did you get this from?” I thought where the fuck did he get all this stuff?  And then I looked at the labels and it was all English stuff. It was from Leeds and places like that. I thought what the fuck’s going on here?’

What was interesting about Alfredo’s selections was that even though they were, indeed, from unlikely locations like Leeds, they still somehow had a Mediterranean feel to them. The Cure’s ‘Pictures Of You‘ was a perfect example sounding like a strange hybrid of dour Estuary vocals and Latin heat; perfect for Amnesia, in fact. 

What turned Alfredo’s music from a popular local curiosity to worldwide infamy was the intervention of four young enthusiastic British DJs out on a holiday at the behest of Fung, who was running the Project Bar during the summer of 1987: Johnny Walker, Paul Oakenfold, Nicky Holloway and Danny Rampling. It was Fung who had told Oakenfold about the burgeoning scene there (he’d actually been once earlier in the season, not liked it, and returned home). It was also Fung who introduced them to ecstasy. 

‘I’d give them all one at the bar. I didn’t want to say too much, I just said, ”Try this, it don’t do too much to you!” Then we went to Amnesia. Fucking hell! We was all off on one here. Danny Rampling skipping round the room and jumping speakers. Johnny was sitting in a speaker. Paul was like, ”I can’t fucking believe this, it’s changed since I last been here!” Chaos.‘

Johnny Walker recalls that night: ‘I remember walking into this open-air, white-walled fabulous club with palm trees and mirrored pyramid and dazzling light show going on and all these crazy, flamboyant people dancing. You had all the jet-set around the edges drinking their champagne and all the gay crowd going mad on the dancefloor. It was a real carnival atmosphere, full of life and energy.’

‘And then hearing Alfredo play was completely mindblowing to what we were used to in London,’ he adds. ‘We were like, ”Wow! What the fuck is this?” Something completely different. Alfredo was mixing up house records with indie guitar records, pop stuff like Madonna and George Michael, and then some of the things that are now Balearic classics, that I suppose he was finding in Ibizan record shops. I think we did go there every night; we just couldn’t get enough of it. We were like: ”We’ve got take this back to London.”‘

What happened next has passed into legend in the UK. Often cited as the start of the dance scene in Britain (as though nobody had ever danced until ‘Acid Tracks‘ landed in London). Paul Oakenfold started The Future (aided by pal Trevor Fung), Danny Rampling ran Shoom in the Fitness Centre, while Nicky Holloway had the Trip at the Astoria. Within months they had help transform a holiday epiphany into a nationwide phenomenon. 

‘Shoom DJ Colin Faver has never seen anything like it,’ wrote John Godfrey in i-D magazine. ’”At the end half of them come up and shake my hand. It just doesn’t happen anywhere else.” It’s the most obvious display yet of a realignment in club attitudes, a move away from the fashion victim voyeurism that has dominated London clubland in the past and more than just a return to ‘fun’. ”We want to change people’s attitude towards each other when they get out, get rid of that aggressive atmosphere that most clubs have,” says [Shoom’s] Jenny. ”As soon as you step inside The Shoom or The Future, you can literally feel and certainly see the difference. Nobody glares at you, everybody smiles at you and someone might even give you a present.”‘

Nights swiftly sprung up all over the country (although, in fact, many early house nights in Nottingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Sheffield had long been thriving anyway). The style magazines began gingerly stepping around the scene, while the tabloids’ interest – often denouncing and praising the scene, almost simultaneously – ensured that ‘raving’ became a national pastime for any youth with a sense of fun and access to some half-decent drugs. 

‘Now while it’s true that the Balearic beat was born in Ibizan clubs, such as Amnesia and Pacha, its breeding took place in a small, sweaty, strobey, smoky south London club called… The Shoom,‘ wrote Terry Farley, in the sleevenotes for Balearic Beats Vol. 1, a compilation that was entirely based on the playlists of DJ Alfredo. ‘The hardcore original Shoomers, along with another London club The Future, had discovered the joys of Balearic beats, during several previous ‘summers of love’ (sic), and had brought the music and the attitude back to London with them. The kinetic style of dancing now associated with Balearic’s ugly brother, acid house, is pure Ibizan in origin. The loudest screams at Spectrum are always reserved for Nitzer Ebb and the Residents while hearing Enzo Avitabile booming through the smoke at Joy is an ecstatic experience one step away (some say forward) from sex.’

The arrival of the Balearic beat, reinforced by the unstoppable force of acid house, altered the direction of British clubbing and, indeed, British youth culture, for the next 15 years. But, while it was Balearic that was the launching pad, the idea of playing eclectic sets in the same manner as Alfredo soon waned as the new house hegemony began. 

The New Balearic

These days Balearic is a constant. It’s almost as ubiquitous as minimal house. So what does it mean now? Is it a genre of music and does it have anything to do with Alfredo?

In the 1980s, before the arrival of house music, almost all club DJs played an eclectic range of music that might incorporate disco, funk, soul, rare groove, go-go, electro, hip hop and even the occasional comedy record (and some would argue that comedy records are the epitome of Balearic). Nobody billed these DJs as Balearic; a) because the term did not yet exist and; b) because everybody played in this style. 

In New York, it was the same story, too. Larry Levan, with his wide ranging tastes that encompassed the classic disco and soul of his youth to bands like the Clash or Cat Stevens or even Nu Shooz, it could be argued (and is, frequently, by some) that Larry Levan was Balearic. The same could be said for Ron Hardy. And Frankie Knuckles. Oh and Tony Humphries, Shep Pettibone, David Mancuso, Nicky Siano and about a hundred others. 

What house created was both a template – a hegemony – but also because of its all-consuming power, it created a small but vocal opposition. The reason many DJs used it as a shorthand term to describe their style was a simple way of differentiating them from everyone else. It was a way of saying, ‘We don’t only play house’. 

The idea behind Balearic is that any record could be made to work on a dancefloor provided it had the right feel (that fantastically nebulous word that means one man’s Funkadelic is another man’s Dana International). But it’s also because the idea of a bearded misery guts from Wigan who had never been further south than Macclesfield calling himself a Balearic DJ was intrinsically funny (it still is). 

So the new Balearic – or The New Balearic, should I say – is both a myth and a reality. It’s a myth in as much as there is no specific genre of Balearic as there is for, say, house or happy hardcore or even hardbag. But it’s also a reality, an alternative reality, admittedly, in which records from any genre can be Balearic if someone has the chutzpah – or the stupidity – to claim so. Balearic is like the giant rabbit in the James Stewart movie, Harvey, a preposterous notion to some, but to Elwood P. Dowd, a very real six-foot fluffy animal. You either get it or you don’t. Thus Wang Chung can be Balearic, as can Simply Red or Jamiroquai. The list is endless, as is the debate. 

For some DJs – like the Idjut Boys or DJ Harvey – it’s simply about taking some foggy notion of what it is and interpreting it their own distinctive way. The most important thing about becoming a Balearic DJ is to have a sense of the absurdity of your chosen role. You should take great pleasure watching faces drop on a packed dancefloor as they realise they have been dancing to Cliff Richard or Lieutenant Pigeon for the past three minutes. 

For the original Ibiza DJs, that time and place has long passed and for most of them the style they championed was not necessarily an ethos or lifestyle, but simple expediency. An Ibizan DJ would be playing almost every night for up to eight hours a day; they had to fill 40 hours or more programming a week. ‘I think it was because we were brought up like that, but also there was not much choice,’ thought José Padilla. ‘Now you can specialise in Detroit techno or deep house or whatever, then you had to play with what you had. We had to play so many hours that we have to play different tracks to make the session happen. It’s not because in Ibiza we like to play like that. We have to play Talk Talk, we have to play Belgian beat, we have to play rock, we have to play reggae, because we have to fill the space of so many hours.’

Terry Farley, not only wrote the sleevenotes for the 1988 Balearic Beats Vol. 1 compilation, but also championed much of the music. He has been known in his distant past to have played records by Phil Collins, though thanks to counselling – and primal scream therapy – has not re-offended for many years.  ‘My personal view on Balearic is that it was a moment in time namely a few Ibizan clubs from 1986-88 and Alfredo’s personal taste. In 1988 all the records spun at Future and Shoom were direct steals from his sets. It was when the UK DJs tried playing their own pop records on drugs that it went wrong (I stand at the front of the guilty queue myself) although it was fun at the time.’

I canvassed opinion on some message boards as to what Balearic really means: ‘Harvey playing Easy Lover in the a.m. at New Hard Left,’ said one; ‘Hearing Donna Summer’s ‘State Of Independence‘ on a pill for the first time,” countered another; ‘Love of music for its own sake, free of puritanical bias and entrenched prejudice, free of marketing pigeonholes…’ But this put it more succinctly and more ludicrously than anyone else: ‘It’s a state of mind,’ wrote Barry Devan. ’It’s a group of islands. It’s sand in your foreskin but not caring. It’s Clark’s comfy shoes. It’s corduroy. It’s a lazy place. It’s warm. It’s Wellington boots. It’s knowledge. It’s Moonboots. It’s carpet not laminate. It’s Van Halen not Europe. It’s council not Hilton. It’s Jason Boardman. It’s the M10. It’s borrowing not buying. It’s me, it’s you, it’s everybody. It’s bollocks. It’s great.’ Absurd, but true. Bill Brewster

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton