Sunday, March 25, 2012
2012 EMP Pop Conference Paper
Puerto Ricans, Black Men, and No Less Than One Dominican: Slammin’ the Rock with Todd Terry, Chep Nuñez , Blade Runners, and The Blue Jean Regime – An Exegesis of 1990’s Warlock Records War Party Compilation Sliced and Edited in the Style Of Omar Santana.
Track One - “Warparty 1990” The Megamix by Blade Runners
“The Authentic Sound Of Now!” This is what you first hear when you put the needle down on side one of Warparty, The 1990 Warlock Records compilation that featured some of New York City’s most blessed and inspired House, Hip-House, and Latin Freestyle music creators. And just in case there was any doubt as to who was throwing this party, all but two of the tracks featured on the 15 minute and 45 second megamix were created, produced, remixed or in some way lovingly handled by Todd Terry, the formidable Brooklyn master blaster who under a myriad of guises released a steady stream of ecstatic, propulsive, pugilistic, and most definitely New York Hip-Hop informed House music in the late 80’s. Todd made tracks that could put you in a trance while simultaneously knocking you on your ass and he owns his block on this comp. In the Oxford Illustrated Encyclopedia of House Music under the entry for “Club Banger” there is a picture of Todd Terry not smiling. Okay, I made that last part up, but it’s safe to say that Todd the God’s late 80’s releases remain a gold standard of musical expression, elation, and invention in New York’s long musical history. Said invention had a lot to do with the city of Chicago, which is why people say that Marshall Jefferson is the mother of invention, and Todd’s ability to translate said Chicago-ese into a Bronx cheer is one of the reasons why he’s revered in Tokyo. Just briefly…It used to bother me that greatest minds of American electronic dance music were and are received with such devotion and respect everywhere in the world except the U.S. I do believe, and I think Noam Chomsky can back me up on this, that the evolution and health of a society can be judged by how closely a nation embraces heavily modulated 136 BPM synth tom loops with delay effects. But, now, I’ll be honest, I don’t really give a shit. This country doesn’t really deserve Todd Terry. Or most of the people who are on this album and who are still living and making music. New York deserves Todd Terry! Chicago deserves Todd Terry! Detroit deserves Todd Terry! Philly, on a good day… deserves him. But other than those places, let them eat Skrillex. No offense to Mr., uh, Skrillex. He’s just doing what he does and getting paid, nothing wrong with that. But this country DOES deserve Skrillex. This country IS Skrillex. For better or for worse. Worse. The only non-Todd tracks on the opening megamix are both from the U.K., and, one of them A Guy Called Gerald’s “Voodoo Ray” is one of the strongest Acid House tracks ever made. It’s a near perfect construction and it’s a treat to hear it intertwined with those early Todd Terry B-Boy House anthems like “Party People” and “Get Funky”. The other U.K. track represented is the less legendary, but still endearing “This Is Ska” by Brit “Skacid” House proponent Longsy D. The mix itself was cut up, edited, and abused by Juan Kato Lemus, Joe Barrion, and Ray Checo, aka Blade Runners, in memory of Hector Hernandez Jr. It’s a fast 15 minutes and one hell of an intro.
Track Two - “4-U” by Tropical Moon
Track two on Warparty, by Tropical Moon, was put together by prolific House producer Nelson “Paradise” Roman and Gene “Blue Jean” Hughes and it lowers the lights and slows things down a ton. It’s a dream of a track made out of 11 separate musical elements – I counted – that blend together to form a seamless clockwork whole and also, like many great House tracks – create the illusion of exquisite minimalism when in reality it’s made out of, like, 11 different sounds. There’s nothing minimal about the number 11. Great make-out music too. Or crotch-grabbing music, I don’t really know where you hang out. The same year that the Warparty release came out, 1990, also saw the micro-release of an album created entirely by Gene Hughes entitled The New Maharajahs Of The Bottom Rock and credited to Blue Jean’s Regime. It’s a wonderful album. Truly. It’s this idiosyncratic homemade-sounding mix of Paradise Garage-style House and post-Prince Funk Rock. It’s not overtly political, but there is a humongous peace sign on the back cover. And Gene himself sports a huge peace sign on the black and white front cover. The whole thing is strangely black and white and melancholy for a 1989-style daisy generation statement. It’s a trip and an underground artifact well worth seeking out. Gene Hughes died tragically last year on July 29th after being struck by a car in a hit and run accident. He was 47, and he left behind a wife and two young children.
Track Three - “Feel The Magic” by Soul Fusion
Soul Fusion is “Little” Louie Vega (along with Todd Terry on keyboards and Louie’s future wife India of Latin Freestyle fame contributing vocals) and “Feel The Magic” is deluxe, funky, Garage-House that sounds like a million bucks. It should have made them all rich. Two quick things about Louie. Louie and Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez worked under the name Masters At Work in the early 90’s – a name bequeathed to them by Todd Terry – and while ostensibly they were a House duo, a good portion of their music just happens to be some of the best instrumental Hip-Hop of the early 90’s era. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if you are a Hip-Hop fan and you don’t own a copy of their triple-lp collection put out by Cutting Records in 1993 then you’re probably not much of a Hip-Hop fan at all. You’re probably just a punk who can’t handle the truth. Just kidding. But not really. One last thing about Louie and Todd. In 1988, Todd released the popular dancefloor hit “Bango (To The Batmobile)” which was a tribute to two legendary crime-fighters, Arthur Russell and Batman. Move ahead one year and the good people at TVT Records are looking for ways to promote their soon-to-be-a-smash television theme song album and they hire Todd to create yet another sample-heavy Batman-themed dance smash. Todd and Louie Vega dub themselves the Caped Crusaders and create “There’s a Bat In My House”. It isn’t a smash. I actually like it better than Bango. Plus, maybe just to prove that nobody at TVT was listening, on side two of the Caped Crusaders 12 inch, there is a remix entitled “Where’s That Fucking Penguin” which is comprised of House beats, Batman samples, and someone saying “Where’s that fucking penguin?” over and over again for six minutes. It’s kinda beautiful.
Track Six – “Black is Black” by Jungle Brothers
I’m making my own megamix here so I’m gonna skip a few things. You can buy this comp online for, like, a dollar plus shipping and handling, just so you know. Same goes for almost every 12 inch I mention. Your life could be changed for a dollar. And I should note that that the track preceding “Black is Black”, “After The Storm” by Nemesis is a sublime textbook example of Chicago House made by a U.K. resident of African descent. Nemesis, aka Toyin Agbetu, is a cult figure within the cult of underground house music and today, interestingly enough, Toyin runs an organization called Ligali, which is a Pan-African human rights group that challenges the misrepresentation of African people, culture, and history in the British media. He made headlines in 2007 for shouting at the Queen in Westminster Abbey during a service to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the end of the British slave trade. The more you know…Meanwhile, back in the jungle...The inclusion of the remix of this Jungle Brothers tune has always bugged me a little. Todd Terry’s genre-defining Hip-House masterpiece “I’ll House You”, featuring the JB’s, is on the opening mix and its superior in every way to the U.K. funky stuff provided by Ultimatum, a remix crew featuring members of Brit Breakbeat Electronica group Stereo MCs. On the other hand, the JBs ARE heroes of mine and the Native Tongue gang and their U.K. pals like Monie Love and the Cookie Crew and the Wee Papa Girl Rappers made some of the most entertaining Hip-House that exists from that time. But, there’s a little too much Q-Tip on “Black Is Black”. Q-Tip, god love him, is just a little *too* adorable for the Warparty vibe. And right after “Black is Black” is Todd’s own “Rollin’ With Rhama”, which despite its faux-Ofra Haza exotica motif is blacker than the blackest black. There is no cream in that coffee. Which is a good thing, because, as we all know, when you integrate your coffee with cream, you make it weak. And if you pour too much cream in it, you won’t even know that you had coffee. It used to be hot, and it becomes cool. It used to be strong, and it becomes weak. It used to wake you up, but now it just puts you to sleep.
Track Ten – “No Para” by Blade Runners
Side three of Warparty is diva-heavy House from the Warlock catalogue, including an ace track by Body Work featuring someone called The Slut of House, aka Kim Lake. I don’t know if it was Kim’s idea to be billed as The Slut of House. We may never know. If you see her, ask her. There’s also another great track by future Queen-hating Pan-African human rights activist Nemesis and its one of the sweetest tabs of circa ’89 acid you’re ever gonna taste. Nemesis’s track is actually a taste of what the future, or the 90’s anyway, was gonna look like for a lot of dance fans. Harder, faster, and shinier. More single-minded. No rough edges. Taking its cue from Techno as much as Acid House until you can’t tell where the Techno starts and the House ends. Or the other way around. An evolutionary leap. The New York Afro-Latin House sounds of the late 80’s that Todd Terry and his friends were making would become more refined as well. Also tougher and louder and more tribal. More hardcore. Soccer hooligans around the globe were ready to party. The underground club hits and the Chicago House template of the 80’s did turn into early 90’s New Beat/steroid House jock jam fame, and Todd Terry singlehandedly delivered world-wide adulation via New York beats to pasty Brit mope-rockers Everything But The Girl. And life did carry on for most of the stars of New York dance even while new forms like Jungle and Downtempo and Broken Beat and Acid Jazz stole some of the thunder and, oh, jesus, England just stop inventing things would you? All hepped up on Cadbury bars and PG Tips. Just sit still for a minute. Dubstep, Grime, AND UK Funky? So much to answer for……But back to Blade Runners. They aren’t prolific on record, which is why I savor the documents that exist. “No Para”s blend of Freestyle and Latin House steals the side. It’s not terribly hard to find, and if you see it for a dollar you should definitely pick up their 12 inch that features the side-long A Night At The Edit Block credited to Blade to the Rhythm. It’s crucial for Freestyle edit fans. Again, probably a buck on Discogs. I haven’t checked.
Track Thirteen – “I Love The Way You Shake” by Front Line
Track Fourteen – “Cannot Stop This Feelin’” by House Junkies
Track Fifteen – “Children of the Night” by Marley Marl
Track Sixteen – “Disco Diva’s Last Serenade” by Coffee Light
Track Seventeen – “Say Yeah!” by Slammin’ The Rock
Five tracks on the final side. Near perfection. A culmination of a decade of New York Dance. From Larry Levan to Arthur Baker to infinity and beyond. Pehaps surprisingly, as a rock-based life-form, or, more accurately, as someone forged on rock and made of steel, I never had the problem that a lot of other rock fans have with electronic dance music. I don’t think I even knew there were problems. Rock fans will criticize dance music for its “facelessness” and its “manufactured” qualities. They are intimidated by the steady stream of generic looking dance 12 inches. I’ve always been a hoarder and a sound collector, and the words transcendence thru repetition will be etched on my gravestone, so, again, no problem. I mean if you’re a chronic masturbator and/or a rock critic you can probably relate to that. And if you can’t, I think you can at least agree that rock fans are the worst music fans on earth. Maybe even the worst people on earth. They’re certainly the whiniest. And the most maudlin. And they are the most apt to cling to a past that they had no part of. Do they even have any competition as far as being the most annoying music lover? You might say country fans, but at least you know where you stand with hardcore country fans. They stand over here and I stand over there not asking them what they think of the president. It’s a perfect relationship. Plus, unlike rock fans, country fans will never try to convince me that Wilco are worth listening to. Country fans – 1, Rock fans – 0. I mention this, because the lack of interest in what I consider some of the most profoundly important and exciting music of the last 30 years kinda staggers me at times. Wait, I forgot! Old people are the worst people on earth! Old people suck. I was begging and praying when I left the house the day after Whitney died, a woman who gave the gift she was given by GOD to everyone on EARTH, that I wouldn’t run into any old people. No such luck, I got jacked up at the Stop & Shop. In case you didn’t know, she was a druggie who wasted her life. Thanks for that. “ Oh, my grannie’s a little racist, but she’s so old, she can’t change.” Fuck your granny! She can change. If modern medicine is gonna keep people alive forever they better bring something to the table. There’s a lot of people out there. Step aside. I was reading the New Yorker the other day and their movie critic David Denby actually wrote that if any critic said that they understood what was going on in that John Carter Mars movie that they were lying. I wish no ill will on David Denby, but between you and me, that guy is kind of a dick. It’s a kid’s movie! Made for children! You got the green people and the red people and the Friday Night Lights dude, there’s nothing complicated about it. Step aside, grandpa. There’s work to be done.
Every track on side four of Warparty is like a beautiful light guiding you home. Even Marly Marl is guiding you home! There is nothing that anyone with an ounce of humanity in their bones could not “get” about this music. It’s a crystal clear reflection of one moment in the life of a city. If you let it in, it will enable you to do good work on earth. I kid you not. Jose Chep Nunez, for those of you who don’t know, was a genius. He was the Picasso of Freestyle editing. An X-acto knife, some tape, and Chep created gold. Rapid fire stutter-step perfection crafted by hand and mind. His House Junkies track on this comp, is just one gem in a career littered with them. Catastrophically, Chep died in December of 1990 in an apartment fire. There is no telling where he could have gone with the great gifts at his disposal. The first house track I ever fell in love with was “Do It Properly” by 2 Puerto Ricans (David Morales and Robert Clivilles) A Blackman (David Cole) And A Dominican (Chep Nunez) when I heard it on Profile’s influential Best Of House compilation from 1988. I thought it ironic that the New Yorkers stole the show on an intro to House LP. (Kinda like Todd Terry would end up stealing the show on Vol. 2) What I didn’t realize at the time was that Chep had already helped change my life. I bought Music Madness by Mantronix in 1986 and it was like the clouds had parted and trumpets were ablaze! Hallelfuckinguja! I felt like that a lot in the 80’s. I was searching for redemption. That album will give it to you too. Still one of the greatest SOUNDING albums I’ve ever heard. You can test your hi-fi with it. And Chep worked on every track save one (A young Omar Santana had the pleasure of working magic on the last track. Omar would later go on to save the soul of the Netherlands and become one of the kings of hardcore death metal techno ). Blessings and praise for life to Kurtis el Khaleel aka Kurtis Mantronik, but I had no idea – not being a scholar of liner-notes at the time – that Chep had been with me for so long. And he’s still with me. I’ve listened to the fourth side of Warparty hundreds of times in the last 22 years. My favorite track is actually “Say Yeah!” by Johnny Dynell as Slammin’ The Rock. It’s Little Stevie Fingertips gospel fervor is always welcome. When I was 15, my parents sent me to a school for misfit toys in Rhode Island where I lived with firebugs, bedwetters, hicks, Provi hip-hoppers, Latino Alphabet City B-Boys, rich kids, and allegedly the daughter of a prominent member of the Bonanno crime family. We made quite a class picture. The bloody dorm stereo wars were fought by Iron Maiden and Whodini. My roommate was the gayest 15 year old boy I’d ever met in my life. He was in pain and so was I. The only album he owned was Midnight Star’s No Parking On The Dancefloor and he played it constantly. He suffered through my newfound love for Rudimentary Peni. One day after a trip to the Swansea Mall I brought home Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy” twelve-inch. It was, to put it mildly, a revelation to me and also to my roommate. The lyrical import of the song was not lost on him. I felt that in some small way, despite the fact that I was a cruddy creep, that I had handed him a lifeline. And for me, well, this was it! Or one of many its. The Authentic Sound of Now! We were going to be alright! Human evolution was possible! Every 80’s DJ owned that 12 inch. Black, white, gay, straight, everyone. In closing, If I advised anyone to buy any album other than Warlock’s Warparty in order to get an idea of the level of craft on display in New York in 1989 in this scene – a remarkably creative time despite the plagues that swept the landscape – it would be the 2 In A Room album on Cutting Records from 1989. It’s perfect. Completely perfect. It features Todd Terry and the baddest Latins in Manhattan. The Marin Brothers, Chep Nunez, Louis Flores, Albert Cabrera – who was one of half of the Latin Rascals – Carlos Berios, Little Louie Vega, and Chep Nunez’s heir apparent Omar Santana. This album and the artists that made it were as good as just about anything gets. They were golden. And they all were, in the words of Swiss poet Tom G. Warrior “Slipping into the hidden sun/Intoxicated by the endless fall”.