ELECTRO - BY SEAN "P-SKI" P
ELECTRO!!!! I say, children, what does it all mean? Lots of things to everyone. Computer games, smurfs, a crowded Groove Records on Saturdays, Capitol Radio's Mike Allen, specialist shows on London's Pirates, the "Buffalo Gals" video and the Streetsounds Electro Series. Thirteen or so years down the line, "Electro Funk" as it was called in it's infancy has now come of age.
It's odd to think that, comparatively, the selections on this compilation are as old-school and so undoubtedly form another era to a teenager now as Stax and Motown were to the younger generation (myself included) all those years ago. Today, jungle is the rule-breaking, cacophony to the untrained ear, mother-wouldn't like it, anarchic "Black" music genre of the '90s.
Electro spoke that same language in the '80s! This initial release from the vaults of the Streetsound empire goes someway to charting the evolution of British Hip-Hop culture. My introduction to the rap medium was (not uncommonly) via SugarHill, Kurtis Blow, T-Ski Valley etc.... and most of the memorie-series in the first paragraph. Out of the blue came a new, different sound, uncovering a rather peculiar new world. U.S. Soul/Dance outfit Shock coined the term with their rocky "Electrophonic Phunk" hit in '82. Enter 'Planet Rock" and all Cyberspace was let loose.
This new music had taken hold. Streetsounds got with the program, inspiring a whole generation. Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of.... ELECTRO. So, put your best foot backwards and retread the past, via some old friends. Remember Smurfs? The loveable little creatures with their squeaky Smurf-talk and fluid body-movements were ideal B-boy icons. A variety of amazing dance styles were exclusive to Hip-Hop - breakdancing (still practised and allways breathtaking to watch), Body popping, webbo and huevo dancing, and smurfing.
Vocoder and "Smurf" vocals were in vogue for some time, and Newcleus certainly got enough mileage out of this in the wrong hands (voice??!). The "Squeak" syndrome could be somewhat irritating but "Jam on it" is still an irresistible Electro-Boogie Groove, and certainly did the helium abusers no harm - serious lunar fun, with a wicked bassline! Definitly the jam-on crew's finest moment, and perfect for opening the proceedings.
Oddly enough the first "Smurf" homeage had been paid some two years previously by talented Washington D.C. based instrumentalist, Tyrone Brunson. A veteran of the D.C. Funk scene, Brunson's previous recordings included stints with local outfit the Family and hard-funkers Osiris. Quirky and instantly appealing, "The Smurf" was something of a departure of Tyrone's Go-Go roots. Even without any vocal content, it still conjures up vivid image of Father Abraham's little helpers!
Extra-classic status must be attributed to "The Smurf", for being one of the early Electro twelves to Blow-up Big Time in the UK. Under the creative control of former Jazz vocalist Lotti Golden and partner Richard Scher, Warp 9 initially made there mark in 1982 with the minimal "Nunk". Come '83, however the follow-up "Light Years Away" was, in no uncertain terms, The Bomb!, consolidating Electro's preocupation with all things unearthly.The syncopated beats and austere keyboards were pure science fiction!!!
So, let the breakin' begin. Key-Matic - suspended between the Earth and the Moon is their dancers' Anthem, the excellent "Breakin' in Space". Jet-propelled by slammin' "Luna" beat and muzak maestro Najee's noodling sax, this heralded a small step for the independent label Radar Records and a giant leap for Electro! One of the more "musical' tracks of its kind, "Breakin' in Space" is an essential piece of the Electro jigsaw. The distant future meets the distant past in our next Electro-goodie.
From the land of pyramids and pharaohs, we bring you history's most celebrated party animal, The Egyptian Lover (Greg Broussard). typical of the soft-core L.A. sound, "Egypt, Egypt" is an up-tempo driving beat loosely based on Kraftwerk's "Tour de France": another cut that was particularly big with the dancers. A seemingly colourful, it somewhat enigmatic from the New York dance arena is one Larry Joseph. Larry was perhaps best known for his productions for West End Records artist Sparque.
Totally removed from that sweet, girlie disco is Joseph's most credible B-Boy venture. The bass-heavy attach that is "The Party Scene" by the mysterious Russell Brothers finds our heroes in the all-too-familiar 'boy-meets-girl' party situation. Frequently on many collectors' 'want list', the record's hard-hitting appeal is, once heard, easily understood. The multi-talented Larry Joseph has written, produced and mixed countless hip-hop, dance and house items over the past decade or so, many on his own Electric Ice label.
As for the Russell Brothers, they were never heard again. I wonder if any of the above know just what a monster they created? In an ideal world, gravity wouldn't be the 'downer" that it is now! Hip-hop's new sound wasn't, however, confined to New York - nor was it particularly new. Many moons previously (and many miles away) an enterprising teenager was scraping together enough cash to finance making the music he loved. European synth-pop was among the influences. Detroit, MI was the location.
Picture the scenario, it's 1981 and a young Juan Atkins is releasing Futuristic 7" singles on his own Deep Space label. along with colleagues Jon-5 and 3070, he lands a deal with Fantasy Records. The following year, as Cybotron, a single and album followed. The album, 'Enter", boasted not only a brilliant cover, it also housed my favourite Electro massive! "Clear" is pure Cybernetic, nightmare soundtrack.... Pure Genius!
Widely acknowledged as one of the Godfathers of Techno, Atkins is finally getting his dues - in the mid '80s, Juan's Metroplex operation continued releasing pure electron under his Model 500 and Channel One alter-egos, but few were interested. Today, Music fans realise that Electro and the current Techno scene have much in common, hence the recent wave of interest in old B-Boy beats. Certain Techno artists even re-create, via sampling, that authentic '80s sound!
One of the reasons why Electro sounds are sampled is quite simple.... You just can't find these old machines anymore! David Reeves aka Davy DMX, was certainly one the most idiosyncratic artists/producers of the beat-box era. In today's climate of "Hip-Hop Soul", it's interesting to look back at this multi-instrumentalist's work - decidedly R'n'B flavoured with his distinctive rhythm guitar and funky drum patterns. Reeves showcased his skills on the populair Oberheim DMX drum machine with the brilliant "One for the Treble", a sparse but wickedly funky cut.
Despite its popularity as an import, the single never attained a U.K. 12" release - leaving it to Streetsounds to feature it in the Electro series. Top Marks!! Afrika Bambaataa is, without question, the Godfather of Hip-Hop as we know it. Active troughout the movement's many phases, one of his numerous projects, was Time Zone, whose "Wildstyle" made much noise in '83. Previously issued as "Zulu Wildstyle", this new remix was a veritable rollercoaster ride of sound collage and invention: sound bytes, dub effects and a weird, elastic bassline. And those vocals! Electro - with a punky attitude!
Equally radical, but from a whole 'nother galaxy comes another absolute monster. Hashim's "Al-Naafiysh (The Soul)" was an instant breakers anthem responsible for much worn lino, bald patches and twisted ligaments! Fat beats, ruuude bass synth and mad vocoder, who could resist! Al-Naafiysh's place was instantly assured in the Hip-Hop hall of fame....How many times have you heard those immortal lines "It's Time" and "Just Feel It" cut to oblivion on two decks?
If you can't recall this, I hope you can recall your 12-year sabbatical in Siberia! Hashim's hot item certainly had a European flavour, and so did our next killer. Around as a scarce, audiophile on import/12 for what seemed like an eternity was 'Hip Hop, Be Bop (Don't Stop)" by the mysterious Man Parrish. Probably one of the more sophisticated examples of Electro, "Hip Hop, Be Bop" coasts along on an almost lightweight, bubbly undercurrent topped off with a spaced-out, eerie feel. It nudged the Top 30 upon U.K. release, and was hugely populair as a crossover club cut. Still filling dancefloors to this day, this remains an essential for everyone's top ten.
On to our final slice of history which isn't, strictly speaking, Electro at all! But who can dispute its place here? No one. Hip-Hop's ultimate old school drum break is cut to maximum effect on "Break Dance - Electro Boogie" by Sugarhill funksters The West Street Mob. Complete with breaking instructions (and vocal snippets from the Furious 5 and Diana Ross!), this is old school hip-hop heaven, perfect for the breakers of the day to get their Gazelles into. Circles still form to this one at jams.... somehow the word "Classic" still falls short of justice....
It has been great fun, being invited to give a personal view of this top-notch track listing. For those fortunate enough to have lived Electro the first time around, I hope this collection brings back many fun memories. To the new school of ears, I hope you enjoy this journey through the past. Stick around - there's more to come! So, what does it all mean? No doubt you'll agree on one thing - This stuff is still really Fresh!
Sean 'P-Ski' P, 1995 . COPYRIGHT © BEECHWOOD MUSIC LTD.
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