EDM (electronic dance music), as they like to call it in the US, has never been bigger, America now fully embracing it, having previously regarded it as a little more than a side-issue, always the bridesmaid and never the bride. Now, the more curious minded dance music enthusiasts Stateside, wishing to avoid the mainstream commercialisation of a previously more underground club culture, are, often for the first time, excavating the mid-late ’80s period, when Chicago House and Detroit Techno emerged (finding far more love at the time in the UK and Europe, than in the country of its origin).
Dig a bit deeper and they’ll discover the New York Electro era, which laid the groundwork even earlier in the decade and was a huge inspiration for what subsequently happened in not only Chicago and Detroit, but other influential cities like Los Angeles and Miami, plus, of course, across the Atlantic here in Britain. Electro has been far too conveniently brushed under the Hip Hop carpet by lazy journalists who completely misunderstood what was happening back then, having never been a part of it. Yes, it did play a key role in Hip Hop’s emergence, but it also holds a crucial place in dance music history, for it was the catalyst for everything that followed, placing the emphasis on the drum machine, the sequencer and the sampler. This is what facilitated the great leap forward for dance music, where many mad professors made their aural experiments. It was a time when technology was married to Funk, and topped off with a Dub sensibility to create new hybrid forms, which we referred to as Electro-Funk on the specialist black music scene in the UK. A whole cluster of now legendary producers and remixers would emerge during the early ’80s, the period blessed with people who understood the changing landscape of dance culture, and the possibility for moving things forward, from the underground outwards, in the wake of Disco’s enforced demise as the previous decade came to a close – these visionaries included Arthur Baker, John Robie, François Kevorkian, John ‘Jellybean’ Benitez, Tee Scott, Eric Mathew, Darryl Payne, Shep Pettibone, Larry Levan, Nick Martinelli and David Todd, who, between them, are responsible for a whole legacy of classic and cult-classic club cuts that still pack the dancefloor 3 decades on.
I’ve just been putting together my latest Early ’80s Floorfillers podcast, the October 1982 edition (stream / download above), and, looking at the Top 10, it occurred to me that this month represented something of a tipping point when it came to this then new Electro-Funk sound, the chart now dominated by it. If you’ve been following previous instalments, you’ll have seen how, over the course of 10 months, Electro-Funk would come to define my nights. At this point in time there were no specialist black music nights in the country that were more cutting-edge than my Tuesdays at Wigan Pier and Wednesdays in Manchester at Legend. The scene up North had been turned on its head since the year began – Jazz-Funk had been left in the slipstream of this new electronic sound that could only be fully appreciated over the mighty sound systems in the Pier and Legend (at a time your general club sound in the UK was, quite frankly, appalling). I was a lucky man to be blessed with the right environments in which to unleash this ‘New Wave Funk’.
There’s a big contrast between the floorfillers from the start of ‘82 and what the crowd were going for as the year moved into its final quarter. Here’s the January chart – all other months can be accessed via the side menu on the page:
Looking back, October ’82 was such an exhilarating time for me. My clubs were packed, I was playing tomorrow’s music today, my mixes for Mike Shaft on Piccadilly Radio were hugely popular, taking my name further afield, and I was exactly where I’d always wanted to be, no longer just a contender, but at the top of my field, playing precisely what I wanted to play to whom I wanted to play it to – the most upfront kids, who happened to be mainly black, including many of the best dancers of their generation (at a time when dancing was a serious business) from cities like Birmingham, Nottingham, Leeds, Wolverhampton, Sheffield, Bradford, Stoke, Huddersfield, Liverpool, and, of course, Manchester. I was doing things on my own terms, having climbed the rungs of the ladder one step at a time during the previous 6 ¾ years, and within 6 months I’d be voted the North’s Top DJ, with my clubs coming in 1st and 2nd, whilst also becoming the first DJ to demonstrate mixing on British TV. It was all I could have wished for, all my birthdays come at once, or so it seemed from the outside looking in, for there was one humungous drawback – rather than being patted on the back by my contemporaries, and having my 22 year old ego stroked with lyrical words of lavish praise, I was being accused of bringing the entire scene into disrepute. My Electro-Funk direction was regarded by most of the Jazz-Funk establishment as a blind alley, unworthy of the proud black music tradition that had shaped British club culture since the ’50s. This computerised nonsense was going to spoil it for everybody, I was told.
It would turn out to be a long battle, which I won’t go into now, one that was extremely wearying, but ultimately won. Electro would eventually come to the fore on a national level in 1984, following the huge success of Morgan Khan’s ‘Street Sounds Electro’ series, the first volume appearing 12 months on from this podcast, in October 1983. We really were way ahead of the curve, so much so that it took The Face, supposedly the purveyors of all things subcultural and stylish, another 18 months before it caught up with what was happening in the world that the black kids inhabited, finally declaring across its front page in May 1984, ‘Electro – The Beat That Won’t Be Beaten’, a full 2 years on from the release of the genre’s defining record, ‘Planet Rock’ by Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force.
Some might say better late than never, but what a missed opportunity it was for The Face, and other publications, with regards to witnessing a new British youth culture in embryo. Thankfully Lindsay Wesker, who wrote the club column in Black Echoes, had his ear to the ground and would make regular trips up and down the country throughout this period. So, along with a somewhat less electronically endeared writer, Frank Elson, the Northern club correspondent at Blues & Soul, who at one point refused to even acknowledge the word Electro, typing it as EL*C*RO instead, Wesker’s columns are an important testament to those changing times. Unsurprisingly, Wesker would later be one of the key figures in the formation of London’s hugely influential Kiss FM in 1985, the then pirate station’s playlist largely reflecting what was being featured in the underground black clubs – this wasn’t the type of stuff you were hearing on Radio 1.
Anyhow, without further ado here are the Top 10 Floorfillers from that telling month of October ‘82, as played at Wigan Pier and Legend (and also my other weekly nights of the time, Thursdays at The Stars Bar in Huddersfield and Friday at The Exit in Manchester):
1.Klein & MBO ‘Dirty Talk’ (USA Connection Instrumental)
2.Q ‘The Voice Of Q’ (Instrumental)
3.Planet Patrol ‘Rock At Your Own Risk’
4.Extra T’s ‘E.T. Boogie’ (Instrumental)
5.Sharon Redd ‘Beat The Street’ (Remix Instrumental)
6.George Clinton ‘Loopzilla’
7.Raw Silk ‘Do It To The Music’
8.Bootsy’s Rubber Band ‘Body Slam’
9.Warp 9 ‘Nunk’ (Instrumental)
10.Tyrone Brunson ‘The Smurf’
If you want to see the chart in greater detail, with label scans and writing / production / mix credits, it’s all here:
At the summit is a track that would prove to be very influential, an inspiration behind the biggest selling British 12” of all-time. It’s not a New York production, as was the case with the majority of Electro-Funk imports, but a record that people nowadays might file under the genre heading ‘Italo Disco’, although back then it’d be over a year before the term was coined (for a German compilation of Italian dance tunes on ZYX Records), so this was very much Electro-Funk from our perspective at the time. I wrote about the record, mentioning the guy who put me onto it, Harry Taylor, who worked behind the counter in the quintessential Manchester import specialists, Spin Inn, when selecting my 12×12 for NYC’s Wax Poetics magazine in 2006 (I’ve cut & pasted the relevant bits together below):
Spin Inn in Manchester was the premier record shop in the North of England when it came to dance music. If you had any aspirations of being taken seriously as a black music specialist you had no option but to shop there. There was nowhere outside of London that could compare when it came to stocking the latest imports. Although Spin Inn was best-known for black music, all the main DJs from the gay scene also bought their records there, with a guy called Harry Taylor (sadly no longer with us) looking after that side of the shop’s business.
Harry would sometimes pull out a European track for me that would fit in perfectly with the mainly New York produced stuff I was playing. The best example of this was Klein & MBO’s “Dirty Talk” on the Italian Zanza label, which, in ’82, went absolutely massive at Legend and the Pier. This, of course, wasn’t the vocal, but the instrumental “USA Connection” mix.
DJ Hewan Clarke, at that time the resident at a new Manchester club called The Haçienda, picked up on the track, being aware of its floorfiller status across town at Legend, which was now the biggest night on the scene and, like Wigan Pier, pulling in people from all over the North and Midlands. One night Hewan was playing it when a couple of the guys from the seminal Indie band, New Order, who were co-owners of The Haçienda, came into the DJ booth to ask if they could borrow it to use as a reference for a track they were working on. This would turn out to be ‘Blue Monday’!
Had it not been for Harry, I’d never have heard this record when I did. It’s certainly not the type of track Spin Inn would have been pushing from the black side of things – although they sold Electro, the shops manager, Kev Edwards, made no bones about the fact that he disapproved of it, prompting much debate between the two of us with regards to its validity.
30 years on it remains a record that still cuts the mustard in a club. With the full blessing of the tracks co-writer, Tony Carrasco, I eventually got to put together my own edit 5 years ago (incorporating another Klein & MBO track ‘Wonderful’), for an official release on the Belgian label Flexx. Then, 2 years later, in 2009, it would feature on my 2nd Credit ToThe Edit compilation, further solidifying my long-running association with this underground classic, which, following its original release, found its most fervent support with the black crowd as an Electro-Funk floorfiller par excellence.
For more info on Electro-Funk and the black music underground: