The Rebel Waltz

I like odd music. I’ve always liked odd music. When I bought my first long play­er — With The Bea­t­les — it was odd music.

I’ve nev­er quite recov­ered from the five note sequence when Lennon sings the last word in the title of Not A Sec­ond Time — a sequence which famous­ly led The Times music crit­ic, William Mann, to opine:

one gets the impres­sion that they think simul­ta­ne­ous­ly of har­mo­ny and melody, so firm­ly are the major ton­ic sev­enths and ninths built into their tunes, and the flat sub­me­di­ant key switch­es, so nat­ur­al is the Aeo­lian cadence at the end of Not A Sec­ond Time

Forty years since I bought the long­play­er with my saved pock­et mon­ey, that song still rings odd. 1 It’s an odd few min­utes in the same way the first few Vel­vet’s albums were very odd, The Ramones’ début was odd as fuck and so were the first two PiL albums. This, of course, needs to be placed in cul­tur­al con­text and to a kid now lis­ten­ing to that rad­i­cal sec­ond Bea­t­les album, Not A Sec­ond Time does­n’t sound odd. That’s because odd rede­fined nor­mal. And nor­mal there­after was the accep­tance of that odd. Not A Sec­ond Time still sounds odd to me because I can place it in the con­text it arrived.

What was­n’t odd was Paul McCart­ney get­ting a Gram­my for Best Solo Male Vocal for a take of Hel­ter Skel­ter on one of his bi-annu­al throw­away live albums. The best male rock vocal in the whole world in 2010 was, if you trust the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Record­ing Arts and Sci­ences, a for­got­ten track on a for­got­ten album which cov­ered a frankly aver­age song from his 40-year-old once rev­o­lu­tion­ary and, yes, odd, band. That’s not odd, it’s trag­ic. Even the sev­er­al years late com­ing to Arcade Fire in the awards can’t make up for that state­ment of major label real­i­ty divorce. Not that it’s any­thing new, nor an indi­ca­tor of any­thing more mean­ing­ful than the fact that the Gram­mys have long been tosh.

I’m more inter­est­ed in who will buy EMI, now that WMG is on the block too? Does BMG buy both? Can they be that stu­pid? No, of course not and the only way it makes sense for any­one to buy either label is to sim­ply buy the copy­rights and start afresh. The infra­struc­ture of both is nei­ther an asset nor a desir­able bur­den for any buy­er sure­ly.

And Sony may (but we know won’t although they’re hap­py to float the idea of course) want out of iTunes which would be an act of supreme and ter­mi­nal stu­pid­ly in 2011.

Ear­ly house music was odd.

Ear­ly house music was very odd, and as with The Bea­t­les, it’s hard to grasp exact­ly how odd twen­ty-five years on.

When it arrived we all stood back and asked our­selves (repeat­ed­ly) wtf is this? The first house record played in New Zealand was a Far­ley ‘Jack­mas­ter’ Funk sin­gle in late 1986. I’d bought it at the rec­om­men­da­tion of my usu­al UK disc sup­pli­er, East­ern Bloc in Man­ches­ter and when it had arrived I’d played it at home over and over try­ing work out what it was.

I liked it but knew not how it would work in a club envi­ron­ment. Roger Per­ry played it one night at The Asy­lum and it split the dance­floor — the soul boys were aghast, and the hair­dressers loved it.

Which brings me to the long play­er I love the very most this par­tic­u­lar week — the mighty Trax Re-edit­ed col­lec­tion released on DJ friend­ly vinyl, CD and, natch, dig­i­tal, by the folks at DJ His­to­ry and Harm­less.

Some things are, by their implied nature, almost untouch­able and so it is with much of the ear­ly house music. It recalls a moment when their odd­ness pre­saged a musi­cal rev­o­lu­tion (as much as those Bea­t­les or Ramones records did) and there is, odd­ly still, some­thing almost sacred about them. How­ev­er, that said, they were mutants too — they were rough rework­ings, using the new­ly avail­able tech­nol­o­gy of drum machines and dig­i­tal sam­plers, of the dis­co records that had filled the new­ly hun­gry dance­floors of the decade before.

They were total­ly dis­re­spect­ful imi­ta­tions of what came ear­li­er.

I know that and part of what makes me love these old shit­ti­ly pressed and appalling­ly mas­tered old Trax, DJ Inter­na­tion­al and Under­ground labelled records is that they dis­sect­ed their own roots so thor­ough­ly and irrev­er­ent­ly.

For all that, the idea of some­one rework­ing the twelve inch­es of per­fec­tion that is Lar­ry Heard’s Can You Feel It — a sim­ple but bru­tal­ly intense few min­utes with­out vocals (in its orig­i­nal mix — the ver­sions with super­flu­ous dubbed MLK and oth­er vocals are not worth your time) that has rarely been equalled, filled me with dread. Or Jamie Prin­ci­pal’s Frankie Knuck­les pro­duced Cold World — eas­i­ly one of my favourite 12″ sin­gles of all time. My fears were most­ly not ground­ed in ratio­nalé but nos­tal­gia.

And, this, despite the hype, is not the first time many of these have been reworked, or sim­ply cleaned up. I have a series of quite stun­ning 10″ and 12″ sin­gles issued in the late 1980s by Trax UK which matched up remas­tered Trax cuts with a bunch of fair­ly respectable and respect­ful remix­es by the likes of The Advent and Base­ment Jaxx.

How­ev­er that was a mighty long time ago (was it real­ly? yes…) and much of this stuff has long been only avail­able on cheap comps or boot­leg 12“s often sound­ing lit­tle bet­ter than those orig­i­nal Trax press­ings (noto­ri­ous­ly on reprocessed vinyl — I have a copy of the sem­i­nal Acid Tracks with a large bit of paper pok­ing out of the plas­tic — I love it all the more for that, but I can’t play­er the fuck­er).

But enough ram­bling — for the his­to­ry of this mighty, but might­i­ly dys­func­tion­al record label, I rec­om­mend you to the videos here, where Bill Brew­ster and Frank Broughton of DJ His­to­ry talk all things Trax and Chica­go house with Ian Dewhirst.

It is of course to these three that we owe this new col­lec­tion, and as impor­tant­ly, the fact that it’s been done not only taste­ful­ly but also not over­loaded with the obvi­ous ‘Hits of Trax’™. That means that for every Ado­nis’ No Way Back (like­ly in the top five com­piled Chi house tracks of all time) there are at least three tracks that only the most hard­core, reten­tive, Trax trainspot­ter (or DJ His­to­ry forum mem­ber) knows.

So what does­n’t work?

Noth­ing.

There isn’t a sin­gle moment when I’ve gone ‘no, please, no…’

There are a cou­ple of tracks that seem to offer lit­tle more than a hap­py and affec­tion­ate touch-up, and that’s fine, but when it kicks it real­ly kicks. The open­ing track, Vir­go 4’s Take Me High­er, a song that owes more than a pass­ing debt to Big Audio Dyna­mite’s E=MC2, as reworked by Rang Mang, is just love­ly, all shim­mers and waves, and that kicks into Far­ley ‘Jack­mas­ter’ Funk’s Far­ley Knows House, an obscure-ish groove that is all clat­ter­ing 808s and per­cus­sion, and I can feel the dance­floor drag­ging me back to 1987 and all that won­der­ful odd­ness.

That takes you to one of the album’s high­lights, the afore­men­tioned (and much loved) Cold World — a track that is either cred­it­ed to Jamie Prin­ci­pal, or Frankie Knuck­les (here, the lat­ter, as with the 1987 OG) depend­ing on the ver­sion. The Hotel Motel edit sounds like it’s anoth­er lov­ing re-tweak until, at around 6 min­utes (the orig­i­nal was only 5.30) it heads off in a padded per­cus­sive direc­tion that the orig­i­nal only hint­ed at, find­ing itself touch­ing on deep melod­ic acid a cou­ple of min­utes lat­er. It’s gor­geous.

And so it goes, track by track it real­ly does work. It’s warm, it’s rev­er­en­tial, albeit not over­ly, it’s vague­ly mod­ern but not des­per­ate­ly so, and best of all, the one track I was most dread­ing hear­ing, Mr. Fin­ger’s Can You Feel It, not only does­n’t make me tear the CD out of the play­er, instead I now find myself return­ing to the way John Daly has turned the raw acid growl into a soft 303 shuf­fle, thus accen­tu­at­ing the melody in this most beau­ti­ful of all elec­tron­ic record­ings, over and over again.

A suc­cess? Nah, I’d say it’s a fuck­ing tri­umph.

This mix, from Left­side Wob­ble, is a wor­thy way to check out the album. And if you feel your­self get­ting too pre­cious about remix­ing this stuff, remem­ber the spir­it it was made in. Hell, even the grump­i­est forum on the inter­net, Deep House Pages, gave it a thumbs up.

Trax Re-Edit Flavours by Left­side Wob­ble

 

one gets the impres­sion that they think simul­ta­ne­ous­ly of har­mo­ny and melody, so firm­ly are the major ton­ic sev­enths and ninths built into their tunes, and the flat sub­me­di­ant key switch­es, so nat­ur­al is the Aeo­lian cadence at the end of Not A Sec­ond Time

Show 1 foot­note

  1. Even more so, the six notes that stretch the sin­gle syl­la­ble word I in that same album’s All I’ve Got To Do — blame Smokey

3 Comments

Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Shane
February 25, 2011 at 6:24 am

I keep hear­ing ref­er­ences to Arcade Fire — sem­i­nal album, incred­i­ble band, but the only song I heard played was “Keep the Car Run­ning” which I very much liked, how­ev­er hav­ing bought the album the track was on I had trou­ble find­ing any­thing else about them (“Antichrist” being an excep­tion). What is it about this band that made them one of the best bands nobody ever heard of?

Shane
February 25, 2011 at 6:27 am

Sor­ry, I meant “any­thing else about them that I liked”.

This is how we walk on the moon / 2011 — The Opin­ion­at­ed Din­er
December 20, 2011 at 9:20 am

[…] one in detail, and my post had a cou­ple of reposts. Suf­fice to say, I’m not want­i­ng to re-edit those words. They’ll […]

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