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 06:02 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 06:02 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 09:12 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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