As I navigated the winding country lanes on my way to the M5 from Minehead, where I’d been playing the Sunday night 1.00am-3.00am closing slot / graveyard shift at the inaugural ‘House Of Fun’ weekender, I was pleased to discover that there was a programme on the radio about the JFK assassination 48 years ago in 1963. Always a subject of fascination, this would help me whittle away half an hour of journey time as I weaved onwards towards the motorway.
The programme included Sam Pate and Ron McAlister’s famous on the scene radio broadcast from KBOX in Dallas, reporting live on the Kennedy shooting (although its authenticity as a live ‘breaking news’ story is disputed by conspiracy theorists), This was the same recording that had been employed so effectively on Steinski & The Mass Media’s cut ‘n’ paste masterpiece ‘The Motorcade Sped On’, presumably sourced from the LP ‘Four Days Than Shocked The World: November 22-25’, with additional sound bites from Walter Cronkite, Ike Pappas, Ed McMahon and JFK himself. Some of the samples can be heard here:
I’d picked this up as a 7″ single given away free with the NME in 1987 (due to copyright issues it never received an official release, although Tommy Boy in the US did a promo run in ’86 and, more recently, in 2008, it appeared on the Illegal Art compilation ‘What Does It All Mean?, a CD retrospective covering Steinski’s career from 1983-2006). Apart from holding the track itself in the highest regard, I’d also lift the phrase ‘here is a bulletin… apparantly official, stand by please’ (misspelling apparently in the process) direct from ‘Motorcade’, combining these words as the header for my Murdertone press releases; Murdertone being the production / management company I set up to look after the Ruthless Rap Assassins during the late 80′s / early 90′s.
‘The Motorcade Sped On’ provides a perfect example of how history can be presented in a totally new context, helping it remain relevant to a subsequent generation. It remains, for me, one of the most creative sample based recordings ever committed to vinyl. Check it out here at YouTube:
[youtube width="325" height="244"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6v2di4aC6z8&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]
The reason I was on the road at such an ungodly hour on a Sunday night (or, if you’re that way inclined, Monday morning), rather than being tucked up all cozy in a Minehead hotel, was because my original intention had been to drive to London overnight for my visa interview at the US Embassy on the Monday morning, at the even more ungodly hour, for me, of 8.00am (they like to get you processed nice and early, so there’s no other option but to catch the worm). However, the necessary paperwork hadn’t arrived on the Friday, as we’d hoped, which meant the embassy appointment couldn’t go ahead. So Plan B was now in operation – to drive back to Merseyside overnight, drop off my equipment and, providing the elusive paperwork arrived that day, try to book an embassy appointment for the Tuesday morning, heading to London by train that evening. The paperwork, once again, wasn’t forthcoming, which resulted in my US tour having to be postponed. Thankfully the visa situation has now been resolved, so it’s just a case of awaiting delivery, at which point we can set about re-scheduling the dates for the next possible window, which is going to be April, just a few weeks before I snake my way back to Minehead for the (re-located) Southport Weekender.
So, as I write this, I should have been in New York, having played Chicago and Detroit for the first time over the weekend, and made my debut appearance at François Kevorkian’s legendary Deep Space party on Monday night. Kevorkian is, of course, one of NYC’s early 80′s remix alchemists, along with other luminaries like Tee Scott, Shep Pettibone, Larry Levan and Jellybean Benitez. It was these names I kept seeing on the 12″ imports I was playing at Legend and Wigan Pier at the height of the Electro-Funk era (82/83), and whose work had such a major influence on me back then.
Just as I stopped deejaying, at the end of ’83, 2 more names made a big impact – Double Dee & Steinski, whose winning mix for a competition run by the DJ only Disconet label set the standard for cut ‘n’ paste. They’d taken a Tommy Boy release, ‘Play That Beat Mr DJ’ by G.L.O.B.E & Whiz Kid (2 of the members of Afrika Bambaataa’s Soul Sonic Force), which had been a massive Pier / Legend tune, and they’d worked in a whole menagerie of samples from a diversity of sources, including Little Richard, The Supremes, Culture Club, Humphrey Bogart (from the film ‘Casablanca’) and former New York Mayor, Fiorello La Guardia. From the countdown intro to the enigmatic ‘say children, what does it all mean?’ conclusion, it was nothing short of a revelation.
Later to be known as ‘Lesson 1′ (aka ‘The Payoff Mix’), a cut ‘n’ paste opus that would be a major inspiration for many, not least Coldcut, who’d base their whole approach on this, plus subsequent Double Dee & Steinski cut-ups, ‘Lesson 2’ (aka ‘The James Brown Mix’), from ’84, and ‘85’s ‘Lesson 3′ (aka ‘The History Of Hip-Hop Mix’). Listen and learn:
Lesson 1: http://youtu.be/eWV5t1SgVj0
Lesson 2: http://youtu.be/0bGRca5Hhuk
Lesson 3: http://youtu.be/o7ELB8IG4NI
As far as mixing and editing was concerned, I was already well up and running by the time Double Dee & Stienski won the Disconet competition. It all began to really take shape for me in 1982, when I began putting together my radio mixes, and 2 particular releases, one official, one unofficial, jump out as sources of inspiration for me – the first ‘KISS FM Mastermixes’ compilation on Prelude, where Shep Pettibone cut things up a treat, and the bootleg ‘mixer’, ‘Big Apple Production Vol 1′, which I selected as one of my 12×12 for the US magazine Wax Poetics in 2005 – here’s what I wrote about it:
“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 shops business.
When I was the resident DJ at Wigan Pier, covering a variety of musical bases at the weekend, this would include some of the more European type Disco releases that I wouldn’t have played on the Tuesday, tracks which would be described as ‘Gay Disco’ back then. So, whilst most of the records I bought from Spin Inn during this time were for the Jazz-Funk night, I’d also generally pick up a few tunes from Harry, with the other nights in mind. It was as a result of this that I came across bootleg mix twelves, like “Bits & Pieces III”, later copied by Dutch producer Jaap Eggermont for his worldwide hit “Stars On 45”, and the record I’ve included here, “Big Apple Production Vol 1”, which would be a definite inspiration with regards to the subsequent direction I’d take with my radio mixes.
The first half of “Big Apple” included a lot of the type of stuff I was playing at the Pier on Tuesdays (also Legend, in Manchester, on Wednesday, which I’d started in Aug ’81) – things like Rockers Revenge, Jonzun Crew, Soul Sonic Force, Pressure Drop, Howard Johnson and Aretha Franklin etc – but about half way through it begins to move in a more commercial direction (Yazoo, Michael Jackson, Steve Miller Band etc), before arriving at an out and out Gay Disco vibe (Bobby O, Divine, Patrick Cowley etc, even a snatch of “YMCA” by the Village People!). The mix is credited to Ser & Duff, although I still don’t know who was behind it (∗ I subsequently learned that it was Brooklyn DJ, Mikey D’Merola, from WKYU Radio in New York). Two years later a second “Big Apple” came out, but, although the names Ser & Duff appeared once more, this mix was done by the now legendary NYC duo, the Latin Rascals (*some argue that they, not D’Merola, were also responsible for the first ‘Big Apple’).
Harry had also introduced me to the extremely expensive, but sometimes essential, Disconet DJ only releases from New York, which would later provide me with some great Electro alternatives, not available on the official releases – exclusive versions of “Hip Hop Be Bop (Don’t Stop)” by Man Parrish, “In The Bottle” by C.O.D and, most notable of all, The Jonzun Crew with “We Are The Jonzun Crew”.”
From Wax Poetics – Greg Wilson 12X12:
You can hear ‘Big Apple Production Vol 1’ here:
[youtube width="325" height="244"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WP_sEPOx8nU&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]
In July 1984 the Street Sounds ‘UK Electro’ album was issued. No longer a DJ, I’d co-written / produced all but one of the tracks included under a variety of fictitious names selected by the label head, Morgan Khan, who wanted to give the illusion of a thriving Electro scene developing in Britain. We chose the individual ‘group’ names ourselves – Forevereaction, Syncbeat and Zer-o, whilst Broken Glass was the name of the legendary Manchester breakdance crew I then managed. This was the first UK dance project to rely heavily on sampling, pre-dating Coldcut, Bomb The Bass, M/A/R/R/S and the other British acts that would bring this approach to the mainstream a few years down the line. The key influences with regards to sampling on this album were Eno & Byrne’s ‘My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts’, the Was (Not Was) tracks ‘Tell Me That I’m Dreaming’ and ‘Wheel Me Out’, and Time Zone’s ‘Wild Style’, which utilized old movie sound bites. More about ‘UK Electro’ here:
Syncbeat’s ‘Music’ received particularly high praise, with Record Mirror naming it as record of the week, whilst later giving it end of year props. Once again, it was included as one of my 12×12 selections:
“This is one of three 12” singles taken from the Street Sounds “UK Electro” album, which were released simultaneously in the summer of ’84, the other two being “Style Of The Street” by Broken Glass and “U People” / “B.E.D 34” by Forevereaction. Despite the different artist names, all these tracks (plus another on the album – “Real Time” by Zer-o) were recorded by the same people, Martin Jackson (formerly the drummer with Magazine), Andy Connell (of A Certain Ratio) and myself (with Kermit, along with fellow Broken Glass dancer, Fiddz, making his rap debut on “Style Of The Street”).
Apart from a promo only edit of a track called “Heaven Sent” by Paul Haig, which had been mailed out to DJs the previous year, these were the first 12” singles I’d worked on. Craig Bevan, the engineer from Vintertainment Records in New York, home of The B Boys (whose tracks, “Two, Three, Break”, “Cuttin’ Herbie” and “Rock The House” had all been big in ’83 at Legend and the Pier), came over to assist me on the remixes, which appeared alongside the album versions on the twelves. Craig went on to work with Steinski on “The Motorcade Sped On” – a true cut ‘n’ paste masterpiece, which, as far as I’m aware, was only ever pressed as a 7” freebie, given away with the NME in 1987 (*I’ve since learnt it was pressed as a DJ Only 12” on Tommy Boy the previous year).
The “UK Electro” album, which was basically a make it up as we went along type recording, did pretty well, reaching number 60 on the charts, whilst generating lots of interest from music press. “Music” was especially well received, and was named as one of the singles of the year in Record Mirror. However, due mainly to a clash of egos between Martin and myself, the project was short lived. Moving away from the Electro experiment, Martin and Andy went on to form Swing Out Sister, whose easy-listening approach brought them chart success a few years on, whereas I’d experience a period of personal struggle and upheaval, before hooking-up up with Kermit once more, a few years down the line, to work with the Rap Assassins.”
From Wax Poetics – Greg Wilson 12X12:
You can hear ‘Music’ by Syncbeat here:
[youtube width="325" height="244"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2uz1WYhqLg&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]
It was around the time I wrote the 12×12 piece that I was surprised to discover that Craig Bevan had actually engineered ‘The Motorcade Sped On’. I had an email contact for Steinski, although I’d never previously corresponded with him, so I dropped him a line, ahead of my first trip to New York, to see if he had a contact for Craig, but I never heard anything back. I must have added his email to my promo list as, the following year, he got in touch to say that he’d enjoyed a piece I’d written about Danny Krivit, and his Roller Disco legacy, as well as the interview I did with Norman Cook for the electrofunkroots website.
I haven’t heard from him since, but then, last week, I was sat at home with Dan Smith, who helps me with my online stuff. We were winding down from the day’s work, about to watch the DVD ‘RiP!: A Remix Manifesto’. I’d just sent out an email to everyone on my US list, informing them that the tour had had to be cancelled, and a few replies were trickling back. One of them was from Steve Stein, saying that he hoped my visa issue would be resolved and that he’d try to catch me play when I re-schedule. It was only at the end of the mail, when I saw the link to his site that I realized who it was actually from. I said to Dan, ‘I’ve just received a really nice mail from Steinski, but he looked at me with a puzzled expression. Despite having been a child at the time, Dan has quite a good grasp on early-mid 80′s dance culture, but it was clear he’d never come across this name before. So, without further ado, I set about tuning him into this cut ‘n’ paste visionary, playing him ‘Lesson’s 1 & 2′ and, of course, ‘The Motorcade Sped On’.
I felt this was especially relevant given the DVD we were about to watch, which explores the current creative and copyright issues faced by cut ‘n’ paste, or, as it’s currently referred to, ’remix culture’, the same culture that Steinski helped to build, even though many of it’s ever-increasing number of devotees may never have heard of him. Today it might be Girl Talk who’s the name on everyone’s lips Stateside, but the new breed of mash-up maestro owes much to Steinski, and Double Dee, and all those who subsequently evolved the form.
‘RiP!: A Remix Manifesto’, a documentary film made in 2008 by Canadian Brett Gaylor, was illuminating and thought provoking, touching on the same issues highlighted by the previous year’s ‘Good Copy Bad Copy’, and the current online 4 part video series ‘Everything Is A Remix’, which I blogged about back in September:
Emphasizing how, in the Western world, innovation is being continually stifled by commerce, which controls culture for its own financial gain under the banner of ‘intellectual property’, ‘RiP!: A Remix Manifesto’ outlines a quartet of central tenets:
1. Culture always builds on the past.
2. The past always tries to control the future.
3. Our future is becoming less free.
4. To build free societies you must limit the control of the past.
These are, of course, related to a maxim I often quote myself; ‘to know the future first you must know the past’. Given how the internet has brought the wealth of history to our fingertips, it’s all about how we filter and process this information on a personal level in order to make sense of its vastness. My own conclusion is that the past is more than a relic, and shouldn’t be presented in a cold purely factual manner. To be of true value it must connect subjectively, for this isn’t just head stuff, it needs to somehow touch the emotions for it to properly register. If you want to enthuse a younger generation of people to explore further, this information should be packaged and presented in a way that has context in the times in which we live, so it helps join the dots between then and now, as Steinski did so ingeniously by using the Hip Hop medium to relay one of the key moments of recent history – the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
This is why Remix, Cut ‘n’ Paste, Mash-Up and Edit are tools for invention and advancement, helping create that past / present fusion that is key to moving things forward. This isn’t a new idea, but something that’s always been known, since the very dawn of discovery – we just need to re-connect with this elemental wisdom, harnessing the current technology to take us to the next phase, wherever that might be.
RiP!: A Remix Manifesto Wikipedia:
Double Dee & Steinski Wikipedia: