Wednesday, 20 February 2008

FUNKY NASSAU - The Compass Point Story

Published In Notion Magazine- March 08



Of the many musical legacies bestowed upon the world by Chris Blackwell; founder of Island records and commonly known as the man who bought Bob Marley to the world; the opening of a recording studio in the Bahaman hills is one of the lesser known.

Founded in 1977 by Blackwell as a chic retreat amongst the cool Caribbean vibes; Compass point became not only a state of the art recording facility, but also a musical reference point amongst the widening musical influences of post punk pop.

At this time the bass pulse of reggae was emerging as a worldwide phenomenon. Compass, armed with reggae legends Sly & Robbie, engineers Steven Stanley, Alex Sadkin, and the Compass Point All-Stars house band, became a focal point for bands willing to display a little vision in production and embrace the groove.

Issued by rejuvenated Strutt records, renowned for their impeccable attention to detail, Funk Nassau documents the influential period where the pulse of reggae invigorated the popular music of the time, whilst challenging the very nature of what pop should be.

Kicking off with Jamaican born, NY raised Grace Jones’ Jamaican guy, a maelstrom of dark grooves and sparse bass. This signature sound developed with Jones became a house sound that ultimately bought Compass Point to the world’s attention.

NY art rockers Talking Heads had already experimented with what we now know as ‘world music’ but their classic ‘Born Under The Punches’ showcased here, treads a darker more rhythm orientated direction that pointed to the groups fusion future. Whilst TH side project Tom Tom club, included here with the bewitching ‘Genius of Love’, dispensed with rock altogether and incorporated the All Stars into their defining disco smash.

Whilst in the UK we embraced the truth and rights political fervour of Reggae, in the US it was all about the bottom end. One man who particularly felt this rhythm was legendary Paradise Garage DJ Larry Levan, one of those responsible for the mutation of disco into what became House.

Levan was principally influenced by the spacey dynamics of dub and the atmosphere created as much by the gaps in the sounds as the beat itself. This post disco sound is represented here by Levan’s own mix of Gwen Guthrie’s Padlock, as well as the thundering bass work out of Set The Tone Dance Sucker, reworked by NY dance floor contemporary Francis K.
It wasn’t all New Yorkers feeling the vibe however as, Ian Dury showed with his superb, and subsequently banned, riff led groover ‘Spasticus Autisticus’.

Add to these gems workouts from more obscure acts such as French DJ Guy Cuevas, Slits-offshoot band Set The Tone and the queen of exploitation disco, Cristina and what you have is a varied but ultimately cohesive document of the time.

This admirable compilation however is not merely a museum piece; what is most striking its relevance to the dominant music that has shaped the last two decades. From the house explosion through to the bass led domination of R&B and the experimental indie sounds of today’s post punk revivalists; these grooves laid down at Compass led the way for much of the sonic ingenuity we hear today. And for that we should salute Mr Blackwell and his Island retreat.


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