Tuesday, 16 June 2009
Ze30: ZE Records 1979-2009
Disco, it seems is no longer the dirty word it was. Once the nemisis of the mass of mainstream punters hardwired by the hideous rewriting of the seventies that pushed the image of tacky suburban nightclubs and cheap polyester suits, to those who had evolved a groove, disco has always been another slightly truncated form of funk and soul. Indeed to the house music generation, in a way it embodies a more authentic view of four to the floor hedonism.
To some this was always the case, and to two New York immigrants, one the son of a wealthy British retail dynasty (Mothercare no less!) the other a transient French punk rocker, Disco was just another party of a party mix, part of a collage of sounds that sounded great at two o’clock in a steamy basement club. It was these two guys, Michael Zilkha and Michel Esteban who in 1977 created ZE records, a seminal New York ‘No Wave’ label that mixed the stripped down experimental bassline disco being championed by the likes of Larry Levan at The Paradise Garage, with the spiky indigenous punk being created in the wake of the Ramones and New York Dolls.
More that just a record label, ZE came to embody the spirit of the anything as long as you can dance to it, musical policy of NY clubs like The Roxy where the ice cold minimalism of Kraftwerk, could be heard next to bad ass funk from James Brown mixed in with the jerky rock n roll of Talking Heads. And it was this mix and match attitude tied together with a funky bassline, that steered ZE to become the influential downtown label of the late 70’s early 80’s.
Soon the label boasted an impressive roster of the cream of the twisted underground signing up such new talent as James White and the Blacks, Was (Not Was), Kid Creole and the Coconuts, alongside more established performers including John Cale and Suicide.
ZE 30 is a timely release from reissue label par excellence Strut that collates some of the finer, funkier and frankly weirder moments from the labels history. The 14 track selection stretches from to good times dancefloor classic ‘Tell Me That I’m Dreaming’ from Was not Was, to Avant-garde industrial experimentation from Suicide with ‘Dream Baby Dream.’
It’s easy with these label perspectives, to be willfully obscure in order to gain some uber-hip upper hand, but Strut tread a fine line here of showcasing the astonishing breadth of material on the album with some genuine floor fillers. The aforementioned Paradise garage sound is represented by Larry Levan weighing with his stripped back druggy mix of Kid Creoles demolition of Caribbean politics, characterized by a rush of syncopated handclaps, whilst the more white boy punk sound can be heard in Alan Vegas willfully obscure techno rockabilly ‘Juke Box Baby’
The slickly marketed music industry of the last two decades has been quick to compartmentalize and pigeonholes sounds and scenes to create highly lucrative ‘units’ meanwhile missing the point of the soul of pop, a soul based on crossover and masterful accidents. Its only with the democratization of content bought about by the internet that things are starting to change,, and its into this musical palette that the far out low down sounds of ZE nestle nicely.