New Monday

It’s important in these dismal times to have something to look forward to and hearing good new music can make it worth getting out of bed in the morning. So I thought I’d do one of these posts because I’ve not done one in a while. Here’s a few albums that have recently floated my boat.

Marie Davidson is a Canadian artist known for electronic club music but her new album Renegade Breakdown takes a swerve into an eclectic mix of deadpan 80s synth-funk and French chanson. Tres bon!

Sad13 is the name Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz uses for her solo work. Her second release Haunted Painting is a terrific indie pop record chock full of sounds, ideas, and fun in a freewheeling way that reminds me of Caroline Rose’s Loser.

It’s ironic that in a year when none of us can go to nightclubs some of the best albums have been aimed at dancefloors. Dua Lipa and Jessie Ware have both put out album of the year contenders packed with throbbing and swishy beats, while Róisín Murphy has raised the bar with her magnificent new long player Róisín Machine. Just a pity that we can only dance in our living rooms at the moment.


The Slowie

Originally published February 2008

Was there ever a social situation more stressful and ripe for humiliation and embarrassment than asking a girl to slow dance? Walking across that dancefloor to approach some young lady with the question often felt like climbing out of a trench in WWI and crossing No Man’s Land to face the enemy guns and certain death.

The “slowie” was a fixture at every club and disco (or “meat market” if you’d prefer) I went to in my teens and early 20s where the music was secondary to getting off with the opposite sex. They always played a few at the end of the evening so you knew it was coming and had time to scout around for potential candidates and maybe try to impress her in advance with your dancefloor moves to the faster songs. You’d need a few pints of Dutch Courage before you could work up the nerve (but not too many, you didn’t want to fall all over the poor girl) and when the moment came you’d go up to her trying to act all nonchalant and pretend it was no skin off your nose if she did or not — one thing my more sexually-successful friends always told me was that girls hate a bloke who seems too keen. But of course I did care, and if she turned me down I might ask someone else, but more often than not I’d slink back to the bar for a lonely pint where I stood and enviously watched all the jammy bastards who’d managed to score.

But occasionally you got lucky and she’d say “yes” so you’d have the few minutes the record lasted (and maybe another one) to make the most of the opportunity. If things were going well and you were feeling brave (or just drunk) you’d let your hands slowly and gingerly make their way down her back until — if she raised no objection — they rested happily on her bottom. Most of the time it never went any further than that, and when the record ended she’d say “thanks” and go back to her mates never to be seen again, but occasionally you’d get a phone number or even a snog out of it and go home with a satisfied smile on your face. No matter how depressingly unsuccessful you usually were, it was that possibility which kept you coming back weekend after weekend, ready to go through the same painful ritual all over again.

If I had to pick one slow record that was the definitive soundtrack to the British high street disco experience, and that end-of-the-evening feeling when air was thick with the scent of Paco Rabanne, sweat, lager, and Silk Cut, it would be this one.

Download: True (12″ version) – Spandau Ballet (mp3)

Just hearing that clipped guitar intro I can see myself standing at the bar in some chrome-and-carpet disco pub, everyone around me is busy coupling up and hitting the dancefloor while I’m still trying to summon up the nerve to make a move on some lucky girl.

But if Spandau aren’t your cup of tea these were always good for a slow dance too. Lots of memories here, mostly frustrating ones.

Download: Move Closer (12″ version) – Phyllis Nelson (mp3)
Download: Always And Forever – Heatwave (mp3)
Download: Wishing On A Star – Rose Royce (mp3)

Sleeve Talk

“Jean-Paul dug into me, bit into me, scratched and stretched me, and made very clear what the colour of my skin was” – Grace Jones

Grace Jones met French designer/illustrator Jean-Paul Goude in New York in the late 70s when he was working as the art director of Esquire magazine. At the time she was a model turned singer with three albums of swishy disco under her belt that had gained her cult status on the gay club scene. While the two partied together and became romantically involved, Goude saw her as a muse with the raw materials he could re-shape in a way that would help her become an iconic star in the coming new decade.

Grace’s previous albums had been designed by Richard Bernstein who was the art director of Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine and had the same glittery and airbrushed, Studio 54 style of it’s covers at the time, but the first sleeve Goude designed for her — 1980s Warm Leatherette — marked a huge change: Stark black and white, with Grace (pregnant at the time) looking sternly at the camera with a fuck you stare, while sporting her new severe flat-top hair style and cheekbones you could cut diamonds with. If looks could kill this photo would be banged up for life.

It was the follow-up album Nightclubbing that really established Grace’s new image and brought her wider fame. Wearing a man’s Armani jacket, Grace looks like some androgynous alien creature, all bones and angles, with a perfect white cigarette contrasting against her smooth purple-blue skin.

Such perfection can’t be achieved only in camera though, and the original photo is so heavily retouched and manipulated by Goude that it’s credited as a painting on the album’s back cover. This was Goude turning Grace into a work of art herself, and you wonder where the real person begins and ends. She’s become the “sleek machine” she sings about in “Pull Up To The Bumper.”

Goude called his style “French Correction”: stretching, distorting, exaggerating features, and the most extreme remixing he did of Grace was probably the picture that was used on the cover of the 1985 Island Life compilation. This was actually the first image Goude made of Grace when it was created for a profile of her in New York magazine in 1977 (you can see that she still has her old hairstyle) and these slides are a good window into his technique.

First he photographs Grace in a variety of poses, using transparent boxes to hold her legs up.

Then he slices and dices the transparencies together to achieve the “impossible” pose he wants.

Paints in the gaps by hand (no Photoshop then of course), adjusts the colours, burnishes her skin look like polished ebony, changes the background and, voila.

Goude has been accused of fetishizing Jones’ blackness and portraying her as some exotic jungle creature, and images like the one below might be seen as “problematic” today.

But Grace was always a willing collaborator and partner, saying “It was about rejecting normal, often quite sentimental and conventionally crowd-pleasing ways of projecting myself as a black singer and female entertainer.” Certainly what Goude was doing was radical in terms of the representation of black women in pop culture. Grace always looked strong in his images and more like a predatory panther than a sex kitten.

It helped that her music underwent a makeover at the same time too. Goude’s sharp visuals fit perfectly with the new, harder-edged music she was making in Compass Point with the crack rhythm section of Sly and Robbie from Warm Leatherette onwards. Disco was on the way out, New Wave/Post-Punk was the new thing, and remaking songs by Iggy Pop, Joy Division, and The Normal as cool, sexy, funk and reggae was a genius move that fit Grace like a leopard-skin glove. I don’t know whose idea it was, but it ended up being one of the most perfect ever marriages of music, image, and artist.

It takes some balls to take on a song like this, but that’s one thing Grace has never been short on.

Download: She’s Lost Control (Long Version) – Grace Jones (mp3)

I Have Twelve Inches

OK I’m lying a little here. I don’t have this as a vinyl 12″ because it came out in 1998 when the only people buying new vinyl were DJs. But I do have it on a CD and it is the extended mix so who cares about the format with a classic tune like this?

Presence was a project of British producer/DJ Charles Webster who released just the one album under that name, the excellent All Systems Gone. I first heard this track on a Norman Jay mix CD and was instantly blown away. I loved Deep House at the time and this is one of the finest examples of it. Dark and moody with a pulsing beat and a soulful vocal by the great Shara Nelson who you all know as the voice on Massive Attack’s “Unfinished Sympathy” amongst others.

Download: Sense Of Danger (Original Presence Mix) – Presence featuring Shara Nelson (mp3)

Turn The Beat Around

Darryl Pandy’s 1986 classic “Love Can’t Turn Around” was the first House record to be a chart hit so it’s an epochal and important track. It blew me away back then and is still one of my all-time favourite dance tunes. But I didn’t discover until about 15 years later that it was basically a cover of Isaac Hayes’ 1975 tune “I Can’t Turn Around” but doesn’t give Hayes a credit which is one reason why I didn’t know. I was a bit shocked because it’s the sort of shit I usually know and immediately turned in my Music Trainspotters Club membership badge.

I assume Pandy’s version changed enough of the original to not be technically or legally considered a “cover” because the song is credited to House producers Farley Jackmaster Funk and Vince Lawrence, but Hayes’ song is definitely in there.

This was the last track on Hayes’ album Chocolate Chip where he made the switch from Funk to Disco rhythms, and I guess now you would call this one proto-House.

Download: I Can’t Turn Around – Isaac Hayes (mp3)

I Have Twelve Inches

This record came out in 1985 right before House changed dance music completely and I’ve always thought of it as one of the last great old skool tracks. It was produced by legendary Disco knob-twiddler Patrick Adams so it really is like one of the last hurrahs of the previous generation.

Like me, it may be old skool but it’s still funky and fresh. That loping groove could go on forever far as I’m concerned.

Download: Thinking About Your Love (12″ Version) – Skipworth & Turner (mp3)