The Baldelli posts and the arrival of Gilles Peterson this evening bring me in a disco mood and what better place to turn to for disco than the NYC West End Records label.
West End Records is, along with Prelude and Salsoul, part of the holy trinity of disco labels. Although the label’s offices were upstairs from the legendary Studio 54, its output was aimed at an equally legendary nightspot farther downtown – the Paradise Garage. The West End owners had a very close and intense relationship with Paradise Garage’s DJ Larry Levan which led both West End and the Garage to great heights.
The Garage attracted the best dancers in New York City and in order to keep them moving, Levan concocted a truly original mix of searing grooves and quirky, offbeat records that were somehow magic on the dance floor.
Levan's tastes were reflected in West End’s output: in particular Arthur Russell’s avant-garde masterpieces of compressed dynamics but also many popular productions by Kenton Nix, most notably with Taana Gardner, that crossed over from hardcore dancers to all of New York. Ultimately, West End mainstream and underground sounds proved that disco was more then mere plastic crap.
Baldelli and Levan are both legendary DJ’s but they have a totally different style. Baldelli’s main concern was to keep a flawless groove going without missing a beat, while Levan as fearsome decksman, was less concerned with smooth segues than with capturing and pushing the fervency of the dancefloor moment he was creating. Levan's transitions often clashed, but that only added to the momentum. It’s only in the studio work that their styles come closer together.
Likely the canniest remixer ever, Levan turned normal-length funk tunes into epic dance workouts with startling regularity, patiently layering minimal tracks until they built into feverish crescendos.
‘Taana Gardner's classic track Heartbeat, from 1981 for instance, demonstrates this better than any other. For one thing, it's slow — 98 beats-per-minute as opposed to the traditional disco BPM, which ranges from 110 to 125. For another Levan slides into the hook slowly, opening with 20 seconds of a heartbeat and some handclaps, then brings in the drums and one of the most sampled basslines in history for another 20’’ before the rest of the instruments come in. (De La Soul used it on their Buddy remix, and Ini Kamoze turned it into a hit with Here Comes the Hotstepper). The first words (Heartbeat, it make me feel so weak) don't occur until exactly a minute into the track, and by then Levan has set you up for one of the great R&B vocal performances — sweet, fluttering, stinging, impossibly carnal. When it winds down at the six-minute mark, Levan brings the beat back for Gardner to talk over, and amps the groove back up again for four more glorious minutes. The ten-minute whole could go on for twice that length without complaints.’
All of this happened in the early 80’s when disco went back underground and became a site for experimentation again. Some of the disco tracks of those years like Ednah Holt's Serious Sirius Space Party and New York Citi Peech Boys’ (of which Levan was a member) Don't Make Me Wait, started flirting with electro and became digital-funk milestones alongside Afrika Bambaataa's contemporaneous Planet Rock. However the most of these track are mostly old skool. A mix of funk, soul and the occasional latin flavor.
61 Taana Gardner - Heartbeat (Club Mix)
62 Taana Gardner - Heartbeat (Larry Levan Mix)
63 D'bora - No Sense (1984)
64 Michele - Disco Dance
65 Colleen Heather - Magic
66 Loose Joints - Tell You (Today) (Original 12 inch Vocal)
67 Ednah Holt - Serious Sirius Space Party
68 Billy Nichols - Give Your Body Up To The Music
69 New York City Peech Boys - Don't Make Me Wait
70 Raw Silk – Do It To The Music
71 Mahogany - Ride on the Rhythm (1982)
72 Sesso Matto - Sessomatto (1976)
73 B+ - B-Beat Classic (1983)
74 Shirley Lites - Heat You Up (Melt You Down) (1983)
After a while all of this eventually evolved in something else all together. Let’s call it NY house music.
As a side dish a band that tries to bring back those funky days. I’ve already written about Escort.
For those who like some visual footage to go along there are some video's on youtube about the era. First a short but comprehensive version on the birth of disco and clubculture in NYC with the main protagonists involved.
Next a short token of the atmosphere at the Paradise Garage.