I’m noticing a growing number of remarkable people dedicating significant amounts of time to researching and presenting lost, forgotten or overlooked pieces of music from gifted individuals, specialist scenes or specific eras.
Last month in the UK, a TV show was aired on Channel 4 called Idris Elba’s How Clubbing Changed The World. It set out to explore how clubbing evolved from a counter-cultural movement to a multi-million pound industry by counting down 40 key moments in clubbing history. This was an ambitious aim and, disappointingly but not unexpectedly, many important, defining moments were missed, churning up an inevitable online backlash from many passionate voices who have helped shape dance music culture as we know it today.
The most thorough, articulate response came from Greg Wilson, whose blog post has become something of an underground sensation, now appearing second in the Google rankings when searching for the original programme’s title. The comments thread that follows the piece is well worth reading too, and in one reply Greg pens a line that strikes me as particularly poignant: “We hear the music, but it’s the stories behind them that really bring the times to life.”
I came of age as a DJ buying 12″s that rarely had cover artwork and usually contained little information beyond the artist, track title and label. In a time before Google, I was following producers who were enigmatic by default. There was little need for the current trend in dance music of wearing a mask to conceal one’s identity; beyond what the record staff told me upon purchase, I had little way of learning who these producers were, where they were from or what else they had produced; the music did all the talking. I still look back fondly on those times with the unknowing adding to my awe of the music. Burial similarly reminisces in this interview from 2007: “I love that with old jungle and garage tunes, when you didn’t know anything about them, and nothing was between you and the tunes. I liked the mystery; it was more scary and sexy, the opposite of other music.”
Today though I’m feeling that same sense of awe when I learn the untold histories that contextualise the music I’m digging. Whether it’s Greg telling his side of the UK story via his Electrofunkroots project, Miles Cleret digging in Africa for Soundway, or Jazzman Gerald compiling his wonderful Spiritual Jazz releases, “We hear the music, but it’s the stories behind them that really bring the times to life.”
Last week, an email landed from Amir Abdullah, one half of crate-digging duo Kon and Amir, about a new project he produced and curated on Strata Records. I feel a deep sense of gratitude as another DJ I admire invests so much energy and passion in sharing a story that he feels must be told. Below is an excerpt from the project’s introduction and its accompanying video. You can view the full piece here.
The year was 1974. The Jackson 5′s “Dancing Machine” was incinerating dance floors nationwide. Released by the legendary record label Motown, the smash single — like so many Motown records before it — should have reflected positively back on the label’s Motor City roots. Fact was, Motown had already moved away from Detroit in the summer of ’72 and relocated to Los Angeles. Meanwhile, back in Detroit, something heady, funky and downright revolutionary was brewing. That “something” was Strata.
It’s appropriate that Strata — the name of the Detroit art gallery, live music venue and record label — derived its name from the Latin word for “layers.” To uncover Strata, it is necessary to peel back the rich layers of Detroit music history.
Started by trumpeter Charles Moore and pianist Kenny Cox in the late 1960s, Strata at its core was a team of like-minded friends and fellow musicians who came together to create something for their community. Strata’s original headquarters were on Michigan Avenue in the shadow of the old Tiger Stadium in the city’s Corktown neighborhood. Soon, Strata Concert Gallery was relocated to 46 Selden Street, where it became a magnetic center for the Detroit jazz scene as well as a destination for heavyweight musicians like Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Elvin Jones, and Herbie Hancock when they came through town.
Inspired by this project, Amir has set out to re-introduce the world to Strata Inc. through his own label, 180 Proof Records. Taking control of a catalog of 30 unreleased masters in addition to the label’s 6 official commercial releases and using the original multi-track tapes, he will craft remixes, restorations and covers from this impressive catalog: a full scope of sound and a full scope of history.
The first collaborative release from Strata and 180 Proof will be Kenny Cox’s Clap Clap! The Joyful Noise in November 2012. So rare is this album that at the time of writing there is no Discogs listing, and no YouTube clips I can embed to share just how good this LP is. Two vinyl only remix EPs will follow shortly after, with contributions from Geology, DJ Kon, Lord Finesse, Marc Mac and Rainier Truby.
Other albums scheduled for release are:
Contemporary Jazz Quintet – Location (1973)
Bert Myrick – Live’n Well (1974)
Sphere – Inside Ourselves (1974)
Maulawi Nurudin – Maulauwi (1974)
Lyman Woodard Organization – Saturday Night Special (1975)
Maulawi Nurudin – Ortunds (previously unreleased)
Maulawi Nurudin – Excursions of the City (previously unreleased)
Contemporary Jazz Quintet – Black Hole (previously unreleased)
Ron English – Fish Feet (previously unreleased)