New York Electro 1982–1985
1.01 Electrik Funk ‘On A Journey’ (Instrumental) 12” B Side February 1982
1.02 Afrika Bambaata & The Soul Sonic Force ‘Planet Rock’ 12” A Side April 1982
1.03 Extra T’s ‘E.T. Boogie’ 7” A Side June 1982
1.04 Warp 9 ‘Nunk’ (Instrumental) 12” B Side July 1982
1.05 Quadrant Six ‘Body Mechanic’ (Instrumental) 12” B Side August 1982
1.06 Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five ‘Scorpio’ 12” A Side August 1982
1.07 Man Parrish ‘Hip Hip Be Bop (Don’t Stop)’ 12” AA Side October 1982
1.08 The Packman ‘I’m The Packman’ (Instrumental) 12” B Side November 1982
1.09 Afrika Bambaata & The Soul Sonic Force ‘Looking For The Perfect Beat’ (Instrumental) 12” B Side December 1982
1.10 The Fearless Four ‘F-4000’ Problems Of The World 12” EP January 1983
1.11 Jonzun Crew ‘Pack Jam’ (Remix) 12” B Side February 1983
1.12 Newcleus ‘Jam On Revenge Part One’ 12” A Side March 1983
1.13 Egyptian Lover ‘Egypt Egypt’ 12” A Side May 1983
2.01 Herbie Hancock ‘Rockit’ (Long Version) 12” A Side June 1983
2.02 Cybotron ‘Clear’ 12” A Side June 1983
2.03 Newtrament ‘London Bridge Is Falling Down’ (Dub Mix) 12” AA Side June 1983
2.04 Project Future ‘Ray-Gun-Omics’ 12” A Side June 1983
2.05 West Street Mob ‘Break Dance Electric Boogie’ 12” A Side August 1983
2.06 Hashim ‘Al Naafijsh (The Soul)’ 12” A Side November 1983
2.07 Malcolm X ‘No Sell Out’ (Vocal) 12” A Side November 1983
2.08 Knights Of The Turntables ‘Techno Scratch’ 12” A Side February 1984
2.09 Pretty Tony ‘Fix It In The Mix’ 12” A Side March 1984
2.10 Newcleus ‘Automan’ (Dub Version) 12” B Side June 1984
2.11 The Extra Funk Factory ‘Fantasy’ (Instrumental) 12” B Side June 1984
2.12 Unknown DJ & Three D ‘Beatronic’ (Ghetto Blaster Mix) 12” B Side August 1984
2.13 High Fidelity Three ‘B Boy’s Breakdance’ (Instrumental) 12” B Side November 1984
2.14 World Class Wreckin’ Cru ‘Juice’ 12” A Side February 1985
It must have been an act of good fortune that allowed me to be one of the lucky few who got into music at exactly the right moment. Naturally there are arguments for and against any number of era’s, but surely there was no better time to be 16 years old than 1976. Its ancient history now of course but punk’s scorched earth policy really did change everything.
In the immediate aftermath, there was a genuine belief that the only way forward for rock involved a sharing of ideas with black dance music to bridge the veiled strain of racism that had been the foundation of music culture since its conception. Perhaps that belief came from teenage years as open to disco as they were to glam, or more likely from white, post punk pioneers eagerly embracing the funk. All I know is that in the early 80’s it didn’t seem in the slightest bit strange to be as excited by the electro coming out of New York as I was by D.A.F. or The Associates.
Having said that, I admit my take on dance music was decidedly rockist in so much as dancing was anathema to me. I never had any desire to engage with the music’s natural club environment although, given 80’s style culture, in my own mind that was forgivable. Besides, I knew for certain that the posing and door policies, endless vintage B sides, go-go imports and jazz funk were not for me. And neither was rap. When it first appeared in its late 70’s Sugarhill disco dance guise, I considered it equally redundant. Certainly there was no way I would ever have believed that within a decade it would be dominating music culture so absolutely, at least not until the spring of 1982 when two records arrived to convince me otherwise.
Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaata sowed the seeds of change with a vision of the future that could only be realised on the dance floor. The urban strife and specificity of ‘The Message’ was the big bang that blew away raps novelty reputation but it was ‘Planet Rock’ that provided the next quantum leap forward. By combining the glacial melody of Kraftwerk’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ with the bottom end of ‘Numbers’, Bambaata and producer Arthur Baker rewrote the dance music rule book in seven and a half glorious minutes. A natural, end product of New York urban, black community’s bizarre fondness for European electro pop, ‘Planet Rock’ not only discarded the live Sugarhill sound, it also created the beat box sci-fi pulse of electro, the first wholly electronic dance genus.
As an upstart generation of black DJ’s and producers began to mix electronica with cheap technology like the Roland TR-808 drum machine, electro instantly provided dance music with a new sense of freedom and a sound undeniably futuristic. The constraints that had been suffocating black music for decades stretched to breaking point before the flood gates burst open.
Suddenly there were scores of records adding an intriguing mélange of thrilling, new ingredients to Bambaata’s blueprint; the computer game simplicity of Warp 9’s ‘Nunk’; the sci-fi robotics of The Jonzun Crew’s ‘Pack Jam’; the cartoon wikki wikki ridiculousness of Newcleus’s ‘Jam On Revenge’; the imaginary cyberdelic casbah of Hashim’s incredible ‘Al Naafijsh’, and the most original of them all; Man Parrish’s ‘Hip Hop Be Bop’ with its colossal bassline and barking dogs. Massively popular in the clubs, it would be a primary influence on acid house and techno yet is still better known as the track that gifted rap a new name.
That this was a revolution in the making was obvious, certainly when the shockwaves coming out of New York began to impact elsewhere. In Detroit Cybotron’s ‘Clear’, the track that supposedly gave birth to techno, was regarded as an electro classic long before techno even existed. Primed by Street Sounds crucial compilations, London felt the impact too, Newtrament’s dub mix of ‘London Bridge’ the UK’s first and best electro track.
And yet, while it’s star burnt brightly for a couple of years, as soon as Run DMC started rapping over nothing more than a pounding beat box and the odd riff, New York kids abandoned electro’s drum machines for 70’s classic rock and funk breakbeat’s seemingly overnight. Sure, the likes of Egyptian Lover, Knights Of The Turntables, The Unknown DJ and the World Class Wreckin’ Cru kept the fire burning on the West Coast, their party jams eschewing the Big Apples Orwellian alienation and darkness, but within a year they were gone too. Electro was forgotten so rapidly and so completely, it was as if it had merely been a figment of Bambaata’s fertile imagination.
I guess that goes some way to explaining why over thirty years later it still remains something of a mystery, buried by time and dust. Despite being documented in any number of books and publications over the years, electro has rarely been approached in the same way as almost every other electronic dance music genre, sub-genre and micro genre. And yet its legacy and importance are huge.
Not only did it revolutionise black music, it also sparked a whole new approach to modern music in general, initially by simply acknowledging the advent of the computer age, and then by seducing a generation with its drum machines, synthesisers, sequencers, cut and scratch techniques, dub mixes and innovative use of samples. Electro truly was the prototype that led to the new age of electronic dance just a few years later, a pre-cursor to the endless delights of acid house, techno and all that followed. It’s just a shame its influence remains one of modern music cultures best kept secrets!