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Ze Records
In 1981, an underground New York label known for their influential roster of disco and no-wave artists released a seminal compilation of some of their best singles. With this release, Ze Records both solidified the definition of the leftfield disco movement and gave the genre a name that stuck. It's a name that conjures up images of tentacled, post-nuclear fallout humanoids letting loose and getting down on the crowded dance floor of Studio 54. The intention was to showcase the edgier, more avant-garde side of New York disco. The original LP contained only six songs, but for the new CD re-issue, Ze Records has expanded it into a stunning two-CD set containing a total of 25 tracks, the bulk of their relevant 12" dance output from 1979 to 1981. This music was years ahead of its time, and will sound particularly relevant to those tuning into the second wave of avant-dance, characterized by current acts like Out Hud, Metro Area, Playgroup, and LCD Soundsystem. Many recent anthologies, such as Strut's Disco Not Disco series and Soul Jazz's New York Noise have attempted to document the scene, but Ze Records has the historical advantage of including the entire original Mutant Disco LP. Also, the overall focus on Mutant Disco is much clearer, and the compilation boasts many rare tracks not available elsewhere other than the highly collectible original LPs, which frequently change hands for prices as high as $500. Was (Not Was) appear three times across the two discs. Their first track "Wheel Me Out" is a densely layered groove, combining sampling techniques, sleazy rock and bad jazz into an infectious disco-house number. Bill Laswell's artist-collective Material produced a clutch of important singles and LPs in the early 80's, but for sheer fun it would be hard to beat the rock-disco collision of "Bustin' Out," with vocals from soul diva Nona Hendryx. Cristina's contribution is the first of several lightweight disco remakes of classic rock songs on the collection, this one a cover of The Beatles' "Drive My Car" (produced by John Cale of Velvet Undergound, no less). I have never really liked the Latin dance pastiche of Kid Creole and the Coconuts, but their two contributions to Mutant Disco are surprisingly addictive, especially the dislocated mambo of "Annie I'm Not Your Daddy." I'd rather shake my ass to this than Los Del Rio any day of the week. The Aural Exciters are one of the more mysterious acts on this collection, appearing with a pair of truly odd, dub-influenced disco deconstructions. It is nearly impossible to find any information on this band, but it's hard to deny the weird power of "Emile (Night Rate)," with its off-kilter percussion and spooky, echo-chambered chorus of women's screams. James White and the Blacks (AKA James Chance and the Contortions), turn in the umpteenth re-recorded version of the gloriously warped no-wave classic "Contort Yourself," re-worked and extended for the dance floor. Lizzy Mercier Descloux was quite the scenester in post-punk New York - a savvy French waif who transformed herself from a first-generation punk into a sassy disco diva. Her three songs are strangely prescient of a later NYC breakthrough dance-pop sexpot named Madonna. Descloux's cover of Arthur Brown's 60's psychedelic novelty-hit "Fire" would be pure disco cheese, were it not for the top-notch arrangements and production. Although I can't provide a description of every song on the anthology, there are also fine contributions from obscurities such as Garcons, Gichy Dan, Coati Mundi and Casino Music. Play any of these tracks head-to-head with the accepted canon of classic disco artists - Larry Levan, Giorgio Moroder, Cerrone - and it holds up magnificently. Mutant Disco is nothing less than an essential document of dance music's adventurous past.



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Jessica Bailiff

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Review of the Day

"Anti NY: Rare Music from the Early 1980s New York Underground and Some Contemporary Versions"
The "Anti NY" compilation gathers seven songs by bands from the early 80s scene that centered around the New York City's Mudd Club (perhaps best known these days for its invocation in the negative by Talking Heads, i.e."This ain't no..."). The sound stems from the collision of punk, disco and electronic noise that coincided with No Wave (bands like the Contortions or DNA) and the beginnings of rap. While the songs are certainly fantastic, I can only offer a qualified recommendation for this comp due to the needless inclusion of five "remixes" at the end that do little more than take up space.
The groups' names might not be instantly familiar to you, but several of the players should be. The percussive noise trio Gray is actually painter Jean-Michel Basquiat and early hip-hop promoter Michael Holman. The electro-funk blast of the Del/Byzanteens was led by future director (and member of John Lurie's Lounge Lizards) Jim Jarmusch. Industrial noises and proto-hip-hop collide on a track by graffitti artist Rammellzee and Death Comet Crew, aka filmmaker and future creator of club hit "The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight" Stuart Argabright. A song by the writer Vivien Goldman includes contributions from improvising pianist Steve Beresford and PiL guitarist Keith Levene. Of particular note is the sexy-as-hell "If I Gave You A Party" by the approriately named Sexual Harassment, which calls to mind the Manchester industrial street-party sound of A Certain Ratio. Every track on the CD's first half is remarkable, a fantastic portrait of the dancier facet of No Wave NY. At the time that these bands existed, reactionaries decried the invasion of an "art school" element into DIY punk rock, but history more than bears these folks out as fearless and creative musicians. New York must have been an exiting place then!
However (here it comes): the disc includes only one song by each of the seven bands, and then (note the last few words of the album conspicuously lengthy title) five remixes by contemporary producers. The remixes seem to imply a connection between the early 80s scene that the CD documents and current house music and techno. Whether or not this is a valid point being made by the compilers (it may well be), the effect as a complete album is jarring, unnecessary, and not particularly illuminating. First of all, the mixes (by Funkstorung, Paul Mogg, and others) are dull compared to the originals. Second, the geneological line that I assume is being drawn would have been far more effective by an essay or two. Instead, I'm left wishing that an additional tune by each group was present, rather than the superfuous (and by now clich³) remixes. It seems as if "Anti NY" wants to be two things at once, both a document and a tribute. By presenting not enough document and a half-assed tribute, it fall short of both.


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