Powered by Google
Editors' Picks
Arts + Books
Rec Room
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Adult Personals
Adult Classifieds
- - - - - - - - - - - -
FNX Radio
Band Guide
MassWeb Printing
- - - - - - - - - - - -
About Us
Contact Us
Advertise With Us
Work For Us
RSS Feeds
- - - - - - - - - - - -

sponsored links
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Sex Toys - Adult  DVDs - Sexy  Lingerie

  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

From no to new wave
The NYC underground, then and now

After two decades of relative neglect, the funked-up sounds that followed punk-as-such into the New York underground are back in favor. The center of gravity has shifted from Lower Manhattan to Williamsburg, and hip-hop has replaced disco as a catalyst, but labels like Death from Above (home to the Rapture’s recent Echoes and the four-artist DFA Compilation #1) and bands like the Liars and Out Hud are bent on updating the noise-you-can-dance-to formula pioneered by Ze Records and 99 Records on the cusp of the ’80s. Another regional sampler, Yes New York (Vice), twists the title of 1978’s Eno-produced No New York, despite including bands (the Natural History, Ted Leo) who ride waves more "new" than "no."

The only available reissue of No New York is a pricy Japanese CD, but the artists who inspired the current scene are well represented on three other recent compilations (all European, but well distributed). New York Noise is the thorough, crate-digging overview one expects from British soul-and-reggae specialist label Soul Jazz. N.Y. No Wave and Mutant Disco are the first visible signs of the relaunch of the above-mentioned Ze Records, the Franco-American imprint responsible for early releases by Was (Not Was) and Kid Creole & the Coconuts, among others. The discs do share some territory. "Contort Yourself," credited variously to the Contortions and James White & the Blacks, appears on all three — and deserves to. White’s career-defining song has it all: Pat Place & Jody Harris’s slippery, atonal guitars, White’s reed-biting sax squeals, and his dislocated, James-Brown-meets-Richard-Hell exhortations: "Contort yourself two times!" Mutant Disco features the song’s club version, which buttresses the same elements with brighter guitar sounds and a cracking snare for seven sweaty minutes.

But it’s New York Noise that gives the fullest sense of the moment’s hybrid energies. There are all-or-mostly-female bands who might not have arisen before punk’s anyone-can-play permissiveness (the Bloods, ESG), all-or-mostly black groups displaying fierce funk chops (Konk, Defunkt), and one track — the Dance’s "Do Dada" — from a band whose membership crossed both color and gender lines. There’s also a sign of rap’s growing influence, circa 1981: "Beat Box," by first-generation MC Rahmelzee (more often credited as Ramelzee) and K.Rob, heavy on percussive clatter and dramatic vocal treatments, serving as a reminder of the stark lo-tech of early hip-hop.

The two Ze releases are tailored for those ready to explore a smaller (but still well-populated) corner of this broad canvas. Founded by critic Michael Esteban and French designer Michael Zilkha (the latter is now half-owner of Houston-based windpower providers Zilkha Renewable Energy), Ze in its original incarnation ran roughly from 1978 to 1986, before the usual major-label cherry picking depleted the stable. N.Y. No Wave and Mutant Disco divide the catalogue into "arty" and "danceable" slots, respectively. It’s not an entirely artificial distinction. On N.Y. No Wave, tracks by various Contortions-related outfits, or by French counterparts Lizzy Mercier Descloux and Rosa Yemen, straddle the punk-funk line. But Teenage Jesus & the Jerks’ spastic "Empty Eyes," with Lydia Lunch, and Mars’ "3E," with its pre-Swans thud, are guaranteed floor clearers. More striking, in retrospect, are cuts from the lone EP by Arto/Neto (DNA’s Arto Lindsay and theatrical designer Seth Tillett). The best, "Pini, Pini," combines barely-there beats and shards of guitar with a magic-realist vignette about a woman who weds "a bool-cow" instead of a man.

Mutant Disco veers in the opposite direction. It’s no surprise that the label’s club-oriented releases are more DJ- than listener-friendly, and two full discs of 12-inch mixes may overestimate how much of their output was top-shelf. All six tracks from 1981’s key Seize the Beat collection appear, and other outstanding selections (the Waitresses’ "I Know What Boys Like," Kid Creole’s "Annie, I’m Not Your Daddy") are readily available. But one isn’t: 1978’s "Disco Clone," the debut single by Cristina, a Betty Boop–voiced proto-Madonna who was Zilkha’s wife. This brilliantly produced mix of live strings and salsa rhythms finds a male observer, voiced by the then barely known Kevin Kline, drooling over a hottie’s moves. Apparently used to this, she assures him, "There’s enough to go around," before at least a dozen Cristinas appear for the chorus: "If you like the way I shake it/And you think you want to make it/There’s 50 just like me/I’m the disco clone." Shallow, trivial, and painfully catchy, the song combines science fiction and pre-HIV sexual ease with the innocent optimism of an old stack of Omni magazines. Current musicians may revive the component sounds, or even improve on them, but none is likely to recapture this kind of quaint decadence.

Issue Date: January 16 - 22, 2004
Back to the Music table of contents
  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

about the phoenix |  advertising info |  Webmaster |  work for us
Copyright © 2005 Phoenix Media/Communications Group