Critical Beats Down 2: Curse Of The Leopard
If you love cinema, you will have felt Luchino Visconti.He was a rare Italian aristocrat from the ruling Houses of Milan. In a contradiction that makes more sense in our hyper-hypocritical green wash guff age, Luchino was a deeply committed Communist that lived richer than most 18th Century Kings and would never speak to a servant. I'm a servant, by the way.It was this life of the mind and ease that ensured he was one of the finest visual artists of the 20th Century. A chronicler of decline, stasis and the unsaid.In 1963 he won Cannes with Il Gattopardo - 'The Leopard'.It is based on a novel about the slow collapse of a great House like Visconti's own. This is the cinema no-one could afford today. Perfect sets and historical accuracy with an eye for detail and a screen packed with more real, big stars than exist in several galaxies. See it on a very, very big screen.What could this have to do with the hard path of club and dance music since around 1983?The House always wins.I do not mean the music. I am talking like a gambler. A capitalist.The canniest character, Tancredi, seeks to reassure conservative forces that getting radical, and taking a risk on change, is the only way to ensure no real, hurtful revolution at all:"If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change."Tancredi is a major club promoter or label A&R in 1983, 1993, 2003 and 2013. You move the times or the times move you. Away from the money. Bad times, there.How can you spot a change in time, when that twisted funky jungle cat is changing spots? If I knew, I'd be not be typing at you on a laptop.I would have made enough change to be dictating my musings to a team of geniuses aboard a vintage airliner converted into an airborne party zone. With Rat peoples permanently on the passenger manifest.I have clues. Here are two:1) Many still think quite reasonably that all mainstream urine foam trends and appropriations come from subcultures bubbling up and being nabbed. This is mostly true, but not always. Sometimes an adaptation or mutation of the mainstream goes under waves of better artistry to become other things, never to be seen again. Or else this process finishes with another theft by the forces of big money and media.2) One of the many useful in the wild nonsenses of our underdeveloped Ape minds is an obsession with finding the First of anything. We are programmed to notice the biggest, the loudest, the fastest - the First of any environmental stimulus. Back in the Motherland 30,000 years ago where our evolution stopped this kept you fed, smart and alive. In music, it can show you a change and a route to fast fast cash. Or revive or even create a career. I found the First, and you ignored it, or were not even there. I win, again.As the mainstream has infested and vampirised club music, the folk tales of The First House, The First Techno or the The First Fistfucker record or DJ or producer or even club is a real badge of (dis)honour and source of debate.A Great Friend of mine was dragged to see whatever still has a pulse under the name of Grandmaster Flash at the Souf Bankz thing.She was smartly skeptical but open, like someone wise to it all about to bite into a slice of scatty scented cheese but very fairly and without initial retching. She did not expect magic, but gave it all a chance.Of course, because Jamaica does not exist and Toasting is a way to make bread hard not anything interesting Flash is the First and First is Forever.Focus on the absurdity of that last F word especially. It is a licence to print money and suck harder than a sexbot in a teenage locker room.She was politely outraged, as was her boyfriend. Flash was gash, 'like a dodgy wedding DJ' - just coasting on a name and taking both her money and her evening away as shamelessly as a nudist mugger. And this is the take from a very tolerant, kind woman. A far, far better person than me.First is not Forever, it is an illusion.Art is a function of many, many influences, chances and yes sorry hold your nose be real, capitalist business circumstances.My research has shown that modern club music, especially House and Techno, did not emerge fully formed from the head or belly of Zeus.The genesis was messy, contested and did involve quite a lot of attempted contact, and ambition, for the kind of mainstream. In 1983 Chicago this meant New Wave, a bit of Prince, electronically enhanced (or not) Soul, Boogie and Funk - as well as the aforementioned need to make records to keep people dancing when there were not many.The idea of finding The First House record is a fool's errand writ large. An obscene Grail Quest.Many have settled on 'On and On'. The golden aces of Gridface.com have a somewhat literal take on it, and what may perhaps be the real story:"By now, most house music aficionados know the story of the first house record. Jesse Saunders, encouraged by his step-brother Wayne Williams, started DJing at teen clubs, culminating in the Playground. Inspired by DJ tools like Alessandro Novaga's Faces Drums and Mach's mysterious medleys, Saunders incorporated a Mattel Synsonics drum machine in his sets. Around this time he met Vince Lawrence, a young man determined to make records.Lawrence's father, Nemiah Mitchell Jr., produced a couple of R&B 45s on his own label, Mitchbal. He gave Lawrence studio time for a graduation present, resulting in Z-Factor's New Wave single "(I Like To Do It In) Fast Cars" in 1983. That summer, Saunders and Lawrence recorded "Fantasy." Impatient that Mitchell still hadn't released their single, Saunders and Lawrence rushed out "On and On" on Jes Say Records in January 1984. That release, containing five Chicago beat tracks on the reverse, started a revolution. Local pressing plant owner Larry Sherman, seeing dollar signs, worked with Saunders and Lawrence to distribute a series of Precision Records releases, which would lead to the birth of Trax Records.Meanwhile, Nemiah Mitchell Jr. released the remaining Z-Factor recordings and began searching for new artists."The design point here is that Z-Factor and friends were, and would have considered themselves, soulful funky New Wave acts, not revolutionaries.As the vital comp referenced here is titled, 122 BPM was the common sonic signature. That is quite a bit lower than what I got used to, and what Philippe cites as the norm before things slowed down.Yet 122 BPM may have been a bridge to, and from the mainstream. Our investigations of the lost beats must continue thus.