• Optimo’s JD Twitch announces compilation of early ’80s German post-punk

    By | September 12, 2018

    A personal selection of underground classics and rarities.

    Optimo’s JD Twitch has announced a new compilation called Kreaturen Der Nacht, set to be released by Strut Records in November.

    Watch next: How EBM, industrial and post-punk are returning to the dance floor

    The collection, which translates as ‘Creatures of the Night’, provides a personal insight into the comings and goings of West Germany’s post-punk underground, whether centred around infamous Kreuzberg spots like SO36, or regional scenes in Düsseldorf and Hamburg.

    As Twitch explains: “The compilation is not designed to tell a definitive story of what was going on in Germany in this era; it is more an arbitrary collection of records I adore from a specific era with a specific attitude that hopefully together sum up some of the musical undercurrents in Germany at that time.”

    Focussing on independent releases between 1980 and 1984, Kreaturen Der Nacht captures a particularly fertile period of German music history, as radical electronic artists and punk antagonists coalesced in the divided country’s squats, basements and clubs.

    “Although we had a small underground scene, it was very vibrant,” explains Gudrun Gut of Malaria! (and Einstürzende Neubauten). “Bands like Die Haut, our first band Mania D., [and] Malaria!… we organised gigs ourselves, hung around together in a handful of clubs like Risiko or Dschungel and went to gigs at SO36.”

    Kreaturen Der Nacht is the latest compilation helmed by the Optimo Music co-founder and DJ, following So Low, released with The Vinyl Factory in 2016, [Cease and Desist] DIY! Cult classics from the Post-Punk era and Miracle Steps – Music From The Fourth World (1983-2017).

    JD Twitch presents Kreaturen Der Nacht: Deutsche Post-Punk Subkultur 1980-1984 is released on 9th November via Strut Records. Click here to pre-order a copy and check out the artwork and tracklist below.

    Tracklist:

    1. Leben Und Arbeiten – Amanita
    2. Malaria! – Your Turn To Run
    3. Ausserhalb – Zeitzelle
    4. Die Haut – Der Karibische Western
    5. Aus Lauter Liebe – Pingelig
    6. Mania D – Track 4
    7. Exkurs – Fakten
    8. Christiane F – Wunderbar (JD Twitch Edit)
    9. Sprung Aus den Wolken – Dub Und Die
    10. P1/E – Up and Above / Up and Above Dub
    11. Franz Ermeier & Fritz Köstler – Öffnen Sie Mal Ihre Tasche
    12. Populäre Mechanik – Scarfer Schnitt (No. 1)
    13. Andreas Dorau – Fred Vom Jupiter
    14. Weltklang – Veb Heimat
    15. Stefan Blöser – Voyager One
    16. Matthias Schuster – An Rah Robeel

  • Channeling the cosmic imperfections of Sun Ra’s record sleeves

    By | September 7, 2018

    With a catalogue of striking cover art for the likes of Strut, Sofrito and Soundway, artist Lewis Heriz invites us into his Bethnal Green studio to show us how he creates the visuals for Strut’s Sun Ra compilations and releases.

    Although Londoner Lewis Heriz grew up in a family of creatives, he didn’t decide to become an artist from an early age. But Heriz always had a pen in his hand, doodling and illustrating for fun rather than necessity.

    Collecting records since he was a teenager, Heriz moved to Nottingham for university, and began promoting club nights and live shows to bring the musicians he loved to the city. It was at this point when his pals decided to use him as the resident designer.

    “My friends would be putting on music nights or events of some kind, and they would always ask me to do a flyer for them. I studied English, so I thought I’d be going into doing some sort of writing. It’s just that this kept on taking up my time, not in a bad way, I was being repeatedly asked to do these things.”

    From this early work, Heriz became the go-to illustrator for the Nottingham scene, while bringing DJs like Sofrito’s Hugo Mendez and Soundway Records up north. (As this happened, illustration became a full-time gig.) This lead to his introduction to Strut, who have since tapped Heriz to create the art for some of the label’s most striking Sun Ra releases and reissues, including Gilles Peterson’s Sun Ra and His Arkestra compilation, and the Sun Ra 45s Singles collection.

    Eager to find out more about how he has created the work for the mystic musical world of Ra, we spent the morning with him in his sunny London studio to get a behind-the-scenes look.

     

    When did you first hear Sun Ra’s music?

    I think it might have been when the Poets of Rhythm played in Nottingham. I was starting to listen to the spiritual jazz releases on Jazzman, at the time, which opened me up to that world.

    Had you listened to jazz before?

    I listened to it with my family, but not the more out there out there cosmic stuff. I hadn’t been listening to Alice Coltrane, for instance. But because I had been listening to a lot of jazz, and I’d really, really enjoyed experimental music, I was like, “this is amazing!”

    Were you familiar with the Arkestra artwork before Strut asked you to design the cover?

    Possibly the more famous ones. Until I got the brief I don’t know whether I’d seen that much of it, but it just made so much sense to me when I did. Artists who have humor and depth at the same time, that’s my thing. I absolutely love people who are saying beautiful, profound things, but when you take a closer look at them you realise that they’re doing it with a twinkle in their eye. I think Sun Ra was a very funny man, and maybe sometimes that’s not appreciated so much by people. He was a trickster.

    Does that combination of humour with depth and playfulness influence the way you create the Sun Ra covers?

    I think I’m permitted to do it with the art as well, because Sun Ra made it very clear that was something that he not only permitted, but wanted. I think he created metal plates and did block printing. But again, when you’re creating something that’s more permanent it’s a printing press, essentially. You’re creating something that you’re going to be repeating over and over again. The ‘normal’ instinct would be to refine it so it was as perfect as you could make it every time. And that perfection was repeated, because most people would be frustrated by the fact that it was a mistake, but that’s not what Sun Ra was doing at all. And that’s clearly not because he was aesthetically naive –it wasn’t that he didn’t understand what he was doing, that was part of the expression.

    Are there any examples of how you create that organically in your work?

    That’s the reason why I was using Letraset to create the typography for Sun Ra’s Singles: The Definitive 45s Collection, rather than using a computer font, which is perfect – it’s always going to be perfect and perfectly reproducible. I got out the Letraset and that’s what that is. It’s transferring it physically. It’s pretty neat, but it’s still not straight, and even if I did do it with a grid there would still have been misalignment there. So it includes imperfection, just by the nature of the process.

    Imperfection?

    That’s probably the wrong term, because it what he was intentionally trying to achieve, so it’s not imperfect. But as much as possible I will try to do that. Sometimes, and quite often, the nature of the job will mean that it’s just unviable to work in the way I’d like to work, because of time constraints and the potential for last minute changes.

    You said this links with the artwork you were doing with Sun Ra?

    Sun Ra’s approach to music is cosmic, but there’s also a discipline in free expression. That was reflected in the artwork that he used for his covers, the covers themselves were improvised. Basically Ra would say, “that’s it, we’ve done it! The mistakes are there and the mistakes are part of it, and the mistakes are part of the beauty of it.” He wouldn’t refine and refine and refine, until you refine the soul out of the thing, which you can easily do.

    You can take a concept and just square it off and smooth it off, and he wouldn’t do that. That was an important part of the way he approached and taught music, and that’s why he would allow there to be a cacophony in his music, because it’s part of the expression, it’s part of the way that the universe works. And so, with these covers, I wouldn’t be fulfilling the brief if I didn’t include an element of that. But, I have to also incorporate a photo of him, that’s in the brief. I also have to make it look like it’s a compilation. But yet, for me, if I didn’t include some element of the unexpected, the improvised, then it wouldn’t really be true to the music.

    Were you given access to archival photography?

    Yes, but not a huge amount. The Sun Ra estate or Art Yard records have an collection of original photos, and I don’t know what the decision making process was before it came to me, but Quinton would say, “we have these amazing photos that haven’t been used before, choose one, or see how they work
    out.”

    What makes you select a particular image?

    There’s a decision making process there in terms of ‘we have to include the photo, so how much of it do we include? How does it work in terms of the design?’ This is a photo of Sun Ra we used, where he’s playing the keyboard and you can see all the equipment around him. With this photo I loved the fact that he had his eyes closed and he’s listening to the music. He doesn’t need to see, he’s just responding to the vibrations, or whatever. And then I thought “that’s a really beautiful encapsulation of him as an artist.” So then I tried to think about what was happening in his head. I was in Buenos Aires when I was asked to do this, and it was a very tight deadline. I set myself up in this cafe, I was like, ‘right, I’ve just got to do this in the cafe.’ And it was really nice to have all of these beautiful Sun Ra recordings to listen to, because the cafe was just playing Moby and Robbie Williams on repeat. Luckily I was able to block it out with this amazing music.

    I guess in the case of Sun Ra and the Arkestra it’s a particular group, so there are thematic signifiers and there is a style that people associate with them?

    Completely. I mean, I’m very happy in this mode of working, where I’m allowed to keep it rough, I’m allowed to just make something up and then go, ‘I’m just going to keep it like that’ and then have that in there. It’s more of a pure expression than what I’m normally able to do. And, Ayé A. Aton, the artist that worked with Sun Ra for a while, and also painted lots of murals in the house he lived in. That was the specific reference here. I hadn’t really referenced him before in anything that I’d done. It’s quite hieroglyphic as well. But that’s what was going on there. Amazing photo, again, that I was sent, really amazing.

     

    How does your process start?

    I’ll show you my digital drawing process. I would just start off with some kind of improvised shape in one colour. Actually this is the way I ended up doing the Singles set…

    That’s all I’m doing really, then it’s just refining from there. But it does really help to have that flexibility, especially when there’s a really tight deadline, which they always are. If there’s something that really needs to be changed in terms of the design, like if I had done it in ink and I had to re-ink it would be a nightmare. I always used to work that way, drawing in ink then importing it digitally then layering up the ink, and I would, ideally, like to carry on working like that all the time, but it’s just not viable. I had to develop a way to try and create the same effect, essentially. I don’t even like the idea of emulating it, it’s like it’s a second rate version of the ink. That’s why I often try to do it digitally and work to digital’s strengths, but still create the same kind of effect I want to have aesthetically.

    What are digital’s strengths?

    Flexibility is the main thing, and the fact that you can take the design, and apply quite a multitude of effects to it to make something you may not have even be able to do physically. It will always be specific to the digital approach, but sometimes that’s only evident to you. It really doesn’t matter, because it’s going to go through the digital phase anyways.

     

    How does that change when you’re not working in a digital medium?

    Well, I love working in ink for example. I don’t have as much control over it as I would like to – or perhaps as I used to – because I work in ink less now. But that’s kind of OK when working on the Sun Ra records because, again, like the music, there’s a beauty in the unexpected. The physicality of it forces what some might call an error, but in this way of thinking it’s the universe expressing itself, you could say.

    That’s a very Ra-esque way of putting it. How does this expression manifest itself in the art?

    The actual physical interaction between things creates that irregularity, that’s why this is distinct from digital. You can make mistakes and have unexpected things in digital, but not in the same way. The physical world isn’t binary. This is one of the reasons I love physical formats like records as well – they decay in a much more beautiful and human way.

     

    A human way?

    I mean in the sense that they’re part of the physical world, and so they age, but we can live with it, and you can still listen to a tape that’s gone slightly fuzzy or a record that’s got a few clicks or crackles. Whereas if a CD degraded, it’s literally unlistenable, that’s it, you’ve got to skip the track. That’s useless. And we now know that CDs do decay, so they’re not perfect. I think, for me, that’s a real distinction. The entropy that is built into the physical world is a beautiful thing. And again, I think that’s sort of worth leaning into, by working with or celebrating it, in the same way Sun Ra enjoyed almost breaking stuff and the aesthetic effect of pushing things to do things beyond what they were made to. That’s not to say that technology isn’t integral to Sun Ra’s music. He was very clear in vocalising that he thought Black Americans would be the last to get a hold of new technology, so Sun Ra would be like “I’m going to get the new technology and I’m going to do everything that you can do with it!” So, that was a very important part of it as well. I’m not being a Luddite!

    Do you try and convey a certain feeling or reaction with your artwork?

    Absolutely. I enjoy playing with style as a means of communication, of content and of the type of music that’s inside. I’m trying to achieve a cover that gives someone who’s looking at it that same feeling. It’s a communication across space.


    Head here to check out more of Lewis Heriz’s work.

    Photos by Elina Abidin for The Vinyl Factory

  • Rodion GA, Future Nuggets and Romania’s psychedelic underground

    By | July 17, 2018

    From cosmic rock on reel-to-reel tapes, to wedding music-inspired synth jams by a network of fake names, Oli Warwick explores the unlikely connections running through the Romanian underground from the ’70s to the present day.

    Before music could break down space and time via fibre optic cable, it used to disseminate through the world in curious ways. Beyond the established industry and media channels of the West, re-dubbed pirate tapes and military base radio stations were some of the unlikely vessels for pop, rock, and later hip-hop and electronic sounds, travelling across land and sea to arrive in foreign territory.

    Modern day reissues have helped shine a light on wonderfully unique music from so many different places, where remote listeners processed and filtered sounds from far away and created their own starkly original interpretations in relative obscurity. Rodion Ladislau Rosca was one such example, prolific in his native Romania through the ’70s and ’80s, but with barely any officially released music for people to hear.

    Psychedelic and prog rock of the ’60s was a big influence on Rosca. There was a brief period between 1965 and 1971, when Nicolae Ceaușescu first came to power, that Romania challenged the dominance of the Soviet Union and opened itself up to the West. It was a prime time for new experimental sounds to break through the Iron Curtain. However, in the Northern city of Cluj (Romania’s second city), means to record music were limited. The majority of the music industry was in Bucharest, centred around the country’s sole, state-run record label, Electrecord.

    Rosca instead recorded his music at home via reel-to-reel tape, layering and cutting up the recordings of his guitar to create impossible melodies, and using an early Vermona drum machine in place of a live drummer. He formed Rodion GA to perform these wildly futuristic songs live, and sent the tapes of his creations to the local Cluj radio station where they would score repeated plays and top listener charts, without being officially released. As Ceausescu’s regime tightened its grip through the ’70s and into the ’80s, student-organised festivals provided an outlet for musicians like Rosca who were operating outside the government-sanctioned mainstream.

    “In Romania people were very hungry to enjoy,” explains Rosca, “because this oppressive regime did not give us the possibility to express ourselves, and when a group came to play a concert everybody was shouting. The army were very angry, we had no right to shout, but people ran on the stage and they could do nothing.”

    It was tough to live as a musician in 1980s Romania, and following the death of his mother Rozalia in 1989, Rosca turned his back on music and left his tapes in a box where they gathered dust for the best part of 30 years.

    Back to the future

    Modern day Romania is in some ways considered outside of the mainstream cultural channels of the rest of Europe. While its economy developed significantly following the 1989 revolution that brought an end to Ceausescu’s rule, the recession of the late 2000s stunted its growth, and with it the development of its music industry. These days Romania’s most popular alternative music export is minimal techno, spearheaded by DJs like Raresh, Rhadoo and Petre Inspirescu.

    When the first Future Nuggets compilation Sounds Of The Unheard From Romania (Volume 1) came out in 2012, it positively oozed obscurity with mysterious artists making psychedelic, kosmische-tinted synth jams. As became apparent, acts like Australopitecus Oltensis and Departamentul Zero were the work of a small group of musicians and producers operating largely out of the N-am Studio in Bucharest. With his name on the credits for many of these projects and subsequent releases, Ion Dumitrescu forms something of a ringleader to this operation.

    “We started Future Nuggets to invent a local psychedelic fusion scene,” Dumitrescu explains, “to just pop up with a lot of names and projects. It’s precisely because Romania is an obscure landscape. We wanted to conceptually overstate obscurity.”

    Dumitrescu’s background is in performance art and his musical ventures come loaded with conceptual purpose. In the early days of Future Nuggets, this invented scene provided a meaningful framework for the jam sessions that were taking place. Some of the names, such as Steaua de Mare, developed into fully-fledged projects, while others made one appearance and vanished.

    While he was vaguely aware of Rodion GA as a curious footnote in Romania’s sparse experimental music history, Dumitrescu knew nothing about where to find more music from this lost pioneer. Around 2009, a documentary maker named Sorin Luca tracked down and started living with Rosca in the rural village of Aschileu Mare to make a film entitled Imagini Din Vis.

    “I was following Sorin Luca’s blog,” Dumitrescu explains, “and he had digitised some of Rodion’s tapes. When I heard them I was like, ‘Oh my god, what is this music? How come it’s not written about? Romanian electronic music history is so poor, and this is not there!’ That started the process…”

    Future primitive

    Luca’s documentary portrayed Rosca’s eccentric life in a dilapidated farm house, caring for animals, growing vegetables, embarking on DIY projects, building and repairing speakers, surrounded by clutter. It also showcased some of his lost musical experiments, alongside archive gig footage and recordings from local radio broadcasts in Cluj that confirm the popularity of Rodion GA in their heyday. On making contact with Luca and Rosca, Dumitrescu started helping to digitise Rosca’s archives of music, eventually forging a connection with UK label Strut Records to release The Lost Tapes in 2013. It was the first time the wider world had heard these far out sounds recorded between 1978 and 1984 in Rosca’s home studio.

    “I first recorded my songs in 1969 just to not lose the ideas,” Rosca explains. “I was kneeling down with a microphone between my legs. Then I was adding the second voice, then guitar, then effects, and I discovered how nice is to make multi-track recordings myself.”

    In time Rosca’s sound became more ambitious as he cut and pasted slices of tape together to create new sequences, repurposing and reprogramming guitar riffs, creating delay effects and making whole new tracks from sounds he had already recorded. The results are undeniably unique, not to mention utterly visionary for the time and place.

    “I was recording each guitar note separately,” he explains, “and, because the tape does not start exactly, it made a synthesiser effect. A lot of people ask me, ‘What kind of synthesiser did you have?’ and I told them nothing.”

    “He was using analogue tools but he was thinking digitally,” says Dumitrescu of Rosca’s methods. “He was sampling and looping. He didn’t have this attitude of, ‘but it’s not real, you have to play the song.’ He said, ‘OK I’m going to try using the same loop in three different songs.’”

    In the studio

    The Lost Tapes focused on the most cosmic, process-intensive aspects of Rosca’s considerable archive, but the recently released collection Rozalia (Inversions, 2018), named in tribute to his late mother, shows the rawer rock side to Rosca’s sound. All but one of the tracks were recorded in actual studios – some at Radio Cluj between 1978-79, and some at a radio station in Bucharest in 1983. There is still plenty of interstellar sound processing taking place amidst the instrumentation, but the most notable difference from the material on The Lost Tapes is the presence of a live drummer compared to the steady clicks and pops of the drum machine.

    “[Rodion’s] drive was to be very much unique,” points out Dumitrescu, “but actually the conditions in which he produced gave him the unique sound. All the other bands in ’83, ’84, were waiting to record in a studio. He never intended to use drum machines, but the fact that he accepted the kind of primitivism of the drum machine assured him his future.”

    As the liner notes for Rozalia explain, Rodion didn’t waste the opportunity to record live studio drumming during the sessions in Cluj and Bucharest. Using his “digital thinking”, as Dumitrescu describes it, he recorded individual parts of each track onto tape, stocking up on sonic units to take away and re-mould into more tracks at home.

    “If we are comparing me with other composers or musicians, I am not a very good instrumentalist at all,” Rosca admits, “because I did not need this. My brain made everything step-by-step, and I recorded each sequence by myself. Guitarists ask me, ‘How did you do this?’ Because I used some sequences that were impossible to play and they did not understand how I did it.”

    In a country under the grip of a totalitarian state, the opportunities for an alternative musician were few and far between. Scattered television appearances and radio broadcasts were not enough to live on, and the only officially released Rodion GA material from the group’s active period were the more conventional ‘Acolo Unde E Mister’ and ‘Amintiri’ on Formatii Rock (5), a rock compilation on the state-run Electrecord.

    Psych, pop and wedding music

    Future Nuggets came together in a similar void. “Precisely because there is no opportunity, there is an opportunity,” Dumitrescu jokes.

    “In Romania the industry is not fully matured,” he explains. “The mainstream is like an island with a monopoly on the radio and all the channels, but that’s also not very big. Then you have almost no other niches or layers of pop. In other parts of the world you can have all these underground scenes, layer after layer, where you can survive and do your stuff without being Beyoncé.”

    Dumitrescu’s plans for Future Nuggets include exploring subgenres of pop music by working with different vocalists alongside some of the label’s long-standing producers. The aim is to produce a compilation in the same spirit as Sounds Of The Unheard that will establish a new fantasy scene within Future Nuggets’ microcosm of Romanian culture. While this new direction seeks to transcend the mainstream limitations of Romanian music, the earlier Future Nuggets sound was entrenched in the traditions of their location. Many of the early projects, and in particular the band Steaua de Mare, took inspiration from the traditional Romanian wedding music manele and reinterpreted it through contemporary electronic music.

    Classical manele has roots in Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria and other neighbouring countries, echoing the tendency in psychedelic music to traverse geo-political borders in pursuit of transcendent music. Much like The Beatles embracing India or The Rolling Stones looking to Africa, in manele the Future Nuggets collective felt the same exotic allure of the East.

    Alongside traditional manele, Dumitrescu is also interested in the music of cult ’90s Romanian band Albatros. He spearheaded Raza De Soare’s album Albatros in 2015 – a dedicated tribute project to the group – and now he’s preparing to reissue some of the band’s early material alongside other manele bands from the ’90s.

    “Albatros can be perceived by us retrospectively as psychedelic, but they would never use this term in the vocabulary of the ’90s,” he explains. “The orient was a trigger for Western psychedelic music, and when you hear the manele in the ’90s that suddenly moved to electronic guitar and synthesisers, they were already using the tradition of oriental and Turkish music.”

    The scene that Albatros and other groups emerged from in the ’90s was not like the more traditional wedding-related manele music. It was music from the former socialist ghettos, explicitly proletarian and self-described as unpretentious ‘party music.’ The era that Rosca had come up in was rooted in progressive rock, striving for more elaborate, grandiose music expression. In the tough climate of the ’80s, the most interesting and daring bands fell by the wayside. Those that survived conformed to an MOR formula of soft, mainstream rock.

    Rosca certainly took himself and his music seriously, hence he wasn’t able to compromise to achieve a more stable life as an artist in his youth. Although he could never have predicted it, his career was revived after The Lost Tapes as gig offers sprung up for festivals across Europe. The initial idea of presenting his reel-to-reel recordings and talking about his craft soon snowballed into forming a new line up of Rodion GA with the members of Steaua Di Mare. By all accounts it wasn’t the smoothest of intergenerational collaborations, but somewhere between the distant eras and sounds of Rosca and the Future Nuggets crew, a crossover did emerge.

    “There was a very big tension between us,” Rosca explains, “but when they finally listened to me at the rehearsal, we managed to have the sound the same as it was on the tape. It is the first time people managed to play my music as it is.”

    “Our music is different but there are definitely some subterranean common vibrations,” Dumitrescu explains. “Rodion is a very strange character coming from a different world, so the collaboration was tough, but we can expect that. He brags about being a difficult person, that he is a despot, that he fired 10 bass players, 20 drummers.”

    After playing three gigs, the new manifestation of Rodion GA fell apart. Some members of the band suggested playing Steaua Di Mare tracks during their performances, and unhappy with that arrangement, Rosca continued to tour solo with his reel-to-reel tapes. Although their collaboration ended on a sour note, Rosca is quick to point out that he and Dumitrescu remain friends.

    The original Future Nugget

    It’s sad to say the international recognition Rosca has enjoyed in recent years has arrived a little too late – he was diagnosed with liver cancer and has been struggling with his health and finances in recent years. He had to leave his house in the countryside and return to Cluj to receive treatment. His relocation feels particularly poignant in the context of Luca’s touching depiction of a man seemingly content and fulfilled in his rural idyll.

    At least his trailblazing sound was unearthed in time for him to see the warm reception it received across the world. In their unlikely crossover, Rosca and Dumitrescu embodied the spirit of psychedelia, unbound by space, time and style. Even in Romania, where the odds have often seemed stacked against them, curious souls have found ways to pursue their creative visions.

    “Time was never reliable for outernational countries and industries like Romania,” says Dumitrescu. “Rodion GA waited 30 years to be released.”

    “I totally wanted Future Nuggets to be this point in between the past and the future,” he adds. “That was the mission, and somehow the mission became very real with Rodion. Rodion is the embodiment of a future nugget!”

  • French Caribbean label Disques Debs collected in new 2xLP series

    By | May 17, 2018

    From early biguine and bolero to zouk, reggae and créole.

    Strut is releasing a new multi-volume vinyl series featuring archival music from Guadeloupe imprint Disques Debs.

    Read more: Island Digging with Ruf Dug: The disco funk sound of Guadaloupe in 10 records

    Launched by Henri Debs in the late ’50s, the studio released over 300 7″ singles and 200 LPs during its time.

    Volume 1, compiled by Hugo Mendez of Sofrito and Emile Omar of Radio Nova, includes 21 tracks taken from the first decade of the label’s existence, with percussive biguines, big bands like Orchestre Esperanza and Orchestre Caribbean Jazz, poet and radio personality Casimir “Caso” Létang and folkloric gwo ka artist Sydney Leremon.

    Disques Debs International: An Island Story: Biguine, Afro Latin & Musique Antillaise 1960 – 1972 2xLP release also includes rare and unseen photos, extensive liner notes and interviews with Phillpe Debs and Max “Maxo” Severin from Les Vikings.

    Pre-order a copy here ahead of its 26th June release, listen to Guy Conquette’s ‘Assez Fait Cancan’ and check out the track list below.

    Tracklist

    Side A

    1. Daniel Forestal Et Sa Guitare – Ces P`Tits Je T`aime
    2. Casimir Lètang – Travail Zènfants! Chantez Après!
    3. Cyril Diaz Et Son Orchestre – Feeling Happy
    4. Georges Tinedor Et Manuela Pioche – Colliè Et Zanno
    5. Henri Debs Quintet – Douce Kombass
    6. Joseph Lacides – Mr. Morin

    Side B

    7. Geno Exile – Lan Misè
    8. Dolor Et Les Diables Du Rythme – Salvana
    9. Syndey Lèrèmon Et Ses Amis Du Calvaire Baie-Mahault – You You Matayango
    10. Raymond Cicault Et Son Orchestre Volcan – À Mon Ami Lucien Jolibois
    11. Orchestre Esperanza Et Jean Leroy – Ou Pas Bel
    12. Henri Debs Sextet Et Paul Blamar – Moin Çé On Maléré

    Side C

    13. Le Ry-Co Jazz – Si I Bon Di I Bon
    14. Remy Mondey – Meringue Mondey
    15. Henri Guedon Et Les Contesta – Van Van
    16. Les Shupa Shupa D`Haiti – Batterie Shupa

    Side D

    17. Paul Blamaret Vèlo – Lovency
    18. Eric Virgal – Stanislas
    19. Les Aiglons – Les Aiglons Ka Satisfait
    20. Tutus De La Guyane – Nanao Nanao
    21. Guy Conquette – Assez Fait Cancan

  • How Idris Ackamoor’s African odyssey helped shape Afrofuturist jazz

    By | May 14, 2018

    With the release of An Angel Fell, his new album with The Pyramids, Idris Ackamoor tells Chris May about the birth of Afrofuturist jazz and how spending a year in Africa turned theory into reality for The Pyramids.

    In December 1972, Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids arrived in Morocco, from where they set off through Senegal for Ghana, before crossing the continent and travelling in Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia. Along the way they experienced at first-hand the ritual power of music and its ability to bind communities together – twin tenets of first-wave Afrofuturist music, which combined science fiction-inspired magical realism with black consciousness-inspired social activism.

    Returning to the US, The Pyramids self-released three albums, Lalibela, King Of Kings and Birth/Speed/Merging, in quick succession. Pressed in limited numbers and sold at gigs, a practice pioneered by Afrofuturist godfather Sun Ra, the discs were strictly niche, but are now widely recognised as classics of their genre. The Pyramids broke up in 1977 and Ackamoor, under his birth name, Bruce Baker, founded the multi-disciplinary performance company Cultural Odyssey. As Ackamoor, he has since reformed The Pyramids on several occasions.


    In the late 1960s and early 1970s, your generation of musicians was the first to look on jazz as something with which to effect change in society, to educate and agitate. What triggered that?

    It was the zeitgeist. Our music came out alongside the Civil Rights movement, it was all about black consciousness. There was a revolutionary spirit running through African American music. I was listening to John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, Pharoah Sanders, Sun Ra, Marvin Gaye, Albert Ayler, Martha & The Vandellas. One way and another, they were all revolutionary. In Chicago, where I grew up, music was about making change happen.

    Was the description Afrofuturist used to describe the new jazz?

    I didn’t hear it called that until much later. Some people called it “our thing.” Others called it “spiritual jazz.” They meant tracing spiritual experience back to Africa – the idea that music is part of the ritualistic, ceremonial, transcendental aspect of life. Musicians were looking for a different kind of spiritual experience. It wasn’t about Christianity, it wasn’t about Islam. It was about affirming our African heritage. It was also about coming together as a people. It was about putting community before competition.

    That was a radical idea. Historically, most jazz musicians had been intensely competitive.

    They were raised to be crabs in a bucket. From the 1920s onwards, they were brought up on the idea of the cutting school, where you’d try and best each other in head-to-head jam sessions. “I’m badder than this cat, I’m badder than that cat.” But my generation felt that the priority had to be unification. Competitive cutting was opposed to unity. It was opposed to “each one teach one” as the saying went. There was a race war going on in the US. We needed to present a united front.

    In Chicago, the imperative of working together was what inspired the launch of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians.

    I came out of that tradition, though I was never actually a member of the AACM. I was too young to join when it launched [in 1965]. Then when I came back from Africa [in 1973] I moved from Chicago to San Francisco. But historically, the South Side was all about unions, about organising, because black people had always been under great pressure. People on the South Side knew that the power structure wanted to divide and rule. In that regard, my greatest inspiration was my mother. She was a school teacher and activist. When she saw inequity, she confronted it. She organised a schools boycott to protest against the inferior education black children received and for that she was fired from her job. It led to the longest teachers strike in Chicago history.

    Did you always plan on being a musician?

    I’d been studying music since I was seven or eight and I was in my first band when I was 12 [in 1963], so being a musician was an early plan. But in 1965 I got diverted for a while. It was my freshman year at high school and I really got into basketball. I was a little god. I could steal the ball, I could make it dance, I could do all that stuff. And you couldn’t be in a band and play sports at the same time. They were separate worlds. So I kind of put my instrument down for three or four years. And then in 1968 I left Chicago to take up a basketball scholarship at Coe College in Cedar Rapids. But pretty soon, I had an epiphany. I realised I wanted to return to music.

    What caused the epiphany?

    1968 was right in the middle of the Black Power movement, in the middle of the Black Panthers coming out, of black consciousness. I was growing my afro, I was wearing a beard, I was wearing a dashiki. Those things didn’t go with being a college jock. My heart told me to get back into music.

    So you went back to Chicago…

    … and picked up my horn again. That’s when I met my first musical guru, Clifford King, who taught me alto and tenor saxophone. He was an older guy who came out of the big bands of the 1930s, outfits like the Jimmie Lunceford orchestra. He taught a lot of the AACM musicians and he took me under his wing. And then in 1970 I was out of Chicago again, this time to Antioch College in Yellow Springs, where I studied music in the same class as Margo [Simmons] and Kimathi [Asante], with whom I founded The Pyramids.

    You’re on record as saying that Antioch was life-changing.

    Antioch was transformational, an amazing place. I was on what they called the co-operative programme – half the time you were on campus, the other half you were away someplace doing work study. My first work study was back in Chicago working with Kermit Coleman, an attorney with the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union]. He was the principal lawyer for the families of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, the Black Panthers who were assassinated by the Chicago police in 1969. For 3 months I was his assistant. I was also able to carry on studying with Clifford King. My next placement was in Los Angeles, where I met my second musical guru, Charles Tyler. He’d played alto on [Albert Ayler’s] Bells and Spirits Rejoice. He took me under his wing.

    And at Antioch you met another musical guru, Cecil Taylor.

    When I got back from the Los Angeles, Cecil had begun teaching there. I played in Cecil’s Black Music Ensemble along with Margo and Kimathi. Cecil taught us that jazz was part of an ancient musical continuum going back to Africa. He could dance to Duke Ellington and he could dance to Motown – this was what the AACM and the Art Ensemble of Chicago were laying down too. He said playing the piano was like playing eighty-eight tuned drums. In class Cecil would say ‘go to Africa.’ He confirmed the importance of Africa.

    Many jazz musicians in the 1970s spoke about the importance of its African heritage, but few actually went there to study it first-hand.

    Money was a prohibitive factor for most young musicians, when they were not even making a living in America. But being at Antioch, we were fortunate. They had the Study Abroad Programme, and in late 1972 they gave me, Margo and Kimathi travel money and a monthly stipend to travel in Africa. It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough. The only academic thing we had to do was go to Paris and study French for six weeks first. After that we went to Amsterdam, where we formed The Pyramids. Then we went to Africa – to Tangier, Morocco for a couple of weeks, then Dakar, Senegal for a couple of weeks and then we settled in Accra, Ghana. From there we went to Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia. We spent around a year in Africa.

    It must have been like going to finishing school.

    By the time we got back to the US we were a totally different band. We believed that the way to break the ghetto mindset was to introduce a new set of rituals. The Pyramids weren’t a jazz band the way most people envisioned one. We were extremely theatrical. It was all about ritual, costumes, magic. In that respect, we were like Sun Ra. But we’d actually learnt it from going to Africa.


    Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids’ An Angel Fell is out now via Strut Records.

  • Saxophonist Idris Ackamoor’s cosmic collective The Pyramids releasing new album on 2xLP

    By | March 13, 2018

    Soulful afrofunk meets astral jazz visions.

    Idris Ackamoor is releasing new album An Angel Fell with his band The Pyramids, on double vinyl via Strut this May.

    Read more: Sun Ra changed my life: 13 artists reflect on his legacy and influence

    A contemporary of Pharoah Sanders and Sun Ra, Ackamoor and The Pyramids released three albums in the 1970s before disbanding.

    They reunited in 2012, releasing album Otherworldly that same year, followed by We Be All Africans in 2016.

    An Angel Fell was recorded during a week at London’s Quatermass studios and produced by Malcom Catto of Heliocentrics, with album artwork by Lewis Heriz.

    Pre-order a copy here ahead of its 11th May release, listen to ‘Message To My People’ and check out the track list below.

    Tracklist

    Side A

    A1. Tinog
    A2. An Angel Fell

    Side B

    B1. Land of Ra
    B2. Papyrus

    Side C
    C1. Soliloquy for Michael Brown
    C2. Message To My People

    Side D

    D1. Warrior Dance
D2. Sunset

  • Rare Sun Ra radio performance released on vinyl for first time

    By | January 3, 2018

    The recording was newly discovered in his archives.

    A 1974 radio session from astral jazz pioneer Sun Ra is being released on vinyl for the first time, by Strut and Art Yard.

    Read next: Strange Satellites: The 10 rarest Sun Ra records

    Of Abstract Dreams is part of a series of of shows Ra and the band recorded at WXPN-FM between 1974 and 1980.

    The LP features four tracks including a new version of ‘Island in the Sun’ and the first ever studio recording of ‘I’ll Wait For You’.

    Nine Arkestra members accompany Sun Ra’s piano/percussion, including Marshall Allen on flute/alto saxophone,  and Eddie Thomas on drums.

    All tracks have been remastered from their original tapes by Technology Works, with new artwork by Guy Denning and liner notes by Paul Griffiths.

    Pre-order Of Abstract Dreams here ahead of its 15th March release, listen to the Strange Celestial Road version of ‘I’ll Wait For You’ and check out the track list below.



    Tracklist

    1. Island In The Sun
    2. New Dawn
    3. Unmask The Batman
    4. I’ll Wait For You

  • Discover Peruvian music from the ’60s and ’70s in this new compilation

    By | September 29, 2017

    The Andean answer to African highlife. 

    New collection ANDINA, is shining a light on sounds from the Peruvian Andes and its surrounds between 1968 and 1978.

    Read next: Incredible photos from inside a Peruvian vinyl factory in the ’70s

    The 17-song LP “encompasses steady-grooving, Peruvian cumbia rhythms, transcendent folkloric harp recordings and Lima big band groups taking influence from their highland neighbours, that will appeal to fans of jazz and Latin as well as tropical-minded DJs and deep-digging collectors.”

    Many of the tracks are being released for the first time outside of Peru.

    Co-compiled by former Soundway label manager Duncan Ballantyne, Peruvian crate digger Andres Tapia del Rio and chef Martin Morales, ANDINA is the first in a series of compilations of music from Peru, including the Amazon and its coastal regions.

    A 7″ picture disc featuring ceviche dishes by Morales, as well as a cookbook with his original recipes, will also be available.

    ANDINA is out 20th October 2017 on Strut and Tiger’s Milk.

    Pre-order a copy here, listen to Los Demonios Del Mantaro’s ‘La Chichera’, and check out the track list below.

    Tracklist

    1. Los Demonios Del Mantaro – La Chichera
    2. Los Compadres Del Ande – La Mecedora
    3. Los Walker’s de Huánuco – Todos Vuelven
    4. La Peruanita – Recuerda Corazón
    5. Los Bárbaros Del Centro – Loca Loquita
    6. Los Compadres Del Ande – El Lorcho
    7. Los Bilbao – Zelenita del Año 2000
    8. Manolo Avalos – Rio de Paria
    9. Lucho Neves Y Su Orquesta – Caymeñita
    10. Los Jelwees – Descarga Huanuqueña
    11. Los Sabios Del Ritmo – Cholita
    12. Alicia Maguiña con Mario Cavagnaro y su Sonora Sensación – Perla Andina
    13. Conjunto Los Luceritos De Casacancha – Mi Casacancha
    14. Huiro Y Su Conjunto – Cumbia en los Andes
    15. Los Turistas Del Mantaro – Agua Dulce
    16. Los Bárbaros Del Centro – La Celosa
    17. Conjunto Kori Cinta de Huancavelica – Toyascha

  • The 10 best vinyl releases this week (20th June)

    By | June 20, 2017

    Afro disco bangers, Brazil-meets-LA beats and Ryuichi Sakamoto.

    A globe-trotting selection this week as we cover all corners with another stellar line-up of new vinyl to sink your ears into. This week’s stand-out singles feature Nigerian boogie specialist Shina Williams, Portuguese Batida imprint Principe, and a 15-copy dubplate on the brilliant Whities.

    As for albums, there’s Gaby Hernandez’ blissed-out Brazil-meets-LA Spirit Reflection LP, a trip to Japan for the vinyl release of Sakamoto’s async and a superb new album from DJ Sport on Edinburgh’s Firecracker Recordings.

    Scroll down for our definitive across-the-board rundown of the week’s new vinyl releases as selected by The Vinyl Factory’s Chris Summers, Patrick Ryder and James Hammond with help from Norman Records. 5 singles and 5 LPs every 7 days that are unmissable additions to any collection.


    Singles


    Shina Williams & His African Percussionists

    Agb’oju L’ogun

    (Strut)

    Listen / Buy

    Let me stop you right there; Shina is not a punk-rocker. Quite to the contrary, Shina Williams is the man behind the greatest Afro-disco banger of all time, the magnificent ‘Agb’oju L’ogun’. Keen to show 1979 that Africa could more than hold its own at the cutting edge of the dance floor, Shina assembled a crack team of Nigerian sessionists and set to work sculpting a ten minute masterpiece of grooving psychedelia. Held in sustained animation by the hypnotic bassline, the listener is lifted by soaring, pitch bent synthlines, pounded by the lysergic tumble of the talking drums and propelled into the cosmos by the ecstatic vocals. Place it on your platter and boldly go into the afro cosmic future.


    Firma Do Txiga

    Firma Do Txiga

    (Principe)

    Listen / Buy

    Lisbon based Principe records exists as a most worthy conduit for the city’s vibrant dance scene, and this 3 x 7” set is a resplendently diverse collection and point in case for why it’s worth having all involved on your radar. Effectively a collaboration between K30, DJ NinOo, and Puto Anderso – each artist gets a 7” in the set, and there’s not a dud in sight. Three different strands of the Batida sound, beautifully presented with hand painted artwork, and kept at a reasonable price – these won’t stick around.


    Superorganism

    It’s All Good / Nobody cares

    (CYH Records)

    Listen / Buy

    You’ve probably heard this right? That super catchy summer jam that sits somewhere between The Avalanches and Deee-Lite. The song that you just have to hit repeat every time. The song that sent almost every website and blog into meltdown. The song that no one really knows who made. That song that is going to be everywhere during the summer of 2017 and beyond. Well it’s out. On a very limited 7″. Go get it tiger.


    The No-ones

    Sun Station

    (Coastal Town Recordings)

    Listen / Buy

    Jangling away on the guitar is none other than Sir Peter Buck as he hooks up with I Was A King and The Minus 5 folks for an excellent short player of prime melodic guitar pop. Classy cool guy music.


    VÏSTA

    Crease 2

    (Whities Dubplates)

    Listen / Buy

    A blink and you’ll miss it release and the third in Whities dubplate series sees VÏSTA channel Thom Yorke on a nostalgic piece of ambient pop. The 7″ dubplate is limited to 15 copies, of which nine remained at time of writing so don’t sleep.


    LPs


    Gaby Hernandez

    Spirit Reflection

    (Analog Burners / Mr Bongo)

    Listen / Buy

    On rotation for the last month or so since it dropped through the VF letterbox, Gaby Hernandez crafts one of the most immersive musical journey’s of 2017, a sun-soaked exploration of influences from Brazil to LA, from percussive samba to blissed-out beats. High profile jazz alumni Kamasi Washington, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson and Dexter Story lend a hand to a record that’s overflowing with summertime missives, jazz flutes and tripped-out psychedelic turns. Indulge yourselves.


    Ryuichi Sakamoto

    async

    (Milan)

    Listen / Buy

    Whilst this one’s been out there for a few weeks now on CD the 2LP set of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s 16th solo record hits this week and it’s well worth picking up for hardened fans and newcomers alike. Drawing upon the vast sound palette of piano experimentation, Satie-like motifs, pulsing synth and notions of ambient and fourth world sounds that he’s developed over the past four decades, here such ideas meet the influence of Andrei Tarkovsky as a soundtrack of sorts to an imaginary Tarkovsky film. A wide-ranging effort with many a hidden depth this one already sounds fitting amongst some of Sakamoto’s finest works.


    Royal Trux

    Platinum Tips + Ice Cream

    (Domino)

    Listen / Buy

    The coolest band to ever walk the earth are back. No other band has as much shit kickin’ swagger as these two and on Platinum Tips + Ice Cream it’s easy to see why. Spanning their career with an amazing tracklist it highlights perfectly how they seemed to hold it all together while it all fell apart. The songs are strong but their attitude holds it all together. Real rock n’ roll.


    DJ Sports

    Modern Species

    (Firecracker)

    Listen / Buy

    After a breathless 2016 saw him soar to the top of the tape circles (or should it be loops?) faster than high speed dubbing, Denmark’s DJ Sport kicks of 2017 with a debut LP of hypnotic breaks and textured soundscapes for Scotland’s inimitable Firecracker. Meditative but moving, Modern Species muses on the yin and yang of a contemporary city, its frenzied breakbeats echoing the hectic streets while the immersive synthesis provides a welcome slice of rooftop calm. Sitting comfortably between house, ‘ardcore and hazy ambience, this is another forward thinking release, packaged with pride by the Edinburgh outfit.


    Palm

    Shadow Expert

    (Carpark)

    Listen / Buy

    Out of nowhere an incredible tour de force of emo tinged math-pop with nods towards Deerhoof and Battles but with the songwriting nous of Women and something emotional tugging at it’s core. Pretty stunning.

  • Strut readies new compilation of electric maloya music from Réunion Island

    By | June 15, 2017

    A lost era of blues and soul from the Indian Ocean.

    Globe-trotting reissue label Strut Records will release new collection Oté Maloya: The Birth of Electric Maloya on Réunion Island 1975-1986 this week.

    With its roots in the music and dances of slaves on the sugar plantations of Réunion Island in the 17th Century, maloya music has played a crucial role in 20th century culture on the island, from 78rpm releases in the ’50s to its adoption as a form of protest music in the ’60s.

    In the decades that followed though, these traditional rhythms were developed with the advent of western electronic instrumentation which, in the hands of local acts Caméléon, Alain Peters and vocalist Hervé Imare, were honed into a new maloya sound laced with poetry, jazz and psychedelia.

    Compiled by Réunionese DJ duo La Basse Tropicale, Oté Maloya follows up last year’s Soul Sok Séga compilation and will be released on double vinyl with an extensive booklet exploring the history of maloya by Nathalie Valentine Legros of 7 Lames Lamer.

    Pre-order your copy here.

  • Second volume of rare Sun Ra singles to be released as 10×7″ box set

    By | April 5, 2017

    They will also be available in a 3xLP set.

    Following last year’s “definitive” collection of singles from Sun Ra’s fantastic early career, Strut has announced the second volume, which zooms in on Ra’s later 1962-1991 period.

    As with the first, this volume is hugely varied, spanning spoken word recitations, R&B recordings and alternative versions of Arkestra staples like ‘Love In Outer Space’, ‘Enlightenment’ and ‘Rocket No. 9’.

    “Released sporadically during the three decades and primarily on the Saturn label, the 45s offer one-off missives from Ra’s prolific cosmic journey, tracing the development of his forward-thinking “Space-Bop” and his unique take on jazz and blues traditions which remains unlike anything else from the period,” says the label.

    Singles Vol. 2 will be released as a 3xLP set and a 10×7″ pack. Both will feature fully remastered tracks, rare photos, original 45 artwork, sleeve notes by Chris Trent, and detailed track by track and session notes by Paul Griffiths.

    Due on 5 May, place pre-orders now from Strut.

  • Listen to this fascinating podcast on the boom in African reissues

    By | February 24, 2017

    Essential listening for anyone with even a passing interest in the ethics and machinations of the reissue industry.

    It’s no secret that reissues from across the African continent have boomed in recent years. Labels like Strut, Soundway and Luaka Bop have done sterling work in bringing little known or hard-to-find gems into circulation once more, whether as reissues or on compilations. It’s a subject we addressed in our own podcast back in 2015, when we asked whether there was an issue with reissues.

    But for every good guy, there’s inevitably also a few making hay by more dubious means. And what of the musicians themselves, whose music this is ultimately all about?

    Produced by Morgan Greenstreet and Alejandro Van Zandt-Escobar, with Nenim Iwebuke, Afropop Worldwide has uploaded a new hour-long podcast which investigates African vinyl in the 21st century in depth to address “some of the complex and shifting dynamics of neocolonialism, cultural ownership, and audience in the African vinyl market.”

    Listen in below:

    As well as talking to labels like Strut, and Comb & Razor, whose founder Uchenne Ikone was instrumental in co-ordinating Luaka Bop’s Who Is William Onyeabor? compilation among others, the podcast hears from Nigerian label bosses like Temi Kogbe and artist Steve Black to get both sides of the story.

    Perhaps most urgently, it also also traces the controversial story of PMG, the reissue label run by Markus Presch and called out by veteran Voodoo Funk collector Frank Gossner last year.

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