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MUSIC PLAYED IN DISCOTHEQUES - NOV 2009
Complete 40 track / 2 hour mix.
When I was asked to contribute a playlist for the silent disco Wayne & Jack Hemingway have installed at Liverpool’s Tate Gallery I spent a bit of time soaking in the atmosphere of the room and running some possibilities through my mind. There was obviously the temptation to put together something more laid back / ambient, as this is what a gallery space would generally suggest, so the music doesn’t interfere too much with the visual experience. However, the whole point of the installation, as Jack pointed out, was to get away from the conventional, often stuffy approach that galleries can be accused of taking, alienating younger visitors as a consequence, so I quickly discarded that impulse and followed my heart rather than my head.
Whichever way you look at it, the centrepiece under-lit dancefloor screams ‘DISCO’, so it would have been wrong for me, having experienced the Disco era first-hand, not to fully embrace this theme and seize the opportunity to reference my own influences and their continued relevance.
Disco is currently enjoying a renaissance with a younger underground club audience, not just in the UK, but in dedicated pockets of varying depth and size worldwide. The dance music of the 70’s and early 80’s has become a serious passion for many people who weren’t even born when these records were played the first time around. This is not a revivalist movement though – contemporary releases, which compliment the vibe, pepper things up, whilst re-edits of older tunes often play an important role in tailoring the music to now.
But there’s a problem with this term ‘Disco’, for it means many things to many people. It’s had something of a chequered history, having lost it’s cool following the post Saturday Night Fever feeding frenzy of the late 70’s, a bandwagon which, unfortunately, has provided the mainstream symbolism ever since, emphasising its cheesier connotations whilst (until more recently) circumventing its sheer creativity.
I suppose, like anything, it’s all a matter of context and perspective, which brings me to the reasons for selecting the tracks I have.
When I started out as a club DJ, at the end of 1975, Disco wasn’t a specific genre as such, but referred to the type of music played in discotheques and nightclubs, which was predominantly by black Soul & Funk artists. When I think of Disco it’s the O’Jays, not the Bee Gees that spring to mind. It’s this era that I wanted to highlight, selecting forty tracks from 1972-75 (split into two hour long parts, each including twenty titles all by separate artists) that made a huge impression on me in my pre-DJ years and capture the essence of the original Disco epoch.
Further to this, it also serves to document what was being played in many of the local nightspots during this period. As I’ve previously written; “to understand anything about the dance music scene in Liverpool at this time, one huge contemporary myth has got to be exploded, and this involves Northern Soul. Northern Soul was not played in every club in the North during this period; in fact it wasn’t being played at all in Liverpool! Northern Soul never gained a foothold in Liverpool, where a funkier groove was the order of the day. It was also never a factor within the black community in general (be it Liverpool, Manchester or wherever), who weren’t interested in digging for rare 60’s music when there was a wealth of great Funk, Soul and Reggae released in the 70’s”. DJ’s like Les Spaine, at The Pun and The Timepiece, and Radio Merseyside ‘Keep On Truckin’’ presenter, Terry Lennaine, were at the vanguard of the local scene when I made my debut in December 1975, across the river in New Brighton - I write in greater detail about all this in an article called ‘When Funk Held Sway’, which can be found on my website, www.electrofunkroots.co.uk, along with a fascinating interview with Les Spaine.
In putting the mix together I decided that I wouldn’t alter the speed of any of the tracks. Back when they were released DJ equipment was still somewhat primitive and vari-speed turntables wouldn’t make an appearance in British clubs for a number of years. The editing is mainly functional, enabling me to bring the tracks to an average three minutes each, so that I could fit twenty into an hour (the two separate parts also slot together to make a two hour whole). If this was to be an authentic re-creation of how you’d have heard these records played at the time in the UK it wouldn’t have been a mix for starters, a DJ’s voice would have interjected, as was the way back then, but this wasn’t the direction I wanted to take here in 2009. Instead I utilise sounds, textures and samples to link the tracks together (transitions would be a more apt description than mixes). This juxtaposition of past and present is, of course, vital to my approach as a DJ nowadays, not only via the music I play, but also in my use of laptop alongside reel-to-reel, which further illustrates the balance between then and now that underpins my work. In the case of this mix, presenting older music in a current manner fulfils my criteria, and I’d hope that, as a result, it will be appreciated as much by younger people as it will by those who, like myself, remember these wonderful records from when they originally appeared way back when.
Thanks to Wayne and Jack for inviting my involvement, to Caitlin Page from the Tate, who co-ordinated everything, and to Nandi Bhebhe and Christa Powell, the ‘Soul Train’ dancers, plus Tim Collins, who designed their outfits.
Greg Wilson – November 2009
Clips from the Tate event can be viewed on YouTube:
Soul Clapping: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Max9GnpaBao
Shame Shame Shame: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jr8a9IHPR3k