Hardcore Traxx: Dance Mania Records 1986-1997 (Strut)
Anybody bewildered by electronica’s micro-genre tendencies should take a simple maxim to heart: follow the disco beat. Because when we’re talking stateside dance music of the African-American variety, that’s what lurks behind all those 909s and 303s, the 4/4 kicks and the 2/4 claps and the 8/4 hi-hats. And we all love disco, don’t we? The good folks at Soul Jazz have expertly (not cheaply) traced the first line of Chicago’s acid house scene as it emerged from discotheque ghettos, and now Strut adds to the discussion via this two-disc overview of Ray Barrey’s scrappy house label Dance Mania. If you want to ease in, the most obviously disco-indebted cuts are Victor Romeo’s full-on diva club mix “Love Will Find A Way” or the too-fast-for-soft-porn soft-porn haze of Vincent Floyd’s “I Dream You”. Then take your pick from Chicago house’s many strains: the funky (a killer organ hook cementing “Ride The Ride Rhythm”), the noisy (DJ Funk’s brutal street mix of “The Original Video Clash”), the weird (Strong Soul’s disjointed “Twinkles,” glitchy as Autechre), and the it’s-1986-and-we’re-gonna-sample-James-Brown (Duane And Co channeling Eric B on “J.B. Traxx”). Perhaps the notes overstate Dance Mania’s raunchiness - most tracks here are in fact instrumental. Yet there’s plenty of evidence supporting Barrey’s contention that singles were progressively sleazed up to get the men onto the dance floor alongside their ladies, which helps contextualize “Feel My M.F. Bass,” “Hit It From The Back,” and most especially Jammin’ Gerald’s “Black Women,” a comedy record of epic proportions. I prefer Parrish Mitchell and Wax Master’s 1995 disco/hip-hop crowd-worker “Ghetto Shout Out!!,” which shuffles along a clipped “Billie Jean” bassline while the DJ jacks thusly: “Cabrini-Green in this muthafucka / [Hell yeah!] / Jane Addams in this muthafucka / [Hell yeah!]”.
Blaqstarr, The Blaq-Files 2002-06 (Jeffree’s / Mad Decent)
This isn’t the Blaqstarr who brought the global squelch to M.I.A.’s Kala, nor is it the Blaqstarr who tripped psychedelic on his own underrated Divine EP. This is four cuts from a local guy still employing the DJ prefix, back when he was just another Baltimore drill-blast king dropping one-note club bangers into a fiercely competitive and insular dance scene. Who knows why these decade-old tracks are being newly remastered and released - the man himself mentions a kick-off for the new stuff he’s been promising for years, while electronica adepts note these joints have been circulating as crummy mp3s for nearly as long. Whatever the story, this is winningly obnoxious noise: single-minded, harsh, insistent, sometimes even hooky. And admirably committed to making sure his targets follow proper dance steps, which lends the entire enterprise an old school charm. “Slide To The Left” morphs three years later into “Lemme hump U/ from the right,” and then it’s “Hands Up Thumbs Down”. Don’t worry, the instructions will be repeated. And repeated.
Moodymann, Moodymann (Mahogani)
Meandering far too much for those uncommitted to parsing second-wave black Detroit dance culture, Kenny Dixon’s sprawling self-indulgence nevertheless betrays a method. Every obscure soul snippet or Richard Pryor punchline wedged between Moodymann’s grooves helps suggest the free-form jumble of Motor City pirate radio, hence a chopped-and-screwed Lana Del Rey vocal tag (“Born 2 Die”) alongside Ray Charles (dancefloor pulser “No”) and Muddy Waters (a percolating “Sunday Hotel”). If such contact points don’t suggest the level of anti-purism on display here, consider the red solo cup / rollerskate antics of the blaxploitation cover art and Dixon’s predilection for offhand vocals, most of them his own. Rasping along like Gil-Scott Heron, he’s salacious if rarely insightful on matters not pertaining to his beloved home town, which you’d best believe he cares about. Whether hovering atop delicious synth-bass on “Freeki Muthafucka” or running a dirt-funk throwaway hook into the ground on “I Got Werk,” this is junk of the gloryhallastoopid variety. And while the 11-minute dissection of “Cosmic Slop” is neither sloppy nor cosmic enough, that metalloid Clintonian riff retains its primacy.