THERE are some records that I’ve been mooning over for years and years with the intensity of some hopelessly lovelorn teenager who’s just had their heart broken into little pieces for the very first time.
Records that soundtracked beautiful times and wonderful places, important, vital, essential records that I’ve loved and lost but never found again, that tug insistently at the edges of my memory, just beyond my reach, forever naggingly untouchable, unattainable, unforgettable.
And there are some records that I didn’t know even know I’d lost, that I didn’t even know I had in the first place, to be perfectly honest with you.
The uncharitable might suggest this is indicative of a man who has too many records, or that all those years of burning the candle at both ends – and in the middle, all at the same time – are finally catching up with me. Or that I’m finally succumbing to early onset Alzheimer’s.
To which I would respond: Who are you? And where are my records?
One day last year, I really needed to get the fuck out of Dodge. Sometimes Manchester feels like the most exciting, interesting, cosmopolitan city in the world and sometimes it just feels like a stupid little village – a little village full of snides, skanks and shit-heads of every hue – and you know everyone. Every fucker knows you. And your business.
It gets on top. It was one of those days.
So I went over to Leeds to get the photo albums I left at Southview House 20 years before, that Alice Nutter had patiently looked after ever since. It was only a couple of house moves, she told me over a cup of tea, as straightforward as ever, but as far as I’m concerned it was still a remarkably kind and decent thing to do. That’s Alice all over. Salt of the earth – and not in the sense that she should be kept in a cellar. She’s a diamond. I’m very grateful to her.
After I left Alice and Kier’s place, I went over to Headingley to see my older partner-in-crime Doug, now kicking ass with his new band Flies On You. No, I don’t know what they were thinking with that name. I’m supposed to have been interviewing them “at some point” for about two years now so maybe one day we’ll find out.
We ended up going to the Hyde Park Unity Festival with his very sweet kids. It was alright. We had a laugh. It was nice to spend time with Doug but none of the music at the festival really grabbed me. The assorted mud-people and students of Leeds 6 were every bit as irritating as I remember them being when I lived there. It was raining pretty steadily – and then it turned into a regular tropical downpour. We got absolutely piss wet-through.
We ran into another old friend while we were there. Ross had been the lead singer of LS6 teenage psyche-noiseniks the Purple Eternal (they really know how to do band names in Leeds), who’d played a lot of gigs with Doug’s old band Nerve Rack (see what I mean?). We’d all knocked around together in the late Eighties but we’d lost touch when Ross moved to London a few years later.
Truth be told, Ross and I had a bit of a fall out, entirely due to me being – at the time – useless, unreliable and a bit of a twat. Guilty as charged, I’m afraid.
In the event, none of that came up. Since I last saw him, Ross had started a label, gone to China, and then got into UX design, as you do. Desperate to have something interesting to say other than I’ve been in Manchester for 20 years and have been made redundant a lot, I told Ross about the whole ‘records I loved lost and found again’ thing, inevitably. He told me he might have a couple of my tunes and promised to mail them up as soon as he got back to London.
One eternity later, I get a little cardboard time-capsule through the post. At some point in the early Nineties, it seems I’d lent Ross Rudimentary Peni’s incendiary Death Church debut album (we’ll talk about that another time) and a couple of equally explosive singles Joey Beltram had left with me for competition prizes after a guestslot on Dream FM in 1992 (links to Joey’s mix in the comments here).
Like many other kids of his age in New York in the Seventies and Eighties, Beltram had grown up with a spraycan in his hand. He’d just pulled a couple of his own tunes out his box in the studio and got to work with a marker pen, and so the covers of Vortex and Second Chapter are adorned with some excellent artwork from the former B-boy.
Perhaps nobody entered the competition. Or perhaps I was just being useless, unreliable and a bit of a twat, again. Either way, I kept them for myself. I think I must’ve lent them to Ross about a week later. And then I didn’t see them again for another 20 years.
So I now have a copy of Second Chapter, recorded under Beltram’s Code 6 pseudonym for Nu Groove, and Vortex by Final Exposure on Plus 8, once again. This makes me happy.
Nu Groove always seemed to be the label that time forgot but every single record I have on Nu Groove is quirky and inventive and different. I wish I’d bought more of them at the time. While it never had the consistency, the longevity or, it has to be said, the sheer quality of its New York contemporary Strictly Rhythm, Nu Groove released some quality house music, often with a distinct soul, jazz, hip hop and reggae feel to it.
Just about the first Masters at Work record I ever heard was on Nu Groove. Tracks like Reasons to be Dismal by the Foremost Poets and The Poem by Bobby Kondors sound pretty fresh to these ears to this day.
Second Chapter isn’t quite on the same level as Power House or The Poem but it’s not without a certain naive charm. CODES, a bouncy and breezy little bit of proto-trance, locks onto a fairly simple groove and stays there for the duration. It’s a touch monochrome, but there’s more of a Chicago-style bump on the three tracks on the flip, most notably in the elegant, piano-led Quad ll.
Vortex was a 1991 collaboration between three of the hottest techno producers on the planet (without wanting to patronise younger readers too much, when I say techno just think EDM for dads) in the shape of Detroit young gun Richie Hawtin, and New Yorkers Edmundo Perez aka Mundo Musique and Beltram.
I was bang into a lot of this stuff at the time but listening to Vortex 20 years later, it all sounds too much to me. Too fast, too furious, too .. blokey. It’s just blam blam blam, with a brutal, uncompromising martial stomp overlaid with a wildly oscilating central riff that is simply unnecessary and unpleasant. It is, as Mark E Smith might say, a blight on the ears. Where’s the soul? Where’s the feeling? I didn’t really get Vortex then and I don’t really get it now. It all seems a touch self-indulgent.
I’ve had to turn it off a couple of times. Life’s too short.
Synergy on the flip is another matter entirely. Both mixes have an irresistable, bottom-heavy swing to them which is sadly lacking from the annoying electronic maelstrom on the other side of the record.
With dream collaborations like this, you often find yourself wondering who did what. Did Hawtin programme the rhythms? Did Perez play live keys? Was Beltram at the controls throughout? I like to imagine them sitting round the studio one night, thinking the track needs something else to finish it off but they can’t work out what it is. And then Joey has the idea of adding cowbells. It is, of course, a stroke of genius and the rest is history.
Shortly after this, Beltram and Perez invented the the Amen break of rave culture in the shape of the ker-razy Juno Alpha hoover sound, a sound which still resonates throughout mainstream pop-dance today. I kinda wish they’d not bothered. And Hawtin has been busy too.
I’ve no idea if it has ‘a contemporary feel’ or not, but Synergy 2 doesn’t sound out of place today. It’s correct. I pitch it the fuck down when I’m getting all deep and meaningful in my celebrated 3am living room sets and it sounds even more beautifully twisted than ever.
I checked their value online – purely from an academic point of view, you understand – and I’m slightly disappointed to find that you can get Vortex on Discogs for under a fiver, while Second Chapter will cost you around 20 quid.
Yes, I could probably get a digital copy of any of the tunes on my mental hitlist, including the records above, within a couple of minutes online. Piece of piss. Obviously. But I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to renew an old friendship. And I wouldn’t get the feeling I have when I hold my own records in my hands once again after such a long time – even if I can’t actually remember having them in the first place.
It’s a spiritual thing, yeah?
No, you fuck off.