Koo Dé Tah – Koo Dé Tah, 1986

Guest post by Milena Nugget (Optimal Ripeness)

This album gives me the chills. With the expansive synth sound typified by other Australian synth-pop groups like Icehouse, and brutally catchy, Madonna-esque sugary dance beats, this is a record full of earworms.

At the centre is Tina Cross’s exceptional voice, which can range from the cool and gliding (“Over to You,” “Think of Me”) to the effortlessly bouncy (“Body Talk,” “Meant to Be”), and suggests Kate Bush and Cyndi Lauper inspiration.

In several ways Koo Dé Tah stood in contrast with their contemporaries. Australian pop music in the 80s was heavily Anglo-Saxon male-dominated—whether by virtue of the pub rock circuit, insular cultural attitudes, or otherwise. Koo Dé Tah was comprised of two accomplished musicians with differing backgrounds (New Zealander Tina Cross with Māori heritage, and former Russian popstar Leon Berger). That they had a radio hit with “Too Young For Promises” and were still unafraid to take risks and experiment makes this record all the more remarkable.

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Gino Soccio – Face To Face, 1982

Feeling heartbroken for peers, friends, musicians, and artists who have been affected by the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland. Like so many others, I’m unable to imagine what my life would be like without DIY, and often illegal, spaces for art, music, and living. These spaces are increasingly vital as cities become prohibitively expensive, and the news coverage that blames the victims of such a terrible loss is deeply upsetting. To echo others: this could have been any of us.

In the spirit of cultures that will, by necessity, continue to build beautiful things in marginal places, I wanted to share a favorite disco record (though to be fair, this record was a heavily produced chart-topper, not a homegrown experiment). This is one of my favorite records to dance to, and is also a rare instance of a disco LP that’s solid all the way through. Impeccably tasty production–hard to say no to this one. Please keep dancing!

Kiki Gyan – 24 Hours In A Disco 1978-82

I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of David Mancuso, founder of the Loft party, disco enthusiast, instigator of the record pool system, DJ, audiophile, activist, and New York legend. Mancuso devoted his life and resources to creating safe spaces for many, but especially for the gay community, to dance to the best music in the best possible environment. He rejected beatmatching and mixing in favor of respect for sound quality and unaltered recordings played in their entirety, he prioritized dancing by refusing to overcrowd his parties, he avoided slavishness to genre, and he pushed back against inflated alcohol prices and club profiteering by instituting a BYO policy. He also fought in the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs’ longest administrative trial to date against their insistence that he get a cabaret license (which he ultimately avoided by not selling food or beverages). He believed a DJ should have good taste, push the envelope, and use songs to spin narrative arcs, but not show off or get in the way of the music. He drew inspiration from time spent outside as a child, having grown up in an orphanage in rural upstate New York: 

“I spent a lot of time in the country, listening to birds, lying next to a spring and listening to water go across the rocks. And suddenly one day I realized, what perfect music. Like with sunrise and sunset, how things would build up into midday. There were times when it would be intense and times when it would be very soft, and at sunset it would get quiet and then the crickets would come in. I took this sense of rhythm…”

In the spirit of David’s work, I wanted to share a record that, though not a canonical Loft favorite, embodies the ecstatic, high energy disco for which the Loft is known. I wish very much that I could share Feeling So Good, the original LP that produced one of Gyan’s more famous singles, “Disco Dancer,” but it’s all but nonexistent (jen@listentothis.info if you have a decent rip you’d like to trade!). Several tracks from Feeling So Good appear on this compilation, though everything I’ve heard from the record is excellent. I’m realizing as I write this that it’s a bit odd to make two very remarkable, very different people share one post, so I hope this comes off alright.
Kiki Gyan was a Ghanaian musician and child keyboard prodigy who went professional at the age of 12, dropped out of school (“There was too much music in me, I couldn’t stay in school”) and was recruited to the British Afro-pop band Osibisa when he was 15. He toured internationally with the band until beginning his tenure as a very in-demand and expensive session musician in the best London recording studios before he was 21. His musical skill earned him a reputation as Ghana’s answer to Stevie Wonder, and he went on to make a series of very ambitious disco records, aiming at international stardom. Drug abuse interfered, and despite numerous attempts at intervention and rehabilitation, Gyan quickly declined, became unable to make music, and died at 47 from AIDS and drug-related complications. It was a terrible loss in many ways.
24 Hours In A Disco is entirely long tracks, befitting Gyan’s style—his wicked musicianship and joy predisposed him to long-form relentless disco funk jams that were tailor-made for the dance floor. These are songs that impossible to sit still through.
Thank you Kiki, thank you David—here’s to hoping that love saves the day.

Alexander Robotnick – Ce N’est Q’un Début, 1984

Classic. Maurizio Dami (aka Alexander Robotnick) went on to collaborate with traditional musicians from India, Algeria, and Kurdistan; release music for transcendental meditation; give Florence its first ambient music festival; and start a label, as well as release a slew of electro and disco records, though it’s his first release that most people remember for its unabashed, almost grotesque dance floor classics. Relentless and completely disinterested in taking itself seriously. Enjoy!

Bagarre – Circus, 1982

The only full-length release from italian label Sauvage Musique, an imprint of Milan-based Panarecord. It begins with the single “Lemonsweet” (below), a psychedelic club-ready anthem which seems to tell the first-hand story of a LSD-fueled night out in New York that might or might not end in a collapse at Studio 54. The song takes us through the stages of the trip, coming up on a groove, feeling invincible and going from club to club. It’s not always easy to understand Ann O. Rack’s sprechgesang, but the climax seems to come during an intense encounter with a lemon. It ends in confusion, with a repeated “I shouldn’t be here tonight” and “54, 54, 54” as she and the music fade away. At any rate, it’s a perfect song.
The album continues with highlights throughout, moving between italo and new wave. I love “Circus Is Gone,” a bass-heavy, moody ballad with some really nice layered vocals. After that, all of the songs are perfectly appropriate for the club with superb musicianship and production, wild synth work, and heavy bass lines. Enjoy!

[In Memoriam] Patrick Cowley – Megatron Man, 1981

The best. Alongside Giorgio Moroder and maybe Kraftwerk, Patrick Cowley can be said to be the most influential figure in electronic dance music. A hero in the west coast gay club scene, and a hero to everyone who likes to dance. Megatron Man is relentless, orchestral, high-energy perfection, sure to induce a natural high on any dance floor it graces. “Sea Hunt” might be my favorite song in the world to dance to. This music is so joyous and unabashed that it made his successive and last record, Mind Warp, all the more hard-hitting as a dark disco concept album about succumbing to the effects of HIV, which claimed his life 33 years ago today at the age of 32. (One of the few useful things that Gawker has ever done is this beautiful piece about Mind Warp.)

Had he not left us too soon, Patrick Cowley most certainly would have continued to dominate the electronic dance underground. Still, he’s left his mark on an endlessly grateful community, and he would no doubt be happy to read YouTube comments on his songs like “OMG! I remember! YES! I was getting PHUKED in the East Village, NYC rooftops when this song was hot on the Disco Floors! Dam I miss those Gay Anonymous Hookup Days! ;-)” and “I met Patrick at The Hexagon House where Sylvester was performing. He was one hot man. We were both staying in cabins at The Woods Resort and briefly hooked up while partying the entire weekend away. I would often see him in the clubs around town after that and we’d party and dance until dawn. I never realized until now but I kind of miss that era.” Thanks for everything, Patrick.

LFO – Frequencies, 1991

Arguably one of the most important UK techno LPs ever. Just as happy to be heard in headphones as in a grimy warehouse. Gorgeous, heart-skittering, crunchy sci-fi futurism rendered in perfect detail. Perpetually surprising and joyful throughout. A fully-realized prediction of two decades of electronic dance music. Mark Bell died six months ago and I’ve been thinking about him a lot recently, partially because of the Björk retrospective (he co-produced Homogenic, among many others), but largely because of this record, which is a gift.

Baby Ford – Monolense, 1994

Not technically an LP, but enough of a world that I’m making an exception to our albums-only rule. I still don’t know how to talk about techno, so I’ll just say that this is a formative piece of minimal techno history and is as elegant as they come. Also, to state the obvious, Richard D. James album and Amnesiac probably couldn’t exist without this.

Ata Kak – Obaa Sima, 1994 (reissued 2015)

Ghanaian musician A Yaw Atta-Owusu, aka Ata Kak, recorded and self-produced Obaa Sima in 1994 in his home studio while living in Toronto. In spite of only 50 cassette copies being produced, the tape has enjoyed cult status over the past decade. Still, scouring the internet turns up virtually no information about him, which will change today. Awesome Tapes From Africa‘s Brian Shimkowitz has finally tracked him down after years of searching, and is restoring and rereleasing Obaa Sima on all formats, 21 years after its original release.

Obaa Sima lies somewhere in between highlife, house, hip hop, new jack swing, and electro, produced rough and dry. Without wanting to suggest that this is a kitschy bedroom-tape artifact (it’s not), what makes this so exciting is its rawness and deliberate playfulness. Ata Kak seems to have exploited his minimalist production methods on purpose and clearly had a lot of fun doing it. The music feels pixelated and hyper-saturated at the same time, like playing Pacman through 3D glasses.

 Ata Kak is a wicked rapper, and his hopped-up flow takes center stge, sometimes backed by pitched-up backing choruses of what sound like his own voice. The result is joyous and strange, a window into something that children of the internet will never be able to experience firsthand–this having been made in 1994, right before dial-up became ubiquitous in America and the world began to shrink. Obaa Sima is the end of an era, the end of (global, if not local) anonymity and microcosms, the last of glee and spontaneity. It’s a vibrant moment that presumably happened without documentation, leftfield and DIY to its core. Obaa Sima has a lot more going on than just nostalgia, though–it’s warped and frenetic and a little scary in its relentlessness. We’re looking forward to reading more about Ata Kak Yaw Atta-Owusu. For whom did he make this music? Was he homesick? How much did it circulate in Ghana? We like to imagine that he was dancing as if no one was watching, because no one was watching, and that was totally fine by him.

Preview the anthemic, blazing “Daa Nyinaa” below. It belongs on every summer mixtape, ever. Side note that this amazing video footage is unrelated to the song and there’s a bit of mastering on the audio. If you want to hear the original recordings, they’re all over YouTube.

buy: tape / itunes / vinyl

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