Review : Various Artists - Ze 30: Ze Records Story 1979-2009
ThephoenixImpromptu dance parties have begun to interrupt the domesticity of my household, and my family would like to thank Strut for supplying the soundtrack. The vault-raiding label's latest compilation spotlights Ze Records, a NYC outfit founded by a Frenchman and an Englishman in the late '70s, and one that forged an idiosyncratic path into the brave new world that was the 1980s.
Ze's motley roster was a catch-all for a New York vogue and anti-vogue: disco pop from Don Armando's Second Avenue Rhumba Band ("Deputy of Love," featuring Fonda Rae); Blade Runner funk from Material ("Bustin' Out," featuring Nona Hendryx); zoned-out carousel rock from Suicide ("Dream Baby Dream"). The barrage of VH1 retro specials — not to mention the collective commemorating around the recent death of John Hughes — tends to undersell the '80s as an ironic well of tacky nostalgia.
Ze 30 neutralizes that conventional wisdom with a heavy dose of cutting-edge weirdness, serving up magnificent gonzos like Cristina's shredtastic "Things Fall Apart" and Casino Music's "The Beat Goes On." Killer tracks by Was (Not Was) and Kid Creole & the Coconuts remind us that dance music can also take a political stance, but, honestly, the only stance I'm concerned about is the idiotic one I strike while strutting around the room to this stuff....full text
BbcHyped by The Face magazine in 1982 as, ''the most fashionable label in the world'', New York based ZE Records was founded by French art student Michel Esteban and British journalist Michael Zilkha in 1979. Their eclectic roster focussed largely on frazzled, leftfield post-punk/disco hybrids, and being so cutting edge it hurt. This hugely entertaining compilation charts their peak years, which more or less ended in the mid 1980s.
If for no other reason, the label deserves a place in the music history books for signing the legendary, twisted synth duo Suicide for their second album and then releasing the first solo work by their singer Alan Vega. Their two cuts alone are worth getting this for, especially Suicide's astonishing Dream Baby Dream. Over a backdrop of Martin Rev's metronomic but startlingly organic beats, and uplifting analogue syn-drones, Vega croons through six minutes of faux-Elvis sweet nothings. When Suicide's records still failed to sell, he switched to electronic rockabilly, represented here by the pulsing thrills of Jukebox Babe. Pop genius at its finest.
The other most interesting figure involved with Ze Records was August Darnell, a.k.a. Kid Creole. He's behind the scenes on the early house dabblings of Deputy Of Love by Don Armando's Second Avenue Rhumba Band and also Garcons' French Boys, which draws pretty brazenly on Chic's debut smash Dance, Dance, Dance, from a couple of years earlier. But it's when Darnell takes centre stage on the Something Wrong In Paradise that he really impresses, with a sharply observed lyric about corrupt Caribbean leaders set to sunny, pan-tropical rhythms....full text
PitchforkAn almost-teacher growing up in the Bronx during the 1960s starts making disco records influenced by 30s jazz and Caribbean calypso during the mid-70s. A Harvard dropout and Village Voice theater critic is coerced by her boyfriend, heir to a British maternity-goods empire, to record some music. The suggestion is seconded by a Parisian punk-shop owner then new to New York. The song is called "Disco Clone", a brittle dance track by a hot woman about how all the hot women at the clubs look exactly the same, but that shouldn't stop boys from wanting to bed them. It's funny-- it's a disco track, but a disco track that ridicules and defiles the image of disco.
Later, the dropout's record is produced by the almost-teacher, who has taken to wearing zoot suits. She calls him an "ice-cream soda," which is supposed to be an insult. Along the way, they're joined by a saxophonist who punches his audience members in the face, and a couple of friends from suburban Detroit who record abstract funk with beat poetry over it. This all happens in the span of about four years, during which Michael Zilkha and Michel Esteban of Ze Records-- and August Darnell, Cristina, James Chance and Was (Not Was)-- change the shape of music around them. Very New York.
The records released on Ze at the dawn of the 80s wouldn't have had a comfortable home elsewhere. August Darnell, the almost-teacher (he earned a Master's in English with the intention of joining the vocation, but music intervened), had some success with Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, but wanted more freedom-- freedom he got as Ze's in-house producer and with his new project, Kid Creole and the Coconuts. James Chance and the Contortions made violent, anti-musical rock that people were calling "no wave," but Ze invited him to record disco-- a chance he jumped at, presumably because it would enable him to piss off the fans he had accidentally earned trying to piss people off....full text
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