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• • • Being a journal by artist and designer John Coulthart, cataloguing interests, obsessions and passing enthusiasms.


 

Street Sounds Electro

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I spent much of the summer of 1983 playing games on a very primitive ZX Spectrum computer while listening to the first couple of Street Sounds Electro compilations. Those mix albums were among the best releases that year and remain highly sought after, seeing as they’ve never been reissued on CD.

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The musical reputation of the compilations has overshadowed the sleeve design which was very distinctive for the time and undoubtedly a factor in their success. The vertical ELECTRO type was inspired by Neville Brody’s design for The Face which had turned the magazine’s title through ninety degrees the year before. Also very Brodyish was the use of photocopier-processed graphics and narrow typography although it should be pointed out that Brody hand-drew nearly all his headlines which left his imitators searching through type catalogues for approximations. The sleeve designs are credited to “Red Ranch for Carver’s” about whom I can find no information whatever. Things came full-circle when The Face ran a feature on the electro scene in 1984 giving Brody the opportunity to do a cover with his own variant on the sleeve layouts.

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Essential Electro 9-album box, HBOX 1 (1984).

One of the big attractions of these albums for me was the new directions they were opening up for electronic music. Outside the mainstream pop world electronica in the early Eighties meant either the polite fare of Tangerine Dream or the dreary sludge of minor industrial acts such as Portion Control. Cabaret Voltaire were still vital in the early 1980s: their thundering Crackdown single (with sleeve design by Neville Brody) was remixed for its 12-inch incarnation by dance producer John Luongo while electro producer John Robie (whose production is featured on Electro 1) remixed their Yashar single for Factory Records. But nothing matched the excitement of a bunch of NYC kids lifting Kraftwerk riffs and playing in a very unselfconscious manner with new and relatively cheap equipment, especially the Roland TR-808 drum machine which provides the backbone for many of these recordings.

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Crucial Electro, ELCST 999 (1984).

A1 Tyrone Brunson—The Smurf
A2 Warp 9—Light Years Away
A3 Warp 9—Nunk (New Wave Funk)
A4 Man Parrish—Hip Hop, Be Bop (Don’t Stop)
A5 Herbie Hancock—Rockit
B1 Twilight 22—Electric Kingdom
B2 Cybotron—Clear
B3 Hashim—Al-Naafiysh (The Soul)
B4 Captain Rock—Return Of Captain Rock
B5 Time Zone—Wild Style

Although this came later in the series it’s probably the best single collection. Lots of classic tracks with John “Jellybean” Benitez’s Warp 9, Man Parrish, 43 year-old Herbie Hancock (assisted by Bill Laswell and DST) showing he could still rock with the kids, Cybotron aka Juan Atkins riffing on Kraftwerk, Hashim’s great Al-Naafiysh (one of my all-time favourites) and Afrika Bambaataa’s Time Zone. Crucial indeed.

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Electro 1, ELCST 01 (1983).

A1 The Packman—I’m The Packman (Eat Everything I Can)
A2 Newcleus—Jam On Revenge (The Wikki-Wikki Song)
A3 West Street Mob—Break Dancin’—Electric Boogie
A4 C-Bank—Get Wet
B1 K-9 Corp—Dog Talk
B2 G. Force—Feel The Force
B3 Project Future—Ray-Gun-Omics
B4 Captain Rock—Return Of Captain Rock

“As seen on TV”, Electro 1 was dominated by breaks and raps and which means it sounds more conventionally hip hop than some of its neighbours. The Newcleus track was a real gem, however, a very infectious chipmunk-voiced rap whose Wikki-Wikki subtitle refers to the sound of record scratching, still a big deal in 1983.

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Electro 2, ELCST 02 (1983).

A1 The B-Boys—Two, Three, Break
A2 The B-Boys—Cuttin’ Herbie
A3 Xena—On The Upside
A4 Hashim—Al-Naafiysh (The Soul)
B1 Rammellzee Vs K-Rob—Beat Bop
B2 Two Sisters—B-Boys Beware (Club Mix)
B3 Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel—White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)

Along with Crucial Electro, the other high point of the series. This starts out in a very minimal manner with two tracks of simple break stuff (Cuttin’ Herbie is a scratch mix of Rockit) then explodes into colour with Xena’s anthem and Hashim’s Al-Naafiysh. Beat Bop is a slow Message-style rap which undergoes another explosion as Two Sisters burst into a tremendous girl-power rap. Al-Naafiysh remains for me the definitive TR-808 track but B-Boys Beware gives it a run for its money.

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Electro 3, ELCST 03 (1984).

A1 Divine Sounds—Dollar Bill
A2 Imperial Brothers—We Come To Rock
A3 Newcleus—Jam On It
B1 Boogie Boys—Zodiac
B2 Pumpkin—King Of The Beat
B3 Davy DMX—One For The Treble (Fresh)
B4 Fresh 3—MC’s Fresh

This for me was the last good collection (although side two was rather weak) including the welcome return of Newcleus. The series continued up to #10 in 1985 but #4 lacked the magic of the earlier editions and the expediency of limited resources moved my attention elsewhere. Much of electro’s original momentum was lost by the mid-Eighties as the rap quotient gradually went mainstream and artists outside the scene such as New Order began co-opting the producers. Some artists stayed with the underground, however, Juan Atkins in particular moving electro forward into Detroit Techno. It’s (very) arguable that much of the music you’ve been hearing over the past twenty years can be traced back to these few singles. And if you want some equally spurious contemporary relevance, Xeni Jardin insists that Newcleus’s “wikki-wikki” refrain is the Wikipedia theme tune.

Nearly everything here has been reissued on compilation CDs although those collections lack the juxtaposition you get from the Street Sounds mixes. Try to hear the original vinyl if you can.

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15 comments or trackbacks

  1. #1 posted by Thombeau

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    Wow. I totally had that issue of The Face (that magazine was my bible in the early eighties!) and also that Cabaret Voltaire 12-inch. It had “Crackdown” on one side and, I believe, “This Fascination” on the other. You really took me back to a time and place, bro!

  2. #2 posted by John

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    I’ve still got my copy of the Cabs record. And the 7-inch and the album of the same name! Was a big CV fan at that time. The other track was Just Fascination which was also a better mix on the 12 than on the album.

    I liked Brody’s design more than the magazine itself although they had some decent writers such as John Savage. I was rather snooty towards it at the time since it was also the bible of a certain kind of posy student type. But it was certainly one of the defining works of the period. And using a cross symbol on the covers to indicate “plus”–something NB invented–is now a feature you see in magazines all the time.

  3. #4 posted by Thombeau

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    As you can imagine, The Face was rather difficult to find in Chicago in the 80s. So I was pretty snooty about getting it! (Also Melody Maker and NME) I lost interest in it as I got deeper into things, and now I couldn’t care less, of course!

    The documentary about the Blitz Kids that I posted (probably not of interest to you, but to someone who only read about it—in The Face!—and lived a watered-down American version of it, it fills in a lot of blanks) has interview footage with Robert Elms, who I had totally forgotten about until I saw him again. I always thought he was cute, with a bit too much attitude, and now…he looks like just another bloke whose best years are behind him!

  4. #5 posted by John

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    Don’t mind my griping, much of it is familiarity breeding contempt, I think. The obverse of that is foreign stuff seeming more exotic which is how those NYC records seemed to me. I spent that decade being resolutely unfashionable in black leather jacket, black jeans and Doc Martens. My wardrobe hasn’t changed much, come to think of it!

    Robert Elms has been on TV here for years so he’s over-familiar (again!), seems to be hauled out whenever there’s an Eighties’ retrospective happening.

  5. #6 posted by john carver

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    Hello.CARVER’S art directed all the early StreetSounds sleeves,made the TV commercials and radio ads and bought the airtime and media space for all the campaigns.In fact CARVER’S was the biggest buyer of radio airtime in the Music Industry…and it was me at a desk in Great Titchfield St,W1.I used to work with 2 very talented designers who called themselves Red Ranch…then Ranch Associates.Morgan heard some tunes being played in the studio I used to share with a film production company called Standard Pictures.One of the producers used to share a flat in W11 with DJ Noel Watson.They were some of the first people to learn about Electro,buying import 12″ singles from the USA at £5 each.Morgan put out an album with 12 tracks on it for £5!Electro 1 entered the UK Pop chart (not dance chart) at 18 going on to sell 60,000 units.The album featured tracks no-one had heard of.Neville Brody was inspired by our design to create a cover for The Face…not the other way round.I invented the line ELECTRO IS AURAL SEX that you see on all the sleeves.We created a boxed set which is hugely collectable.I lent mine to Banksy’d mate Paul Insect when he worked for me many years later and haven’t seen it since.For the record Morgan had the idea for a series called Street Music and I suggested it was called Street Sounds.The rest is history…

  6. #7 posted by John

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    Thanks for the info, John, that’s good to know since none of this appears to be documented online.

    Regarding Brody and The Face, I should have said the sleeves were “perhaps” influenced by his magazine design. Brody changed the The Face logo by extending the letters then flipping them to vertical for issue 30 in October 1982, a very radical move at the time and one that was widely imitated in other areas. The logo remained like that for the whole of 1983. By the time he came to pastiche the Electro cover style himself, he’d switched the title back to the horizontal.

  7. #8 posted by skroez

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    Can you Remember Street sounds Magazine? I was only young at the time, But I’m sure there was a magazine out called Street sounds, One cover I remember was Mantronix with a aerosol paint mask, Behind him a rocking piece, with a can of buntlac grasped with both hands.
    I remember the mag had features on the London Graffiti scene, to a young kid living in Cardiff, long before the internet, this was dope, quality mag anyway from what I remember..

    Nice one..

  8. #9 posted by John

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    Hi Skroez. That doesn’t ring a bell with me at all although a mag doesn’t seem surprising since Morgan Khan was eager to expand his product lines. There were a few minor music/culture mags around at that time which flourished for a while then vanished. Nothing on Flickr, unfortunately, which has another otherwise decent selection of Street Sounds album and cassette graphics.

  9. #10 posted by B

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    Oddly enough, the StreetSound mag was started by my family in the 80′s out of Toronto sold mostly in North America, UK, Germany & Japan.

    I’ve been thinking about scanning all the issues I have.

  10. #11 posted by Kevin Bilton

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    http://www.streetsoundsmusic.co.uk/

    Street Scene Magazine, I used to get it from a palce called playfair in Hertford!

  11. #13 posted by andy mackay

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    This is how I got into these albums, we were camping in wales (being scousers that’s where scousers go to camp), and we were getting stoned in the tent and listeing to animals (pink floyd, every scally kid in l’pool had this thing about floyd and gensis in the 80′s (better than crap 80′s pop), funnily enough there is a face artical about scally fashion that points out this fact), anyhoo one of the lads says if you like music with animal noises in you’ll like this and played hip hop be bop, it’s got dogs barking in it if you remember. But anyway this music blew me away, and it was like that all the way through to house music and today, were I still have a soft spot for it. Some of the tunes sound dated, but the best one still sound f r e s h, fresh fresh fresh yo that’s fresh, fresh, fr fr fr fresh, fffffffresh.

  12. #14 posted by Adam B

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    Wow, nice reading your article about this collection. My Dad bought me the complete box-set for 30quid back in 1985, when I was 12. I was in a local crew with some older kids as the cute little breaker that came in and windmilled around for a bit. My old man took me to NYC that year too coz he had a friend there and I wanted to see the breakers in the NYC subway and see the graffitti. It was unbelievable. He then let me spray my whole bedroom in what was pretty poor graffiti. What a Dad, god rest his soul. Still got the boxset in immaculate condition. A treasure!

  13. #15 posted by Kevin Bilton

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    Morgan has the label back up and running and will be releasing all Electro’s as official downloads soon.

    Also UK Fresh Reunion is taking place in July! 25 years after the original, in London on 16 July 2011.

    Acts appearing include the legendary Newcleus, Captain Rock, The B Boys and Grand MixerD.ST

  1. Elsewhere #5 « Jahsonic – Sep 23rd, 2007

 


 

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