30 September 2016, No. 194, Marvin Gaye, ‘‘T’ Plays It Cool’

Not to be confused with “Tee’s Happy,” the B side of Northend’s “Happy Days” 12 inch and No. 467 on our list, today’s tune is from a movie I’ve never seen. Now that I know Marvin Gaye composed the score and the soundtrack for Trouble Man, I may check it out. No. 194 is “‘T’ Plays It Cool,” and for my taste it’s a little too laid back to be the second cut on an LP, but that by no means disqualifies it from our list. Bolsters its presence, in fact, since having some lower-energy tunes in a long set is always a plus. People need to order drinks and go to the restroom, talk to one another and be heard for a few minutes. After laying down a mushy Minimoog texture (the synth itself a gift from Stevie Wonder), Gaye’s staccato pecking with a quick decay on the filter envelope builds enough steam to support Trevor Lawrence’s sax solo, which while climactic still plays it relatively cool.

The character Mr. T in Trouble Man has nothing to do with bouncer-turned-bodyguard-turned-actor Mr. T, who in 1972 was either in college or the Army and whose acting career didn’t commence until the 1980s. While looking into this, I learned that the real-life Mr. T’s signature gold jewelry started as a collection of items lost on the dance floor and in fights at the club where he was a bouncer. I guess many potential claimants decided not to bother when they saw such an imposing lost and found.

Back to the record, if you listen closely there are pretty distinct, heavily reverbed hand claps throughout most of the song, and I picture Marvin Gaye standing near a microphone, clapping along to whichever elements they’d tracked so far. I like to imagine it was in a big echo chamber, not done with a plate reverb, and that’s possible since it was recorded in an L.A. film studio. Mean sax solo notwithstanding, this tune gets a “funk/chill” designation in the genre ID3 tag, and I think you’ll agree that it’s both.

29 September 2016, No. 193, Instant Funk, ‘Philly Jump’

I don’t know if No. 193, the “Philly Jump,” was a dance craze that ever caught on, but it did ride a promotional wave of killer horn licks and a catchy refrain courtesy of Instant Funk. I also don’t know if it’s apparent or not yet in the record show that I’ve got an affinity for songs that call out the names of cities I’ve lived in or near, and this one calls out West Philly in particular, which garners it extra points. I’d take more synths, but the tune is sufficiently funky without, so it makes the list. Get down with the Philly jump, woo-ooh.

28 September 2016, No. 192, Hot Chocolate, ‘You Sexy Thing’

We’ve been off the list for a long time writing about other records, and it feels strange to come back without having reported on all the mixtapes I’ve got up my sleeve, but I’m still putting the finishing touches on, and we’re building suspense, right? Like a novel in serial.

We’re coming back to the list on a high note, like we really did believe in miracles. It’s the “sexy thing” part of the song that rings truer, though, and boosts every listener’s ego.

No. 192, Hot Chocolate, “You Sexy Thing.”

27 September 2016: JJC Mixtape Archive 11 – Trippin’ at the (Nu) Disco

Trippin’ at the (Nu) Disco
July 2014

When I made this mixtape I selected tunes that were already at least five years old to raise the point that this “nu” disco thing wasn’t even all that new anymore. It’s not a point I care deeply about, but all the kids in my town were acting like Daft Punk invented a new genre with “Get Lucky,” so I wanted to put out some old favorites from the “nu” genre. I think one day it will all just be disco, cf. rock and classic rock and how the timeframe for that rock which is ‘classic’ is constantly creeping forward, staying about ten years behind the contemporary stuff.

A few tunes on this mixtape sort of push at the boundaries of the genre. There’s a strong rap vibe in the first half thanks to remixes from DJ Day, DJ Apt One, and DJ Ayres, and I think the Trans Am, IQU, and Matmos cuts wouldn’t have been labeled “nu disco” when they came out. !!! maybe, and DFA. Not that genre boundaries are super important to me; there’s probably stuff on here people would argue doesn’t fit at all. Spoon we could argue about, or Apt One’s all-electro Debbie Deb x DJ Mehdi mashup.

This marks the end of an era of JJC mixtapes, and now I’ll go back to writing the regular record show. Believe me I’ll write it daily because I’m excited to hit No. 200 and then drop the new mixtape I’ve been working on. There may even be more than one.

26 September 2016: JJC Mixtape Archive 10 – Pepsi

June 2014

There are some great tunes on this mixtape, some of the best of any of these mixtapes, but it’s a lazy mixtape. Fich told me once to play my records longer and let them do the work, and that’s what I was doing here: taking a long, lazy approach to mixing. It’s as if a broad, general view of things really is what’s called for in the end.

23 September 2016: JJC Mixtape Archive 9 – Android Love Sensation

Android Love Sensation
August 2013

This mixtape starts with a cut from the only CD I’ve purchased for its retail price in a long, long time. Why the CD? I generally don’t pay real money for rare records, and this Disco Dream and the Androids CD was remastered and put out by the artist directly, so I went for it. (I think you can still get one too.) I’m glad I did. The tunes from this CD, “Disco Robots” from Superfunk, and “MYB (Move Your Body)” from Oliver were the main things I wanted to showcase, and I think without the Disco Dream and Androids disc, I might not have made the mixtape.

I’m not sure why I kept the mix so short. Matches my attention span, I suppose. This is also maybe where the naming convention I’m using for the new tapes started. Take a word or phrase from the first song in the mix and mash it up with a word or phrase from the last song in the mix. I’m not the first person to have named things like this, I know; I think it’s actually a pretty stock convention of the mashup genre, which is why I wrote “mash it up” up there, plus I loved the Mash It Up ska compilations when I was a teenager. The jackin’ disco robot jams on this quick dance mix are a long aesthetic way away from Mr. Cranky, but hey, my taste contains multitudes, as do I.

21 September 2016: JJC Mixtape Archive 8 – Strictly Commercial

Strictly Commercial: Featuring 35 Top Dance Hits
October 2012

When I moved back to the States from Indonesia, I was excited to find some smaller rooms in which to play funkier music. The town I moved to wasn’t awesome, but it had a few venues, and I glommed onto the gay night at one of them and resumed purveying the kinds of tunes I usually write about here on the record show—dusty disco, funk, and soul. I was glad to get away from the kind of stuff that’s on the last two tapes.

A few weeks into my new residency, which the bartender let me name “Agenda,” one of the regulars came up to the booth and said, “Don’t you ever play anything new? Anything that’s on the radio?”

She wanted to hear Major Lazer’s “Bubble Butt” and “Headband” from B.o.B., so I begrudgingly started going through the Billboard and Beatport charts and pulling out everything that was tolerable. I also found a few standouts that are actually pretty good, especially because a lot of deep house and nu-disco in the Beatport chart was sampling stuff that’s really good. I suppose it was worth it. Parts of the crowd were pleased, and the dancing got pretty dirty for a well-lit bar on a weeknight. Nevertheless, those hours I spent dropping a needle on every tune in those charts are hours I won’t get back. And if there are any hours I can get back, here’s hoping they’re not the ones during which I listened to even 10 seconds of Jason Aldean, Carrie Underwood, or Kenny Chesney.

Like many products for the mass market, some of this music is disposable. It has big, layered sawtooth synth leads and hard-hitting bass sounds, but that’s about all there is to recommend it. All of these tracks (except the ODB a cappella in the intro mashup) I pulled from the Beatport Top 100 and the Billboard Hot 100, hence the mixtape title and soulless ephemerality of some of the selections. That said, this mixtape comprises the best stuff I winnowed from the charts, and the transitions are exceptional when compared to the preceding live mixes I did in Indonesia, since blending these records in Ableton is a lot like snapping LEGOs together. I couldn’t help but give it a snarky name and a generic, UPC-inspired cover. Of course, it’s a mere four years later and already I’m feeling a little nostalgic for some of these insipid tunes. Well, whatever. Bubble gum tastes good too.

20 September 2016: JJC Mixtape Archive 7 – Boshe Live Mix

Boshe Live Mix
June 2011

Boshe VVIP was (is?) the big, big club in Yogyakarta, and when I got a chance to play there, I was trying to do three things that resulted in another so-so mix: (1) Play some stuff at 70 bpm. I’ve never loved dubstep or trap, but no one in Yogyakarta played anything that slow, so I figured I’d try it out. (2) Keep it in the universe of popular house that the crowd wanted (cf. the Republic mixtape, made the month before, and the next mixtape, which is all music from the charts). And (3), play some tunes I actually like, hence “Roadrunner,” “The Bomb (These Sounds Fall into My Mind),” “Blue Monday,” the Morsy “Don’t You Want Me” remix, “Doobie Bras,” etc. I wanted to represent the original JJC style a little more heavily than on the Republic mixtape.

Predictably, the set was not a huge success in the club. The crowd seemed confused, and I did what DJs are not supposed to do: I stuck to my set and wouldn’t let them pull me off early. I could have switched to Dutch/electro remixes of all the pop tunes and won them over, but fuck that. Why feed crowds the same dreck they can get every night, everywhere else? I’m glad I didn’t, because these days it looks like folks in Jogja are playing nu-disco in loungier settings, and dubstep and trap are well represented in the big clubs. Maybe a few people in the scene even remember those 45 minutes in 2011 when I played this set of joints that made Boshe feel a little weird.

19 September 2016: JJC Mixtape Archive 6 – Live and Squirky for Republic

Live and Squirky for Republic
May 2011

When I moved to Yogyakarta, there was no disco, no funk, nothing happening in the nightclubs that wasn’t popular and house-y. Couldn’t get away from the Guetta remix of Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling.” LMFAOver and over and over again. They were playing a lot of music like that Guetta remix, stuff I’d been coming across occasionally and had been tagging “squirky synths” in the comments field.

I wrote to Skinny Friedman around this time and asked what’s up with all these house songs with synth lines I could only describe as “squirky,” and he was like, “Oh, you seem to have missed out on Dutch house. It’s a big deal.” So I gathered up all the tunes in my house/electro stacks that I’d labeled “squirky synths,” and it turned out I hadn’t exactly missed Dutch house, I’d just been labeling it eccentrically. In a contextless sea of mp3s from this blog and that, details about the people making the music (like where they’re from) were scrubbed away, and not all the people making the squirky stuff were Dutch anyway. Afrojack is from the Netherlands, fine, but DJ Bam Bam’s tune “Watch the Club Go” was huge in the clubs in Jogja, and that dude’s from Chicago. It still got a “squirky synths” tag from me, even though it’s a vocal sample that’s all portamento’d in that tune. There’s a version on this mixtape, and in fact the portamentos are autotuned with the retune speed set to create a glissando with discrete steps, like running a hard mallet up and down a xylophone.

In addition to all the “squirky synth” comments, I’d also recently bought Mixed in Key, software that added an ID3 tag for each’s song’s key, which in terms of being able to play songs with which you’re not familiar was a level-up similar to the visual aid offered by Scratch Live waveforms. Armed with those visual aids (I set cue points for mixing in and mixing out), and with the cheat-sheet field for harmonic compatibility, I was able to throw together this live mixtape pretty quickly, which is at times evident in the quality of the mixes. It took maybe a week from selection to finished mix, and it represents my favorites from among the squirky house jawns I acquired by accident and then intentionally after Skinny wised me up. There are even a handful of those squirky tunes on this tape whose merits still stand out despite the came-and-went nature of the genre from which they sprang. And there’s plenty of stuff that’s not squirky, so if you hate those tunes, this won’t be 100% annoying. Matty C’s sampling of Poison in “Action” will never get old. Well, it’ll never get any older than it was when he flipped it, anyway.

When I played this set at Republic in Yogyakarta, I’m not sure Republic had yet partnered with the Positiva DJ school, and I’m not even totally sure the DJ school is the reason for the Positiva appellation. Lots of DJs in Yogyakarta have Positiva at the end of their names. I have an Alice Deejay record on Positiva, but I’m almost certain there’s no official link to that UK record label.

Anyway, get ready for a fair number of monosynth leads with lots of portamento. I think you’ll agree they’re squirky.

16 September 2016: JJC Mixtape Archive 5 – Work Function

Work Function
October 2009

I almost didn’t include this, but I did spend some time and effort on the selections and the timing of the fades, so it counts. And the tunes are classics that make everybody happy. Or at least they’re tunes everyone over a certain age has heard before and might even dance to. So here’s the Work Function mixtape.

As advertised, I made this for a work gathering I couldn’t attend, a DJing-in-absentia kind of thing. These aren’t my favorite tunes. They’re the tunes that appease the parents of people my age. It’s a playlist for a wedding, or a reunion or, well, a work function. I even censored a swear word in a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Money.”

Give it a listen, but keep in mind that I know it’s not my best work. We’re entering a mild slump here, as the next couple mixtapes also represent compromises in taste and production quality since I selected tunes for big rooms and recorded them live instead of mixing in Ableton. But don’t worry, those are only two of the remaining six mixtapes, plus we’re building up to the release of a brand new one, and they only get better from here.

14 September 2016: JJC Mixtape Archive 4 – Dollar Grillz’ Day Off

Number 4 in the mixtape archive series is another collaboration with Chris.

Dollar Grillz’ Day Off
January 2009

I think this was my idea, since I was in a mixtape-making mood, having just dropped 4 x Floor the previous month. We did it over either Thanksgiving break or Christmas. Probably Christmas, and I said to Chris, “Bring over ten songs you want to put on a mixtape, and we’ll go one for one.” And that’s what we did. Except there are 21 tracks because I insisted that editing together Daryl Gold’s “Love Quake” with the instrumental version counted as one track. 

This cover is the pinnacle of my work in Photoshop. We put Johnny Five in a lot of scenarios, with a lot of gold grills for the Dollar Grillz flyers, but the Ferris Bueller’s Day Off parody is by far my favorite. Didn't even bother with the gold teeth. I was digging it so much just now that I made a new Johnny Five cover for the next mixtape, which never had an image since I made it for a work party. More on that in the next post.

This mix turned out better than I thought it would when I proposed it. I think in particular the “Love Quake” through “Mean Machine” section compares favorably to the efforts on the first DGZ mixtape. And whereas I edited only the first and third segments of the first mixtape, I was watching the cuts, pastes, and fades closely on our day off, so this one’s pretty slick. I just wish we’d made it longer.

13 September 2016: JJC Mixtape Archive 3 – 4 x Floor

4 x Floor
November 2008

The four-on-the-floor drum machines of house and techno bored me when I was a teenager because I was a drummer and those patterns were no more interesting than the ticking of a clock or the back-and-forth of a metronome’s pendulum. But later in Philadelphia the disco records I dug up with the freestyle and electro rap I was after won me over with their slick and sometimes funky use of synthesizers (especially vocoders), and before I knew it I’d spent a year and a half and listening to a lot of records with metronomic boom-chick disco drum patterns, some of the best of which inadvertently became the first records lumped into the nascent “house” genre in Chicago record stores in the ’80s.

And then I don’t know what happened. Maybe because some house records use the TR-808 instead of the 909 or other drums, I started digging for those. Maybe because the Strictly Rhythm label with the brick wall background just looks cool (and the tunes are consistently decent, with some real standouts). Maybe because we’d already dug all the electro out of the dollar bins at the record store near my house. For whatever combination of reasons, I started enjoying house and techno, somewhat to my surprise. So I made a mixtape about my newfound tolerance for and embrace of four-on-the-floor drum patterns and even included an original composition. I also spent a fair amount of time learning how to make the gold letters on the cover because I liked the cover of Mad Rad’s “White Gold” album.

These days I have to remind myself not to get locked into a four-on-the-floor groove. Sure, the Jungle Brothers counsel house music all night long, but that advice excludes most of their own music, so I try not to follow it too closely. On the 4 x Floor mixtape, though, the beats are mainly of the down- variety, so settle in for 29 minutes of bump bump bump bump.

12 September 2016: JJC Mixtape Archive 2 – Dollar Grillz Mixtape

Entry 2 in the mixtape series was the hardest to make and is still the one I like best.

Dollar Grillz Mixtape
May 2008

I started making this mixtape with the intention of blowing the First (Worst) Mixtape out of the water (and out of the Philly scene’s collective memory). I think it’s the only mixtape where I used non-music samples in a planned, clever way. I think it’s also the only time I vocoded over stuff on a mixtape. (Wait, no, I did that again on 4 x Floor, sort of. That time it was just singalong, not voiceover.) Anyway, I way overthought this mix (these two mixes, really, since we each made two short ones), probably because making it was such a painstaking process. Instead of mixing the records live, I pitched them, recorded them, and then edited in Cubase, which software I had newly acquired and obviously not mastered. Still, this is the one I’m most proud of, put together before Ableton made quantization easy. Cutting and pasting tiny gaps in the Nairobi drums so they’d match Guns n’ Roses took hours. If I ever get really, really serious about a mixtape again, this will be the one I’m trying to outdo.

I’d been hacking away at this mix in my room when Honkytron and I started a monthly party at Medusa Lounge called Dollar Grillz and decided to release a mixtape to promote the event. I started work on my slow track, and Chris made two tracks to match mine, and we burned a bunch of CD-Rs and wrapped them in the flyer and spread them around the city. Later the gold fronts would move out of the Rocky Horror mouth and into the maw of Johnny Five for most of the rest of our flyers (and for our other, one-for-one collaborative mixtape, Dollar Grillz’ Day Off).

Listening to this again makes me think of the giant master bedroom on the second floor of the West Philadelphia rowhome—Haus 409—in which I lived, worked, and played with records. Desks with turntables and other junk lined the bay windows, which I sat with my back toward, working at a big blue industrial table with peeling plastic veneer. I can’t remember what graffiti I’d scrawled on it in Sharpie, but there was plenty. And a gold strip of sticker from a Ferrero Rocher box (the gift chocolates long gone) stuck to the edge. I wish I still had that table. I’ve still got the mixtape I made on it, though, and now you can have it too.

While I get all nostalgic over a table, I should give shouts out to my fellow 409 residents, who were super fun and helped make a lot of noise. Our old neighbors Ken Raw and Diana will attest to that. And I should give an even bigger shout to Chris, a.k.a. Honkytron, who made the second and final sections of this mixtape. I miss hanging out and working with that guy. Gotta make a Philly trip soon. 

11 September 2016: JJC Mixtape Archive 1 – First (Worst) Mixtape

I just finished a new mixtape, but I’m not going to release it until the Record Show hits No. 200 on the disco jams list. Not for any reason except that it will give you a window during which you can catch up with every other mixtape I’ve ever made and/or worked on. Ten years’ worth of memorizing routines and/or cut and splice. Mostly, though, ten years’ worth of fun. To start, we’ll reach way back in the archive and dredge up the first mixtape I ever made.

JJC’s First (Worst) Mixtape
October 2006

Why did I think I should make a mixtape with my Radio Shack mixer a mere four months after I bought a second turntable and decided to be a DJ? I’m kind of an idiot. And the needles were worn out, and the computer whose microphone input I recorded through was glitchy, and a few records skip, and the beats match poorly or not at all, and the songs drop at odd places, and the tracklist is weird, but stringing records together was what my new friends in Philadelphia were up to, and I wanted to get down. They taught me the “start slow and get faster” method that I employ on this mixtape and pretty much always, still.

I think I recorded two takes of this mixtape, and this is the second one. I don’t remember exactly what I thought about it when I finished, but it must have been something like, “Good enough; let’s get it on MySpace.” I do remember listening to it a lot after I put it out in the world, regretting a lot of the mistakes, and loving every single tune. I listened to it again yesterday, and my position is largely unchanged.

9 September 2016, No. 191, ESG, ‘UFO’

As promised in the report on No. 189, No. 191 is pitched down until it’s almost disorienting (that’s not how cymbals sound…), since the compilers of the Ultimate Breaks and Beats compilations had limited use for the weird and repetitive sonic exploration at 143 bpm. Luckily they thought to invert the very specific intended use of the 33/45 rpm switch. “UFO” by ESG at 106 bpm forms the backbone of a whole bunch of hip-hop history. It’s also not too bad on its own. At either speed.

8 September 2016, No. 190, Donald Byrd, ‘Change (Makes You Want to Hustle)’

No. 190, Donald Byrd’s “Change (Makes You Want to Hustle),” was a weird one for the Ultimate Breaks and Beats comps because it doesn’t have a free drum break. The intro is somewhat useful, but it hasn’t been flipped all that much. DJ Jazzy Jeff put snippets of the tune to the best use, singling out an ill bit of trumpet solo for “A Touch of Jazz,” and maybe the reason it hasn’t seen much use elsewhere is that this particular disco-feeling jazz joint is better left on its own. Change!

6 September 2016, No. 189, Dexter Wansel, ‘Theme from the Planets’

Sure, everyone’s in it for the free drums that kick it off, but I’m especially enthralled by the nonmelodic sound effects Dexter Wansel creates in the break toward the end of No. 189, “Theme from the Planets.” The synth lead sounds are a little on the hokey side (especially in the highest registers), and the horns are a little too slick with reverb, kind of like an overproduced fusion record. But those elements that make it sound a little like Spyro Gyra or Yellowjackets are the same elements that bring me back to it. Who doesn’t like treacle?

Also, it’s not as extreme as the 45 rpm to 33 rpm pitch shift on ESG’s “UFO,” but the most astute among you may have noticed that this entry in the list is for the pitched-up Ultimate Breaks and Beats version of this tune. The original, being much slower, would have appeared earlier on the list.

Finally, as far as I can tell, Wansel’s “Theme from the Planets” has nothing to do with Gustav Holst’s “The Planets,” but mentioning Holst is a good excuse for me to slip Patrick Gleeson's Beyond the Sun LP into the list, since it would never make it otherwise, even though I enjoy it.

5 September 2016, No. 188, 20th Century Steel Band, ‘Heaven and Hell’

“Children grow and women produce and men go work and some go stealin’ / Everyone’s got to make a living.” They’re lyrics that by now have thoroughly permeated American pop music, but if you listen past the intro, you find out how weird and vaguely foreboding a steel drum in the bass register can sound. I don’t have any other records from steel bands, and this is the first time it occurred to me that No. 188, “Heaven and Hell” from 20th Century Steel Band, has nothing to it except trap kit, tambourine, and steel drums. And that big chorus of vocals. Steel drums are usually light and sunny, but in this minor-key mid-tempo meditation they do seem a little hellish. Everyone’s got to make a living, sure, but I’m enjoying a bit more of the heaven side of things on my Labor Day off.

2 September 2016, No. 187, Sylvester, ‘I Need Somebody to Love Tonight’

Sylvester’s vocals are almost as yearning as the synths are ominous in this joint brought to my attention by Honkytron the last time we played a gig together in Philadelphia. It was a sunny afternoon on a patio, so the tune didn’t exactly fit the mood, but it still caught my ear. Nothing like getting clued in to album cuts from albums you don’t have. The Patrick Cowley and Sylvester team was one of the best, and it’s fun to hear what they do when they’re a little chilled out. No. 187, “I Need Somebody to Love Tonight.”

1 September 2016, No. 186, Sister Sledge, ‘Thinking of You (Dimitri from Paris Remix)’

I don’t think Sister Sledge’s “Thinking of You (Dimitri from Paris Remix)” contains any musical elements that aren’t from the original recordings. It’s just an edit and a different mix, which can be great sometimes, and this is one of those times. Better than the original and featuring a big a cappella intro and vox/piano outro, No. 186 still has that funky free guitar and even makes good use of the strings in a break toward the end. Chop ’em up, change the levels, and the Chic Organization is still in full force. Plus the tune says nice and uplifting things about love, which always complements a good groove.