James Murphy needs no introduction, does he? The guy behind DFA records and LCD Soundsystem can do no wrong in many people’s eyes, so when news came out that he’d be curating the latest Fabriclive mix with LCD Soundsystem’s drummer Pat Mahoney, there was a measurable ripple of excitement. Knowing the pair’s predilection for all things disco from their live DJ gigs and radio shows, no prizes for guessing the stylistic axis that informs this collection. Nice thing is: 1. Disco’s heightened profile this year gives the mix a sense of timeliness; 2. The combination of obscure rare tracks and modern takes on the same works, quite seamlessly.
Disco, Disco. While 2007’s version has featured female artists prominently – Sally Shapiro and Kathy Diamond both holding up the flag notably – Murphy and Mahoney demonstrate that there’s more to male vocals in disco than the campy Freddie Mercury impressions of Mika and Scissor Sisters. “Love Has Come Around”, e.g., from Donald Byrd and 125th St, NYC (how awesome is that name?), uses similar falsetto vocals but they’re hidden behind a low-fi sheen of echo. The treble organ drone and echoing ‘80s percussion are placed right at the front of the sound giving the leisurely vocal line a kind of obscuring sheen – a nice effect. The same effect propels Lenny Williams’ “You Got Me Running”, its disco vocals subdued behind guitar, strings, and a dirty funk bass.
The mix bounds easily from electro-tinged disco to straight throwback to tech-laced funk without batting so much as an eyelid. There’s some continuity – especially in the transitions between tracks, the music is quite LCD Soundsystem-esque, with repeated eight-note synths and strong funk basslines echoing the musical landscape of 45:33. The band’s contribution to the mix, “Hippie Priest Bum-Out”, is quite different from the expected LCD sound, full of rattling percussion and a kind of didgeridoo bass waffle. More than anything else on the CD, this song says confidently: We’re now so much more than what we grew out of. It’s an exhilarating moment in the set.
Sure, there are plenty of other highlights. Was (Not Was)’s “Tell Me That I’m Dreaming” is a scintillating nu-disco number, reminiscent of Moloko, and is over much too quickly. A stretch in the middle from Still Going’s “Still Going Theme” through Babytalk’s “Keep on Move” is especially strong: the first track echoing Fujiya & Miyagi’s whisper-house basslines but with a space-filling analog synth melody; through City of Women’s steel drums/pots-n-pans percussion crashing out wild rhythms; to Babytalk’s sweet electro chug. And in case you were worried that none of disco’s characteristic soulful female vocals would appear, Punkin’ Machine’s “I Need You Tonight”, moving bafflingly from early dancefloor groove to weird experiment where Europe’s disposable electro-pop gets all mixed up with a bunch of chipmunks. Or something. Whatever it is, it’s pretty great.
Regardless of whether these songs are new or dug up from a crate in a used record store, the music on Fabriclive.36 feels undeniably fresh. Maybe that’s part of why everyone’s reacting so favourably towards this whole disco revival thing. It’s certainly a nice change from the sameness of Ed Banger’s heaving electro-house. But the bigger point is, of course, that there’s a rich vein of talent to be mined, not just from artists making music today (like Shapiro and Diamond), but also by looking back into the forgotten corners of dance music from three decades ago. Turns out back then, there were interesting musicians working on the edges of genre just as there are today. We’re just lucky to have guys like Murphy and Mahoney to go through it all and, with their generally impeccable taste, assemble it for us into a collection that makes you “move your funky feet”. Because in the end, disco – moreso than most other genres of dance music – is about fun without regard of consequence; without regard to the way you look dancing; without regard to which person you’re taking home (that’s just a bonus). Junior Bryon’s a capella introduction on “Dance to the Music” might just sum it up:
I have heard some people say they could party down all day
All they do is close their eyes and let the music hypnotise they say
When they feel the boogie down they get out and paint the town red
Maybe meet someone along the way…