Music

Part Five: Defining the Legacy

Christian John Wikane

The sale to PolyGram, the death of Neil Bogart -- the dawn of the 1980s signaled the end of an era for Casablanca. Three decades since the label's fearless leader last stood inside the Casbah, artists and executives explain his genius and define the legacy of the label.

Closing up the Casbah

It all seemed to come undone at once. Neil Bogart sold the remaining 50 percent of Casablanca to PolyGram. While it was a lucrative deal, Bogart relinquished the kind of creativity that he'd used to build a wholly unique and successful record company. After his relationship with PolyGram became strained, he left in February 1980 and started a new label, Boardwalk.

PolyGram dissolved Casablanca's staff and many artists either fled from the new regime or were dropped altogether. Following number one hits by Lipps, Inc. ("Funkytown") and Captain & Tennille ("Do That to Me One More Time"), a few more singles by the Four Tops, Pure Prairie League, and Dr. Hook kept the Casablanca imprint in circulation through 1982. Russ Regan, who had helmed the Casablanca-distributed Parachute label between 1977-1979, later led Casablanca back to the top of the charts with the blockbuster Flashdance (1983) soundtrack before the label ceased releasing original product in 1986 (Animotion, Strange Behavior). Despite intermittent success, Casablanca was never the same without Neil Bogart.

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Cecil Holmes (Partner/Senior Vice President): When you get these companies, they always tell you, "You'll be able to run this and you'll be able to do exactly what you please." Those were suits. Our success was that we were able to do what we wanted to do. All they knew was the bottom line. No way would they have let us spend the money on Donna Summer and KISS. They would see the figures and say, "This guy spends too much money," but then there was one guy who would always say, "Yeah but we'll get him or we'll control him." Eventually, they figured that we were spending too much money and they weren't making the money that they wanted to make. When it was just us, we didn't care if we had a lot of money in the bank as long as everybody was taken care of at the company. Believe me, we were. I was paid very well. All the top executives were paid very well with very big bonuses. The money always went back into the company. It wasn't until we got older and that we started to think, "Maybe we should start thinking about our future".

Bill Aucoin (Manager, KISS): It was a payday for everyone and we understood that. PolyGram didn't have much of a choice. They had to negotiate with us. We made an incredible deal with PolyGram for KISS. From that point of view, it was good for KISS. It was right after Dynasty (1979). We made a terrific contract with PolyGram. Donna decided not to and she kind of fought to get off the label and she did.

Donna Summer: I was one of the people that were selling mega-records at the time but I wasn't being compensated for them. Let's put it like this, my original contract was not up to par and so there was a deficiency in what I should have been making. I was making the money for them, millions of dollars, which I wasn't seeing. At some point, I got a lawyer and started to investigate what was going on and it wasn't pretty.

Holmes: It just got to a point where Neil felt uncomfortable being with PolyGram. He wasn't able to do the things he wanted to do. Casablanca was his company but PolyGram owned it. They started to put restraints on him, moreso financially whereas with Warner Bros. the main issue was we were just too aggressive.

Frank DiMino (Angel): I remember our last meeting with Neil, which was a good healthy meeting. He apologized for a lot of the stuff that he didn't do that he knew he should have done but couldn't and explained to us a lot of the reasons. It was a really good conversation and we felt like everything was going to get back on track. Unfortunately it didn't.

Bob Esty: When Casablanca was sold to PolyGram and Neil left the label, I just figured what's the point? I didn't like their business and I knew that there was a big backlash going on.

Dennis Wheeler (Promotion Manager, Special Projects): The music changed. The company was swallowed up. If it wasn't sold it could have gone on and on for years. PolyGram bought it for the catalog… and then it was dismantled. A lot of people were let go, I happened to be one of the last. The reason for that was because "Funkytown" by Lipps, Inc. was being promoted at the time and basically we were told that, "Your job is safe. Keep working it." The second week that it went number one, and crossed to the Top 40 chart, I got my pink slip like an hour after the charts came in.

Michele Hart-Winer (Director of Special Projects): Bruce Bird (who replaced Neil as President) and Larry Harris (Senior Vice President/Managing Director) were still there. I had been working with them. They wanted me to stay. I stayed but I couldn't do disco anymore. I was in radio. That was awful. I did not like radio. We had "Funkytown" with my buddy Steve Greenberg and that crossed-over but that's when they were starting to bury disco. They were putting trucks over disco records. There was that huge backlash. Neil already had Boardwalk going. They kept me because I was a good promotion person, if I do say so myself, and I had good rapport but radio was a world I didn't know very well, honestly. They knew that I didn't know what I was doing and it was really uncomfortable. When I just kept at it and started to talk to these people, I said, "I can't do this everyday. It's awful."

Worthy Patterson (Vice President, Sales and Promotion): PolyGram started putting PolyGram people in. They turned a very successful record label into a logo. Forget it. It was a waste of time after that. That's the attitude of those people -- they think they can do anything. Little did they know that the name of the game is relationships. We were able to do what we needed to do to break records. No one ever, ever in the whole time I was in business there, ever asked you what the price of anything was. We were mavericks, which is why they kicked us out.

D.C. LaRue: PolyGram ripped everything out from the bare walls and painted everything white with Formica tables and chrome legs. I walked into Neil Bogart's office and what was an enchanting step into the past, into a movie set (you expected Ingrid Bergman to walk out of the office), it was a white room and Bruce Bird sitting behind a desk and nobody there. The offices were totally empty.

Phyllis Chotin (Vice President, Creative Services): PolyGram came out and was inventorying everything. I remember being around for when the cars all got picked up, all the leased cars. When everybody was gone, I was still there and one of my staff was still there. I remember they offered me a job to stay. My assistant at the time was a single mother and I asked them, "If I leave, will you put her in that job?" They said yes so that's when I left. I think it was March of '81. I started my own thing then.

Pattie Brooks: All of the artists, I can't even tell you how many have gone through that where they were dropped in the middle of their project because of changeover. It was a mess.

David Castle: When a deal like that ends, so does the money so I had to really quickly rearrange my life. When you go from an experience like being with Casablanca and touring and being on TV shows and being on the charts and then falling off into the black hole of space, it's a whole other reality so it took me some time to adjust everything that I had experienced.

Bruce Sudano (Brooklyn Dreams): I think that we had a three-album deal for Casablanca and we did those three albums. At the end of that time, the deal was over, Neil had left and Bruce Bird was running the company. It was not what it was. We kind of had our shot and never really broke out and it just dissolved.

DiMino: We owed one more album to Casablanca. We were looking for a producer. I had been talking to Jack Douglas. I knew Jack from Eddie Leonetti who did our White Hot (1977) and Sinful (1979) albums. PolyGram said, "We're not going to pay that much for a producer," but Jack Douglas is a name producer so it's not going to be as cheap as someone who doesn't have a name. Now we find ourselves negotiating on an album that we thought was the last thing that we would have to do. We said, "Why don't you just let us out of the deal?" We thought we'll get out of the deal and we can go to Neil at Boardwalk. They said, "No we're not going to let you out of the deal. We want the record." It was one of those classic stalemates going back and forth where the only one who suffers is the band. We're in a state of limbo. Time passes. It's one of those classic endings where neither side is giving in. The communication just wasn't working. Every step along the way, it just wasn't working. Why not just cut us loose? I can never figure out the deal with record companies. I guess they have some sort of idea of what they want to do but I never can figure it out.

Aucoin: KISS was burnt out. The Elder (1980) was a great moment of no one wanting to do anything. Ace didn't want to be with them and Gene and Paul really didn't feel like they wanted to go back into the studio and have to write an album when they really weren't prepared. It wasn't a very good time. It was an album that had to be delivered to the record label. It's a good example of, "You gotta deliver an album, you're gonna get paid so much, the record company wants it, you have to do it, you have to deliver it by a certain time." In those days, we were bound by that. If I had my druthers and I could go back in time, I'd say, "I'm sorry but you're not getting an album until they actually do a really good tune." They were lucky that they had such a brilliant producer to make an album happen otherwise it wouldn't have been an album at all. Of course PolyGram hated the album. When we had our meeting with PolyGram to play it, they said, "We'll give you the money to do another album." At that point, there was no way that was going to happen. We just said "no" and I knew there was no way they were going to get back into the studio. It was hard enough just to get through The Elder.

Chris Bennett: Keb' Mo', who has gone on to have a big career as a blues singer (he's won several Grammys), we got to be friends and I produced his first album when he was Kevin Moore from Compton. Because of the publishing deal I had with Casablanca, I had some money and I took the demos I did of Keb' Mo' to this guy named Steve Badelli and he said, "Oh you should take it next door to Chocolate City." I walked out of there with an $80,000 record deal, which was big money in those days. We produced a really beautiful album called Rainmaker (1980). My boyfriend at the time was this guy Brian Avnet, who used to manage Manhattan Transfer and now he manages Josh Groban and a bunch of other people. I had him help me and we went in with Kevin Moore. I'll never forget Russ Regan said, "I don't really hear any hits." I remember looking over and seeing a big old crocodile tear run down Kevin's face. They didn't really do anything with it. Bless his heart, he just kept at it. He sold cars. He fixed computers. I'd call him once in awhile and say, "If I had your talent, I wouldn't be fixing any damn cars." He went down to New Orleans and learned the blues. He's a full-blown blues singer. He's still a great pop singer/songwriter. Rainmaker still had some classic songs on it. We got the top people in town on that. None of us made any money.

LaRue: The guy who had just taken over PolyGram in New York City came from a real rock/folk background and he hated disco. When I recorded Star, Baby (1981), I was trying to make a transition. There was no record company when that came out. I had one more recording to do and I was with Morris Levy. He called up this guy and we were on a speaker-phone. Morris said, "I'm sitting here with D.C. LaRue. He's got one more album to do for Casablanca," and the guy said, "Tell that faggot we don't want him on the label anymore." Morris said, "D.C. 's here. He can hear you." The guy said, "I don't give a fuck. Tell the faggot we don't want him with the record company anymore. Disco's over." Nobody could get a deal. It was such a nightmare. All the fucking records I sold and nobody wanted to pick up the phone. It was so depressing. I don't even know how I managed to live through it. I had to have been a very strong human being.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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