No Sell Out – Electro Retrospective

Legend / Wigan Pier: May 1982 – Dec 1983

http://soundcloud.com/gregwilson/no-sell-out-electro

SAMURAI FM INTRODUCTION, 2005:

Throughout our lives everyone usually finds his or her hero. That special someone who through our respect for their actions inspire, motivate and open our eyes to new worlds in a particular time and space. For a young 15-year-old break-dancer called Gerald Simpson the special someone was Greg Wilson, the time was the early 80s and the place was a nightclub, appropriately enough called Legend in Manchester, UK.

Spinning his cutting edge mix of electro funk every Wednesday night at Legend as well as his residency at Wigan Pier, Greg Wilson was a hero for thousands of mainly black local youth, many of who at that time were part of a nation-wide often violent stands against the prejudices the society they were in subjected them to. Greg was in the unique position of pushing the boundaries of this new music form to this eager and dedicated audience at a time when the foundations of modern dance music were not yet laid and artists, both DJs and producers were shaping the new electronic world every weekend.

It’s difficult to believe that this show, a retrospective of the influential tracks from 1982/83, pre-dated the acid house explosion by half a decade yet the sounds still sound so fresh more than 20 years later and in them you can easily identify the origins of the genres that continue to push the scene forward to this day. Equally as impressive is that a mix such as this is possible given the complexities of the remixing and editing of tracks involved in this mix with the technology available at the time. Today production and DJ technology may have developed light years compared to what they were then but the ideas they were based on are still mainly used to this day.

Pioneer is a title given to many musicians these days but there are few seemingly as deserving of this crown in the UK as Greg Wilson. His music changed the history of music in the UK and the perception of a new generation of music fans. This mix will be presented in two parts, part one now, part two in August and the whole set available as one continuous mix together with a full track listing.

A GUY CALLED GERALD, BERLIN, MAY 2005:

Describing this music is like a fish trying to describe water. There’s so many memories, smells, people – my entire teenage years were shaped by all the tracks that are in this mix. I’m thinking of Adidas high top trainers and jogging bottoms, bruised knees and elbows, all of which were part of my breakdancing day to day.

I was 15 and always at Greg Wilson’s night at Legends, in my home city of Manchester, on Wednesdays. I was just a little bit underage but managed to get in. I really miss those times coz people back then had nothing else but that, the atmosphere was something I’ve never ever seen repeated. People would come to Legends from all over the country just for that night. At the time dancing and music was the most important thing in my life. I recognised the music as a way of basically escaping from my environment. It was a pretty harsh environment in some ways and there was a lot of judging going on. There were the typical teenage pressures – everyone was classified as either a Dub head or Funk head. It would be easy to fall into someone else’s mould and do what they were doing, but in them days that was looked at as cheesy. The people that were into Electro and breakdancing were basically crazy – it was definitely a young movement. We had a kind of careless aggression about things – a Punk attitude – people would be laughing at us for washing the floor and spinning on our heads, but you could see they would never know how to break out of a system. And that’s basically what we felt we were doing.

I was always attracted to an electronic sound, any kind of synthesised sound from Chick Corea to Jean Michel Jarre to Gary Numan to The Buggles. When I started to hear this type of music for the first time it was almost unbelievable for me. It was like the music was from inside my head – but what was appealing was the synthesised sounds. Early kinds of synth music seemed to me to be always trying to mimic traditional instruments or songs. Whereas this new sound, this Electro, was definitely not trying to hide the fact that it was electronic. There was something raw and exciting about it.

Legend was one of the only places that played strictly Electro, Soul and Funk, plus, of course, Jazz breaks. At the same time there were youth clubs and community halls that were playing that type of music but for me the appeal of Legend was the club environment, the dancing, and of course I had to check out Greg Wilson’s set. The club reminded me of what a space ship would be like and in the last fifteen years of djing around the globe I’ve not seen a club to rival it. The dance floor was an arena surrounded by a waist high wall that sloped inwards coated in silver metal material. Near the DJ box the wall was mirrored. Above the dancefloor there were rings of neon and 4 mirror balls – one in each corner and an array of mirrors all over the ceiling at different angles so that when the laser was activated it would bounce all over the club. There was a strobe built above the neon which could move in a circle around the perimeter of the dancefloor – loads of strobes, lasers, smoke machines.

The speakers were above the dancefloor facing into it – one in each corner and there must have been a rotor sound system as the DJ could trigger each speaker separately. The DJ booth was raised facing the dancefloor at the back of the arena. It seemed like the sounds were synched with the lights – you could easily lose yourself as the sounds would orbit the dancefloor with the lights – especially the high pitched sounds. I remember being on the dancefloor when the strobe was orbiting and the smoke going – no other light than that and, because there were mirrors all the way round, it would be hard to find your way off. It was amazing to see the freeze time motion from the strobe – especially when people were letting off dancing.

It was a place where you had to dress up. The extreme Soul and Funk heads would have wet perms, Lacoste or Fred Perry jumper, pair of corduroy trousers and a pair of moccasins. The Jazz Fusion guys would probably be dressed in stretched jeans, frayed at the bottom and split to cover their spat dancing shoes. The dancers would carry all their gear in camera bags – towel, talcum powder for the floor. And the dancefloor was strictly for dancing.

A couple of years ago I happened to be in Manchester city centre – hadn’t been back there for 10 years at least – and I thought I’d go check out where Legend used to be as the city was completely different. We parked in the back street and as my brother walked past a skip noticed, to his surprise, one of the mirror balls. He took it for posterity and it’s hanging in my studio today.

In my teenage years the name Greg Wilson was synonymous with Bank Holidays, Christmas and special times. His name would come up on Piccadilly Radio at these times. As soon as I heard there was going to be a Greg Wilson mix on the radio I would run over to Shadus, the local electronic shop, and buy a brand new Chrome C90 TDK cassette tape. I would make sure I was in front of the Amstrad with my finger on the pause button when that mix started. It didn’t matter what was happening anywhere else. That mix would get played to death – the tape would be worn out until his next guest appearance on Piccadilly Radio. Around Christmas, he would mix all the popular club music from the entire year into one great big groove soup. There would be all sorts of things going on – plays on words – bits of melodies swimming around – intros from tracks that you’d grown to know and love and if you knew anything about dance music at the time it was almost as if he was having a conversation with you with his mix. In Legend he’d be mixing what sounded like his own versions of the tunes, using 2 or 3 copies of the record – that also inspired me.

A Guy Called Gerald in his studio – mid 90′s

Listening back to this stuff it seems like production-wise and idea-wise not much has really moved on musically. The technology is just a bit slicker now. I was talking to Arthur Baker the other day and he was describing to me producing Planet Rock and all of the Afrika Bambaataa productions around that time. Most of the music that you hear in these productions wasn’t played with a sequencer – they were all hand played on a keyboard. They had a very basic step sequencer and they couldn’t afford their own drum machine so it was borrowed from the guy working at the post office. It wasn’t worth anything to anyone in those days. These people were from the ghetto – they took every opportunity to make their music. There was no big money to be made in any of it – it was more for the community. Bambaataa was making music for the Zulu Nation. So considering what they used to do to make early 80s electro sounds and the technology available to us today it seems to me that there’s not enough risk-taking.

Listen carefully to Greg’s mix. Each one of these tracks has its own story and individual sound. I hope this inspires people to take more risks, search for their own sounds and break out of the mould that has become dance music.

GREG WILSON, LIVERPOOL, MAY 2005:

When Gerald asked me if I’d put together an Electro mix for his Samurai FM show, I knew that this would turn out to be something of a major undertaking! It wasn’t a matter of just selecting a dozen or so tracks that would provide a snapshot; this had to be definitive in every sense of the term – a mix that would be totally reflective of the 82/83 period when I first played these groundbreaking tracks to the most upfront of audiences at Legend, in Manchester, and Wigan Pier.

It was only a couple of years ago that I realised that Gerald had been a regular at Legend (or ‘Legends’ as many people used to call it) throughout most of my time there. I knew he’d listened to my mixes on Piccadilly Radio, but I thought he was too young to get into the clubs back then (he was, but that didn’t stop him!). So, once he’d suggested the idea of me doing this mix, it felt totally fitting that it should be for him, someone who directly experienced those heady Electro-Funk days when the old was giving way to the new and dance music was being re-invented on what felt like a weekly basis!

As with any time of change, there was stubborn resistance from the old guard, determined to retain the Jazz-Funk status quo and reject this new electronic sound, which they hastily dismissed as soulless. I found myself at odds with almost everyone on the black music scene – that is apart from the most important people of all, of course, those who attended my club nights. This was a mainly black audience, not just from Manchester, like Gerald, but from areas including Huddersfield, Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford, Wolverhampton, Liverpool, Bolton, Nottingham, Preston, Stoke, Derby etc, even as far as London. The locations might have been Manchester and Wigan, but the crowd represented something of a gathering of the clans (or crews, as we used to call them, including the best dancers I’ve ever seen in a club environment). This all happened at a particularly historical point in black British culture, following on from the inner-city riots of 1981, in areas like Brixton, Toxteth, Handsworth and Moss Side, with young British blacks taking a stance against the day-to-day prejudice they faced and serving notice that they weren’t prepared to allow this to continue unchallenged. Echoing what had happened in the US during the late 60s, there was certainly a fresh sense of purpose and pride amongst the black youth of this country.

Toxteth / Liverpool 1986

These people were truly dedicated when it came to music and dancing. Despite having little money, they’d somehow find a way to travel long distances in order to attend specialist club nights and All-Dayers. On some Tuesdays at Wigan Pier we’d have up to 500 black kids in attendance, a truly remarkable statistic when you consider that there were literally only a handful of black families living in Wigan at the time.

Wigan Pier was truly awesome, a classic venue in its own right, but Legend on a Wednesday night was the absolute pinnacle for me. One of the reasons I stopped deejaying was because, as far as my club aspirations were concerned, I’d achieved my ultimate aim at Legend. This was to play the most cutting-edge dance music possible to the most clued-up crowd. The fact that I was fortunate enough to do this in such a mindblowing setting was something I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest DJ dreams.

I’m very aware of just how lucky I was for these three elements to come together as they did – it was undoubtedly a case of being in right place at precisely the right time. Many DJs subsequently found fortune and fame, playing at some of the best clubs in the world and cultivating a popstar lifestyle for themselves, but very few have had the privilege of playing exactly what they want to be playing to exactly who they want to be playing it to, week-in-week-out at a time when dance music was literally constructing its contemporary foundations. I was certainly blessed in the knowledge that there wasn’t a more cutting-edge club night in the country. At Legend we were right at the cusp of things and, if your primary motivation is to help push things forward on a musical level, it simply can’t get any better than that.

Nowadays, people naturally want to talk to me about The Haçienda and how incredible it must have been for me to work there. Given its subsequent worldwide recognition, I can appreciate how difficult it must be for them to fully comprehend that, although I had some great nights at The Haçienda, it couldn’t begin to compare with the intensity of what was going on at Legend. The rave scene might have kicked-in some years down the line with The Haçienda at the forefront of the movement, but people were full-on raving at Legend in the early 80s, and this was without the aid of chemicals! It’s just that these people were mainly black, at a time when black culture was marginalized in the UK – the style press had yet to catch up with what was happening on the black scene. Gerald touched on this recently in an interview he did for the Little Detroit website – when asked about how magical The Haçienda must have been for him, he pointed out that, Legends was a magic moment, and playfully quoting the Steve Coogan character, Paul Calf, added The Haçienda was just full of fucking students! The Haçienda would, of course, enjoy its glory days later in the decade, but, during the early 80s, Wednesday at Legend and Tuesday at Wigan Pier weren’t just regarded as successful underground club nights, but the hub of an entire scene.

The tracks on this mix represent this now distant time of both musical and cultural change. I’ve selected the records that were regarded as controversial at the time within black music circles, the ones that the traditionalists were up in arms about. I’d originally chosen 50 of the biggest tracks played at Legend and the Pier, but this was upped to 60, all of which needed to be edited down to an average of a minute and a half in length, which was no small task in itself! Realising that there were still other tracks I wanted to include, I decided to keep it to the main 60, but drop in snippets of additional records from the period, not only Electro, but also other big floorfillers from my nights. I never played purely Electro, but mixed it in alongside Soul, Funk and Disco (or as people refer to it nowadays, Boogie), and this is reflected by the numerous ‘references’ sprinkled throughout the mix.

It’s good to be able to place some of these tracks back into their original context. Tracks like “The Message”, “Rockit” and “Buffalo Gals” would become big hits in the UK, but they were completely unknown when first played at Legend and the Pier. A perfect example would be “White Lines”, which was an underground favourite for many months before the penny finally dropped with the mainstream audience and they came to appreciate it as the wonderful record it is, resulting in a chart stay of over a year! Nowadays, “White Lines” can be played pretty much anywhere to a great response. It’s a sure-fire floorfiller, regarded as a dance standard, but it wasn’t always that way – without the initial specialist support it could quite easily have ended up as just a minor hit.

”No Sell Out” gets it’s title from the opening track. It seemed an appropriate name, given the fact these records were very much regarded by the purists as the selling out of black music, rather than its salvation (something which pretty much everyone can now, with hindsight, clearly see). Listening back to these tracks you can trace the evolution of Hip Hop, Techno and House. This was the point in time when black music fully embraced the available technology and took dance to new dimensions. Hearing these records for the very first time, we knew that the future was upon us and that dance music had entered a whole new phase of its development.

The mix is in two parts, Part One available via Samurai FM in June 2005 with Part Two going online a month later. In August, the two parts will be made available as one continuous mix, with the full tracklisting revealed (including a list of all the additional snippets used). The timespan covered is May ’82 (the month Legend first hit capacity and “Planet Rock” appeared on import, announcing the dawn of the Electro era) through to December ’83 (when I stopped working in the clubs).

It’s worth noting that Morgan Khan’s influential Street Sounds Electro series, which was responsible for bringing the music to a much wider audience (setting the standards for dance compilations in the process) was only launched in October 1983, whilst The Face’s “Electro – The Beat That Won’t Be Beaten” front cover wasn’t until May 1984, a full two years on from “Planet Rock”.

Thanks to Gerald and Samurai for providing me with the focus I needed in order to approach the mammoth task of putting this mix together. It’s a documentative mix that I only wanted to do the once, hence the almost obsessional attention to detail I’ve put into it.

I hope it’s captured a flavour of the era for those who weren’t there to experience it directly, whilst, for those who were, evoking memories of a time when music was experiencing one of its most innovative and experimental periods, with the underground dance clubs sowing the seeds for what lay ahead.

NO SELL OUT – ELECTROSPECTIVE

http://www.guycalledgerald.com/radio/nosellout1.htm
http://www.samurai.fm/electrofunkroots

  • MALCOLM X / KEITH LeBLANC — No Sell Out
  • GRANDMASTER FLASH & THE FURIOUS FIVE — The Message
  • DIMPLES D — Sucker DJs (I Will Survive)
  • B BOYS — Two, Three, Break
  • RUSSELL BROTHERS — The Party Scene
  • THE PACMAN — I’m The Pacman (Eat Everything I Can)
  • DJ DIVINE — Get Into The Mix
  • MALCOLM McLAREN / WORLD’S FAMOUS SUPREME TEAM — Buffalo Gals
  • NEWCLEUS — Jam On Revenge (The Wikki Wikki Song)
  • TIME ZONE — The Wildstyle
  • PUMPKIN — King Of The Beat
  • ART OF NOISE — Beat Box
  • B BOYS — Cuttin’ Herbie
  • HERBIE HANCOCK — Rockit
  • NEWTRAMENT — London Bridge Is Falling Down
  • WHODINI — Magic’s Wand
  • EXTRA T’S — E.T Boogie
  • THE WEBBOES — Under The Wear
  • Q — The Voice Of Q
  • ARKADE FUNK — Search And Destroy
  • G.L.O.B.E & WHIZ KID — Play That Beat Mr DJ
  • WARP 9 — Nunk
  • PROJECT FUTURE — Ray-Gun-Omics
  • TWO SISTERS — High Noon
  • C.O.D — In The Bottle
  • GRANDMASTER & MELLE MEL — White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)
  • TOM BROWNE — Rockin’ Radio
  • NAIROBI — Soul Makossa
  • MAN PARRISH — Hip Hop Be Bop (Don’t Stop)
  • WARP 9 — Light Years Away’
  • FREEEZ — I-O-U
  • TYRONE BRUNSON — The Smurf
  • NEW ORDER — Confusion
  • AFRIKA BAMBAATAA & THE SOUL SONIC FORCE — Looking For The Perfect Beat
  • MIDNIGHT STAR — Freak-A-Zoid
  • CAPTAIN ROCK — The Return Of Captain Rock
  • RUN-DMC — It’s Like That
  • ROCKERS REVENGE — Walking On Sunshine
  • HASHIM — Al-Naafiysh (The Soul)
  • KLIEN & MBO — Dirty Talk
  • SHANNON — Let The Music Play
  • XENA — On The Upside
  • JONZUN CREW — Pack Jam (Look Out For The OVC)
  • MELLE MEL & DUKE BOOTEE — Message II (Survival)
  • REGGIE GRIFFIN & TECHNOFUNK — Mirda Rock
  • GRANDMASTER FLASH & THE FURIOUS FIVE — Scorpio
  • JONZUN CREW — Space Is The Place
  • KLIEN & MBO — Wonderful
  • MAN PARRISH — Techno Trax
  • CYBOTRON — Clear
  • PLANET PATROL — Cheap Thrills
  • ORBIT — And The Beat Goes On
  • JONZUN CREW — We Are The Jonzun Crew
  • RYUICHI SAKAMOTO — Riot In Lagos
  • TWILIGHT 22 — Electric Kingdom
  • PLANET PATROL — Play At Your Own Risk
  • AFRIKA BAMBAATAA & THE SOUL SONIC FORCE — Planet Rock

ALSO REFERENCED:

  • Aretha Franklin — Jump To It
  • Atlantis – Keep On Movin’ And Groovin’
  • Aurra — Such A Feeling
  • B Beat Girls — For The Same Man
  • Beat Boys — B Bop Rock
  • Bohannon — Let’s Start The Dance III
  • Booker Newbury III — Love Town
  • Brass Construction — walking the line
  • BT (Brenda Taylor) — You Can’t Have Your Cake And Eat It Too
  • C Bank — One More Shot
  • Candela — Love You Madly
  • Candido — Jingo Breakdown
  • Charades — Give Up The Funk
  • Chocloate Milk — Who’s Getting It Now
  • Class Action — Weekend
  • D Train — Music
  • David Joseph — You Can’t Hide (Your Love From Me)
  • Dolby’s Cube — Get Out Of My Mix
  • Electra — Feels Good
  • Electrik Funk — On A Journey (I Sing The Funk Electric)
  • Evelyn King — Love Come Down
  • Ex tras — Haven’t Been Funked Enough
  • Fatback — Is This The Future
  • Fearless Four — Rockin’ It
  • Forrrce — Keep On Dubbin’
  • Fresh Face — Huevo Dancing
  • G Force — Feel The Force
  • Gary’s Gang — Makin’ Music
  • George Clinton — Atomic Dog
  • Gunchback Boogie Band — Funn
  • Hot Streak — Body Work
  • Howard Johnson — So Fine
  • Indeep — Last Night A DJ Saved My Life
  • Johnny Chingas — Phone Home
  • Kashif — I Just Gotta Have You
  • Ladies Choice — Girls’ Night Out
  • Linda Taylor — You And Me Just Started
  • Madonna — Everybody
  • Marvin Gaye — Sexual Healing
  • Michelle Wallace — Tee’s Right
  • Micronauts — Letzmurph Acrossdasurf
  • Mike & Brenda Sutton — Don’t Let Go Of Me (Grip My Hips And Move Me)
  • Mtume — Juicy Fruit
  • Peech Boys — Don’t Make Me Wait
  • Pressure Drop — Rock The House
  • Prince Charles & The City Beat Band — The Jungle Stomp
  • Pure Energy — Spaced Out
  • Raw Silk — Do It To The Music
  • Rod — Just Keep On Walkin’
  • Salsoul Orchestra — Ooh, I Love It (Love Break)
  • Sandy Kerr — Thug Rock
  • Sharon Redd — Beat The Street
  • Sharon Redd — Love How You Feel
  • Shock — Electrophonic Phunk
  • Sinnamon — I Need You Now
  • Sinnamon — Thanks To You
  • Steve Arrington’s Hall Of Fame — Way Out
  • Stone — Girl I Like The Way You Move
  • The System — It’s Passion
  • Toney Lee — Love So Deep
  • Toney Lee — Reach Up
  • Touchdown — Ease Your Mind (US remix)
  • Two Sisters — B Boys Beware
  • Unique — What I Got Is What You Need
  • Verycheri 69 — Cancer Sign
  • Visual — The Music Got Me
  • Was (Not Was) — Tell Me That I’m Dreaming
  • Weeks & Co — If You’re Looking For Fun
  • West Street Mob — Break Dancin’ – Electric Boogie
  • Wreckin’ Crew — Chance To Dance
  • Wuf Ticket — The Key
  • X Ray Connection — Replay
  • Xavier — Work That Sucker To Death

 


© Greg Wilson, 2005

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