When I took my first staff job at the fledgling trade music publication Dance Music Report, I heard stories about one of my predecessors, a chap called Kris Needs. According to office scuttlebutt he was a Brit “rocker/journo” who became enamored with electronic music and lived in New York City not entirely legally. I later discovered his writing in other publications. I felt a connection because I too immigrated from the world of rock and shared a similar POV.
In 1993, Needs turned producer and scored international dance floor success with Secret Knowledge’s “Sugar Daddy,” an epic trance monster that could make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. In late August John Digweed revisited the club classic and remixed it with partner Nick Muir for release on their Bedrock label. Now an author of acclaimed biographies about George Clinton to Suicide, we felt it was a good time to check in with the tastemaker and ask him to select five records that changed everything.
White Noise – “An Electric Storm” (1969)
As a 15-year-old, well-rinsed in psychedelic sounds since 1966, there was always the urge for sounds which pushed the sonic goalposts out and somewhere else. Pink Floyd had managed it at gigs, sometimes; Hendrix was always doing it with just his guitar set-up; but what were these space-age keyboard set-ups being developed in subterranean enclaves such as the BBC Radiophonic Workshop? In 1969, the Moog synthesizer was hardly known yet, so it was down to the genuine mavericks and sonic scientists to come up with sounds that could elevate the ideas perpetrated in psychedelia to somewhere suitably out there. Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson were actually BBC Radiophonic Workshop technicians who created Dr Who‘s startling electronic theme. Joined by American student David Vorhaus, they took a year working after hours, painstakingly constructing the complex electronic tapestries of the album which was released amidst Island Records’ proto-prog and blues-rock under the name White Noise and which provided the year’s most startling album in An Electric Storm. Shimmering, sizzling, scary and sexy, tracks such as “Your Hidden Dreams,” the heavy breathing “My Game Of Loving” and eternally haunting ghost epic “The Visitation” sounded like nothing else at the time, while hell-romping screamer “Black Mass: Electric Storm In Hell” became notorious for inducing bad trips, so required an early lift of the stylus. Many years later, The Orb camp nicked my copy and a snatch appeared on their first album!
Silver Apples – “Contact” (1969)
Meanwhile, in downtown New York City, Simeon Coxe had assembled a pile of oscillators from street detritus into what he called The Thing, hooked up with drummer Danny Taylor (who had just turned down Hendrix’s invitation to accompany him to the UK in 1966) and formed Silver Apples to become the world’s first electronic duo. At a time before Can, Kraftwerk or Suicide, this was shocking to audiences anticipating guitar-led bands. I first stumbled on Silver Apples in a London import emporium. “Contact” was their second album, glowing with otherworldly space ditties and moodscapes like freshly caught Martian brains leaping out of a bucket. It would be decades before the duo’s true impact was appreciated and they became one of the world’s most evocative cult bands, but Silver Apples’ story is strewn with tragedy, including Simeon’s serious road accident and Danny’s early death in 2005. Happily, Simeon returned last decade, carrying on the Apples’ unique spirit (and Danny’s drums) with modern technology and has just released his first album of the 21st century, Clinging To A Dream, which sounds as amazing as ever.
“You And I”
Suicide – Suicide (1977)
I knew about Suicide five years before I actually heard them. The downtown New York duo were reviewed in Melody Maker, one of the weekly music papers we were fortunate enough to have in that glorious time before the sodding Internet when you had to think for yourself and nothing was on a plate. The reviewer said Alan Vega and Martin Rev were the most terrifying band he had ever seen and I awaited them with interest. First came the version of “Rocket US”’ on the Max’s Kansas City album in 1976, which sounded as alien, scary and disembodied as hoped for, except more so! Then came the first album and it was all over. From ‘Ghost Rider’ and ‘Girl’ to the epic psychotic episode of “Frankie Teardrop” and the skyline doo-wop serenade of “Cheree,” it was half an hour of unique, never-to-be-repeated perfection. I also heard it around Mick Jones of the Clash’s place when he was thinking of inviting Suicide to support his band on their next UK tour. I’m glad he did, otherwise this country may never have witnessed this phenomenal duo at their confrontational peak and I would never have met and befriended this remarkable duo. I always wanted to write a book about Suicide and last year got to do it. It turned out to be the last major project Alan put his name to before he passed away in July so now it’s his eulogy. (It’s called Dream Baby Dream: Suicide: A New York Story!).
Funkadelic – “Flashlight” (1978)
George Clinton was always in a prime position where new developments in technology were concerned because his right hand man from the first Funkadelic album was Bernie Worrell, the child prodigy keyboard maestro, who got one of the first Moogs and used them with highly controlled but untamed fervor to amp up The Funk. By the time George was ascending in the Mothership to become one of the biggest bands on the planet, Bernie had honed an electronic bass template which would provide the foundations for disco’s boogie offshoot, hip-hop’s interplanetary relative electro, Prince’s steamy grind, and on to the day it got stuck in a Detroit elevator with Kraftwerk and spawned techno.
Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five – “The Message” (1982)
I still remember the day me and my flat-mate Youth first heard this on a cassette of one of the New York dance radio stations that were a lifeline for us and many of London’s fans of cutting edge electronic music, hip hop and disco. Anyone who went to New York was charged with coming back with fresh new tapes of Frankie Crocker, Red Alert or Timmy Regisford, preferably stuffed with Shep Pettibone Mastermixes. We all sat in someone’s little car, parked on Ladbroke Grove and happened on ‘The Message’. We were so blown away we re-wound the tape and heard the track again about five times. This was the first time that hip hop had used the electronic drum machines and synthesized melodies that were already being deployed in disco’s new boogie mutant. But if that wasn’t enough, the lyrics had taken on a brutally graphic edge that left the usual boasting spluttering in the South Bronx stairwell. These guys were now talking about stinking of piss; broken glass everywhere; murder in the air; and it was the sound of the ghetto brought bang up to date. That same year saw the release of Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock” too and so electro was born. I was so obsessed with all this I went to New York in 1983 and ended up moving there. At one point there seemed to be a groundbreaking new tune on the streets every passing day!