Category Archives: Charanjit Singh

Dancing music in the C20: house (1982-83)

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Before house was a style of music, it was a style of partying. Of course, it wasn’t called house – a weird name, attributed to an array of sources – but the genesis of the scene was in exclusive, invite-only early 70s discos-slash-listening parties like David Mancuso’s Love Saves The Day at his illegal club space named The Loft. Mancuso would invite a diverse group of gay men to his parties, where he played the black dance music that he had such affection for to the young, black gay men that he had another kind of affection for. Mancuso had an eclectic DJing style, mixing diverse Dancing music in the C20 heroes like Babatunde Olatunji in with James Brown, Cameroonian jazz and obscure Congolese hymns. Alcohol was not served at The Loft, just punch, fruit and candy – and the space was adorned with children’s party and Christmas decorations. Central to the experience was Mancuso’s state-of-the-art, boutique soundsystem.

Two regulars at The Loft were a pair of teenagers named Larry and Frankie, who had bonded through the New York drag scene over their shared ambitions to become fashion designers. Larry briefly dated Mancuso, but it wasn’t until another Loft regular, future Studio 54 DJ Nicky Siano, employed Larry and Frankie to decorate his new club, The Gallery, and distribute punch and acid to partygoers, that the two youngsters  began to take an interest in being behind the decks themselves.

Siano – who also had an affair with Larry – had an experimental DJing style that he taught the pair involving three turntables, which he would use to extend tracks in bizarre and imaginative ways while re-pitching and segueing other records seamlessly in and out of the mix.

This was the time when Frankie – Francis Nicholls – became Frankie Knuckles, and Larry – Lawrence Philpott – became Larry Levan. Levan in particular quickly became known around the city thanks to his flamboyant, personality-driven style of DJing, eventually leading another Loft fan, Michael Brody, to open a club specifically built around the cult of Larry Levan as a DJ.

Levan was the house DJ at this club, the Paradise Garage, from 1977 to 1987, and this is exactly where and when house music germinates. Levan channelled his ‘diva’ personality from his drag days into his sets. He wouldn’t just take risks with mixing weird combinations of dance records, he would toy petulantly with the controls at his disposal – rolling off all frequencies except the bass, which he would yank all the way up to 10 so that the walls shook, only to then do the same with the treble until the clubgoers had piercing headaches. He might loop a small vocal segment of a record for hours on end, forcing his captive audience through the pain of the repetition until it became something transcendent and mantric. If he was heartbroken, he would make sure his audience knew it, slamming huge tearjerker ballads or acapellas down in the middle of peak dance sets. If he was angry, he could also smash records together in a discordant, aggressive manner that would disciples of beatmatching feel queasy.

Spotify playlist: early house (1982-83)

For almost any other DJ, this mercurial trickery would cause walkouts, but Levan would play to an always sold-out crowd for 12 hours at a time. The awe that surrounded him bordered on the religious, so much so that his sets became referred to as ‘Saturday mass’.

Levan also began to introduce synthesiser players and drum machines to the Garage, which he would mix in and out of his DJ sets as they were playing, eventually leading to the formation of a Paradise Garage house band – the Peech Boys. The Peech Boys recorded the house classic Don’t Make Me Wait, built around Levan toying with studio delay and the then-rarely used ‘handclap’ sample on the LinnDrum.

Levan’s heroin problems, bust-ups over credits and money, and the fact that he spent a year tinkering with the mix of Don’t Make Me Wait until it was finally ready for release in 1982, caused the group to implode. But that one single suggested a template for house – percussive, uplifting, soulful electronic dance music – that drew musical inspiration from Levan’s record box, which contained everything from disco to gospel, Manuel Gottsching to Smokey Robinson.

Levan would go on to make a series of classic dance record, producing and/or remixing the likes of Arthur Russell and Loose Joints, Chaka Khan and Gwen Guthrie. The point to observe here, is that this was a music producer who learnt his craft and pushed forward his own innovations not by learning instruments or theory, but purely by playing records to people in nightclubs.

Gwen Guthrie – Padlock (Larry Levan mix)

In parallel to Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles New York house productions, another kind of house was leaking out of Chicago. The Chicago based Trax Records released Knuckles’ music. Whereas the Detroit sound was all about the 909, and the Paradise Garage had its LinnDrum, in Chicago they had another toy – the Roland TB-303 bass sequencer.

Many of Trax Records biggest singles were built around the singular sound of the 303, a machine that had been developed by Roland for guitarists to use as bass accompaniment when they were practising alone. It was not successful at this purpose, and production lasted for just 18 months, between 1982 and 1984. In 1984 though, a Chicago DJ, Jesse Saunders, used a 303 to make a  house track – the influential, hypnotic and minimal On and On. When the local Trax crew got their hands on the machine, they got the 303 to do weird shit.

In particular, they found that by holding down a repeating note pattern on the 303 and – rather than playing traditional keyboard-y notes – fiddling with the cutoff, frequency, resonance and envelope modulation filters on the machine instead, the 303 would make unusual, distinctive squelching noises. This sometimes harsh and disturbing, sometimes liquid and rippling machine noise didn’t sound like anything else and so of course this alone was enough to make it the basis for a whole new kind of music.

Spotify playlist: early acid house (1982-87)

The 1987 Trax 12”, Acid Tracks by Phuture, gave this new music – acid house – its name and sound. Instead of NY house’s disco-influenced bass and and gospel vocals, this new house was moody and alien, often lacked identifiable key changes and the only singing was that squawking, chirruping, ever-modulating 303 talk.

But Acid Tracks was not the first acid house record. And in classic Dancing Through The 20th Century style, the first acid house record wasn’t an acid house record, it was an Indian classical record made in 1982 with one fatal, prescient gimmick – it was an album of ragas done in a disco style.

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Synthesising – Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat was a one-off novelty album by an Indian film composer and wedding musician named Chanarjit Singh. In the early 80s, producers were starting to use Indian disco songs as Bollywood film themes. Singh decided he should therefore branch into electronic music and bought three Roland machines – a 303, an 808 and a Jupiter-8 keyboard almost on a whim.

Charanjit Singh – Raga Bhairav

He found that the 303’s glissando lent itself well to performing ragas – the six tonal frameworks associated with different times of day that form the basis of Hindustani classical music. Because the three Roland machines could be synced together, and sounded good together, Singh realised he could set the machines up like a mini automatic orchestra and record his electronic ragas – his ‘disco’ ragas – in real time, so he recorded them and released them as 10 Ragas to a Disco Beat.

The album failed to make any impression in India and was quickly forgotten about by Singh himself, who continued his work as a film composer. In 2010, a Dutch record collector who had picked the LP up randomly in a record shop while visiting New Delhi, reissued Ten Ragas, positioning the collection as “the first acid house record.”

Like Ryuichi Sakamoto’s proto-grime and proto-electro songs, Ten Ragas is only acid house by pure coincidence. But it’s more intriguing, because Sakamoto was a recognised taste leader who would have understood modern dance trends, whereas Singh – a jobbing musician who usually recorded elevator renditions of popular tunes and who was perhaps clumsily trying to make a kind of spiritual music here – was bluntly unaware of electro, house or anything.

Yet Singh had abused the 303 and 808 in a way that was far enough out of the machines’ intended remit to accidentally sound like the repetitive, unintentionally raga-like acid house sounds coming out of Chicago, but 5 years earlier.

The reissued Ten Ragas became an instant cult hit and Singh was bemused to find himself sharing the stage with modern dance music heroes like Lindstrom, Carl Cox and Caribou in his last few years before his death in 2015. A true outsider dance innovator.

20jazzfunkgreats best of 2010: Step Up

What vinyl platters could wake 20JFG prematurely from its cryogenic slumber in 2010? What repetitive beats could make its unconscious and partially thawed corpse shuffle towards the nearest dancefloor? What warm-hearted heaters could possibly defrost that heart of stone and illuminate that mind of disillusionment? What songs offered comfort when we were sat down and told that our plan to freeze ourselves in search of a better life in the future, had received some major setbacks? In the year that moved at 60 b.p.m, magic at higher tempos shone like the opening ceremony of the Ark of the Covenant.

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2 Dogs In a House – Scream in the Night (posted 25th June)

Echoes of Mr. Fingers drift across prehistorical plains where the proto-wolves wait 10,000 years to devour us.

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Beautiful Swimmers – Big Coast (posted July 5th)

The soundtrack to Streets of Rage 2 as rerecorded by Shriekback whilst holidaying on Easter Island.

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Brassica – New Jam City (posted August 26th)

Prodigious astral boogie 1st heard in the pastel discotheque of Count Ramulus III, Lord of the Vapour Folk (the DJ wouldn’t tell us what it was but we sneaked a look at the label while he was in the toilet).

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Charanjit Singh – Raga Megh Malhar (posted March 31st)

Humanity’s ongoing search for ‘The Future’ in electronic music was called off when it was discovered in the past.

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Cos/Mes – Gozmez Land (posted November 4th)

A luscious trip into the humid rainforests of Selza-G where the indigenous folk speak only a percussive language based on distant Gamelan mythology.

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Crystal Ark – The City Never Sleeps (posted March 22nd)

This is what happened when you dropped the schematic for that trans-dimensional love-canon on your visit to the druid camp.

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Crystal Ark – The Tangible Presence of the Miraculous (posted November 16th)

This is what happened when they worked out how to build it.

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DJ Nate – Make Em Run (posted July 6th)

Planet Mu gave the Europe a 4-part lesson in how they do things in Juke-Town. From Ramellzian voyages into unchartered arrangements by the younger generation, to telepathic hyperspeed bangers from the seasoned vets – each part served to further bend our stiff upper lips and get that booty shaking like it was Mecha-Godzilla being throttled by King Kong.

DJ Roc – Phantom Call (posted September 22nd)

DJ Rashad – Teknitianz (posted September 16th)

DJ Elmoe – Whea Yo Ghost at Whea Yo Dead Man (posted June 22nd)

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Hunt with a cat – Wrapped in Rope (posted August 13th)

Gary Wallace (Anthony Michael Hall) and his best friend, Wyatt Donnelly (Ilan Mitchell-Smith), are 15-year-old nerds with low social standing at their Shermer, Illinois high school. During a weekend at Wyatt’s house in which his parents are out of town they came up with ‘Hunt With a Cat’, the finest mechanoid basement-acid act in the land.

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Hyetal – Phoenix (New Post)

Between two stratosphere piercing peaks lies a valley shrouded in a synthetic mist: atmospheric and portentous.  Still, no amount of scene setting can quite prepare you for the majesty of those two peaks. “Last song of the night”-of-the-year.

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Hyetal & Shortstuff – Ice Cream (posted January 26th)

Pitch bended celestial ballroom music so good, just hearing the opening takes us five years into the future whereupon we chance on a dank basement club, hear the first few chords of Ice Cream and levitate.

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Jonathan Kusuma – Days are Numbered (posted August 27th)

One of many awesome transmissions from Indonesia this year via Space Recs.  Kusuma opening in a baroque fashion with a mile long procession towards a dark and foreboding tower…before storming it in thunderous style.

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JR Seaton – Azklementyne (12′ mix) (posted August 5th)

The 20JFG specification document genre known as ‘Beatnik Beats’ was created especially for this blazed out intellectual battle of wits between Lil Louis and Artie Shaw.

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Malvoeaux- Targets (posted July 5th)

The moment in Tron:Reloaded where Daft Punk finally remove those helmets to reveal thier unspeakable Teuthidian faces.

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Pagan Future – Ancient Ritual (posted October 15th)

Delicate images from the insecure formation of techno preserved at a lower bpm for us to greater appreciate their beauty.

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Protect-U – Double Rainbow (posted June 10th)

Follow her down to a bridge by a fountain, where rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies.

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Rocha- Hands of Love (Fingers of Sand) (Gatto Fritto’s Menorcan Nightmare Version) (posted March 22nd)

This is what hell wants you to think it sounds like down there, so that you will spend your life robbing banks and not helping old ladies across the road.

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Steve Moore – Zero Point Field (posted october 13th)

This is what it felt like to be the LHC in the moments leading up to the first collision.

OR

It has long been speculated that the observed periodic radial velocity pattern for the K giant Pollux might be explained in terms of an orbiting planetary companion. We have collected 80 high-resolution spectra for Pollux at Lick Observatory yielding precise radial velocities with a mean error of 3.8 m s<sup>-1</sup>, providing the most comprehensive and precise data set available for this star. Our data confirm the periodicity previously seen in the radial velocities. We derive a period of 589.7+/-3.5 days and, assuming a primary mass of 1.86 M<sub>solar</sub>, a minimum companion mass of 2.9+/-0.3M<sub>Jup</sub>, consistent with earlier determinations.

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Valis- Exegisis (posted May 9th)

A 13 piece uniformed funk band named Cameo raided a Government building in 1984. Only 3 of them made it out alive, so they moved to Essex and renamed themselves Nitzer Ebb.

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The Trained Ear

The Raga is most ancient, and spiritual of practices. Passed down from master to pupil over many centuries, it takes several years to master its enlightened intricacies. According to the liner notes of 10 Ragas to a Disco Beat, ‘a typical Raga ensemble consists of a vocal or instrumental soloist, a percussionist on the tabla or pakhawaj, and tanpura players who produce the typical drone sound with floating overtones. From the 16th century onwards, performances of the Raga would often take place in the courts of maharajas and Mughal emperors, lasting through the night until dawn, when the mind is at its most perceptive to the sublime shadings of the music. Developed by the saints, sages and bards of India, it remains a spiritual form of music today, its essence being the worship of sound as the all-pervasive core of existence’.

Electronic House music is a slightly less ancient, but equally spiritual of practices. Passed back and forth between the US and Europe over the last 30 years, it takes slightly less time to master its subtleties. A typical House ensemble consists of a TR-808 drum machine, Juno-6 synthesiser and TR-303 Bassline Generator which produces the typical bass sound with modulating frequencies. From the late 20th century onwards, extended mixes of individual recordings would be played in the nightclubs of the people, lasting through the night until dawn. Developed by the saints, sages and bards of Chicago, it remains a spiritual form of music today, its essence being the worship of rhythm as the all-pervasive core of existence.

Charanjit Singh – Raga Megh Malhar

We greatly thank Bombay Connection for dropping this amazing gem of an LP into our laps and letting us heavily plagiarise their beautifully written liner notes. This simple idea to set Indian Classical music to the beat or European Electronic disco creates many subtle sonic complexities. 10 Ragas to a Disco Beat was recorded 1982, during the spare time of Bollywood session musician Charanjit Singh, who managed to smuggle some of Roland’s magic boxes into India. Hard to believe because these mind colouring acid trax are comin’ straight out of the future.

We cannot pretend to be well versed in the sacred art of the Raga so this review requires a certain degree of duality.

To the Trained Ear

‘Despite the fact that it is played on unconventional equipment, this performance of Raga Megh Malhar by Charanjit Singh is very proficient and respectable. Even though Charanjit plays a progression of the notes ‘Ga-Ma-Pa’, which traditionally do not belong in this raga, it can be considered experimental music, which allows for Mishra ragas, variations on ragas. Megh means ‘cloud’ in Sanskrit: legends say that this raga has the power to bring down rains. It has a somber atmosphere, reflecting the awe that the heavy July-August monsoon rains inspire, and therefore it begins with synthesized thunder sounds.’

To the Untrained Ear

Because is is played on the conventional equipment of Acid House, this performance of Raga Megh Malhar by Charanjit Singh is a  proficient and mesmerising piece of psychedelic dance music. We hear the thunder claps from Acid Crash, the high NRG basslines of Robotnic, and the floating analogue pensives of the Crystal Ark, who graced our pages only last week. It has a somber atmosphere, reflecting the awe that is inspired when we listen to it.

10 Ragas to a Disco Beat has been lovingly rescued, restored and reissued by Dutch label Bombay Connection. Out this week, you can pick it up in all good record shops.

And while we are on the subject of lost dance anthems, many of you old enough to remember may recall the dance mega-hits of Snap!.

To the Trained Ear

1986 erschien unter dem ein Jahr zuvor gewählten Pseudonym OFF/Organisation For Fun die von Michael Münzing und Luca Anzilotti gemeinsam mit den Frankfurter DJ Sven Väth in Frankfurt am Main produzierte Single “Electrica Salsa”, die ein Club-Hit wurde. Münzing, Anzilotti und Väth kannten sich da bereits aus ihrer Arbeit als DJs bei der legendären Diskothek Dorian Gray am Frankfurter Flughafen. Münzing hatte vor OFF bereits unter dem Pseudonym CUARE Schallplatten beim Discomusik-Plattenlabel Westside veröffentlicht. Fast zeitgleich mit dem Erfolg von OFF etablierten Münzing und Anzilotti 1986 ihr eigenes Musiksikrojekt 16 BIT in den deutschen Charts. Die 16 BIT Single “Where Are You?” erreichte in Deutschland und Frankreich die Top 20 und ihr Nachfolger “Changing Minds” stieß ebenfalls in der Bundesrepublik in die Top 20 vor, so dass beide ein 16 BIT-Album unter dem seltsamen Namen “Inaxycvgtgb” nachschoben.

To the Untrained Ear

‘Rhythm is a Dancer’ was all over the hit parade when 20jfg was a lad, we thunked at the time that this was a product of America due to the convincing use of rapper Turbo B and creative pseudonyms like ‘John “Virgo” Garrett III’. Snap! was however the brainchild of German Techno producers Michael Münzing and Luca Anzilotti and before Snap! they had many hits which seemingly never made it more than a a few miles outside of the Bundesrepublik. Where are You? was a top 20 smasher in both Germany and France, and its existence was unbeknownst to this quasi-lingual Anglophone up until a couple of weeks ago. Really we could do nothing else than share this amazing video. Thanks to my new flatmate for discovering.

16 BIT – Where are You (Instrumental)

Stripping away the theatrical irono-preacher telling-off to look under the hood, we find a most hypnotic of pulses. A proto minimal euro-dance opus, which once again reminds us of our old friends Sleezy D, and perhaps even a little Kwaito in there too. It’s a shame you don’t get the strings on the instrumental version because these really make it a rather beautiful of compositions. A difficult trade off I’m sure you’ll agree. Respect going out to 16 Bit, and if you’ve come here from the Hype Machine looking for 16 Bit, we sincerely apologise. Mr. Tastemaker, please can we have a revival of this stuff?