In hindsight the 1980s were at least as radical and influential as the 1960s and 70s as far as Black American music (i.e. Dance music) is concerned. The thing is, it didn't necessarily seem like it at the time...
Mid- decade, the evolution of Hip Hop and Rap out of early New York Electro music continued apace and the first few primitive sounding House records were beginning to emerge from Chicago and Detroit. But neither genre was anywhere close to mainstream acceptance or particularly popular amongst traditional Black/funk/soul music fans
Further south in the nation's capital, Washington DC, it was as if Electro and House had never happened. The local Black music scene was centred heavily on live orchestral funk. However, there was a modern twist - the bands would play non-stop for hours on end (literally) and hold the same beat, a steady 4/4 rhythm with the bass drum emphasising the 1 and 3. The music literally `swung'. This was embellished with a riot of percussion (congas, timbales, cowbells, you name it), ear-splitting bass synth and the kind of call-and-response vocals that had pre-dated Rap further up the coast. In Washington DC it became known as Go Go music
Being basically a live phenomenon, the translation to vinyl and beyond was slow and painful. However, once the first few Go Go records arrived in the UK on import in '84 or `85, Black music fans - who just couldn't or wouldn't relate to what was happening in Chicago and New York - welcomed them with open arms. The tough, live sound even found favour beyond the confines of the UK underground club scene, bursting into the pages of the notoriously sniffy British music press. Such was the critical buzz, Island Records created its own Go Go imprint to license and release anything that moved out of Washington and BBC2 even aired a one-hour Arena documentary on the phenomenon. Channel 4's The Tube devoted virtually a whole show to the music, Grace Jones scored a massive hit cleverly using the Go-Go beat ("Slave To The Rhythm") and, at one point apparently, all you could hear in the legendary Hacienda nightclub in Manchester was wall-to-wall Go Go music from Washington DC
But for some reason, the buzz died out almost as quickly as it had got going. Some blame Steve `Silk' Hurley's "Jack Your Body" but my pet theory is that it was the questionable quality of what was actually being released. At the time, in a vain attempt to get on board this huge, hip and trendy bandwagon, I bought dozens of expensive imported 12" singles and UK-released compilation LPs. The truth is none of it was that great. The live footage on the Arena documentary was fantastic and Trouble Funk tore up the studio on The Tube but, somehow, Go Go just didn't seem to work on vinyl
This has eaten away at me for years. How could a style of music that worked so well live, that had inspired a wave of critical acclaim in all the right places, how can it have yielded very few studio recordings of note? Surely that is just not possible... was somebody keeping the really good stuff back? Fast forward to 2012 and this double CD compilation from Joey Negro. As it says in the sleeve notes, it was a slow and difficult job to seek out and license these recordings but, for the first time that I know of, somebody has managed to `crate dig' a really strong collection of music from this most underground of underground music genres
Some of the more commercial tracks were popular at the time such as Little Benny's "Who Comes To Boogie" from 1985, Donald Banks' "Status Quo" and "You Can Dance If You Want To" by the Davis Pinckney Project (which sailed close to UK chart success in the summer of '86).Other names are familiar - Rare Essence, EU, Chuck Brown and, of course, Trouble Funk but the tracks chosen are generally not the obvious, familiar ones but some real obscure gems. Other names are completely new to me such as AM-FM, Backlash and Ovation. Nevertheless, the compilation is brimming with great `80s style heavy funk - there isn't a dud track. It is also interesting to hear the Go-Go beat adapted to faster, more up-tempo records (such as the disco-boogie of "Feel It" by the Mighty Peacemakers and "This Groove Is Made For Funkin'" by Jackie Boy & Nature's Creation) and white punk band The Static Disruptors' brilliant appropriation (cf: Beastie Boys) of the sound
A brilliant mid-`80s time capsule. And if all this not enough, be assured that a mere tenner secures you the awesome ghetto funk of "War On The Bullshit" by Osiris (featuring the funkiest, Sly Stone-like vocals you will ever hear) and the awesome EU track "EU Groove"!