Music Matters
Back in the nineties I created a lot of essays all loosely joined by A being about music B memoir related and C pertaining to how place affects creating music and how one listens. A mixed memoir called "Music Matters". Much of it I would heartily disown now , but not all - and who am I to judge now that the work is done, anyway? So I am resolved to dripping out the essays over the next few months, often without comment, sometimes with.
Geoffrey Armes
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Geoffrey Armes - 2020-08-08 16:36:38+02:00

As we talked outside, I watched the snow turning a trace of blue in the moonlight on the rooftops opposite. Eventually it was the freezing weather that drove us, past the thick curtain and the coat-check girls, until in the warmth of the main dance-floor I heard, or rather, truly felt House for the first time.

And a sound that gave permission to dissolve form in a way that hadn’t been granted in pop since the days of Jimi Hendrix or Can.

It was the beat that initially pulled you, a subtle skip that was the evolvement beyond Disco, an African element, Swing, something you just floated on, and it just kept going, and you could do anything over the top of it, and people were, or so it seemed for a moment. All those records: stirring, anthemic, ecstatic, endlessly optimistic and full of fierce determination. The singers sang with a new social and political awareness; the world shall be a better place! Ce Ce Rogers, Marshall Jefferson, Stirling Void were the names on these discs, and they were a thrilling combination of played and computer generated music, of equal intensity to the early Rap records; a poised balance of technology and human action.

I flew back to London full of ideas and enthusiasm, and set about making my own version.

Whenever the opportunity arose I collated the riffs and sequences that best fit the sound I had in my head. When ready I would wend up to my friend Reynard Falconers’s studios, and the ideas would transfer to the computer, and to tape. Luckily, I had a sympathetic engineer. Andy Falconer was willing to work long and energetic hours before breaking to the old working men's café where we would consume vast quantities of beans, eggs, toast, before staggering back for more work, or when exhausted beyond all repair, towards home to sleep the day away. The sound took shape, a peculiar hybrid, stamped with my particulars: a thick voiced straining white vocal, a springy stomp for rhythm, quietly chinking and riffing guitars. It was not House, it never would be, it was something uniquely different, pop, lush, epic, ethnic, diffuse, difficult. I wanted to take the integrity of the early House sound and make pop music of it.

I returned to New York, and sought a label or producer, walking the downtown streets. After evening sleep, exhausted from playing dance classes, or attending meetings, I would head out, to the circus. Here, in the halls and caves of Manhattan, I would dance for hours, alone or with friend, following the route from club to café to after hours club, seeing the right people, and sometimes being seen. I would slouch around DJ booths, and watch the coming and going, the handshakes, the hugs, the kisses. Promises and intents were proclaimed across the din, or whispered intimately, sex, money, deals. Here I met F, producer and DJ, and he agreed to take on my project.

Word of this got around the scene that congregates around F and for a while I was granted a kind of ‘guest’ status, so I too kissed and hugged and shook hands. I was perceived (I perceived myself) as a potential Sting or Bono type figure, within the House framework, and as such an important personage. Bridges were being built too. I fancied myself as something of an ambassador for the developing ‘rave’ culture. When back in England I would take the reverse path and tell stories of New York club life whilst frequenting the growing scene in London. Already though, the shadows were lengthening on the ‘innocent’ days of the scene. There was money to be made.

In the studio carefully laid creations of earlier sessions were wiped off the tape, leaving space for F to do his thing. It was painful, this dismemberment of the result of some months projection of emotion and self-hood into instruments and microphones. Where once I was active and authoritative I became passive. The single that was to be my ambassador evolved into someone else’s creation. Still, it was for the greater good I reasoned, a better ‘product,’ and bank balance. As I was paying the bills.

Some of the work was good, some wasn’t. He changed the bass sound, and rewrote the drums yet somehow took away the individual character of the tune, leaving the record in a much less distinctive place.

The relationship slowly unraveled.

He would ask me to stop in at his studio apartment in the East Village, before heading to the club he was playing that night. I would sit in his small living room, and eventually he would appear with a sweet smile and a svelte, black dressing-gown, saying something like, ‘Great shirt,’, whilst caressing my shoulder. Shifting uneasily, I would steer the conversation away from my appearance, toward our project. Frowning, he would move away, saying something like, “I’ve got lots of ideas for that, a whole new direction”. I would feel like I had just failed a test. I admired him, and the whole milieu that he was a part of, but had no wish to consummate my involvement. If my music wasn’t going to ‘make it’ on its own recognisance so be it.

Drained by travel, studio costs, and the lack of any real income while I concentrated on transatlantic gallivanting and creativity, I lost the initiative. The moment passed and the project died half-realised, with little prospect of resuscitation. The music industry continued on, without my collaboration with F. We still say hello and hug effusively in the local supermarket when we meet. Even star DJ’s have to stock the fridge.

Back in London... ...and making that House music... ...ker, boom boom boom, chicker boom, I’ll house you, yeh!, I’ll house you, yeh!, aaaaoooooh, yeh boom booom booom, sssssssssssssssssssssschk, chk, chk, chk, unnchikka, unnchik, unnchik, BOOM! boom, boom,

at ‘High on Hope’ (how that jacket came back to visit again), the club in Camden by the lock, the one that used to be Dingwalls, where Finn played so often in the early eighties, and now tonight, Black-Market Frankly is dee-jaying,
yeh he can mix, and Norman Jay has all those records man, it don’t matter if he can mix or no, cos he got them Sounds, know what I mean,
and there’s Ray all stringy pale dancing his spastic joy under the groove, and we’re talking talking talking, because we’re gonna make records and stuff innit,

that’ll really work because we know why we’re here and we’re not faking no not this time,
and didja meet Devonne? she’s over from New York, singer? no, just dancing, clubbing, and look at this energy cos there’s nothing like this in New York now, except maybe at those parties in Brooklyn we used to go to, now it’s tired there, man, but... yeh, yo Tony! easy now, you goin’ down Choice on Monday?
I, can’t think that far ahead, but tomorrow I’ll be down Brixton so I’ll go the Fridge....

The dee-jay worked under a huge tapestry hanging, that proclaimed 'Temple: One Love.' The booth was a small praesidium, surrounded by a low wall, in which were placed the turntables, tape recorders and all important mix consoles from which the evening's entertainment was manifested. I pushed through the crowd. A dry ice machine started to discharge plumes of white smoke into the already opaque atmosphere. The dee-jay segued effortlessly, from a dreamily pulsating record, into a more up front number, propelled by a Black man's voice:

'Some day we got to rise, Got to get wise, Got to prise a better way, It must happen, and today, Before the world just fades away...'

At first it seemed too general to have any potency, but the lyric took on an immense energy when framed within the emergency of the voice, and the elegant scaffold of the percussion and bass. The crowd on the dance floor seemed to think so too, judging by the frenzy that the music was lifting out of them. I felt a wave of excitement pass through my body, as if imbibing the energy by osmosis. ]

A dark, rumbling bass spread itself over the people dancing, oozing into every corner of the room. The sound cut to a girl's scream, one of ecstasy, not panic, then back to the darkness, only now her song was sliding over the top, in breathless, truncated, phrases.

The crowd liked it. Some directed their approval towards the booth, with gestures or hand claps. With fanatical concentration others drove themselves to bigger, faster, more complex dance steps. One boy, his face exhibiting a sublime peace, was somehow moving his torso in what looked like a thousand gyrating segments. Others were doing a strangely awkward, almost robotic dance, their arms flailing the air like animated scarecrows.

The piece on the turntable was coming to an end. The dee-jay cued another. The new record pushed its rude rhythm into the crowd.

The best moments in Dance Music are the wildly appropriate non-sequiturs, mixed into all the unexpectedly right places. Organised anarchy.

Ah, House, you crept into me, immobilising so much of my taste for anything else, your insidious rhythm, your pulse in my blood, your textures floating like Buddha’s clouds, ‘close your eyes, close, dream, let the bass lift...,’ the moan of your singers, all sweet despair echoed through a distorted prism, voices raised in sonic architecture of impossible dimensions, immured in citadels of hi hat, razed by samples barely pinned into shape by your one hundred and twenty beats per minute. Even when you became too much, and I ran to Holland to escape you, needing the quiet of the polder lands, I slipped out to a club, and a couple of record shops...

House seduces: narrative is maintained, but it’s the skippy framework of a journey into itself, as one seamless texture segues into another, the voices disembodied, the perspective disoriented; it’s the narrative of Kundera or Garcia-Marquez, a limpid examination of a theme from all possible angles. From the get go it was about destroying ‘ Form’ in the traditional sense beloved of New-Wave and post-Punk orthodoxy. The tyranny of the three minute song structure. Blown away at last, and along came whole new revelations of textural landscape. Soul met Psychedelic Rock met Electronic Collage. In a mainstream form. Even when personality reared its head (House Divas and the like), the imperative of the Dance Floor kicked back in a roar of groove.

“A ‘funky beat’ over which one can put anything:”

Those moments when hands raised, a strange unity would infect the crowd, and many would fuse into one, with the universe present in the single dancer’s footstep. As quickly as it came the moment would leave, and dissipate into the oceanic dance floor. It’s like walking up Ladbroke Grove during the Notting Hill Carnival, when there’s a sudden humbling of self before the on-rushing common purpose, an involuntary communality that sweeps all before it. This is the stuff of fascist rallies, as well as churches. A crowd, in abandonment, is dangerous; who or what is driving it? There is catharsis here, but if much of the pop/rock-music culture of this century, has been about a drive towards individuation, freedom, and self-expression, then what are these moments about?

NYC 1997