Your friends Colin Mannex and Isaac “B-Tips” Goldszer have been hard at work on a serious 80s electro hip-hop mix that pulses with Cold War paranoia. Mechanized beats carry the listener through a future world that has withered and cracked in a grim projection of contemporary fears about automated technologies. The electronic production elements on each track create an arid soundscape. And when emcees arrive at heightened moments of outrage or political activism, they sound tortured by their own synthesized loops and samples.
Electro’s production values introduced a new source of narrative tension for rising emcees who wanted a formal break from their immediate forerunners in disco rap. In 1980, artists like YMO began to take advantage of the programmable Roland 808 drum machine. The inorganic sounds produced on these machines helped redefine pop music–with Kraftwerk leading the charge–until electronic beats became as common as pocket calculators. Flash forward 30 years and most 12″ electro records now share the same status as consumer electronics produced during that era–they’re equally disposable. Too often, acts like Quadrant Six, Strafe, and The Extras accumulate in the curbside bins that give telltale sign of someone’s newly cleaned garage.
Electro rarely comes up in popular culture today without a presumed joke against the people who are listening to it. To make matters worse, some of the recording artists who’ve maintained active careers after electro’s heyday have shrugged off their contributions to the genre. With its corny swagger, heart-on-sleeve amateurism, and robo-dystopian vision, the music fails to endear older hip-hop mavens who guard its memory like embarrassing photos that once lined their lockers.
Part of the goal of Attack Decay is to provide new context for electro leaders to rival their contemporaries in minimalism, new wave, and avant-garde soundtrack composition. Electro deserves reevaluation at the very least for the wild eclecticism that major artists showed in their influences. Foreboding themes from John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 and Escape from New York haunt this entire audio project. Carpenter has explained that his role as a composer, early on, required that he produce endlessly replicable patterns on electronic drum machines and keyboard synthesizers. The cheap, cut-and-copy aesthetics of sound editing brought Carpenter’s pulp minimalism into unlikely company with producers at hip-hop’s vanguard. Consider, for instance, that Bambaataa lifted Carpenter’s stark motif from Assault on Precinct 13 and simply renamed it “Bambaataa’s Theme” in 1986.
Similar stories of hip-hop’s appropriation of sound and editing techniques abound in the early 80s. Kid Frost’s production values recall the skull-crushing tread of robotic tanks evoked in Brad Fiedel’s Terminator soundtrack. Kid Nice’s triumphant “Keep Dreaming” pairs well with “Chronozon” from Tangerine Dream’s Exit–the album includes material that the German musicians reprised in the movie Risky Business. Throughout our mix, vocoder samples from Arthur Rubinstein’s menacing “WOPR” computer in WarGames pop up to solidify these cinematic connections.
Electro artists did more than emulate the new synthetic tools and techniques familiar to pop cinema’s best compositional talents. Clearly, they also understood the importance of harmonic tension. For the most part, the songs featured on this mix settle into one or two neighboring keys on the chromatic scale. It’s no coincidence that many artists recorded with mindfulness for DJ splicing, much like Carpenter at the soundboard. Beyond that, I would argue that these electro pioneers also aspired to discover the same physical dimensions of sound that they felt in the cinema. Electro shares with movies a bigness–interplanetary, dark, melodramatic–while at the same time restricting synthetic tones until the music feels claustrophobically small. In electro, our cosmic explorers find a thin atmosphere.
The robotic repetition of the drum machines takes on new wave conventions, too. Our title refers to avant-garde rock outfit Thomas Leer & Robert Rental for their brilliant tape-loop sequencing in The Bridge. The duo’s electronic homage to Hart Crane’s confessional poems showed surprising emotional vulnerability in synthesized sounds. The emcees on this mix—Whodini, especially—tell stories that risk the same exposure. X-Visitors were savvy to new wave production values, especially in their raw appropriation of New Musik’s “The Planet Doesn’t Mind“. Bridging the short distance from electro to new wave, Loui$’s Italio song “Pink Footpath” locks the arc between genres like a keystone. It turns out that Italian Disco, however idiosyncratic, provides strong support to opposing ends of hip-hop’s greatest growth spurt.
The awkward phase in American hip-hop didn’t survive the introduction of gangster rap in 1984. Schoolly D’s mega-hit “Gangster Boogie” rippled through the DJ community and changed the rap game for the next fifteen years. After the record’s second pressing in 1986, most producers abandoned the cinematic vibe for urban realism, rap-battling over the streets. Look to Dr. Dre’s early recordings with the electro group World Class Wreckin’ Cru and you’ll notice a swift and urgent transition as he reinvented himself in N.W.A between 1986 and 1987.
We’ve mixed the entire production on first or second pressing vinyl recordings. As with our last collaboration, Colin did most of the digging and sequencing while Isaac mixed, scratched, engineered, and mastered the final cut. Isaac plans to play the show on wax at the launch party on February 8. You can catch me, Colin, playing the early evening vinyl set with an ear bent to upcoming projects. Information forthcoming.
1. [Secret Track]
2. [Secret Track]
3. Strafe – Set it Off
4. Universal Two – Dancing Hearts
5. Quadrant Six – Body Mechanic
6. X-Visitors – The Planet Doesn’t Mind
7. [Secret Track]
8. Whodini – Friends
9. Kraftwerk – Trans Europa Express
10. The Extras – Haven’t Been Funked Enough
11. Dimples D – Sucker D.J.’s (I Will Survive) (Suckapella)
12. Loui$ – Pink Footpath
13. Brooklyn Express – You Need A Change of Mind
14. [Secret Track]
15. Kid Nice – Keep Dreaming
16. Tangerine Dream – Chronozon
17. Kid Frost – Terminator
18. John Carpenter – The Bank Robbery / Prison Introduction