August 2nd, 2020

Joey Beltram Stands His Ground (Dance Party 1990)

Last month Tom Ewing ran a World Cup Of 1990 on Twitter and nearing the end asked, "For voters here, I'm interested — has the relatively deep dive of this poll changed your opinion of 1990 at all? (assuming you had one!)" My basic response is too long for 280 characters, or even 2800, so I'm blogging it here, also referring to and embedding a YouTube playlist I created, " Dance Party 1990," made up mostly of tracks I heard (and in many cases discovered) through his tournament or that I found or recalled while seeing what 1990 tracks I myself wanted to nominate. Not exactly a best-of (my pool included another 8 or so tracks including Masta Ace and Happy Mondays that never quite fit the flow). I thought of the "Dance Party" moniker after finishing the playlist, so dance wasn't the intent but what I discovered I had: not all tracks in "dance" genres but all inspiringly danceable.

My answer to Tom's question:

I tend to be a More Is More kind of guy, but — in this poll at least, in the general super area of House-Rave-Dance (but not freestyle & hip hop & r&b & hair metal) — Joey Beltram and ilk clean everybody's clock. By "ilk" I don't mean "rave" or any particular genre or style but a tendency within any genre or style to HOLD YOUR OWN, to concentrate on a crucial sound or path or problem, some bone you're chewing, and there you stand your ground rather than synthesize or mash together or collide with or incorporate neighboring styles.*

And of course there's one towering exception, uncleaned and unclocked, Clivillés & Cole's remix of Denise Lopez's "Don't You Want To Be Mine," the only freestyle-house amalgam I've ever heard. Freestyle is basically dead by 1990, the poll's George Lamond track ("Bad Of The Heart") being touching but totally average, a snapshot of a genre that has no forward motion (though there's an unexpected glorious freestyle last gasp the next year from Lisette Melendez and Corina). But now there's an alternate universe in my mind where, instead of stopping dead, freestyle like an alien leaps atop of and claws its way into passing genres like house and techno and New Jack Swing and propagates from there. This kinda sorta DOES happen in 1992 and 1993 in Korea, and for all I know is happening throughout the late '80s and '90s in Japan, the Land Where Italo Lives, but anyway *I* don't find out about any of that for another 17 years.

Speaking of Korea — or Los Angeles — I say in passing, in my kind of in-passing "Legend Of The Glockeater," that the lesson that Drunken Tiger learned from the Wu-Tang Clan is that less is more and more is more, too. In another piece (mostly about rock) I call this Recombinant Dub, to give Jamaica pride of place: My basic attempt is to identify a kind of double direction of contrary motion, which can exist between genres or within a genre or within a person or even within a day: Like, you subdue the thoughts inside your head, taking everything down to a main thing, your breath, say, but then with the inner chatter stilled, sounds around you — crickets, passing cars, tinnitus, a distant jackhammer — come rushing in.

In mid-'70s Bronx you have hip-hop DJs clearing out the rest of a track — taking out the vocals, the flourishes — to bring everything down to the breakbeat, and with 2 turntables and 2 copies of a record you can potentially play that breakbeat forever; but being DJs they use the never-ending breakbeat as a frame for adding sounds and cuts and riffs and melodies and scrapes and flourishes from other records, a whole memory of funk but also Monkees and Kraftwerk, and then tags and shoutouts and rap battles from your crew — potentially anything — and hip-hop is born. And then closing in on the '90s maybe you can hear this within house, acid house being both this singular corrosive 303 sound but also the tendency to sample soundbites. Or think of the house beats added to Denise Lopez. For a related submerged and perhaps otherwise imaginary unknown continent, listen to the second half of Liz Torres's "I Hear Voices (Voices In My Head)" on my playlist; geysers of salsa suddenly emerging from beneath the house beats.

In New Jack Swing ex-boyband New Edition guys find their way into the adventure of hip-hop, in one sense it's all down to a rhythm that sweeps away everything in its path, but it also manages to sweep in a lot: harmonies, black vocal history (a year later: "Motown Philly"). There's a social depth, since New Jack Swing doesn't just put different musics together, it potentially throws different audiences and different musicians together, finds a way for different social streams to coalesce.** (But you can almost feel the need for a pushback, a fight, elements determined to resist.)

On my 1990 Pazz & Jop ballot I put both a Snap! and a Chill Rob G version of "The Power" near the top, behind "Justify My Love," but ahead of LL and Michel'le and "Vogue" and "Roam" and "Ice Ice Baby." Didn't include the New Jack Editions but mentioned Ralph Tresvant and Johnny Gill in my comments. Anyway by 1991 I decided "The Power" didn't hold up, the whole International House thing and its forced raps and diva samples now seeming tiresome and shallow and who cares. No reason in principle that this should be so, but it was.*** I'm glad the Denise Lopez remix showed up in this poll to remind me I don't have to hate C&C. Actually, as far as the sonic feel, Beltram and C&C-Lopez are hardly opposites. Each sounds as solid and obdurate as the other.**** In the Dance Party I've interspersed these blocks of thundering rave but I'll have one of 'em (e.g.) emerging naturally from a dance ditty that precedes it and leading logically to a hard rock song that follows, the raver seemingly giving birth to the rocker.

So, again, both impulses at once: push it altogether, but also, hey STOP, what's that sound, listen, take account of THIS! So, take account of Joey Beltram's pulsating boulders, V.I.M. taking the piss in "Maggie's Last Party," LFO's dark harm, Marina Van-Rooy's sly "Sly One" (okay, I don't have an adjective for this — who is she? — but I like it), Renegade Soundwave's "Thunder" which is a haunted house that they emptied of all its furniture! Rising High's "Magic Roundabout" is like a bunch of STOP moments strung together, a necklace of boulders, both impulses again. All this stuff I mostly missed in 1990, my not having an ongoing story for house, rave, techno. For all I knew, these tracks could've appeared anytime from '86 to '07, me saying "Hello, where are you from?" with no sense of chronological before or after and no feel of "1990" as they loomed into earshot.*****

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