HIDDEN GEMS Celluloid Records, “Change The Beat: The Celluloid Records Story” By John Morrison · March 10, 2020
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Founded in 1976 by French-born record producer Jean Karakos, Celluloid Records was a powerhouse in the 1980’s, issuing a slew of innovative releases that connected the dots between hip-hop, punk, new wave, world music, and free jazz. The eclectic label’s roster included Fab 5 Freddy, Suicide’s Alan Vega, Fela Kuti, and Manu Dibango. Much of the Celluloid catalog was recorded by legendary engineer Martin Bisi (Sonic Youth, Herbie Hancock, etc.) and was overseen by bassist/composer/producer Bill Laswell. Change The Beat: The Celluloid Records Story collects many of the label’s shining moments into a compilation that is compact, rich and varied.

The album opens with avant-punk outfit Shockabilly’s blistering cover of “Day Tripper.” Drenched in feedback and reverb, the band takes The Beatles’ classic and blows it up from the inside out, rebuilding the song entirely from the wonderfully noisy mess. On “The Escapades Of Futura,” graffiti legend Futura 2000 rhymes about the origins of the street art culture over a funky backing track courtesy of The Clash. “Sport” is taken from The Last Poets’ infamous proto-rap album Hustlers Convention. Over a jazzy high-stepping instrumental, Jalal Mansur Nuriddin (credited here as Lightnin’ Rod) lays down slick, light-hearted tales of crime, gambling, and street hustling. Nuriddin returns, kicking his streetwise spoken word, on “Doriella Du Fontaine,” a rarely-heard jam session originally recorded in 1969 that features Band Of Gypsies drummer Buddy Miles and Jimi Hendrix playing guitar. The titular song, Fab 5 Freddy’s heavily-sampled classic “Change The Beat,” is now a canonical classic. Over a minimal, electronic beat, Freddy kicks rhymes that are quirky, self-assured, and urbane, making the song a fitting namesake for this retrospective of Celluloid’s idiosyncratic legacy.

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