20 Years of Dancefloor Classics from Versatile Records

Versatile Records Selection

With 20 years and more than 100 releases under its belt, Paris’ Versatile Records has become legendary, releasing instant dancefloor classics like I:Cube’s Disco Cubizm and Cheek’s Venus (Sunshine People) in the mid-90s, and later launching the careers of eclectic musicians like Joakim, Zombie Zombie and Acid Arab. Along with Daft Punk, Versatile Records and its founder Gilbert Cohen, who’s released music as Cheek, Gilb’R’ and Chateau Flight, helped shape the sound of the Parisian electronic underground to what is now recognized around the world as the “French touch”—a bass heavy, funk driven house music with sparse vocals and an undeniable geographical identity.

The story of Versatile Records is equal parts serendipitous and visionary. Coming from the predominantly rock-oriented Nice music scene, Cohen—then a hip hop and funk DJ—scored a midnight gig at the influential Parisian station Radio Nova, offering him a privileged view of what the French underground had to offer. “When I was coming from Nice, I didn’t have so much knowledge about music,” he recalls. “The radio completely opened my mind and gave me a lot of opportunities. I worked there for five years, and at the same time, I kept DJing. After those five years, I had the will to start a record label. Not particularly for me, because I was not doing music at the time, but I had some friends around me who were doing things.”

While the idea for the label began as a Radio Nova enterprise, it quickly evolved into a solo venture for Cohen, who grabbed his records and equipment and left the station before the collaborative concept became a reality. “I noticed that I wouldn’t have the kind of freedom or it wouldn’t go in the direction I thought would be the best,” Cohen explains. “Most of all, there was some really tough ego stuff. Basically, I decided to do it on my own.”

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Album of the Day: Various Artists, “DJ Amir Presents Buena Música Y Cultura”

While salsa fans will be justifiably intimate with the mighty Fania Records catalog, which virtually defined the genre, DJ Amir’s debut compilation unearths forgotten salsa gems from Brooklyn and Detroit. Amir focuses on the hard, masculine salsa dura that dominated the New York scene in the late 1960s and early ’70s (salsa became known as such after 1972) with pounding piano grooves, potent trombone blasts, and tightly wound Afro-Cuban percussion.

Detroit’s Fito Foster (AKA La Palabra) would eventually become known as the godfather of the slower, gentler salsa romántica (as often happens in music, what starts hard often ends soft). But the two-part “Salsa” workout Foster leads here—with its wild timbales break and innovative Moog synth vamp—is a wild ride that threatens to never let up. Foster was originally from Cuba, and music from all around Latin America fueled salsa’s ascent, including bands like Venezuelan saxophonist Johnny Sedes and His Orchestra and the Puerto Rican-fronted groups Chino y Su Conjunto Melao and Cortijo y Kako y Sus Tambores (with Rafael Cortijo recreating the neighborhood drumming fiestas he loved as a boy.)

Buena Música y Cultura’s other pleasures include boogaloo star Joey Patrana’s eight-minute “El Pulpo” (Octopus), a dramatic arrangement with an exceptional three-man chorus, ominous horns, and otherworldly underwater vibe. Cautionary cries of “Policía!” punctuate  the looping horn part in Louie Colon’s “Tembleque” (Wobbly). And the pair of tracks from the Dax Pacem (Give Us Peace) orchestra’s sole release (on Brooklyn’s Amaral label), with their funky Farfisa organ and triple-threat trombones, provide a master class in hard-driving, soulful salsa that more than stands the test of time.

Richard Gehr

Nate Wooley, Sonic Explorer

Nate Wooley

Nate Wooley. Photo by Ziga Koritnik.

Trumpeter Nate Wooley admits there are moments when his far-flung musical activities make him feel a bit scattered. While he’s at the center of an expanding circle of daring musicians, including saxophonist Steve Lehman and percussionist Tyshawn Sorey, who thrive upon moving freely and rigorously through disparate traditions, Wooley’s voracious appetite for exploration stands apart. Although he grew up playing straight-ahead jazz in Portland, Oregon, since moving to New York in 2001, he’s fearlessly opened up his practice to include contemporary classical, experimental, and underground rock.

“Earlier this year I did a tour with Mats Gustafsson’s Fire Orchestra, came back for two days, and then played Eliane Radigue, and that was really tough,” Wooley says of the Swedish free jazz ensemble and austere French composer. “To go from smoke machines, multi-colored lights, and a screaming big band, to being a guy in a room playing as soft as possible in two days was tricky.” Those aren’t the only stylistic poles reflected in Wooley’s work these days; by remaining true to his aesthetic, leapfrogging between various contexts, Wooley has emerged as one of America’s most exciting and inveterate sonic explorers.

He wouldn’t have it any other way. “In some way I get this fantasy, in my darkest periods, where I’m like, ‘Well, maybe it would be easier if I just made these kinds of records and people would be able to attach a sound to my name and maybe I could play some more gigs or get a little more notoriety,” he says. “But then I can step back and go, ‘Yeah, you’d be miserable. So now you get to play 150 days a year but it’s 150 days of that one thing. And I’m not built to do that. And luckily, by sticking to my guns, I feel like my brand or the way people view me is through the lens of, ‘He does different stuff all the time.’”

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The Seeds Of Slovakia’s Emerging Electronic Scene

Exitab

Slovakia spent the better part of the 20th century under Soviet rule, which meant very limited access to Western musical influences, technology, and ideologies. The prolonged isolation and suppression of progressive ideas left a strange mark on the nation of just over five million people.

The artistic community is small, and with new ideological freedoms emerging, local musicians have continued to fully support each other regardless of quality. It may seem that unity could finally give the Slovak electronic scene the global recognition it needs. That, though, doesn’t always help the scene progress. “If people know each other personally, they don’t want to hurt one another by criticizing each other’s production,” says Filip Drábek, co-founder of experimental music label Exitab. “If the movement was more anonymous, it would certainly lose some of its charm.”
There are individuals—mostly young producers and musicians—with extremely promising output. Some release their work independently, others on small local labels, and a few through foreign labels with bigger and better portfolios. These artists are fearless, producing everything from straightforward bass to electro-acoustic music. They’re at the forefront of Slovakia’s emerging electronic scene—musicians whose work could potentially be the spearhead of a whole movement which is slowly but surely taking shape.

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The Month in Mixtapes: September 2016

September Rap Mixtape Covers
Given the massive number of hip-hop mixtapes released on Bandcamp, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Each month, Marvin Lin will help ease you into this bounty of music by spotlighting releases by rappers and beatmakers using the Bandcamp “mixtape” tag.

wllsn,  one thousand one nights

wllsn is a Geneseo, New York-based producer who is driven by capricious desires and a fluid sense of musical style. Since 2015, he has repped everything from from vaporwave to beat-oriented noise workouts , to an eccojam’d Filter album. His latest is one thousand one nights, a hip-hop inflected mixtape that takes the future beats out of the grid with tempo switchups and slightly-off rhythms, tumbling and stuttering with a playful, malleable composition. He even flips composer Erik Satie on this one. It’s an understated and ambiguous listen, but its quiet innovations are loud and clear.

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