This week’s picks feature ten weird and wonderful 1980’s electro tracks from Controlled Weirdness’s record collection…
I originally fell in love with electro in the early ’80s due to a combination of seeing Buffalo Girls on Top of the Pops as well as hearing the Street Sounds Electro series that all the cool kids at school were listening to. I also remember seeing a video, late at night, on The Old Grey Whistle Test of ‘We are the Jonzun crew’ that blew my teenage mind, and soon I was heading into the West End of London and sourcing hard to find twelve-inch imports from specialist black music record shops, such as Hitman and Groove Records. These imports cost £5 each, which was a fortune for me back then, and I could only normally afford one, or possibly two if I was flush. My mate used to buy the tunes too so we would try and buy different ones, so we had a variety in our collections. For most of the smaller independent US releases, these specialist stores only got a few copies in so if you missed them the day they came in you were out of luck. For years, there were records I cursed my luck for not buying when I had the chance. Later, I would live in New York and Pittsburgh as well as other parts of the US and would start to pick up coveted items from my want list. Usually, I got these for next to nothing, as at the time they weren’t seen as cool or collectable. With the rise of the internet and sites like eBay and Discogs, it did become easier to source rare jams but also the prices started to go up. Some records became holy grails, so even online they were hard to find or buy for cheap.
This is a top ten list of a few of the weird and wonderful electro records from my collection that I have acquired over the years. It could be a lot longer but for now here are some of my current favourite outsider jams from the 1980s. If you want to hear what they sound like then check out the YouTube video, of me playing each one.
1. Maggotron – Computer Pop (Bound Sound Records, 1984)
A record I never thought I would own and my most wanted record for over 25 years. When I first got a modem and searched for records online, I found a copy in a store for one dollar but when I messaged them, they had just sold it. A true rarity and only a maximum of 100 copies were pressed in 1984.
This was made by James McCauley, aka Maggotron, who was the man responsible for the naming of Miami Bass as a genre, after his ‘Bass That Ate Miami’ album became a big hit later in the decade. James had previously done an EP with PB Floyd on Bound Sound as OSE and their track ‘Computer Funk’ is another classic, but a lot easier to source and certainly not as rare. ‘Computer Pop’ is foundation Miami electro-funk for me. Vocoder voice and minimal scratching over stripped-down beats, loose funk bass and weird electronic melodies. It sounded like nothing else at the time, a true outsider piece of electronica.
A few years back someone put a copy up for 90 bucks on Discogs and graded it as “Good,” with lots of surface marks. This grading normally means the record is close to unplayable but seeing as this has gone for over £600 in the past and it was probably my only chance to own one, I gambled and ordered it straight away. When I received it, I was surprised and very happy that it played great and finally I had a copy in my collection. I posted on Facebook about my delight in purchasing it and amazingly James McCauley replied and added a few detailed comments regarding the limited release of the record as well as some backstories regarding the mysterious owner of Bound Sound records. Many of the releases on the label are highly collectable and were released in very small numbers. It had always been a mystery to me as to why their records came out in such limited amounts and who was responsible, and it was great to get some answers directly from the source. In the words of James McCauley regarding the creation and production of ‘Computer Pop’: “I wanted to make it slightly left of centre, quirky and disjointed on purpose as if a computer attempted to make the song.”
2. Mr P and the Star Skate Crew – Roller Skate Rap (Merrick Records, 1985)
The only release on the small West Coast independent label Merrick Records, which now has a hefty price tag when a copy occasionally turns up. Killer bassline, vocoder (of course) and a cheesy but killer rap from Mr P on the joys of roller-skating and jamming to the beatbox by the beach. My favourite line is “It’s all about a party and having fun / Rocking and rolling in the sunny sun”.
Mr P did another highly collectable record that is near impossible to find. I once got offered a copy of it for £200, but I was broke and didn’t pull the trigger. It’s a 7-inch called ‘World on Wheels’ and only 100 copies were made to promote a Roller-Skating rink in LA, that is apparently still there to this day. Anyway, as Mr P would say “Zippety Zip. Zippety Zap / Jam to the beat of the Roller Skate rap”.
3. MC Chief featuring Sexy Lady – Beefbox (4-Sight, 1984)
Mc Chief’s debut release on Florida’s 4-sight label, that released many classic early Miami Bass records. My copy is the first grey label version, of which there were only 300 pressed and sold directly from the record shop in Fort Lauderdale that gave birth to the label. A driving electro beat with mesmeric pulsing melodies and a very cheesy rap that I still love and adore. Lots of the early electro rap records had questionable vocals and appalling lyrics but, for me, this only adds to the charm and party vibe of the time.
4. Hip Hop on Wax - Volume 1, 2 and 3 Megamix, Street Sounds Essential Electro Box Set (Street Sounds, 1984)
As mentioned earlier, the Street Sounds compilations were a massive influence on my early love of electro. Another one of the labels I truly adored from the time was Vintertainment who put out some amazingly militant drum and scratch DJ records. These had no compromise and were truly avant-garde in their approach to sound manipulation. The series of releases that I loved was called ‘Hip Hop on Wax’ and over several volumes, New York’s DJ Red alert and Chuck Chillout produced some incredible sonic scratch attacks for the label. Street Sounds released a box set of 9 albums with all the early Electro compilations included, as well as a special, exclusive bonus break megamix of all the Hip Hop on Wax. I had all the original albums anyway, but I was sorely tempted to get the box set, just for this one track. I didn’t though, and the box set is now highly sought after and costs a lot of money. A few years ago, whilst out digging, I saw just one of the records from the box set in a plain paper sleeve, in a box of second-hand records, for a quid. I checked which one it was and, unbelievably, it was the Hip Hop on Wax bonus break record I had always wanted.
5. Synergy – Project 5 (Time Traxx Records) 1983
One of the roughest vocoder tunes of all time. It starts with a distorted robot voice saying “Warning, this is a Red Alert / System Overload”. Tight electro claps, rolling drums, moody synths, and weird bleeps feature from a small independent label from Ohio; the only electro release that they put out. Not much information is online about the producer, and this used to be a super hard tune to find. Discogs has now made it a lot easier to source and the price has come down quite a bit from back in the day, so it’s definitely worth picking up now. The dub mix is killer too.
6. Something/Anything – The Monster Rock (Memo Records) 1984
“The Mon, Mon, Monster Rock! / The Mon, Mon, Monster Rock!” I first heard this when I lived in Pittsburgh in 1991 and was doing early rave parties there with DJ Deadly Buda. He used to play this, and I instantly knew I had to find a copy. It was produced by super cult producer Bobby Orlando. Bobby O as he was also known made hundreds of Hi-NRG and weird dance records in the ’80s, under a dazzling number of aliases. This track is a semi-blatant tribute to Planet Rock, and its thundering beats and repetitive vocal refrain will stay with you long after the record has finished. I can’t help singing along every time I hear this.
7. The Russell Brothers – The Party Scene (Portrait) 1983
Excuse the language, but this is an absolute fucking jam. Spaced out electro-funk with a sublime groove that’s guaranteed to get any party started. The brothers drop fresh rhymes, and the bass player is on point, jamming over the top. Several extended mixes are on the twelve inch, and it is truly a mad hybrid of electro, funk and r&b. This was the only proper release from the brothers and it’s a mystery why. All-time early electro classic.
8. Tripple B Co. – The Base Roc (Dangerous Jams Records) 1984
This record is weird, and I mean really weird! A killer example of why I love records from this era. Base Roc is nearly 5 tunes in one and sounds like they had almost too much fun in the studio. Strange heavily affected vocals, a totally random arrangement, a hand played keyboard riff and bizarre off-kilter melodies all over the shop. This sounds like nothing else and is totally amazing. The record came out of Norfolk, Virginia and there are also another couple of killer releases on the label.
9. Import #1 – Set it Off “Party Rock” (Party Rock Records) 1986
This is an underrated jam from Amos Larkin III, who made a ton of cool and collectable early Miami Bass records under a variety of aliases. This seems to be a Strafe answer tune with an electro twist. Both sides bang with proper 808 boom and bass and eclectic samples in the mix whilst a voice asserts you to “Don’t stop the party rock”. Gets the party started every time.
10. Ramsey 2C-3D – Fly Guy and the Unemployed (Tears of Fire Records) 1982
More private press independent label weirdness. This time from LA, and this cut has a serious p-funk vibe along with the amazing laid back electro groove. The story of the Fly Guy and the Unemployed. Everything about this record is cool. The title, the name of the artist, the tune and even the sleeve is a mad one-off design for the record. A few tunes from this era of Reaganomics reference the politics of the time and this one contains the killer line, “D.C. stands for Don’t Care”. Blowfly meets Prince downtown and makes a socially conscious electro-funk classic.