Miami Bass took up Electro after NYC had finished with it, turned up the sub-bass on the kick drum, filled cars and jeeps with woofers and tweeters, and drive around the hot streets of their Fourth World, postmodern city in a nomadic ecstasy of boom. Tracks by Bose and Gucci Crew II fetishised loudspeaker power, perpetual movement, Robocop and similar urban dislocations; DJ Extraordinaire And The Bassadelic Boom Patrol’s “Drop The Bass (Lower The Boom)” went over the edge with its info-bites; The Beat Club’s “Security” merged Planet Patrol and Human League into a heaving epic of sci-fi emotions; Maggatron, who combined awesome bass drum boom with rampant George Clinton influences, manic scratch ‘n’ sniff production, screaming Metal guitar solos and a selfless dedication to Electro cliches. Their Bass Planet Paranoia (1990) boasts titles such as “Pygmies In Devilles”, “Temple Of Boom” (the original) and a cover of Clinton’s “Maggot Brain” that the late, great Eddie Hazel would have been proud of. Mantronix (Man + Electronix) came just after Electro. The musical combination of raps, vocoded choruses, sequenced basslines, clap delays and crashing beatbox snares suggests they were influential on 90s drum ‘n’ bass. Also hail Man Parrish for the all-time Electro classic “Hip Hop De Bop (Don’t Stop)”.
Gary Numan, the eyelinered squadron leader of British Techno-pop, whose “Cars” struck an unlikely chord in the hearts of Electro-HipHoppers. Buried in the archives but never to be forgotten: Nitro DeLuxe, who briefly fused Electro, experimental House and Techno, apparently without knowing it; Newtrament, whose “London Bridge Is Falling Down” was the first (and one of the few) credible UK Electro records; Newcleus, whose “Jam On It” can still bring nostalgic tears to the eyes of the chilliest Brit-based technocrat or hardass rapper.
Bobby O, New York (Mostly hi-energy) producer who released the awesome, surreal Beat Box Boys Electro-minimalist 12″s “Give Me My Money”, “Einstein” and “Yum Yum – Eat ‘Em Up”. Bobby Orlando also signed and produced The Pet Shop Boys in the same year.
“Planet Rock” for the party people convening on fonky Pluto, and Planet Patrol, a Boston vocal quartet shamelessly transformed into an extra-terrestrial mutation of The Stylistics by Arthur Baker and John Robie in order to sing Electro versions of Gary Glitter’s “I Didn’t Know I Loved You (Till I Saw You Rock And Roll)” and Todd Rundgren’s “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference”. Their “Play At Your Own Risk” was one of the great Electro singles. RIP Pumpkin, “King Of The Beat”, who played all the Electro-tech on Enjoy singles by The Fearless Four and others. Post-Electro, which has to include, for greater or lesser reasons, LFO, Black Dog, Shut Up & Dance, Metalheadz, Bandulu, Moody Boyz, Plaid, As One, A Guy Called Gerald, 808 State, Carl Craig, Bally Sagoo, Massive Attack, Tricky, Portishead, Depth Charge, Chemical Brothers, Underworld, The Shamen, Talvin Singh’s Future Sound Of India, Future Sound of London, Jedi Knights, the Clear and Mo’Wax labels, and even, at a pinch, M People.
“Queen Of Rox”, otherwise known as Roxanne Shante, who bridged the gap between the Electro era and those crashing Brooklyn beats of the mid-80s.
“Rockin’ It” by The Fearless Four was one of Electro’s greatest moments. Iconoclasts who borrowed riffs from Gary Numan, Cat Stevens, Gamble & Huff and Herbie Hancock, they took Kraftwerk’s “The Man Machine” for “Rockin’ It”, added a phrase from Poltergeist and created future R&B. John Robie was one of the musical architects of Electro, playing keyboards on “Planet Rock”, “Looking For The Perfect Beat” and “Renegades Of Funk”, Planet patrol’s “Cheap Thrills”, “Body Mechanic” by Quadrant Six, C-Bank’s “Get Wet” and “Walking On Sunshine” by Rocker’s Revenge. Run-DMC may have sounded like stripped down, hard Electro when they started, but by turning the emphasis back on words and beats they blew Electro into the outer darkness.
Smurfs were diminutive Hanna-Barbera cartoon people for whom smurf served as a verb: ie “My potion is wearing off. We’d better smurf out of here.” In 1982, Tyrone Brunson, a DC born bass player, made a dance craze record called “The Smurf”. More jazz fusion than Electro, “The Smurf” was answered in an orgy of copyright-busting spelling variations by “The Smirf”, “Pappa Smerf” and, with far more class, “Salsa Smurph” by Special Request, “Smerphie’s Dance” by Spyder-D and “(I Can Do It… You Can Do It) Letzmurph Acrossdasurf” by The Micronawts (an alias for journalist and eventually New Jack City scriptwriter Barry Michael Cooper). Also Shango, the Afro-cybernetic fusion of Bambaataa and Material; Sir Mix-A-Lot, an Electro pioneer who went ballistic with “Baby’s Got Back”; Sly Stone, exploiting the machine feel of rhythm boxes on There’s A Riot Goin’ On back in 1971; all things spacey, such as Star Wars, Close Encounters, space suits knocked up from leather and tinfoil, and Sun Ra, credited on The Jonzun Crew’s Lost In Space album. Not forgetting the itch to scratch and not excluding “Was Dog A Doughnut”, a rare fling at Techno-pop-fusion by Cat Stevens, transmuted into Electro by Jellybean and The Fearless Four.
Techno Techno Techno, the man/woman-machine interface, the inevitable spread of music inspired and haunted by technology. For an example of the Techno diaspora, listen to Off’s “Electric Salsa” – pure Electro, recorded in Germany in 1986 and featuring vocals by a young blond named Sven Vath. Tommy Boy Records was the New York company run by Tom Silverman and Monica Lynch that released a string of Electro classics, beginning with “Planet Rock”. Down in the sunbelt, Luke Skywalker’s 2 Live Crew traded in tits ‘n’ ass, took Miami Bass to the masses, got sued by George Lucas, were taken to court for obscenity, pioneered rumpshaker videos, and generally gave Electro a filthy reputation.
UTFO, robot dancers for Whodini who progressed to a career as rappers by launching the Roxanne saga of the mid-80s. Also, UK House, whose roots, as early tracks by the likes of Hotline, Zuzan and Krush show, were as much in NYC Electro as they were in Chicago House.
Video Games from Space Invaders to PacMan, Defender to Galaxian. “We live in a time of extraterrestrial hopes and anxieties,” wrote Martin Amis, looking for answers to questions raised by the so-called blank-screen generation in his Invasion Of The Space Invaders. Some vid-kids took inspiration from the alien voices, blips, squirts and mantric melodies of arcade games and made music from it. “Waaku-waaku” went The Packman on “I’m The Packman (Eat Everything I Can)”. Amis wrote about Defender as having the best noises: “The fizz of a Baiter, the humming purr of a Pod, the insect whine of the loathed mutants as they storm and sting.” Part Gorf command, part Kraftwerk effect, the Vocoder was Techno’s primary instrument. A studio device that combines voice sounds and synthesizer, thus symbolising the human-machine interface.
“Woof woof”, a barking noise made by B-Boys in lieu of applause when the Electro shuttle lifted off. Often preceded by “Hey buddy buddy”, “Wicki wicki wicki” or similar. Warp 9, whose spacey productions by Richard Scher, Lotti Golden and Jellybean reached warpspeed on the “Light Years Away” dub mix. West Street Mob, Whodini and Whiz Kid all saw their moment and grabbed it. Wildstyle: the film, the record, the mode of behaviour. Back on the beach, “Whoomp! There It Is” by Tag Team was a 90s “Planet Rock” soundalike that revived old-school Electro with a vengeance, selling more than four million copies to go quadruple platinum.
Xena’s “On The Upside”, along with Shannon’s “Let The Music Play”, were quintessential examples of the Mark Liggett/Chris Barbosa sound, the booming, jerky diva-Electro that launched Latin HipHop. Xploitation as in Jheri curl and Zapata-tashed soul bands such as Midnight Starr going for Electro hits. Also xploitation as in Spaghetti Westerns, kung fu, porno and science fiction, all of which provided Electro with its mise en scene. Down in Miami, R&B and disco veteran (soon to be Miami Bass entrepreneur) Henry Stone jumped on the ET boom of 1982 with the Extra Ts and their weird “ET Boogie”. “It hurts”, said the Extra Ts; King Sporty’s EX Tras answered with the stun gun Electro-bass of “Haven’t Been Funked Enough”.
Yellow Magic Orchestra, who inspired Afrika Bambaataa back in the days. YMO’s cover version of Martin Denny’s “Firecracker” can be heard on the Bambaataa turntables on the notorious “Death Mix” 12″. In fact, Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “Riot In Lagos” had anticipated Electro’s beats and sounds in 1980, while Haruomi Hosono’s 1983 Video Game Music took the musical use of game noise to a further, maddening conclusion: “Digital sound with body and spontaneity had game-character, no, is music as a game” (album notes).
Zulu Nation, Afrika Bambaataa’s vision of a global brotherhood linked by a passion for the cyber-street arts of HipHop culture. Inspired by Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and George Clinton’s “One Nation Under A Groove”, it was the predecessor to today’s invisible engloballed info-community of New Headz.
This article was written by David Toop and appeared first in Wired magazine issue 145, March 96.