Seven Breakdance/Old-School Electro Classics

Funny how a brief spell of good weather stirs happy musical memories (that’s England for you). Round my way, if the summer of 1983 was all about Thriller, Let’s Dance and The Kids From Fame, summer ’84 was breakdance and electro.

When our playground wasn’t being used for tennis-ball soccer, British Bulldog or kiss chase (all probably outlawed now…), the cooler kids were dragging an old piece of tarpaulin over from the sports hall and having a go at breaking – to various degrees of success. But there was no lack of effort.

And here is the soundtrack. Breakdance/electro was a short-lived musical relation to early hip-hop and digital funk, but some genuine pop classics emerged from era. Sure, they’re at the commercial end of the burgeoning electronic scene but they all deliver an instant nostalgia rush. The videos are great too.

 

7. Break Machine: ‘Street Dance’

Reached UK #3 in January 1984, and spent 16 weeks in the charts.

6. Ollie & Jerry: ‘Breakin’ (There’s No Stopping Us)’

Reached #5 in June 1984 and spent 11 weeks in the UK chart. Their only UK top 40 single.

5. Grandmaster Melle Mel & The Furious Five: ‘Beat Street Breakdown’

Only reached #42 in the charts but reverberated widely.

4. Herbie Hancock: ‘Rockit’

Reached #8 in July 1983. This mind-blowing performance on ‘The Tube’ opened the floodgates for a lot of kids of my generation. Has a jazz musician ever ‘crossed over’ more successfully?

3. Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel: ‘White Lines (Don’t Do It)’

It was just massive in the UK, hitting #7 in July ’84 and staying in the top 40 for 17 weeks.

2. Rock Steady Crew: ‘(Hey You) The Rock Steady Crew’

Hit #6 in October 1983. Co-produced by future New Order/Pet Shep Boys helmer Stephen Hague.

1. Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force: ‘Planet Rock’

Reached only #53 on its initial August 1982 release, but was an incredibly influential track.

Dedicated to Miss Walford, Mr Hall, Mr Richards, Miss Patrick, Tony Gourvish, Phil Hambridge and all the B-boys and girls at E.S.P.

Book Review: Life And Death On The New York Dance Floor by Tim Lawrence

No less a pop personage than Brian Eno called the early 1980s ‘the most exciting era of New York music’, and he should know a thing or two about the subject. Tim Lawrence’s excellent ‘Life And Death On The New York Dance Floor 1980-1983’ makes a good case for Eno’s claim.

The book traces the many musical and cultural strands of the early ’80s NYC scene, from the ‘Disco Sucks’ movement which briefly blossomed at the beginning of the decade through to the end-of-an-era AIDS panic of late ’83.

Lawrence vividly brings to life a scene where musicians, DJs, dancers, artists and club owners fused new-wave, no-wave, punk, dub, pop-art, Afro-funk, kitsch, S&M, psychedelia, disco, gospel, electro and hip-hop to create an exciting, vibrant, anything-goes aesthetic. Along the way, the book also looks at the making of some of the key NYC records of the era – ‘The Message‘, ‘Rapture‘, ‘Moody‘, ‘Blue Monday’, ‘Planet Rock’.

Pretty much all the key players of the scene make memorable appearances, a fascinating roll call including Larry Levan, David Byrne, Madonna, Afrika Bambaataa, Fab 5 Freddy, Sylvia Robinson, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kool Herc, Arthur Baker, Melle Mel, Grandmaster Flash, Francois Kevorkian, Don Was and James Chance.

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five

Lawrence also paints a vivid picture of the diverse dancefloors of The Roxy, Danceteria, Paradise Garage, Mudd Club and Canal Zone, where on any given night you could see people doing martial arts moves, magic tricks or even aerobics (yes, apparently early ’80s NY also foresaw that cultural boom which hit big later in the decade). Many rare and previously unpublished photos are included, and Lawrence also gets his hands on many interesting artefacts from the era such as Kraftwerk and Bambaataa full DJ setlists from The Ritz in 1981.

But all good things must come to an end, and ‘Life And Death On The New York Dance Floor’ doesn’t scrimp on the full details of how Reaganomics, gentrification, corporate intrusion and the spread of AIDS decimated the scene. The book is a great achievement by Lawrence, with a level of detail and seriousness befitting a Professor of Cultural Studies but also large doses of fun and gossip befitting a good-time era and its fascinating protagonists.

‘Life And Death On The New York Dance Floor 1980-1983’ is published by Duke University Press.