James Chance & The Contortions – Lost Chance (1981)

“Picking up where their previous ROIR live release left off (the excellent Soul Exorcism), James Chance & the Contortions offer another collection of their cutting-edge musical blend. Recorded live in Chicago back in September of 1981, Lost Chance may be a tad more visceral than their previous in-concert recording, but the over-the-top performances never get in the way of the music. And although the album contains traces of jazz and new wave, Lost Chance is highly recommended to funk connoisseurs — the Contortions may have been the most underrated funketeers to ever hit the stage. Out of the album’s nine tracks, three are James Brown covers (‘Super Bad,’ ‘I Got You,’ and ‘King Heroin’), which would surely bring a smile to the Godfather of Soul’s face. And although the whole band wails throughout, bassist Colin Wade proves to be outstanding, playing some of the most fluid and funky basslines ever committed to tape. Highlights are many, but tops would have to be ‘Sax Maniac,’ ‘White Cannibal,’ and ‘Hell on Earth.'”
Bandcamp (Audio)
Discogs (Video)
YouTube: Super Bad, Sax Maniac, White Cannibal, King Heroin


Live Aux Bains Douches – James Chance & the Contortions (1980)

“Originally released via a French label in 1980 soon after its recording, and getting a long overdue domestic issue in 2004 as part of the ZE label’s reactivation, Paris 1980 Live Aux Bains Douches acts as a counterpart to the ROIR Live in New York/White Cannibal set, recorded around the same period. With a different set list to the NYC tape, as well as much clearer sound, Live Aux Bains Douches, recorded at the Paris venue of that name in front of a loudly appreciative crowd, has plenty of snarling passion from Chance and company, but also the same sense of control and skill that makes his early albums so gripping. Blasting off with the astonishing reworking of Michael Jackson‘s ‘Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough’ — at once recognizable, danceable and screwed up, especially when Chance takes over on sax towards the end — the show varies between similarly devolved covers and takes on originals. One easily gets the sense of how Chance and his band concentrated on balancing out all elements of their performance — the soft, chanted backing vocals on ‘I Danced With a Zombie’ act as perfect contrast to the clipped, upfront slow funk burn musically, while ‘Put Me Back in My Cage’ builds to a fantastic, triumphant conclusion, a band totally on top of its particular, near-unique game. As on White Cannibal, two James Brown covers give Chance an opportunity to salute a particular hero — ‘I Got You (I Feel Good)’ gets a downright straightforward performance, with even Chance‘s sax solo not going too far afield, while ‘King Heroin,’ though Chance‘s singing is far different from Brown‘s, similarly keeps a slow, sorrowful mood at its core.”
YouTube: Live Aux Bains Douches 41:34

No New York – Brian Eno (1978)

No New York is a compilation album released in 1978 by record label Antilles under the curation of producer Brian Eno. Although it only contained songs by four different artists, it is considered by many to be the definitive single album documenting New York City’s late-1970s no wave movement. Early in 1978, New York‘s Artists’ Space hosted an underground rock festival with several local bands. The final two days of the show featured DNA and the Contortions on Friday, followed by Mars and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks on Saturday. English musician/producer Brian Eno, who had originally come to New York to produce the second Talking Heads album More Songs About Buildings and Food, was in the audience. Impressed by what he saw and heard, Eno was convinced that this movement should be documented and proposed the idea of a compilation album with himself as a producer. When Eno recorded No New York, some of the sessions were done without much of the stylized production he was known for on other artists’ albums. James Chance stated that the Contortions tracks were ‘done totally live in the studio, no separation between the instruments, no overdubs, just like a document.’ …”
YouTube: No New York – Full CD 43:57

Buy – James Chance & The Contortions (1979)

“If there is a single idea from the late ’70s, early ’80s No Wave scene that should be remembered, it’s this; for this brief moment in time, anything suddenly seemed possible. … Both explored, celebrated, or tore apart various musical and artistic influences and styles from the past. Yet, while one amounts to enjoyable, feel-good (albeit steeped in a subversive schoolyard gang mentality) back-to-basics rock, the other, while rarely ever pleasant listening, is utterly compelling for its in-your-face audacity, sneering deconstruction of traditional musical forms, and its creation of something that is still, almost 30 years later, at times shockingly new. Milwaukee, Wisconsin transplant James Chance was one of the key players in this less feted, but far more musically adventurous period in New York musical history. … Punk enough for the punks thanks to Chance’s manic yelps and screams, yet smart and daring enough for the more adventurous thanks to an iconoclastic use of rhythm, sax, and a violent aping of past musical styles. Nowhere is this confrontational assault of sound better heard than on Chance and The Contortions’ 1979 debut, Buy. A blistering collection of tracks that slam together a barrage of ideas whose roots are firmly planted in funk, punk, and free jazz, influences which are sent skyrocketing into the atmosphere in a great big cacophonous ball and slammed back down to earth in order to create something fresh out of the destruction. …”
W – Buy
YouTube: “Contort Yourself” at M-80 Festival, Minneapolis, 9.23.79, Max’s Kansas City (1978) 19:42
YouTube: Buy (Full Album) 39:35

ZE Records

“New York in the mid 1970s was quite possibly the most dynamic and vibrant music scene the world has ever witnessed. In the midst of a broken city, where rising crime, frequent blackouts and piling garbage made up the scenery, artistic spirits from all over found a creative haven to express their own art. The city’s miscellaneous scenes also opened up for a multitude of constellations across different genres, embracing both the nihilistic and the hedonistic. A cultural melting pot thrived in this urban wasteland, stirring up sounds never before heard, setting the bar for forward thinking music for decades to come – not to mention leaving some of the world’s greatest recordings in its wake. In the middle of it all, Michael Zilkha, the affluent heir of a U.K. retail chain, and Michel Esteban, owner of an iconic Parisian concept store, willfully entered the zeitgeist and became crucial parts of it all – absorbing both the filthy no wave and punk rock from CBGBs and Max’s Kansas City, as well as the energetic and rhythmic underground disco from clubs like Paradise Garage and the Loft. …”
Ze New York Groove: Michel Esteban & the Story of ZE Records (Video/Audio)
Guardian – ZE Records: ‘It was like a fairytale’
W – ZE Records

No Wave Is Boring

“Can boredom be art? Can good art be boring? When a work of art is deemed boring, it’s usually an automatic, accepted pejorative. After all, who would want to be bored by art? Yet some artists have actually imagined positive, counterintuitive answers to those seemingly obvious questions. In some particularly vital cases, those answers themselves were inspired by boredom – by the creativity that can arise out of being bored, and desperately wanting to do something about it. The boredom that infected the intersecting music and film scenes called no wave was a distinct product of time and place. New York City in the late 1970s was empty, dangerous and practically cost-free – a bombed-out wasteland open to anyone fearless enough to squat in an abandoned building and siphon electricity from street lights. In their confrontational, rule-rejecting work, no wave artists reacted to the recent past – the bloating of rock music, the homogenization of cinema, the staid pretension of the art world – but also dealt with their numbing present. They faced a gaping hole created by the droves fleeing Manhattan, and a ‘blank generation’” that punk started but didn’t complete. It was up to no wave to blast away the remaining rubble. …”
Red Bull Music Academy Daily (Video)

Downtown 81

Downtown 81 (a.k.a. New York Beat Movie) is a film that was shot in 1980-1981 and released in 2000. The film, directed by Edo Bertoglio and written and produced by Glenn O’Brien and Patrick Montgomery, with post-production in 1999-2000 by Glenn O’Brien and Maripol, is a rare real-life snapshot of an ultra-hip subculture of post-punk era Manhattan. Starring renowned artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and featuring such Village artists as James Chance, Amos Poe, Walter Steding, and Tav Falco, the film is a bizarre elliptical urban fairy tale. In 1999, Michael Zilkha, founder of ZE Records (the label of several of the film’s artists), became the film’s executive producer. The film opens with Jean (Basquiat) in the hospital with an undisclosed ailment. After checking out, he happens upon an enigmatic woman, Beatrice (Anna Schroeder), who drives around in a convertible. He arrives at his apartment only to discover that his landlord, played by former Yardbirds manager Giorgio Gomelsky, is evicting him. … Jean-Michel Basquiat was homeless at the time of the movie and slept in the production office during most of the shooting. The film production crew bought Basquiat canvas and paints to make paintings for the film. The paintings that appear in the movie belonging to Basquiat’s character are by Basquiat himself, and among his first canvases. … The soundtrack features music by: Jean-Michel Basquiat with Andy Hernandez; Basquiat’s own band, Gray; John Lurie and the Lounge Lizards, DNA, Tuxedomoon, the Plastics, Marvin Pontiac, Kenny Burrell, the Specials, Chris Stein, Melle Mel with Blondie, Liquid Liquid, Kid Creole and the Coconuts, James White and the Blacks, Vincent Gallo, Lydia Lunch, Steve French and Suicide. Many of the recordings were of live performances, but DNA and Tuxedomoon were recorded in the studio for the soundtrack. …”
The Dissolve
Archive: Downtown 81 1:07:02