Hexes+Numbers is a new interview series where all the questions are randomly generated hex color codes (#000000), and randomly generated numbers without any context provided. It’s up for the interviewee to interpret the questions and answer them however they want.
This week I invited Michaelangelo Matos, whose new book–Can’t Slow Down: How 1984 Became Pop’s Blockbuster Year–is out now from Hachette.
Andrew Byrds: #318f53?
Michaelangelo Matos: “There’s still some people today that want my head for that,” Richie Hawtin once admitted of his label Plus 8 Records’ proclamation of its music as “The future sound of Detroit.” After all, he was from Windsor, not Detroit, and was white, not Black. Though it was rumored that “Mad” Mike Banks of Underground Resistance had threatened to break Hawtin’s neck over this perceived slight, Banks said in 1993: “Me and Richie get along real well, and me and John [Acquaviva, Plus 8 co-founder] get along real well. [Windsor is] not Detroit, but it’s two minutes from Detroit. Richie is probably in Detroit more than the guys who live in Detroit . . . [Plus 8 is] down with the program.” Rob Theakston recalls “seeing a video of Mike and Richie singing a Temptations song in front of a green screen at the Motown Museum.” Nevertheless, having both immigrated to Canada in the first place, Hawtin and Acquaviva were well aware of their status as essential Detroit outsiders—and had their eyes on the more lucrative European market from the start.
MM: Found Poem #3:
Shockyard exuberance, ten miles beyond the furthest global village
It has only, dead serious, made matters worse
Such a menace to the values of the middle of the Mall in Washington, D.C., and the Australian group of men
Pretty boys in snits, rueful somehow
The harmony group to irritate in the mid-fifties
For months, because they couldn’t get their thin act together
Post-Thanksgiving-ness, lust spectacular
The piano bangs, sand the strings, Mexican tax folk stuff
The plaintive wail of emotional blackmail
Politics would go back to being what they make a loud fuss about
Multi-million-dollar management fjirm, le outlandish
MM: The world of electronica has become overcrowded. To the newcomer, Autechre might appear maddeningly cryptic. Still, once you get over regarding Autechre as a puzzle or a problem, you can take them for what they are: a cerebral joyride, for starters. “We grew up in a music-swapping community,” says Brown. “That’s how we were moulded.” The parallels between tagging and Autechre’s later musical approach are not so far fetched. “We don’t discuss the music in conventional terms,” says Booth. If Autechre were conceived in a moment of ephiphay, it was when they listened to the Mantronix megamixes and found themselves drawn to the lighting-fast edits and remixes of the Latin Rascals and Chep Nunez. And so the spurned pair took to their bedrooms. Autechre’s earlier albums—Incunabula (1993) and Amber (1994)—were terrific adventures in home-brewed techno. By 1997’s Chiastic Slide, their sound had taken on an increasingly disorientated, even mechanistic approach. Confield provided the blueprint for their latest work, Draft 7.30. “Every time we have an album out, we get conflicting reports,” despairs Brown. “We’ve had it all. In a club the ideas don’t get a chance to be edited out. We first heard Stockhausen in 1991. A lot of composers from that era talk so much crap.”
—adapted from David Stubbs, “The Futurologists,” The Wire 230, April 2003
MM: There’s being in the mood for the Rolling Stones and there’s being in the mood for Exile on Main St. They overlap but they’re distinct. Let It Bleed is my easy favorite Stones album, but Exile is a close second and might wind up my number one. Age will do that. It’s amazing just how singular a mood a number of their albums managed to capture. Between the Buttons probably has the most curious vibe of any non-Exile Stones LP. It might be my number three—even Aftermath is more towering I prefer Buttons. But when you’re in the mood for Exile nothing else will do.
Their post-sixties recording sessions seem utterly grueling. It took so much time to generate and grab that kind of spontaneity.
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—adapted from The Washington Post, February 1984
MM: The Big Combo, Confidential Report/Mr. Arkadin, Date with Dizzy, Lola Montes, Night and Fog, The Night of the Hunter.
Nick Nice Top 10, from Massive #12, early 1996:
Johnick, “Play the World” (Henry Street)
Bone Machine, Mini Mall EP (Aspro, Holland)
Jose and Aaron Arce EP (white)
Stepdisk, The Furvert EP (Bottom Heavy)
Faze Action, “Full Motion” (Nuphonic, UK)
Popeye, Club Lounge EP (Plumphouse, Sweden)
Future Funk, “Get Into It” (Flavour, Germany)
Braxton Holmes, “People Everyday” (Cajual)
Fat Jazzy Grooves Volume Thirteen (New Breed)
Alex Reece, “Feel the Sunshine” (Blunted, UK)
MM: It’s too easy and automatic to say that house music DJing is not typically associated with scratching—it’s not, but it’s also not not, at least in Chicago. Two of the best DJs ever did (maybe still do) it quite regularly: Terry Mullan, my favorite house spinner of the nineties, and Farley Jackmaster Funk, who is foundational to the style.
Farley Keith Williams became Funkin’ Farley Keith and then Farley “Jackmaster” Funk—the latter after his roommate, Steve “Silk” Hurley, had told Farley he intended to change his name to “Jackmaster.” When Hurley, driving his car, heard Farley announce his new moniker on air before he could claim it, Steve nearly ran into a tree.
This 1987 set from WBMX-FM is only one of an abundant number of available Farley sets (guide yourself here), but it can stand in for them, and him. It has a little of everything from this period—a cappellas over drum machines, burbling acid overload, delightfully off-key homemade crooning—generating a raw charge. There’s an attractive crunchiness here—some of it from the sketchy fidelity of the digitzed cassette (presumably twice over—recorded to CD, given its 76-and-a-half-minute length, and then ripped to mp3), which offers its own period aura. So are the obvious taper’s pauses between commercials.
But it’s the scratches that give this one its unique flavor. They’re skillful, but they can also seem slightly indiscriminate early in the set, grabbing and filling space where he can. Then, around 55 minutes, he scribbles hard over a pointy Blake Baxter bass line, a perfect lead-in to the low end filling out.
Elsewhere, this line jumps out: “Livin’ in the nineties/But still in the eighties.”
MM: Missing Persons isn’t merely a Los Angeles band; it’s a Hollywood band. Frontperson Dale Bozzio took the stage dressed in a jacket made of Christmas tree tinsel, and her magenta-and-platinum hair was kept shampoo-commercial perfect all evening by a wind machine aimed at her head.
—Ethlie Ann Vare, “Talent in Action,” Billboard, September 22, 1984
MM: Allen Lowe writes books about the history of American pop recordings from their birth to the dawn of rock. He accompanies them with gargantuan CD boxes—indeed, the books are, in the main, about the discs’ contents, which are safely long out of copyright. But I approach his uber-project as a listener more than a reader, and hear Lowe as historian-as-DJ rather than a DJ-as-historian. His days-long box sets are littered with astonishment.
The first was the 1998 American Pop: An Audio History, nine CDs long and ping-ponging between a dizzying number of modes—like a fifty-CD changer in rare form, five years before the iPod normalized this type of omnivorous playback. Lowe is a more-is-more guy—his argument is that the canon simply isn’t enough, that the territory bands are as important as Ellington and Armstrong, and the entire landscape needs to be mapped, at length. Even by the standards of the nineties CD boom, when recorded music’s long history grew increasingly more accessible (little did we know), American Pop pitched the biggest tent; one sequence from disc six goes Jimmie Rodgers, Louis Armstrong, Geeshie Wiley, Art Tatum, Cliff Carlisle, and Connee Boswell, which should give you the gist.
(A spiritual sequel came a year later: Pop Music: The Early Years 1890-1950, from Columbia/Legacy’s series of millennium-pegged two-disc compilations; the rest are useless.)
Lowe’s message—this is all pop, and all of it is intertwined—is kept up even on more specialist sets. In 2006 I purchased the four-volume, 36-disc That Devilin’ Tune: A Jazz History, which covers 1895 to 1951, directly from Lowe at the Pop Conference in Seattle. In addition to the big names and the territories, he also makes room for country-music fellow travelers Jimmie Rodgers (“Travelin’ Blues” rather than his “Blue Yodel No. 9,” the famous trio with Louis and Lil Hardin Armstrong), Bob Wills, and Moon Mullican, and popular rhythm & blues is as prevalent on the forties discs as bebop.
The new Turn Me Loose White Man, or Appropriating Culture: How to Listen to American Music is the culmination of this project; Lowe vows at the beginning of the book that accompanies it (the first of two volumes—the second is due out in 2021) that this is his finale. It’s thirty discs long, covering 1891 to 1962; if anything, it’s an expansion pack of American Pop, with which it shares several tracks.
To understand the entire story, the panorama, you need signposts. Turn Me Loose White Man is full of them—for example, the eight appearances of the song “(I Ain’t Got) Nobody,” from Bert Williams in 1906 to Peggy Lee in 1949—and, you can fill in yourself, all the way up to, at least David Lee Roth in 1985.
For a while I tried to be diligent. I downloaded Turn Me Loose White Man’s track list and added it to my iPad so I could highlight the tracks I will eventually, someday, rip and use in the prospective DJ sets/podcasts/radio shows I keep making but haven’t yet recorded. (My laptop is old and I’m waiting to get a new one.) I did the same thing with all 36 discs of That Devilin’ Tune, writing the titles on the discs’ paper sleeves. I am currently without a physical copy of American Pop but will rectify that eventually. I only have the first box of Really the Blues?—at some point (around when I get the laptop) I will acquire the others. Two months later, I’m only on disc 13. That’s fine; this is something to live with.
Michaelangelo Matos is the author of Can’t Slow Down: How 1984 Became Pop’s Blockbuster Year, out now on Hachette. He contributes to The New Yorker and lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.