Various Artists: Strut Ze 30: Ze Records 1979-2009

[Strut; 2009]

Styles: punk-funk, left-field disco, no wave
Others: James White, Alan Vega, Lizzy Mercier Descloux, Kid Creole and the Coconuts

Since time travel is apparently a luxury only available to Hollywood notables Christopher Lloyd, Rod Taylor and Bing Crosby, sometimes one must turn to feature films in order to relive the glory days of early-80s New York City. In the era before Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani cleaned up Manhattan and turned it into a high-class playground for tourists and the wealthy, New York was an ugly, graffiti-splattered punk jungle gym. Pornography was everywhere, and an anything-goes attitude was pervasive. From 1979’s The Warriors to 1986’s Sid and Nancy, we have plenty of feature-length clues to help us understand what New York was.

Ze 30 goes a long way towards assisting our time travels by documenting some of the most crucial music that swirled through and from New York’s seedy underground. This 14-track comp focuses on the no-wave/left-field disco and funky punk groups that helped define the underground culture clash of New York in the early 80s. Although the comp’s title suggests that there are 30 years of material present, the sound on all the tracks is distinctly Reagan-era. This is the label that released 1981’s crucial Mutant Disco comp, and the label’s influence, although perhaps unknown to you, is still felt today.

Ze was started by British-born Michael Zilkha and the Gallic punk keystone Michel Esteban in 1978. It may be only a slightly audacious statement to claim that Ze was the most influential no wave label ever; the roster speaks for itself. Here we have Lizzy Mercier Descloux (who was partnered up with Esteban), Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Alan Vega, Suicide, Material, Was (Not Was), Marie et Les Garcons, and James White & the Blacks. That’s a pretty stellar cast, and although that abbreviated list doesn’t capture all the names that crossed Ze’s threshold during its tenure, it goes a long way towards highlighting the influence and relevance of Ze in the larger musical canon.

Most of these songs were written and performed during an era when music, fashion, art, socio-political criticism, and mischief were integrated and flowing. The contents of this compilation help show that (with the possible exception of Was (Not Was)) Ze released some serious musical expression sans the kitsch and commercial tricks that characterized the majority of new wave’s perpetrators. No wave, mutant disco, and eccentric dance were genres hard to distinguish from each other at times, and if taken as a whole, there is clear support for the respectability of all of these artists as seriously good musicians.

Take James White (a.k.a. James Chance) and the Blacks, who took skronk to new heights; White himself is possibly the best white boy soul strut purveyor ever, as the uber-classic “Contort Yourself” exhibits. Old videos of White performing show what an amazing (if slightly dorky) presence he had and make a convincing argument for placing him in the highest tier of performers.

Material shows off on “Bustin Out,” an epic synth-driven bass-thumper (we get the long version here). The proto-house/disco/funk band was led by Bill Laswell, who gained notoriety as the in-house producer for Celluloid. On this track, he is joined by Nona Hendryx, Fred Frith, and Ronnie Drayton to note. The eight-plus-minute dance track is a true highlight on this mix, and it steers us right into the latter half of the comp. Even the slightly cheesy “Deputy of Love” by Don Armando’s Second Avenue Rhumba Band chugs along with toe-tapping precision and offers, if nothing else, an excellent time/brain warp moment to feel cocaine and fashion colliding into the wee hours.

Unless you have a deep-seated aversion to dance music -- which is inexcusable, but not too uncommon -- there is no reason you won’t enjoy and cherish this compilation. It’s being released with extensive liner notes and rare photographs in the truly classy Strut fashion. If you liked Mutant Disco and No New York, then there seems to be no reason why you won’t love Ze 30.

1. Material feat. Nona Hendryx - Bustin' Out (Seize The Beat Version)
2. Was (Not Was) - Tell Me That I'm Dreaming
3. Lizzy Mercier Descloux - Funky Stuff
4. Caroline Loeb - Narcissique
5. Lizzy Mercier Descloux - Fire
6. James White & The Blacks - Contort Yourself
7. Kid Creole And The Coconuts - Something Wrong In Paradise (Larry Levan mix)
8. Garçons - French Disco Boys Edit
9. Lizzy Mercier Descloux - Hard-Boiled Babe
10. Was (Not Was) - Wheel Me Out (Long Version)
11. Coati Mundi - Que Pasa / Me No Pop I
12. Kid Creole And The Coconuts - Stool Pigeon (12" Mix)
13. The Waitresses - I Know What Boys Like
14. Junie Morrison - Techno-Freqs
15. Cristina - Things Fall Apart
16. Was (Not Was) - Out Come The Freaks
17. Suicide - Dream Baby Dream (Long Version)

Most Read