So I decided that it would be good to make a mixtape for my 40th birthday pulling together tracks and songs that have been important to me over the last 40 years. There would be but one rule. One per year of release, 1973 to 2012. Some I heard at the time, some much later in life, but all, collectively, have been important.
(Not all the tracks are what I’d necessarily call ‘favourites’. Some aren’t even ‘genre favourites’.)
I’ve included some liner notes to conetxtualise the selections. Most I encountered through chance meetings with other music enthusiasts, and everyday I’m thankful for the doors that have opened as a result of record stores, clubs, parties, and many late nights.
There was a lovely quote from Bob Mould in an article on the ‘vinyl revival’ recently –
“Nothing is more telling than when someone pulls that one-square-foot piece of cardboard out of a bin. If he pulls 20 Jazz Funk Greats by Throbbing Gristle, you perk up and take interest in what he might pull next. We’d do this dance around the record store with each other, and that was one way to find like-minded people. We don’t do that dance now. Now you read someone’s blog or use a search engine or do social networking.”
Sleeve art was also my introduction into a later appreciation of graphic design. While I don’t fret that my children are unlikely to have similar experiences, something more important than just ‘sound quality’ has been lost in the transition from music to ‘convenient compressed audio as data’.
Joe Henderson – Earth
This came out in the year I was born. Earth is such an epic piece featuring the spiritual harp of Alice Coltrane and a slow loping break. I discovered The Elements album in the early 2000 in my phase of exploring everything Alice Coltrane-related after hearing a mix from Wayne Stronell/Neural. It was probably the first time I ventured into Birdland Records – a jazz speciality record store that felt like it catered only for the middle aged. My club night Frigid, too, had just done some speaking/DJ events with British writer/theorist Kodwo Eshun. On his visits his effervescent enthusiasm for everything had sent the whole Frigid gang in search of that period of ‘astral jazz’. Trivia tip – Four Tet ended up using this track on his Late Night Tales mix a few years later.
Kraftwerk – Autobahn
The full LP version of Autobahn: 22 minutes of electronics. Perhaps the best crystallisation of human/machine music – and, in some ways, the Year Zero of so many different sounds that would emerge and interest me throughout the 80s right up to today.
Dillinger – Natty Kung Fu
There’s so much 70s reggae and dub that could be in this list. But in the end Dillinger is here because of a remix I got given from Auckland’s Stinky Jim of Dillinger’s most well known tune, Cocaine. It ended up being one of the tracks that became a regular ‘end of night’ classic at Frigid. Natty Kung Fu is just straight up fun and a great Coxsone Dodd production.
Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygene (Part 4)
I first heard a rendition of Oxygene Part 4 when I playing Bombjack on my Commodore 64 sometime in 1986. It wasn’t the greatest of games and a pretty bad port from the arcades, but the tune stuck in my head and was one of the routes into Jean Michel Jarre’s epic synthesizer music which I devoured that year. I had Oxygene, Zoolook and Rendezvous all on cassette. My dad had Tomita’s (1976) version of Holst’s The Planets on vinyl which I used to listen to on those big over-ear 70s headphones that seem to have come back into style. That album and its 70s space fantasies probably kindled an interest in electronic sounds from early childhood.
The Congos – Fisherman
The opening track for 1977’s Lee Perry production from The Congos. The Heart of the Congos album is one of my most treasured records that I didn’t pick up on until the late 1990s when I was running our club night, Frigid, with Sir Robbo, Luke and Dale. After finishing broadcasting the Paradigm Shift radio show with Luke each week, I’d often pop over to Silver Rocket, a little second hand store on Pitt St. They had a lot of the Blood & Fire reissues at great prices and one day I picked this up and never looked back. Robbo introduced lots of other great reggae and dub to us at Frigid. I saw The Congos live in 2011 just before we moved to New York, and even at their advanced age they carried the most amazing harmonies.
Kourosh Yaghemei – Gole Yakh
I started becoming interested in Persian pop music of the 1970s through Finders Keepers’ fantastic Pomegranates compilation in 2010. The fusion of Western influences with traditional instruments, scales and folk songs made music of this period before the Iranian Revolution and Ayatollah Khomeni fascinating. Now Again Records released a mammoth 35 track collection of Kourosh’s songs from the late 1970s. And this beautifully sad song? “My youth has gone / and my voice has gone / the ice flower has grown in my heart”.
Bauhaus – Bela Lugosi’s Dead
Like a lot of teens I went through a goth phase. In fact, if I hadn’t been a goth and become a regular at Sanctuary in 1991, I probably would not have ended up getting into most of the music afterwards, or become a DJ. Sanctuary was really a social event – a meeting place – that also made ‘dancing’ to music not really made for dancing, acceptable. One of the bartenders at The Site, where Sanctuary was held, Todd, ended up jumping on the decks every so often early in the evening. He’d play a couple of balearic tracks – and over 1991 there was a fascinating cross-pollination of scenes as some of the Sanctuary crowd started to explore the Madchester parties and specialist industrial dance nights – Elysium & Cybernaut – where you’d hear The Shamen, Meat Beat Manifesto and HHFD’s Total Confusion alongside Pop Will Eat Itself, early Nine Inch Nails and Finitribe’s 101. This lead many of us to begin to explore the early Sydney raves. This Sanctuary anthem is one of a few tracks that draws out a connection between goth as a sub-genre of post punk and, perhaps strangely, dub.
Joy Division – Heart And Soul
Closer is one of those albums that is so bleak but equally so well formed. I remember writing an terribly bad essay about it in first year of university. And it soundtracked a funeral of a friend who died in a car accident when I was 19. Martin Hannett’s production is simultaneously spacious and claustrophobic.
ESG – UFO
The South Bronx via Manchester’s Factory Records. UFO was the instrumental b-side to You’re No Good and ended up being sampled to death in later hip hop records. It sounds so loose and funky, and is another Martin Hannett production.
New Order – Temptation
It is the combination of sleeve art, music, and possibly the perfect pop song that makes Temptation such a great song. There’s plenty of argument over which is the definitive version, but generally I prefer the 1987 re-recording done for the Substance compilation. When I was 15 and 16, I became totally obsessed with New Order and Joy Division. I’d head over to suburban Strathfield after school to this girl – Sarah’s house – and swap mixes and dub VHS tapes. I’m not quite sure how we met but its how I got hold of a bunch of live recordings of New Order that were super rare at the time. With my gang of friends at school we would dub each other tapes of The Cure and Depeche Mode, in between chart pop studiously recorded from the radio. New Order ended up being one of the bands that stuck with me most from my teens.
New Order – Age Of Consent
So here’s another New Order song. When I was 12 and 13, my dad would take me to computer meet-ups and most of the folks were older. We had a Commodore 64 which he and my mum would write their academic papers, and I’d play and later hack games on. Power, Corruption & Lies was one of the records that was playing when I visited an older Commodore 64 hacker who was keen to trade some games and share tips. I had no idea about what the music was at the time, really, other than the mysterious cover art and that it didn’t sound like anything else I was listening to at that age. It wasn’t until I was probably 15 that I got my own copy on cassette. Power, Corruption and Lies is still my favourite New Order album, and one of the few that I’ve now owned in all formats!
Cocteau Twins – Pearly Dewdrop Drops
Cocteau Twins were one of those bands that I first listened to because of the cover art. Vaughn Oliver’s sleeves for the 4AD was such a large part of their aesthetic and, like Peter Saville’s work for Factory Records, became inseparable from the music. In the late 80s when Triple J was just starting out doing their Hottest 100, This Mortal Coil’s version of Song to the Siren with Liz Frazer always ended up in the top 10. I was pretty annoyed when Triple J first went national and later changed the Hottest 100 format, and I remember sitting up on top of piano at the back of a room in the Sydney Town Hall at a protest to ‘save Triple J’.
Steinski & Double Dee – The Lesson 3: The History of Hip Hop
I remember well the first breakdancing craze that went through primary school. Down in Sydney, none of us would have guessed all that would become so important. Steinski’s cut ups pre-date so much later sample-based collages that became a huge influence on my musical taste and own DJing ideas. Here on Lesson 3, he and Double Dee chop up a bunch of early hip hop classics and intersperse them with film dialogue, constructing a witty new narrative whilst preserving the groove and, importantly, the danceability of the original source materials.
The Smiths – Cemetery Gates
As far as indie pop went, The Smiths were the kind of band that the ‘generation just a little older’ had been obsessed with. Cemetery Gates has all those literary allusions and, sandwiched between hip hop selections for 1985 and 1987, seems to reflect the eclecticism rather than tribalism that marked out many of mine and my friends’ high school tastes.
Eric B & Rakim – Paid In Full (Seven Minutes Of Madness – The Coldcut Remix)
Word has it that Eric B & Rakim didn’t like this remix from Coldcut. But it, and the music video for it, was such an eye opener back at the end of the 80s. Ofra Haza being sampled, cut up old footage, and a very British shearing off of all the rough edges of Eric B & Rakim’s original. All of this felt so different to the other pop music you’d see on Rage late on a Friday or Saturday night. This remix came back as bit of an anthem during the trip hop era around 1996/7 at various parties.
Public Enemy – Rebel Without A Pause
Back in high school, it was probably cool kid Orlando who was responsible for introducing us to Public Enemy. He was the one first tuning in to Tim Ritchie’s radio shows on Triple J. Although it has been De La Soul’s Three Feet High and Rising album that has been played many more times in my house over the years, Public Enemy’s impact at the time was enormous. And Rebel Without a Pause would continue to live on in various mutations ending up as a sample source for literally hundreds of jungle and breakcore tracks.
Happy Mondays – W.F.L. (Vince Clarke Mix)
When this came out I was in Year 11. Seeing the clip on Rage one weekend as an impressionable 16 year old made me curious about the strange world of lasers and hypnotic dancing. (In fact 1990 was the year I went with my girlfriend of the time, Greta, to my first proper dance party – with The Beloved playing live – but that’s another story). I thought that it was filmed at the legendary Hacienda, adding another layer of mystique. It wasn’t – it was another Manchester club called Legends (Mancunian DJ Greg Wilson has a great story about the video and Legends). I was determined to get a copy – especially after the version on Bummed wasn’t quite the same – nowhere near as danceable. I headed over to Central Station Records, then located underneath Phantom Records in Pitt St, to pick up the 12″. Vince Clark’s mix adds a necessary layer of synths, turning it into a slow grooving monster (and on the flip was Oakenfold’s mix). When I first was getting trained on public radio in 1990 at Radio Skid Row in Marrickville I sat through a Saturday night with Michael MD and TLM who were doing their show called MDA (apparently ‘music dance aesthetic’ – yeah right!?) which became a staple for ravers as a Saturday night infoline for location changes for parties all through until around1993. Sometime around 4am I got MD to put the Oakenfold mix on – it was the first track that I had ‘selected’, so to speak, even though I had no idea about DJing and they were playing everything on the in-house radio gear without proper pitch controls.
Pop Will Eat Itself – Dance Of The Mad Bastards
PWEI were always big in Australia. I’m not quite sure why. When Cure For Sanity came out it was far less rock-oriented than their earlier stuff and reflected a lot of the other musical shifts around the time. I really liked the change – the bleeps, the bass, the beats – and when they toured in early 1991 they played the Orientation Week gig at Sydney University. They opened the show with a storming live version of Dance of the Mad Bastards with its stomach churning bass. Later I ended up interviewing them for my radio show on Radio Skid Row. Their sleeve design was done by The Designers Republic, who I became obsessed with. An obsession that served me well through 1990s even to the point of making the effort to track down their little retail shop out the back of Harajuku in Tokyo!
LFO – LFO
Every so often I’d get a few days of casual work out the back of Red Eye Records in the very early 90s when they would have second hand shipments arrive from US shopping trips. I’d be out the back with lighter fluid scrubbing the old prices off, cleaning the cases, shrink wrapping vinyl, and there’d be LFO 12s in amongst the piles of Prince and Madonna collectables that the ‘regulars’ would come in and pore over. Even before I got heavily into rave, these 12s would stick out with their stark typography and bright colours – again done by The Designers Republic. LFO’s self-titled track is possibly the perfect rave tune and emblematic of bleep’n’bass at the time. The bass remains phenomenal on a proper big system. Stripped back machine music made purely to move bodies.
F.U.S.E. – Substance Abuse
In 1992 Sub Bass Snarl kicked off ‘properly’ with Luke raiding his flatmate’s drum machines and samplers. We’d taken a bunch of fooling around with industrial music on community radio and at the University of NSW Bar, and by the end of the year, had turned it into something that we’d later do in clubs, fields, warehouses until I left Sydney for NYC in 2011. Richie Hawtin’s Substance Abuse was one of those acid techno tracks that sounded utterly alien and mechanical and yet, in the right circumstances, organic and alive. I first heard this on a German compilation, one of the first on Frankfurt’s Force Inc label (which later spawned Mille Plateaux), called Post Acid Crash. On the back of some raves, I’d gone down to Central Station Records which had now moved to Oxford St and asked Kid Dolphin/’Nardo, who worked there at the time, for ‘something harder’ than the usual rave anthems. He pointed out Post Acid Crash which had come in recently and was being ignored by everyone and I snapped it up. It became a staple for of many of our sets in late 1992/1993 as a new wave of harder, darker, underground parties started to emerge as an alternative to the bigger party scene.
Aphex Twin – Xtal
Aphex Twin influenced everyone but I remember being sold this album at Disco City on Crown St when it first came out on Belgian R&S label offshoot Apollo Records. We’d all heard and played Didgeridoo, Analogue Bubblebath and the Xylem Tube EPs to death, but this album was full of brittle crystalline music that felt like it belonged to the future, detatched from the pressures of the dancefloor. Sub Bass Snarl was deep in German acid techno in 1993. Labworks, Overdrive, Force Inc, we were playing hard sounds almost every weekend at parties around town. The free party scene of the Vibe Tribe had emerged from the ashes of punk collective Jellyheads and was taking over Sydney Park (and the Golden Ox in Redfern). It wouldn’t be until the following year that we started to slowly switch to breakbeats in our sets as jungle and later drum & bass took over.
DJ Shadow – In/Flux
We’d started playing two types of Sub Bass Snarl set by 1994. The banging techno sets were often accompanied by a ‘chill out room’ set where we got to play. MoWax had just begun its shift from releasing acid jazz and rare groove influenced records and I’d begun to pop in to Good Groove Records as well as Disco City and Reach’n on Crown/Oxford Sts to do my shopping. And up pops this record at Good Groove. I still reckon this is the best DJ Shadow track – the most well formed of his cut and paste narratives. The next year DJ Shadow would tour with a festival and I remember a great small bar side gig in Kings Cross.
GZA – Liquid Swords
1995 was the year we moved our radio show from Radio Skid Row to 2SER and the Paradigm Shift started. Our show was put right before the seminal hip hop show The Mothership Connection hosted by Miguel d’Souza. Miguel, Luke and I would try to make our shows run together by playing stuff that approximated what we thought our respective audiences were into. It ended up making for some really interesting cross pollination of sounds and scenes – introducing me to lots of new music, and lots of new people. I started buying more hip hop around this time and everything came together between jungle, hip hop, trip hop and the pure electronic stuff we were playing at the time. The whole Wu-Tang schtick also resonated with the kung fu movies we were showing at Frigid in the early years. We would head out to Dr What in Bondi Junction to hunt down movies to screen and to remix each weekend, and the early flyer series done by ‘Nardo in the Head Shots office were modelled as cult movie, cult revolutionary collector cards. And “Your lyrics are weak / Like clock radio speakers.” is still such a hilarious diss.
Tortoise – Galapagos (Version One Remix by Springheel Jack)
Tortoise’s fantastic Millions Now Living Will Never Die album got remixed across a series of 12″s and amongst the mixes was this stunning drum & bass remix of Along The Banks Of Rivers. Springheel Jack never did anything even remotely as good as this. And in many ways it brought together two very different musical interests at the time into one singular tune. As everyone knows, I’d keep dropping this in particularly sentimental ‘end of night’ DJ sets for the next 15 years.
Amon Tobin – Stoney Street
Amon Tobin’s debut album seemed to come out of nowhere. Clever sampling and packed with a swing, it really stood out from other records of the time. Luke would quote the main sample from Like Regular Chickens in general conversation for the next decade. It was probably the best Ninja Tune release of that era and Tobin’s later work didn’t capture the cleverness and structure that Bricolage did. Tobin played live at Frigid in the early years and then later when we were touring Kid Koala one time.
Boards Of Canada – Turquoise Hexagon Sun
The first Boards of Canada album is a sonic marker of growing up in the 70s under the influence of British media. Everyone has already said everything that needs to be said about BoC – the wistful, hazy sonic polaroids of BBC wildlife documentaries. On one hand 1998 was all about this album, and on the other we were playing blistering drum & bass sets up and down the coast on Saturday nights, and putting on the utterly insane Freaky Loops parties for 2SER with an amazing crew. Club Kooky was firing down at Club 77 and we’d often pack up Frigid on the Sunday night and then head down to Kooky, along with most of our crowd. There was a very fertile local scene and lots of people experimenting with making music
Mike Ladd – Feb. 4 ’99 (For All Those Killed By Cops)
This is one of those tracks that has stuck with me over the years. I’m not quite sure as I don’t think Mike Ladd really did anything better after his Welcome To The Afterfuture album. In 1999 there was a wave of indie hip hop starting to emerge and make its way through the import stores to Sydney. I started to get into Buck65 whose Vertex album came out too, and DJ Krust did his blistering collaboration with Saul Williams, Coded Language. There was a new sense of experimentation with words and beats.
Yo La Tengo – Our Way To Fall
Yo La Tengo is probably the best example of a band ageing gracefully. Is ‘mature indie’ a genre? I didn’t get into them until the tour for this album – And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out – had already passed by. It is a shame because it remains my favourite of all their records and I’ve had to make do with hearing only a couple of live renditions of the songs on it when I’ve gone to their shows.
Safety Scissors – Stormy Weather
Safety Scissors along with Sutekh were doing interesting microhouse and glitch experiments in a shared house in San Francisco in 2001. The Parts Water album from Safety Scissors was a strange hybrid of indie pop and that clipped house sound – a sort of Californian parallel to Matthew Herbert. While we ended up touring Sutekh for Sound Summit and Frigid, the only time I got to hear Safety Scissors live was at Sonar in 2004.
Cliff Martinez – Will She Come Back
The remake of Tartovsky’s Solaris, this time with George Clooney, wasn’t the greatest of films. But the soundtrack by Cliff Martinez was amazing. It was full of deep ambient sounds that I’d not really been into since the early 90s and my obsession with Frankfurt’s Fax Records. In fact, my Brisbane friend and Room40 label owner, Lawrence English put me onto this in 2002. Soundtracks, other than the classics of the 60s and 70s, Roy Budd, Morricone, Lalo Schifrin, are usually forgettable affairs only for serious collectors, but Martinez’s work here stands entirely on its own as a listening experience, and I’d often weave elements of it into DJ sets.
Rhythm & Sound – Queen in my Empire
Berlin’s Rhythm & Sound remain one of my favourite production duos. The shift from Basic Channel’s Berlin/Detroit/Kingston techno to this deep electronic dub were huge at Frigid. Their collaborations with Tikiman and later, the With The Artists, which pulled together a stellar group of older singers, provided a very different take on dub to most of their German compatriots. Queen in my Empire features reggae legend Jennifer Lara in one of her last recordings.
cLOUDDEAD – Dead Dogs Two
Back in 2001 I was running Sound Summit with Kenny Sabir as part of the This Is Not Art meta-festival in Newcastle. Anticon was in full flight with stacks of odd releases on the shelves. I managed to see Dose One, Sole and Jel at an Anticon showcase in San Francisco when I was there one night as part of a work trip to ACM1 in San Jose in April. Seeing that ramshackle show inspired me to try to book them for Sound Summit 2001 and I approached them straight after the show thinking I had nothing to lose. Of course, 9/11 intervened and they were stuck in New York unable to get back to San Francisco and we ended up hiring them a van to do a cross country to get their flight to Australia. They finally made it over – along with Kevin Blechtum, Hrvatski, and the two Daves from Fat Cat Records – and they blew everyone at This Is Not Art away with their beat making and freestyling workshops. When Dose One’s cLOUDDEAD project released their second album Ten in 2004, it still contained the vocal whimsy and creaking production that made them so interesting in earlier years and Dead Dogs Two became quite a favourite.
Paavoharju – Valo Tihkuu Kaiken Läpi
Synaethesia Records was a little shop in Melbourne that specialised in weird music. Mark Harwood who ran the place was always sourcing strange stuff from around the globe – making sure that his shop was so niche that his customers would be fiercely loyal and trust his curatorial selections. He used to send out plain text email missives to his hardcore customers every week. Anyway, he introduced me to Fonal Records from Finland and this album from Paavoharju was on high rotation for much of the year with its cross between Boards of Canada-styled woozy synths and outsider folk music.
Fat Freddy’s Drop – Cay’s Crays (Digital Mystikz Remix)
There were all number of early dubstep tunes that could have been in this list. In fact, when Kode9 came over to play a gig at Frigid back in 2003 he brought with him a pre-release version of Sine, his dread cover of Prince’s Sign Of The Times, along with a swag of what were then early Tempa, Ghost and Big Apple tunes. His visit switched a lot of people on to the possibilities even though it would take another two or three years before we could get away with a whole set. This DMZ remix of Kiwi band Fat Freddy’s Drop captures some of those early vibes – when the emphasis was on the connections to dub, rather than endlessly ‘siiiick’ drops.
LCD Soundsystem – All My Friends
I still remember the first time I heard Losing My Edge at Club Kooky in 2002. Kerrii and I managed to nab tickets to their final show at Madison Square Garden at the very last minute when the show just happened to coincide with the same visit to New York that kick started our transcontinental migration. “I wouldn’t trade one stupid decision / For another five years of life”.
Raz Ohara & The Odd Orchestra – Where He At
This song was on my iPod when my dad died suddenly and unexpectedly in his sleep while I was in Montreal for Museums and the Web 2008. I got the call from my mum and had to rush home on the first available flight. I’d already done most of my presentations but got the last one done before the long distressing trip home. This song some how became one that I’d play over and over for the rest of that difficult year.
The Caretaker – Lacunar Amnesia
V/VM toured Australia as part of Electrofringe and This Is Not Art in 2002. Back then he was still making pop cut ups and leaping around in a pig mask. His work as The Caretaker took a different approach. Using early jazz records from the 1920s, The Caretaker releases are intended to be the sonic equivalent of regretful half-forgotten nostalgia – perfect for the ballroom of the hotel in The Shining.
Joanna Newsom – Good Intentions Paving Company
Joanna Newsom polarised a lot of people – much like Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Frazer. But I think seeing her live at the Spiegeltent on her first Australian tour in 2007 sealed the deal for me. She was spectacular live. And funny.
Emptyset with Cornelius Harris – Altogether Lost (Chris Liebling remix)
Bristol duo Emptyset was one of a first acts that really re-engaged me with a new generation of techno. On this blinding track, Underground Resistance label manager Cornelius Harris provides the voice and Liebling stretches out the noise elements in his remix. There’s several spine tingling moments in this track where the space between the bass, the words and beats stretches just to breaking point before it comes back in.
DJRum – The Darkest Hour Is Just Before The Dawn (Undercoat Pt 2)
DJRum is a one of those post-Burial producers. With a widescreen production aesthetic, he had a series of notable EPs for 2nd Drop Records. Since I didn’t include any of the Burial tracks in this selection, this is a nod in that direction, and also towards Rob Dougan’s anthemic Clubbed To Death in 1995, and any number of ambient records in between whose influences are writ large on this epic.
And here’s a YouTube playlist for all those songs in running order for a total of 4 hours or thereabouts. Pop it on and go do something fun. Or work.