WORDS BY: NICK GORDON BROWN
House Of… is the feature on Glitterbox Radio in which Melvo salutes many of the pioneers and originators who have helped shape the Glitterbox philosophy. On glitterboxibiza.com, we continue to supplement this with additional storytelling. In these difficult times, life affirming music can be a great panacea. Here we look at two storied residents of New York City who have always been about just that. Join us in celebrating David Mancuso’s pioneering house party, The Loft (as featured in show 159); and the 45 Queen herself, Natasha Diggs (as featured in show 160). We end the month by crossing to the Windy City, and paying tribute to one of Chicago House Music’s founding fathers and most celebrated talents, Mr. Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley (show 161).
House of…The Loft
The Loft: the ultimate house party that shaped modern club culture
David MaDavid Mancuso holds a unique position in the storied history of clubland and dancefloor culture. It is now commonplace, almost to the point of parody, to talk of a DJ taking his / her crowd on a ‘journey’. Arguably Mancuso, with his mammoth sets, was the first to do that. He also had a passion for, and perfectionism about, sound quality that has had a lasting influence on global nightlife. With Manu Dibango’s ‘Soul Makossa’ , he is frequently credited as being the first club DJ to break a hit record, which in turn allowed him to win record company support for kickstarting the first ever DJ ‘record pool’. So many of the prime movers of disco and house DJing were Loft regulars – Levan, Knuckles, Siano, Humphries, Kervorkian, Morales, Krivit – the list goes on. Yet there are equally as many areas where Mancuso seemed at odds with the culture he helped create. He believed firmly in playing his chosen records from beginning to end – mixing was of little interest to him, even as many of his disciples began to shape and perfect it as an art form. It didn’t matter if a track was 13 minutes long with frequent style and tempo shifts (such as War’s ‘City Country City’), or had an extended spoken word intro leading into a jazz funk workout which would test even the most agile of dancers (Johnny Hammond’s ‘Los Conquistadores Chocolates’ - as sampled by The Black Madonna
Nightclubs also did not inspire him – he remained resolutely a promoter of house parties (albeit house parties with a bespoke sound system and a membership scheme). He happily wore his hippie ideals on his sleeve, championing many a track with a positive message, such as D-Train’s ‘Keep On’.
However, a close examination of Loft playlists shows a stunning musical mix of the most innovative and most spiritual music of its era, where the fervent beauty of Double Exposure’s Salsoul-released classic ‘My Love Is Free’ could rub shoulders with the experimental genius of NYC sonic situationist Arthur Russell (here under his Dinosaur L moniker).
Mancuso had a unique take on all aspects of his parties. This would often extend to his digging out captivating cover versions and alternate takes on well-known tracks. Thus did two Philadelphia International classics become Loft dancefloor staples in different guises. ‘Now That We’ve Found Love’ started life as an album cut for the O’Jays in 1973 , but had been long forgotten until 1978, when Jamaican act Third World’s reggae-infused dancefloor take became much-loved at The Loft, later going on to become a worldwide hit.
In the 1970s, it wasn’t unusual for cover versions of popular tracks to be released hot on the heels of the original. So it was in 1979, with Risco Connection’s more percussive interpretation of McFadden & Whitehead’s Philly disco hit ‘Ain’t No Stopping Us Now’ being the one favoured by Mancuso.
The Loft continued into the 1980s, despite ongoing games of cat and mouse between Mancuso and the NYPD, and he held firm to his open-minded music policy. He appreciated and played house much as he had with disco – but it was never the dominant sound, and the tracks in question had to fit with The Loft’s unique mood (as with our selection here, Ten City’s ‘Devotion’).
Community, spiritualism, activism – you took what you wanted from The Loft, a space which Mancuso himself summarised as being about “social progress.” Fortunately, it is now much easier to investigate and enjoy The Loft’s rich and lasting legacy. We leave you with a link to a Worldwide FM celebration of what would have been the Loft’s 50thbirthday, hosted by Mancuso’s long time devotee and later associate Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy; and a mammoth Loft-inspired playlist curated by Defected’s Wez Saunders.
“The Loft changed my life…” – don’t forget to check NYC legend and regular attendee Nicky Siano recounting first-hand his musical (and sound) epiphany at The Loft on the special 2 hour edition 159 of the Glitterbox Radio Show, featuring more seminal Loft tracks. “Right then I knew I had to be a DJ, but I had to be much more than a DJ, I wanted to be what David was – a party giver, a person who created atmosphere.”
Listen back to the Radio show (159) here.
House of…Natasha Diggs 'The 45 Queen'
“Music is so powerful for its ability to capture human expression throughout space and time. In my day to day I can be kind of shy and introverted, but when I DJ that is my time to open up and share my passion.”
At Glitterbox’s first virtual festival, there were plenty of familiar names on the bill, much loved by the always positive but clued-in and discerningGlitterbox family. However, there was also a DJ making her Glitterbox debut who soon had that online family swooning. “What a superb set!”, “off the hook”, “she played some real gems that I hadn’t heard before”, “such a style and musical selection”, “her dancing and energy awesome”, “blew my mind”, “on another level”. In the space of one hour, Natasha Diggs certainly made her mark. Simon Dunmore had commented when introducing Natasha on Instagram pre-festival: ”Playing 7” vinyl is no joke. There is no room for error… records are not syncopated, in many cases there are no mix breaks… selection, programming and mixing has to be next level.”Natasha was just that.
Natasha holds down two much-loved residencies in New York, each with a twist. Mobile Mondays sees Diggs head a cast of DJs spinning 7” 45s all night, where she has earned the nickname “the 45 Queen.” Meanwhile, the truly unique Soul in the Horn bills itself as a “dance party, social gathering and music showcase” which “aims to bridge the gap between all music and culture with events featuring horn-infused sounds from around the globe and sets played by world renowned DJs and today’s most innovative musicians.” This in itself would make for an impressive CV, but throw in a regular radio show with the legendary Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest (on the latter’s Abstract Radio, available via Apple Music); playing alongside the likes of Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu; and DJ sets from Berlin to Beijing, Sydney to Delhi, and a picture begins to emerge of a sought after and genuinely original selector. The kind of DJ invited to play at the opening of Brooklyn Museum’s Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition, or the launch of the World Youth Report at the United Nations.
Yet Natasha Diggs has flown below many a radar. Here is a DJ who is genuinely all about the music, and thus does not court publicity. Interviews are rare, maybe because she is so busy crate digging, though she did find time to tell Grazia: “One day early in my digging career I came across a shoe box of mint-condition 45s in original factory sleeves at the Salvation Army thrift store - all kinds of soul disco funk that to this day are still staples in my sets. I held my breath as I went up to the counter to ask how much for the box of maybe 80-plus 45s. When she told me $12, my heart beat fast and I had to hold my poker face to contain my excitement of the complete lottery I had just hit, but that box put me onto so many songs I hadn't heard before, and also made me realise that certain things only came out on 45 and vice versa. After that it was on!”Small wonder friend and renowned hip hop turntablist Boogie Blind, referencing James Brown’s “hardest working man in showbusiness” epithet, christened her “the hardest diggin’ woman in showbusiness.”
In another of her rare interviews, with diggers’ site Flea Market Funk (highly recommended – follow them on Facebook for a taster), Natasha tells of being influenced by “old stuff, old people, vintage everything, album covers, trees, learning, individual style, earth tones, the ’70s, oceans, the joy of children, unexplored territory, flea market culture around the world, the thrill of the hunt!”. It’s an inspirational philosophy that oozes through her genre-straddling sets. In the words of the track that she frequently credits with opening the door into the digging lifestyle, let Natasha’s DJing “expand your mind”.
Did your soul jump when hearing Natasha’s Glitterbox set? Can’t wait til lockdown finishes for another taste? These links will help keep you going – guesting on radio shows with Classic’s Luke Solomon, and also the I Love Vinyl team; and mixes for Boiler Room and The Lab.
House of…Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley
Four times Grammy nominated, dance and pop chart number ones, rulebook-rewriting remixes, hit songwriter and producer, label boss – and STILL doing it after 35 years. Our first three selections all helped Steve earn global recognition in the mid-1980s. First up, ‘Music is the Key’, the debut release on DJ International, the label which, alongside Trax, first took the Chicago sound to the world.
Released in 1985 under the name JM Silk (in partnership with vocalist Keith Nunally), the track’s instant success put Hurley ahead of the game, and led to a major label deal with RCA records. However, there are several twists in our tale. JM Silk had a housed up version of the Isaac Hayes classic ‘I Can’t Turn Around', and it was slated as a lead single for the project.
However, with RCA working at snail’s pace, enter Farley ‘Jackmaster’ Funk, Hurley’s former flat mate. According to Hurley, Farley took his arrangement wholesale, changed only the lyrics, had them re-sung by the flamboyant Darryl Pandy – and promptly had a hit across Europe with the re-named ‘Love Can’t Turn Around’. However, it wasn’t all bad news for Steve. Not only would his version perform better in America, but also he had his own break out international hit. ‘Jack Your Body’ was, to his mind, little more than a DJ track, a re-work of the classic bassline from First Choice’s ‘Let No Man Put Asunder’. Separate to the RCA project, visiting UK A&R man Pete Tong picked it up for his House Sound of Chicagocompilation album on London records. While Farley & Pandy had the first crossover hit from that collection, Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley famously had house’s first pop chart number one.
In 1989, Atlantic Records commissioned Hurley to remix soul queen Roberta Flack’s ‘Uh Uh Ooh Ooh Look Out’. As the clock ran down in an expensive studio, and struggling with the r’n’b tempo, Hurley took the vocals only back to his home studio, where he created a whole new backing track. Not only did this prove to be a masterstroke in terms of the mix proving so successful; it arguably also set the template for house remixers to keep little or none of a track bar the vocals when remixing it to suit their dancefloors.
The 1990s saw Hurley on a decade-long golden streak, kicking off with two classics - as remixer of Jomanda’s ‘Got A Love For You’; and writer / producer of ‘Too Blind To See It’ by Kym Sims.
Dance chart topping remixes such as DSK’s ‘What Would We Do’ rocked underground floors; he struck up a mutually beneficial partnership with CeCe Peniston as producer and/or writer; while he also became one of a very select band of remixers invited to work on Michael Jackson’s Dangerous album, with his mix of ‘Remember the Time’ even edited for mainstream radio.
In 1997 the Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley name was finally seen out front again with the Voices of Life project. Showcasing one of his long-time backing vocalists Sharon Pass, ‘The Word Is Love’ has remained an enduring floor filler for over 20 years.
Steve remains rooted in his beloved Chicago where, having learned the hard way about the machinations of the music industry, he now controls both his musical destiny and legacy via his own S&S label run in tandem with long term partner Shannon ‘DJ Skip’ Hyas. Recently Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot invited S&S to help curate the Arts for Illinois Live Instagram Concert, designed both to call attention to and address the needs of the state’s creative community – for as Hurley says, much as we are all appreciative of the thousands of artists helping to keep us uplifted through lockdown, those same artists are arguably amongst “the most forgotten of those suffering in this economic shutdown.” We have only scraped the surface of Hurley’s stellar career here. From winning DJ battles as a teenager in the 1980s via remixing Madonna and Prince in the 1990s to DJing for 50,000 at Chicago’s Chosen Few picnic in 2017, it’s been some ride for a true house master.