This is a companion piece to yesterday’s interview with veteran DJ / producer, Justin Strauss. It`s not possible to over stress how important his `80s remix work is to the development of a sound folks now call balearic beat. Some of these remixes were of course big hits on The White Isle back in the day, but they also set a standard that other remixers attempted to reach – and as such went a long way toward musically defining the time. Often adding dance floor moves to rock and new wave acts – the kind of groups and bands Justin was spinning records around during his residency at New York`s ground-breaking Ritz (Ritz really was the first “rock dance club”. It also pioneered the use of video). Justin once told me that, “It was a magic time. Post-punk, new wave and rock artists wanted to make disco records. Disco artists wanted to make more new wave, experimental, records. There was an amazing amount of great new music coming from everywhere.” He also told me that it was hearing Shep Pettibone`s remix of the Pet Shop Boys` West End Girls that really made him up his own game. Here’s a very short list of some of my personal favourites from Justin’s considerable canon – 400+ remixes and productions to date, and counting – in chronological order…..
Wax – Ball & Chain – RCA 1985
Barmy, stuttered, big-beat-ed, rock meets an 808, go-go-not-go-go. A sound integral to London’s take on Ibiza`s energetic `80s eclecticism. A slowly shuffling chugger, with a buzzing bass riff, and italo-esque lead synth. As it head-bangs to bursts of hair-metal power chords, I`m taken back to raves at South London’s air-hanger-like Downham Tavern, and the indoor fireworks going off. With built-in cross-fader cut-outs, Mr. Strauss just might be transformer-scratching that guitar.
The Nails – Things You Left Behind – RCA 1986
A programmed b-line and nagging synthetic string hook are merely slaves to a sultry after-hours sax. A ditched, deserted lover recites punk poetry. His delivery arch – somewhere between The B52s` Fred Schneider and Danny Alias. Seedy, nocturnal, and dubby, this is the sort of thing I imagined being not played but performed at the Mudd Club.
Tina Turner – Afterglow – Capitol 1986
This piece of mid-tempo proto-house was one of the first cuts to feature the classy keys of Eric Kupper. To my ears, this is heavily Larry Levan-influenced (Smoky Robinson`s And I Don’t Love You?) – groovy with gated synths, NYC Peach Boys / Paradise Garage handclaps, elements expertly rising and falling throughout the mix. Credit where credit`s due, this was a tip from Test Pressing`s Paul Byrne, who in turn was hipped to it by London’s Bahamian Moor party people. It`s the dub that you’re really after.
Swing Out Sister – Surrender – Mercury 1986
An authentic Amnesia classic – as spun by the maestros Leo Mas and Alfredo Fiorito, in the daze when the venue was still open-air. Epic, smart, emotional pop, packing big piano chords and sweeping swooning strings, and intro`d by Cori THE Bob`s (the coiffure that launched a 1000 copies) sampled laughter. A tale of heartbreak and revenge where Freeez / IOU-like vocal fragments, and machined marimba explode into a triumphant trumpet solo.
Luther Vandross – Never Too Much – Epic 1989
A respectfully housed-up rework of Luther`s 1981 smooth soul hit. Drum machines crashing about in barely controlled chaos while some sublime newly recorded vocals sail over and out of the existing angelic arrangement. I could love you never, never never never, too much. A perfect extension for that similarly extended second summer of love.
Beto Cravioto & Whatever/Whatever – No Social Culture – DHT 2012
I’ve got no idea who Beto Cravioto is, but Whatever/Whatever were Justin Strauss and Bryan Mette. Justin, here, going back to his roots with an updated proto-house homage – well I guess he was one of folks that kind of invented the “genre”. One mix is built on a parp-ing progammed bass-line, fleshed out by spinning filtered fragments of keys and guitar. The other, more electronic, references `80s italo, the output of Emergency Records, and Chris Barbosa`s desk dynamics. The popping percussion at one point drops to a cool, echoed vibes break.
The Woodentops – Why Why Why – Wall Of Sound 2016
A recent-ish reimagining of the stone cold balearic classic – which was hammered in its original form at both Amnesia and Glory’s alike. Justin and Bryan send the track`s cymbals crashing – backwards. Submit the synths to lysergic twists. They first tease with the famous electronic b-line, and then accentuate it with a fierce EBM kick. Finally introducing the even more famous frantic acoustic strum and percussion. Augmenting this with some crazy, crazy organ grind.
Cantoma – Tabarin – Highwood Recordings 2016
Phil Mison`s sunset soundtrack gets spiked, hi-jacked, and taken dancing. The banging countered by cute finger clicks and flamenco castanets. The flute, steel pans, and summery Spanish guitar of the OG are subjected snarling acid and huge house snares. Masterfully moving between, and mixing, Jose Padilla`s Cafe del Mar light and DJ Nelo`s Glory’s dark.
Quiet Force – Listen To The Music – Rogue Cat Resounds 2019
While the original is basically another “chill-out” record (it was first licensed to Klaus Schulze`s Innovative Communication), Justin – with Max Pask – once more builds a brilliant balearic boogie. Chocka with Art Of Noise vocals, bleeps, celestial sighs, heavenly harp, and italo arpeggios. Pizzicato strings and spaceships lifting off. Punctuated by a female protagonist`s ecstatic outbursts, and tethered to computerized post-punk bass-line (Unfortunately it`s not on Youtube).
Amy Douglas – Never Saw It Coming – DFA 2019
A supreme sing-along moment from Amy Douglas – in all its mixes – that channels Billie Ray Martin at her most horny and possessed. Its blues, transformed by Justin into chunky, chiming, sleazy, sci-fi house, that’s eventually engulfed by its 303 and cowbell foundations.
Justin has a new record out – as Extra Credit – with Joe Goddard and Marcus Marr. You can purchase It`s Over / Drive Me from Deewee.
For a lot more from Justin, Amy Douglas, and all things NYC, be sure to check the forthcoming Spring issue of Faith Fanzine.