Jun 13, 2011

Watch the Closing Doors: Kris Needs remembers living in NYC

 As mentioned a couple of weeks ago,  beginning on June 20, the Year Zero label will begin releasing an amazing series of compilations covering a history of music in New York in the 20th century called Watch the Closing Doors. All lovingly compiled & notated by UK music writing great Kris Needs, volume one will cover the years 1945-1959. I had mentioned in the initial post that Kris & I had worked together at Bleecker Bobs Records on West 3rd Street for a couple of years in the mid 80's. As a special exclusive to Stupefaction, Kris was kind enough to put together this list of his top memories of living here at the time. And wouldn't you know? It was exactly like this! BIG THANKS to Kris for the contribution! For more info on these releases visit the Year Zero/Future Noise website.

10 NEW YORK MOMENTS FROM THE 80s by Kris Needs

1. The magnificent Danceteria on 21st Street was, literally, my first stop on my first visit to New York; straight from the airport! I was there with the Specimen and Bat Cave, which we were preparing to take around the US. The tour, and Danceteria itself, were booked by a lady called Ruth Polsky, who opened up the city and US for British new wave bands. Ruth, who was tragically killed by a runaway cab in 1986, was lovely, showing us around this amazing, multi-floored club where Madonna worked in the cloak-room and they had different floors for rock, disco, hiphop and the world’s first video-adorned chill out bar. I remember thinking, ‘One day all clubs will be like this’…

2. Walking into CBGBs for the first time, thinking, ‘Is this where it all happened?’, then watching amazing sets by Certain General and the Band Of Outsiders [two criminally overlooked downtown bands]. A few weeks later the two bands joined forces to form the Dead Rabbit Gang and I ended up singing with them on that hallowed stage. Both groups became friends, helping me immeasurably while I was there, so I returned the favour by bringing them to the UK [and will be featuring them on future WTCD sets]. Seeing Suicide there a few years later remains one of the greatest gigs I’ve ever witnessed; the perfect soundtrack to the city, which had not yet been sand-blasted by gentrification.

3. Hitting the Paradise Garage at some unknown hour early in the morning, stumbling into one of the most incredible atmospheres I’ve ever encountered at a club, bodies screaming, cavorting and utterly unified by the guy behind that huge DJ consol; Larry Levan at full throttle. When he played The Clash, the place erupted. The acid house revolution had yet to erupt so this was like nothing I’d seen before in my whole life.

4. My first foray down the subway, at Union Square station. There was a distant rumble in the tunnel before the number six train came roaring in, screeching and sparking, covered top to bottom in full car graffiti. From then on, I rode the subway just to look at this mobile art gallery, met some writers and started doing it myself [hence the sleeve art on my compilation!].

 5. Hiphop was in the process of busting out and progressing alarmingly with the introduction of samplers and drum machines. One night, this new outfit called Run DMC were playing at Danceteria; a new, stripped down sound and charismatic group who I would experience under riot conditions at Madison Square Gardens a few years later.

6. It was always good to catch up with friends in visiting UK bands, seeing how they went down in NYC and often writing about them for Creem. These included Big Audio Dynamite, the Cult, Billy Idol, Sigue Sigue Sputnik and Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction. When I first lived in the city I was hanging out with Rick Rubin a lot and he nearly signed the last bunch to Def Jam!

7. Hearing New York radio for the first time. To me, the city wasn’t just about great bands and venues, it was the whole experience, sound-tracked by the incredible 24 hour black music radio stations; KISS FM, WBLS and KTU and their astonishing master-mixes. Tapes of these stations were like gold dust back in London, so Ruth found it highly amusing when I made straight for the radio, plonked a cassette in her sound system and recorded relentlessly. First thing I caught was a master-mix of Grandmaster Flash’s ‘White Lines’ and Liquid liquid’s ‘Cavern’. I was just sitting there with my mouth hanging open, listening to the future. Then I decorated the cassettes with paint markers to look like subway cars. I was in rather deep!

8. Standing next to cool DJ Red Alert in some club as he cut and scratched his way through a set for the 1989 New Music Seminar. That year, I assistant-edited a magazine called Dance Music Report, which was published by Tommy Boy. It was brilliant spending a year in the eye of NY’s hiphop hurricane; watching De La Soul’s rise from close quarters, coming in to the office to find Afrika Bambaataa sitting at my desk, charting the rise of acid house and getting sent mountains of juicy vinyl!

 9. George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars at the Harlem Apollo. I first interviewed this all-time hero for a P-Funk edition of DMR, coinciding with his first album released on Prince’s Paisley Park label. Around this time, he played an amazing gig at the Palladium on 14th Street; three hours of pure, uncut Funk euphoria. However, the big one was going to see him again a couple of months later at Harlem Apollo. I’d always wanted to see this landmark in New York’s musical history, which obviously figures regularly in my series, and it didn’t disappoint, despite Harlem still being rather hairy at that time. Needless to say, George, Garry Shider and co rose to the occasion. The man would provide another great NY moment in 1994 when I was over with Primal Scream, who I was now DJing for and were recording an MTV spot with George as the two had recently joined forces. Sparks [and many other things] were flying!

 10. Buying a spider-skull ring off Tim B. of this very parish when we both braved working at Bleecker Bob’s record store [itself with some great moments, even alongside the incessant bullying, but rather hazy at the end!]. The ring’s there for good as a symbol of my time living in New York, haven’t taken it off since [Also, it’s stuck!].

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