By Steve Weinstein
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Every other Wednesday night, LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy and Pat Mahoney host their Special Disco Version party down at Santos' Party House, complete with complementary blue-neon signage. But earlier this year, they took their disco records (and their sign) cross-country, and the Chinatown club's downstairs room, bereft of that neon glow, grows darker. In the shadows, furtive cigarettes flare, while in the booth, DJs Prince Language and Lee Douglas are just barely visible, whipping up track after track of deep, cheesy, ridiculously obscure disco sides.
Taken by St. Vitus, perhaps, a girl breaks from the dance floor and storms the booth, ravishing the lanky Language and threatening to capsize him onto the spinning decks. For an instant, the return of disco seems as hedonistic as its original '70s version. Prince Language (née Joshua Taylor) laughs it off the next day, though: "The girl in the booth was a friend's wife, scaling me like some sort of disco pony," he tells me in his Mercer Street studio, where he's working to finish up a mix for a fashion show as well as remixes for LCD Soundsystem and Lindstrøm. "I eventually carried her back to her husband and presented her to him like an award statue. All in a night's work, I guess."
Over the past couple of years, disco has re-emerged to soundtrack and reinvigorate not just New York's nightlife, but parties around the globe. There are folks like Prins Thomas and Todd Terje in Norway, the Idjut Boys and Quiet Village in England, Optimo and Betty Botox in Scotland, Pilooski and Joakim in Paris, and even some West Coasters getting in on the action. But one needn't look beyond the boroughs to note disco's renaissance. There may be no more Paradise Garage, no Body & Soul parties, and only intermittent instances of the hallowed Loft parties hosted by David Mancuso, but a new generation of DJs, producers, and record labels are keeping the flame. There's Morgan Geist and Daniel Wang, Rub-n-Tug, Escort, My Cousin Roy, the Real DJ Spun, Jacques Renault, Love Fingers, Mark E., the aforementioned Lee Douglas and Prince Language, and dozens of other aliases at work, while labels like DFA, Environ, Rong Music, Wurst, Golf Channel, Italians Do It Better, Editions Disco, Whatever We Want, and Black Disco are just a few of the imprints showcasing New York's nu-disco in a new century. Rather than attempt to chart symphonic strings and ludicrous sounds in glitzy studios (much less hearken back to Studio 54 megalomania), many of these producers and artists are instead paying homage to the musical form in its earliest incarnation, chopping up an extant song to make it dance-floor-friendly.
"Edits created disco," explains Lee Douglas (née Doug Lee), citing folks like Tom Moulton, who famously took master tapes of Philly soul and funk songs and spliced the tape so as to extend the best parts. As Moulton recalls in the crucial tome Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, "I just thought it was a shame that the records weren't longer, so people could really start getting off." To make a nonstop 45-minute mix back then, Moulton would labor on the reels for upward of 80 hours. Such edit work set the template for all future mixers, remixers, and producers, be it Walter Gibbons, Larry Levan, and François K., or Chicago DJs like Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles, on through to the present.
Edits were a tool that allowed DJs to take pre-existing tracks and reshape them to better fit into their sets, whether it meant setting an 808 under the drums, extending the percussion break, or repeating a vocal line to the point of mesmerism. "With every edit, it's an ode to the artist," says DJ/producer Jacques Renault, who releases edits under his own name and original productions as part of recently DFA-signed group Runaway. "You admire this piece of work so much you want to make it even better."
The modern renaissance of the disco edit starts with Ministry of Sound's DJ Harvey and his epochal "Black Cock" series of edits in the mid '90s, followed up by the Idjut Boys and Theo Parrish's "Ugly Edits." Due to the scarcity of the pressings (mostly made for DJ use, plus copyrights become an issue if they remain on the market for long), in the past few years the edit itself has become a fetish object, exacerbated by Internet message-board zealotry and the proliferation of software like Pro Tools and Ableton, which allows initiates and tyros to easily beat-match and make loops. DJ Harvey, who made his first edits via tape and cutting block—and then later on an old Atari computer, all scarcely a decade ago—laments the ease of the edit now. "People don't put quite enough effort into it. It's easy to attempt, but it's not easy to get right with computer technology."
Language agrees: "Edits are relatively easy to do—they're a gateway production drug. It's an easy way to learn what works and what doesn't." The edit arises from the all-too-natural urge of "when you hear something great, you want it to continue," he explains, cueing up his own edit of Canadian disco auteur Gino Soccio's "Love Is" to prove his point; originally a two-minute album interlude, Language expanded it into an ebullient eight minutes for the Francophone-sounding Editions Disco label.