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80's Modern Soul & Funk

The early 80's is one of the most overlooked and prolific eras of funk music and reflected a very refreshing time. Musicality was on the rise again after the monotonous reign of the Disco queens. At the end of the '70s, Disco's pulsating four-on-the-floor beat was wearing thin and R&B music was finding its way to the next rhythm. The music industry was no more focused on the massive exploitation of Disco but shifted towards the new profits of the mainstream Pop culture.

The orchestral Philly sound was fading away and large funkbands restructured into smaller economical entities. Music became more keyboards-minded and soon turned high-tech as it gradually evolved into sophisticated Urban Contemporary towards 1983. Many artists who had dominated the previous twenty years struggled to find a place in this new chapter. Their place was taken by a slew of fresh stars bringing fine tunes with the help of a new generatiom of record producers and it

seemed to be a period when audiences, as well as radio DJs, were wide open to receiving all kinds of music. As a reaction to the Disco over-saturation people were looking for alternatives and this musical climate was perfect to explore new styles of dance music. This new situation implied a welcome deathblow for the brainless sort of Disco. At the same time it was a blessing for true R&B dance music that was refueling musical energy and regaining credibility after the Disco craze. Commercial success for many Disco-related artists indeed rapidly declined in the 80's. The dance music industry was in turmoil by that time. Sales were disappointing and record labels announced cutbacks in the number of dance records they would release. The problem started with the major record companies that were late getting into the Disco scene. When they woke up, they released loads of Disco records and flooded the market which soon led to the so called "Death of Disco". But of course there were still radio stations playing many of the Disco songs. Nevertheless, Funk music was gaining popularity fast and the technology available at accessible prices had many independent artists jump on the bandwagon, releasing fantastic music on privately owned labels.

The Whispers

There exists a misconception however, that "credible" Disco music wasn't being made and released during the early 80's. Apparently only the silly Disco emanations had reached their expiration date. In fact, after the Disco overkill of the late seventies, this type of music was still popular during the year 1980 and even to a limited extent until the summer of 1982. If Disco was dead, why then did R&B acts as George Benson, Earth Wind & Fire, Diana Ross,

The Whispers, Kool & The Gang or Stephanie Mills score some of their biggest "Disco" hits in 1980 and 1981? Soulmusic aiming for the dancefloor got rid of the choking Disco trauma and was given the opportunity to excite again! Disco wasn't really dead, it was in a continuous evolution, as was music technology and music culture. A different type of songs and productions shifted the sound genre towards black R&B/Soul music.

The early 80's was actually an exciting period in dance music history, where all the seeds of now flourishing contemporary forms of Hip-Hop, R&B and Dance music were really planted in the form of technology. This renaissance mainly occured in the thriving and hip underground clubscene where black dance music evolved into what we call Boogie today, electronic dance music marked out by its soulfulness and integrity. Boogie, as one of the post-disco subgenres, lacks the four-on-the-floor beat, which is a "traditional" rhythm of disco music. Aside from the moderate influence of synthpop, boogie heavily draws from funk music. Typical boogie tracks can be characterized by mid-tempo rhythm, prominent use of slap bass, loud clapping sound, melodic chords and, obviously, synthesizers. The Boogie dance tunes, with their super-catchy layers of vocals and synths on top of machine-driven beats, totally redefined how dance music would sound into the next decades. The Boogie phenomenon can largely be summed up by the output of the larger New York Disco labels like Prelude, Vanguard, SAM, West End, Salsoul and Radar in the early 80's. It took a long-time for Boogie to surface from the underground. It had been largely ignored or regarded as Disco's poor cousin, perhaps too slow, too electronic, too R&B, too black even. But it kick-started a musical groundswell which would see club music topping the charts all over the world again with hitsongs from acts such as Change, Loose Ends, The S.O.S. Band, B.B.&.Q Band etc. The post-Disco era represented by Funk and Boogie was a turbulent and highly

creative time for independent dance music in general and one where the early trends in music technology are easy to spot. It was still a continuation of Disco, though dressed up differently. Its rhythms weren't always the ubiquitous four-to-the-floor. Boogie was all about the groove: tempo down or up, the rhythm had to groove. It was a heady blend of Disco, Funk, Jazz, Soul/R&B and Electro, fused by and for the party-heads of the day. Boogie also introduced the creative and brilliant mixing techniques of legendary

DJs/mixers/producers like John Morales, Shep Pettibone, Larry Levan, Jim Burgess, Nick Martinelli/David Todd and François Kevorkian: alchemists who turned even basic tracks into complex sonic masterpieces which can still turn heads now. Obviously the Boogie beat didn't remain the fresh vibe of the underground scene only. Also the major record companies adopted the slick, crisp and synthy club sound for their R&B artists and engaged the services of a new batch of popular producers and mixers.

Larry Levan
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