& Sounds at the Heart of the Dream
If you were not entirely aware before, a new world is waiting, made only of music to power the heart, soul and feet. The following piece is meant as some sort of tribute to Greg Wilson’s Super Weird Substance label and the plethora of works featured, remixed, DJ’ed and curated by Wilson and his cohorts, including Josh Ray, Kermit Leveridge, The Reynolds Sisters and others including The Great Alan Moore and Tim Holmes of Festival 23.
‘A multimedia label founded by DJ Greg Wilson, Super Weird Substance deals primarily with Balearic Psychedelic Dub Disco recordings while hosting on the live side 60’s styled happenings that include talks, art, bands and DJs.’
For over 35 years, Liverpool born DJ, Greg Wilson has been at the heart of the Manchester sound, from the decks of the Hacienda when they mattered the most, to the current underground, rippling the earth beneath our feet with some of dance music’s most urgent and innovatory beats. That he and his colleagues continue to redefine and work towards new standards of fashion and delivery when those once golden times have to a large extent rusted over, is testament to the energy and artistry of those working under the Super Weird Substance label.
Even the title is right. At a time when life itself is in danger of collapsing under prejudice, political ignorance and spiritual vacancy, here is music as lifeblood to pump and refuel the lost way. The shadows to which we are all falling prey to, are gathering and the substance within us is spoiling. In his work as DJ and producer, Wilson is attempting to separate the source from the infection and create some sort of dance fed curative. He places these solutions in the sound cloud in the hope that they rain down on us all. At a time in which we are blasted and beset on all sides, dance music becomes elemental, shamanistic, seminal. It is the method and means of escape.
As I type I am listening to a number of Wilson’s DJ sets, currently, a recent show at London on October 12th 2016 in which classic funk and 80’s electronic ride a dance beat that both compels and entrances. These are instructions to dance yourself clear of danger, music that will breach the empty spaces subsumed by society. Wilson is fighting a battle against the darker forces with the beat and the groove as his guide.
The tracks expand organically, the shifts in rhythm and bass led excursions rise above any and all musical tastes and deliver you into the realm of transcendence in which the club or bedroom becomes your own chamber primed for teleportation to the almost central areas that dance aims towards. Listener, music maker and DJ become one being, one consciousness, locked in the search for solution. These crucial shifts can be heard in everything from Bach to Philip Glass, and the systems of change and renewal are clearly working for us. Each set is a move towards the sun, perfect for an outdoors festival or gig, but relevant also to a venue that’s shrouded by night.
A Portmeirion (‘automatic/systematic’) set glides with delicious urgency. The brow furrows not with sorrow but with pleasure as the sublime vocals make a new backing band for your soul. The more you listen the more aware you of the almost campaign like nature at play here. Wilson is to the DJ what Mick Jagger (like him or not) is to the frontman; he is the progenitor of a new standard, updating the examples previously laid down, (such as in Wilson’s case by the notorious Wigan Pier stylings of electro funk he practised early in in his career – or in Jagger’s case, all lead singers) to the most vital aspects of the current re-edit scene that give the past a contemporary twist. Funk becomes fashion and so much more than mere fancy. It holds the frequency in which the heart begins hearing and the vascular finds its voice.
Joy is the point and the agenda behind these musical offerings to the gods of night. Wilson is the high priest, proffering not burnt remains but rather, shining stars that glitter and glimmer with all of the best we can be.
A remix of Prince’s Sign o’ the times from a set in Washington DC in May of this year betters the original – if that’s possible – as does other remixes, from treatments of Gwen Stefani’s Rich Girl to the Talking Heads’ Psycho Killer, the tinny percussive repititions doing more to honour the unbalanced nature of the protagonist than even David Byrne’s own neck led gyrations led him into.
Blind Arcade meets Super Weird Substance in the Morphogenetic Field is a mixtape by Wilson that features demos and works in progress by Kermit Leveridge and EVM128 which shows that ‘reality is not what it seems and what we see might not be real.’ What is real is the artistry on display here, the experimentation not at the expense of listenability or avant gardism, but in ways that deepen the groove. We rarely think about why we dance or how, and the intention here is not to do that, but as the tracks evolve the mix of near tribal drumming and classic doo-wop samples from ‘Sherry Baby,’ demonstrate how dance music in its most innovatory guise is more akin to painting or the lingual collagism of Burroughs and Gysin at their best. Alan Moore echoes in with refrains and reminders on the nature of information and what it, as our own super weird substance actually does to us. It is, as is mentioned, a strange world indeed.
Available as a limited edition one sided 7 inch single, Kermit’s setting of the much missed Howard Marks’ reading of ‘Lies and Other Fools’ is a break in this collection of beats. Here, sparse chords, electronic signals and industrial surrounds house Marks’ incantation of the ‘memories of affection..and layers of evil stacked precariously at the doors of perception..filled by a heroin glide.. as tears fall into place.’ Jon Rose’s soundscape grants Marks’ impassioned reading a greater death fed glory and reminds us that the Super Weird Substance of our supposed reality manifests itself in many forms and that these associates are artists working in a given medium. It could be said that ‘house’ or dance music in its purest form and original context was self serving (nothing wrong with that as it could also be argued that it was in part a reaction to the constraints of Thatcherism) and the soundtrack to a thousand nights of rain kissed hedonism and a once fashionable drug. In the works of this label, it is a musical pigment and a means of expression beyond even the goals of the word.
The Super Weird Substance CD compiles the eight singles released in the four month span from July to October 2015, featuring Blind Arcade and The Reynolds Sisters, it heralded new album projects and happenings from this year and into the next that are simply irresistible.
Wilson’s sublime composition Summer Came My Way opens proceedings with a blissful but insistent balearic style groove and transcendent vocals from Carmel Reynolds, Katherine Reynolds and Tracey Carmen. It captures you and your need to become part of the song completely. Just as Brian Eno has praised backing vocals as the song’s invitation to the listener to take part, so the artful construction allows you in, sewing you fashionably to singer, composer, mix and performance. This music doesn’t hammer you into position like the most oppressive and areas of the tatty nightclub at 3am, but gracefully threads you into place with all of the refinement of a party in paradise.
Sweet Tooth T’s She Can’t Love you/Feel the Same harks back to the last days of disco in NYC in 1979 and once more The Reynolds beautifully crest Tyrell’s programming, offering insistence and a gentle hand lain on your shoulder as you place your hand on their hip while taking to the dance floor with one or indeed, both of them. Its a chic chic, more electronic but just as human and overpowering and has some of the feel of what Stuart Price was trying to do with Madonna. A piece like this is far more successful, as it comes out of the experience and grand plan of Wilson’s overview, who along with his cohorts and colleagues and it has to be said, audiences, has pioneered what dance music can do snce the late 1970’s. Wilson is an elegant and good looking man and therefore his ease with all this is assured.
Kermit Leveridge and SWS’ mix of The Stooges I Wanna Be Your Dog is exemplary and reveals just how much Madonna stole for the Confessions on the Dancefloor album from the truer elements of dance and electronic music. The cover also exposes how powerful the song is when taken out of the doghouse and placed under the glare of a dazzling light. Each piece on the CD runs from four to eight minutes and shows how the happening live sets, some of which are mentioned above – and for which there are hundreds – can be contained or perhaps represented within the confines of one song. If that isn’t what a composer, photographer, poet, or playwright does then I am not who I thought I was. This is both a direct example of the DJ and Mixer’s art, as it is a slice of musical alchemy.
World Gone Crazy, written by Tracey Carmen and Greg Wilson and Performed by the Reverend Clive Freckleton shows how a former Minister of Music can call out against the evils of the world for the benefit of a lost and disillusioned post acid house generation in a language that they will really appreciate. The driving rhythm is the perfect platform for a subtly changing top line. This is perhaps something that rap doesn’t have as a musical genre, (recent advances from Kendrick Lamar aside) with all of its sameness of style. The same of course could also be said of any major musical form from Ska to Prog, but here the sound deepens as Freckleton’s growl summons the very devil to move himself free from the bass.
The Reynolds twins next provide a sweet antidote in their cover of Bessie Banks’ Don’t You Worry Baby The Best is Yet To Come, a soulful and beat laced treatment of Clyde Otis and Herman Kelly’s tune, while Blind Arcade’s Give It Away is Kermit and EVM128’s epic call for positivity in life which uses programming, strings and motown style brass to convey its message of empathy and progression.
As you listen to these songs you become aware that more than in any other practise, the musicians, mixers and artists in the so called north of England have always enlightened the south, from The Beatles to The Happy Mondays, there is nothing that Liverpool and Manchester hasn’t seen and acted upon first. I spent a number of years in those areas and some of the standards I have set for myself in my own work as actor, writer, director and teacher were formed there and have sustained me and the others I have worked with since. We are often lost in London, hoisted on our own petard and thinking we are the centre of the universe. As Alan Moore has stated in a previous piece, that fulcrum starts in Northampton and spirals out across the provinces. Along each crucial seam are pockets of resistance and the fresh suits for musical and spiritual change. These advances are no more evident than in the work that Greg Wilson, Kermit Leveridge, Josh Ray, The Reynolds and all their collaborators, new and old have always been doing.
Along with a range of fashionable merchandise Super Weird Substance has also produced a fanzine, Beneath the Manhole Cover, which takes in everything from Kurt Vonnegut to Cocaine Toothdrops. They are using music and all the other forms of their preference and expression to join the dots along the staves of our own consciousness. They are orchestrators of the internal symphony and arrangers of the personal song. Greg Wilson and his colleagues are all that a DJ and an artist needs to be and should be: The DJ is Director of Joy. Now we must dance towards dawn.
David Erdos 22/11/16
Photos by Nick Mizen and Elspeth Moore
Super Weird illustration by Mal Earl
Howard Marks by SLM