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Strictly Rhythm

September 27, 2013

For the past week I’ve been wondering how to move on from my last post about Reynald Deschamps. It felt like the end of a chapter I didn’t realise I was writing, so now it looks like I’m going to have to start a new one. Hmmm….

Well, where a lot of my previous posts revolved around what you could call the “Tommy Musto connection” – Nu Groove and the Northcott/Apexton label groups – it’s always surprised me that his name never came up in relation to the biggest NY House label of them all: Strictly Rhythm.  At first I presumed I’d just overlooked something, but a Discogs search confirmed it – this 1997 mix CD is the only thing on the whole of Discogs that credits both Tommy Musto (edited by) and Strictly Rhythm (Manufactured by). I’m showing my geek side again, but I find that incredible!  Considering he was involved in pretty much everything else – bonkers… Anyways, looks like something worth digging into in future…

So, never mind Tommy Musto – what about Strictly … I mentioned in my post on Gene “Bluejean” Hughes that this search of mine has given me a newfound appreciation of the label. Basically, when I started buying records in the mid 90s I thought it was cack, but it seems I’d been a bit hasty. There’s a few labels that were churning out mass market rubbish for years that I’ve no intention of writing about (mentioning no names…), but for a good few years, Strictly Rhythm were untouchable.

The label came about following the collapse in 1989 of the Soul label Spring Records – formerly home of Millie Jackson and The Fatback Band. The label’s financial controller Mark Finkelstein left Spring with $25,000 to his name. He was planning on using it to become a cabbie, but he was convinced by another soon-to-be-ex-colleague, Gladys Pizzaro, to invest in her passion – House and Garage music.

Where Mark would provide the business acumen and the label’s iconic logo, Gladys would provide the ears – as Mark cheerfully admits in interviews:

I don’t listen to the music. People thought it was my great weakness and it was really my great strengths… I knew my opinions were irrelevant to what was going on. So I’d let Gladys Pizarro do anything she wanted and if you tortured me I wouldn’t recognize ninety-nine percent of the records I put out.

As if to highlight the business benefits of not knowing the music, Mark then goes on to suggest that Strictly was the first label to release records by Kenny Dope (who had at least 12 previous releases on other labels) and Todd Terry (I can’t be bothered counting…) – presumably all with a straight face!

As a traditional record label A&R (Artists and Repertoire) executive and with Mark’s industry experience and cash behind her, Gladys was in a position to go out and find the best artists in New York.  The first few releases weren’t up to much, but soon she found in 2 producers and a DJ that would get them noticed – George Morel, Wayne Gardiner and a then unknown Roger Sanchez.  As Gladys says in this interview on the DMC website:

DMC: So you are the lady responsible for launching a DJ career’s who is not doing too bad at the moment, Roger Sanchez. Must have been quite a proud time watching him grow and grow? What did you spot in him that made you realise he was potentially a superstar?

Gladys: “I went to see him play one night and he impressed me so much that the next day I set up a STUDIO SESSION for him… What came out of that session was a record called ‘Love Dancin’. I gave the record to Tony Humphries one Saturday night and by the time I got to the office on Monday morning the phones were ringing like CRAZY… Mark had gotten so many calls from labels that wanted to license the record.”

House music had by now exploded in the UK and Europe, and Strictly Rhythm was perfectly placed to make the most of it.  The licensing boom began with Luv Dancin being licensed to 10 Records and by now Strictly Rhythm records were on the wall behind the counter of every dance record shop in the UK and beyond.  The label was eventually releasing a record every week, earning it’s artists big money and making them international stars.  A licensing deal with EMI for Reel To Real’s I Like To Move It in 1993 would bring in a cool $780,000 – it’s producer Erick Morillo receiving a cheque for half.  What had begun as a New York subculture, building on foundations laid down in Chicago, was now big international business driven by record company executives, radio playlists and sales figures.  Strictly continued to release some great records throughout the mid 90s (and some proper rubbish…), but as Terre Thaemlitz said about the splitting of the House and Techno genres in New York at that time, something great had already ended.  Bobby Konders calls it the Lost Era, works for me.

From → Labels, Uncategorized

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