Ace Mungin and the roots of house music in New Jersey: part 2
It’s early Saturday morning and I’m reflecting on a crazy 7 days since I posted the first part of my chat with Ace Beat records’ Ace Mungin. Last weekend I dusted off the NY/NJ records I’ve been hoovering up from Discogs to play at What The Freak over here in Hebden Bridge – lots of fun there despite a bit of an early slot! I also had a wonderful Skype chat with Abigail Adams about Movin’ records and beyond which has brought up yet more intriguing connections between the New York and New Jersey music scenes. Can’t wait to write that up in the next few weeks.
Then, on Thursday, I was having a quick look at twitter when the news started coming through that Nelson Mandela had died. I phoned my mum to tell her, but when she answered I didn’t know what to say. My mum was born in South Africa, but soon after the family decided to return to the UK for a more peaceful life in Belfast (the irony…). My Nanna eventually returned to Cape Town and passed away out there some years ago; my Uncle Michael is still there now.
On Mrs D’s side, having fled Idi Amin’s Uganda in the 70s, her Aunt Joy now lives in Johannesburg with her two sons and her husband Wolfgang (the most wonderfully German man I’ve ever met!). We were lucky enough to visit them 5 years ago (almost to the day) and were given a tour of Soweto by a colleague of Aunt Joy’s from the University. We’d walked the streets around the Hector Pieterson memorial museum and Nelson Mandela’s house that were now showing again on the news. I sat on the phone watching pictures of people gathering in these places I knew while my mum chatted away about her week, trying to work out how to break the news. Finally, somewhat dishonestly, I broke my silence: “oh, mum – there’s an announcement on the TV, Nelson Mandela has died”. Then she didn’t know what to say either. We decided to hang up so we could watch the news and take it all in.
In the days since, there has been the inevitable (sometimes ugly) rush by people to associate themselves with this man who put most of us to shame. There’s very little I can add to the reams that have been written already, but what a hero he was… Oh, and while we’re at it – Desmond Tutu, what a hero he still is! On that same trip, we spent Christmas in Cape Town with my uncle and had the privilege of attending the Archbishop’s Christmas service at the Cathedral. He waited around to shake the hand of every single person that left the cathedral that day – I couldn’t believe it. He’s still going strong now, leading a nation (continent? world?) in their mourning. Hope, faith, optimism – we’re supposed to have evolved to a stage where we don’t need to rely on all that childish nonsense aren’t we? Well, thank God for heroes like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu – thats all I’m saying.
Anyway – I’m sure Ace won’t mind me having hijacked his interview, but I do need to get back on topic… Helpfully, Abigail shared this picture on Facebook yesterday – one of Keith Haring’s most famous pictures and a of the symbol of the campaign to free Mandela and end Apartheid. If you look in the videos of the Free Mandela concert at Wembley, you’ll see a version of this poster (showing a snapping rope) on either side of the stage.
Keith and the Paradise Garage were inextricably linked – his murals were all over the walls and he was a Saturday night regular. His Free South Africa posters were given away at the club – one night a friend of Abigail’s had a whole box full of them that was left at the top of the famous Paradise Garage ramp for people to take (this may not have been part of the original plan…).
And handily for this rather tenuous link, one ended up on Ace’s wall too – at about the same time as those early records with Blaze and Paul Scott were establishing Ace Beat as the New Jersey house label. Blaze weren’t the only New Jersey stars that Ace helped getting started either:
Ben: So in 1986 you released Jomanda’s first record – how did that come about:
Ace: At the time, I was the first label doing house – they were friends with Kevin and it was basically just a lot of hanging out you know? Whenever I was doing something I would go in the studio and everybody came, everybody was hanging out. So it wasn’t strange for Backroom Productions that did Jomanda, or Smack productions which was Mike Cameron to just hang out – we’d be just like: “hey come on” you know? “I can use your ear on this” you know?
Ace: I had the first label, so I became the “go-to” guy. Plus the fact that, even though I had a small job, I was putting the money out – putting out a record wasn’t cheap. I had to spend money on the studio…
Ben: Sure – and what kind of quantities would you press?
Ace: At first about a thousand, maybe two thousand – I guess that’s why I didn’t put out much stuff, I couldn’t afford it really! I’d make a little money, but the money I was making just went back into production and buying equipment to have my own studio. Eventually after those productions – with Jomanda and Blaze, those first couple of productions – that allowed me to have my own studio. That’s when we started to put out more stuff.
Ben: Right – and so it seems to me with the [Jersey] stories that – nighttime, the Zanzibar is a big catalyst for stuff that’s going on and in the daytime it’s the Movin’ records store?
Ace: Zanzibar was like – we’d be in the studio (now I had my studio together), we’d do tracks and then after we’d done them we’d go down Zanzibar. At that time Tony Humphries was playing so we’d take it down to Zanzibar and he’d put it right on, we could see how it works!
Ben: That was a great place to test your music!
Ace: Yeah. And Movin’ was the place that Tony Humphries would get most of his music – Abigail lived in the same building as Tony, so she had that relationship and she was our link between New York and New Jersey. She knew all the New York people and she had a hand on what was coming through New York. So that was definitely our place to hang out and hear new music, hear new tracks that was coming out. She knew what Tony was playing, if it was out or if Tony was doing his remixes on something – she had first dibs on it you know! It was a great time and we were just going along for the ride…
Oh, and I think you were saying something about the Jersey Sound – what was the difference between that and the New York sound? It wasn’t really too much of a difference, but we wanted to have our own identity. You know, because we were so close to New York and New York is such a dominant state. A lot of times write ups and reporters would just say “New York” and New York would get all the hype, but we wasn’t from New York! So we wanted to have our own identity – and we were also picking up from Philly: you had the “Philly sound” and we wanted to be the “Jersey sound”! We were more vocal orientated and New York was more track orientated. The other thing in Newark – I hate to say! – at that particular time there is one thing we were not short of… Almost every other block you had a store front church, and a liquor store! Haha – those were the two dominant things in Newark! So everybody was very spiritually orientated and that’s where the musicians were – in the churches [Ben: glad we clarified that!!]. So we had that, you had a group of people like I said like Mike Cameron and Blaze and whatnot – Josh played in the church. Then there was the radio – from the late 70s the FM stations started and had a big influence on the music we listened to, that danceable R&B. That’s what we wanted to do
And that’s what they did. In 1989, Ace released my favourite record of the lot with Tyrone Payton and the group Intense: the Garage Movement EP. If you’re going to buy one Ace Beat record, make it this one – I’ve bought two just in case! Few labels have released 3 tracks as good as Let The Rain Come Down, The Strength and Dog A Baseline, let alone all on the same record. At the time of writing there are 44 copies of it on discogs, at a starting price 74p. How that makes any sense I do not know, but I’m not complaining – hope you like them as much as I do anyway.