Half Q – S4 | Out on a Limb
Excerpt from The Story of Star Wars
Chito’s Revenge – Oracion | Bomb Records
Planetary Assault Systems – Diesel Drudge | Peacefrog Records
Red 2 – Gonk | Bush
Hardtrax – Cowboyphunk | Probe
The Wise – Quick Phasis | Underground Wisdom Recordings
Chito’s Revenge – Lagrimas | Bomb Records
Winx – How’s the Music (Go Higher Mix) | Sorted Records
Time Warp – A Feeling I Know | Groove On
Hardtrax – Hardphunk | Probe
DBX – Losing Control (Carl Craig Remix) | Peacefrog Records
Jack-Tronic – The Hustler (Planetary Assault Systems Remix) | Peacefrog Records
The Wise – The Jam | Underground Wisdom Recordings
Aura and Thee Dove – Pussn Meow | Radikal Fear
Half Q – Nightvisit | Out on a Limb
Wink – Higher State of Consciousness (The 611 Acid Groove Mix) | Strictly Rhythm
Winx – Lumpy Oatmeal | Sorted Records
Aphrohead – In Thee Dark We Live (Dave Clarke 313 Mix) | Bush
Grooveyard – Hard Groovin’ | EC Records
??? [For the life of me I can’t remember what this last track is! Will try to figure it out, watch this space.]
I made this mixtape in New York in July of 1995. It has a lot of personal importance to me as a document of my life, musical and otherwise, at that time. It marked a key transition point in my understanding of house and techno – it was the first time I was able to get the sounds I heard in my head down on tape, and it propelled me to another level of mixing and record collecting. It impressed and impacted a lot of people who heard it, created a lot of opportunity for me, and led to partnerships and friendships that exist to this day. It's not going too far to say it connected me with the true-school house community in New York for which I'd been searching for years. Before that I felt like I was grasping in the dark, trying to figure out this music by myself. Space Dust also united my passions for music and science fiction/fantasy through its tribute to Star Wars. On a more immediate level, it saved my life. OK, I'm exaggerating. Let's say it saved my ass.
I had no job, no prospects and no money at all when I made this tape; on the advice of a friend I sold it for $30 to a tiny but well-known East Village boutique called House, a hole in the wall on 14th Street that specialized in a mixed bag of club fashion and exclusive mixtapes. That $30 fed me and kept me going – along with a little help from my friends – until I finally found a job the following month. It was an incredibly unstable and difficult time for me; there were so many moments when I could have just quit the music thing or even quit New York. My back was against the wall, and somehow when I had nothing else this mixtape came out of me. I accomplished something musically that I never had, I ended up with enough to eat that week, and the tape got out there and got in the right hands. You could say the Force was with me. I don't think it's the best tape I've ever made, but it's the most memorable and special. To this day people ask me about it. A few DJs and producers I really respect have told me this tape was a big influence on them, which makes me feel kind of weird but proud. I've always believed the lasting effect it's had was a result of that painful but transformative moment.
But the reason I'm posting it now also has to do with where the music is at in 2014. I've been listening to Space Dust a lot lately, and it's probably not a coincidence, but I'm hearing a lot of continuity between what was going on then and now. A lot of new stuff from young producers, who were home watching Ninja Turtles or weren't even born in 1995, really comes with the raw energy and hands-in-the-air spirit of those years. It's time for that sound again. The circle is now complete.
The Star Wars stuff at the beginning might seem too obvious or cheesy to contemporary ears. If Star Wars isn't your bag, fear not – the direct references on this tape begin and end before the bass drops on the first record. Anyway it's kind of hard to explain what Star Wars meant to me in those years. Mind you this was before the horrible prequels did such damage to the romance of the whole thing, and long before being a geek was a bland requirement of partaking in mass culture. Back then the enthusiasm was genuine and the bonds formed with fellow fans were real. At a particularly low moment in the spring of 1995, I rented Star Wars on VHS and watched it for the first time since I was a kid, and it made me feel like myself for the first time in ages. It was like remembering how to be happy. Among many other impressions, for the first time as an adult I was taken by the power of George Lucas's mythmaking, and struck by how its archetypes could be applied to modern life in a way that transcended memorizing dialogue or collecting action figures. The struggle against the Empire suddenly took on layered meaning, given my awakening concern for what corporate greed and American imperialism were doing to our society and our environment. And the Force was a brilliant storytelling device for the very real search for spiritual meaning and oneness. Call it the Zen of Star Wars; for whatever reason reconnecting with this mythic metaphor for God or Enlighenment made a sudden difference in my life and energized me creatively.
Of course I was always aware of the influence of science fiction on techno and rave culture. But there was always a very clean, futuristic, cybernetic, Metropolis element to most of that that never really clicked with me. I thought there was a totally different path to explore with Star Wars's grimy, anachronistic, low-fi vision of a different world a long time ago. The dusty backwater landscapes, the beat-up machines, the design that was a cross between postmodern North Africa, medieval Japan, the American wild west, Orwell's 1984 and a '70s vision of outer space which by the mid-'90s had an extra layer of almost kitschy nostalgia. I thought this vibe was a natural match for the gritty soul and disco-loopiness of the Chicago and Detroit machine funk I was just starting to get into, as well as the spooky majesty of some of the UK and Dutch techno of the day. Not boring "tech house" but a true techno-house fusion, the far more organic, crisp, funky, soulful, deep stuff from vanguard producers like DJ Pierre, Roy Davis Jr, Josh Wink, Felix da Housecat, Mike Dunn, David Alvarado, DBX, Planetary Assault Systems (Luke Slater). Anything by Carl Craig of course. Everything on Peacefrog Records. Most of those guys are represented on this tape. This stuff was blowing my mind after years of searching for the true essence of house, without much guidance from others and with lots of trial and error, and becoming fed up with UK progressive and New York hard house and garage. I had a certain sound in my head, but could never describe it very well and it took me a long time to figure out how to find it. It was sort of a cross between my memories of the LA rave scene and the deeper, dubbier, stretched-out, trippy afterhours sound of my heroes Doc Martin, Jenö and Wink.
A big turning point came when I heard Dave Clarke play at a loft party in Soho in early July. The rawness and brutality of the techno and electro he played, the rough transitions that owed so much to hip hop, the underlying funk swing, and his overall fuck-off attitude, seemed so revolutionary to me. I finally had a vision of how I wanted my techno-house hybrid to sound - something like the crazy energy of Clarke mixed with some of the smooth craftsmanship and sonic storytelling of my house heroes. (If that isn't a total contradiction.)
In some weird way I had to discover what house music was all by myself from scratch, fumbling in the dark. I'm not saying I was some kind of innovator, but nobody else I was hearing out at clubs in New York was playing stuff quite like this. (I'm sure it would have been a different story in Detroit or Manchester.) It was techno but it was pitched wayyyy down. (I always thought pitching down made techno so much sexier and more powerful.) It was house but it was really warped and dirty and spooky. It wasn't bloody tech house as we know it now, that's for sure.
A skeletal framework of the journey of the hero that George Lucas borrowed from Joseph Campbell was in my mind as I constructed the mix. Certain records were chosen to represent dramatic turning points – and others because they sounded like space battles. The whole thing was meant to be a sonic journey from darkness into light. This was helped along by themes and song titles from tracks themselves - Planetary Assault Systems, Red 2, "Diesel Drudge," sampled vocal bits like "The end of the earth is upon us" and "The light!" when I tried to picture what kind of dance music I thought Han Solo and Chewbacca would be into between smuggling runs, Hardphunk's "Cowboyphunk" was the concept and vibe that came to mind. OK, so this all probably sounds pretty dorky, but that's the kind of narrative drive that fuelled me then, and still does in more subtle ways.
I recorded Space Dust in my bedroom on my roommate's home stereo. My system was two 1200s and a two-channel Gemini Scratchmaster. I mixed with the crossfader hip-hop style (which is how I generally still do it). The Scratchmaster didn't have EQs or effects. I didn't have much concept of mixing harmonically other than what I did on instinct. There was no multitracking; the vocal snippets that precede the start of the first record on Side A were done by good old-fashioned cassette-tape splicing with the pause button.
I knew I couldn't screw up because I was running out of food and I had literally no cash at all. I needed that thirty bucks like nobody's business. It took me two days to record the two sides. I had a box of granola and some milk to have for breakfast on both days, and some leftover pasta the first night. All I had left to eat the second night was an unclaimed can of beets that had been left in the cupboard by a previous tenant. I figured when I got the cash I could buy some rice and have the beets for dinner. It was that do-or-die mentality that got me over the line; I did the first side in three takes or so, and the second side in one take. I made the cover by hand with a photocopied panel from a Star Wars comic (reissued the year before by Dark Horse), stencilled comic-book style background patterns and a handwritten tracklist.
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