It was 1981. And there was this one night...
Art was imitating life.
Disco might have disappeared from the charts but it was still well represented in the new night clubs; clubs which were offering a refuge for the creatures of the night: junkies, trans and queer folk, Black people and Latinos. It’s there that the DJs – the new producers – would invent house music, somewhere in between the smoke, the lights, and the sweat.
Just a few blocks away were those who were so far outside that they couldn’t even get into the clubs, who would eventually slice up funk, inventing hip-hop.These two musical revolutions had arrived – house and hip-hop – twins birthed at night only a few lengths of cable apart.
And after the demands are made, the time for emancipation comes.
To contextualise, there hadn’t been a revolution for musicians since the electric guitar arrived in the ‘60s. The studios had become monsters of technology, but the instruments themselves were waiting for a new breath of life.
Not far away, Fairlight, Roland, Atari, and Akaï were already prototyping what would become samplers and sequencers. The revolution was beginning, and she had her own soundtrack. On 1st August 1981, MTV was launched. The channel would benefit enormously from this musical revolution and would forever change the rules surrounding promotion. Record companies would then become major players. The IBM PC was launched in August and he first CD was publicly demonstrated on the BBC TV show Tomorrow's World . Fun enough, the presenter Kieran Prendiville was then sceptical "whether there's a market for this kind of disc"... 1981 is also the year when the Computer Science Network (CSNET) was created. It helped introduce what would fast becoming the Internet to universities around the world. In addition, the first signs of AIDS were emerging, the first alert coming that same summer of ‘81 from Atlanta. The clubs – full of addiction and sexual liberation – would enable the spread of the disease. For some time it was known as ‘Bath Disease’ referring to a gay club and sauna The Continental Baths, whose cliental were particularly affected.
That night would leave a bitter taste in the mouth, where hedonism and ego drowned in the din of speakers and cocktails of drugs.
This nighttime playlist begins with proto-disco and Tracy Webster’s sweet sound of deep funk, followed by Herbie (not quite Rockit but still good electro) and the dancefloor hit by Tee Scott and Brooklyn Express. The train’s running…
We follow with the biggest hits from The Clash, Blondie, and Prince. The ‘80s were off to a good start!
Then comes a UFO, the hit of ‘81 from Kim Wilde. It’s got everything – the nonchalance of punk, the energy of rock, the omnipresence of electro, the cult of youth, of the USA, of leather and desire...
We continue with the beginnings of new wave – Taxi Girl, Soft Cell’s hommage to ecstasy, and the drug-fuel marathon of Patrick Crowley from the clubs of San Francisco. Acid House is on it’s way too…
Next, it’s hip-hop. Material, produced by Bill Laswell, the godfather Grandmaster Flash, and the black sisters of white funk, ESG. "Fade To Grey" is also one of the undisputed greatest hits of ‘81, even if it is a carbon copy of Human League’s "Being Boiled" who would have their revenge by exploding the charts with "Don’t You Want Me".
Finally, house music is taking shape in the beats of COLORED MUSIC and Freeez, and is almost techno in the enigmatic "Shari Vari". Techno comes in the form of Kraftwerk and New Order, like the new wave of The Cure and Pete Shelley of Buzzcocks, beautifully joined by Grace Jones, which brings us back to disco. O SuperYear!
The year was 1981, and nothing would ever be the same again.