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History revision: The art of the disco edit

The controversial practice still shaping modern dancefloors

  • Words: Louis Anderson-Rich | Art: Lawrence Abbott
  • 8 September 2017
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While edits were making up a major part of New York’s underground disco culture, from Walter Gibbon’s mix of Double Exposure’s ‘Ten Percent’ and Moulton’s extension of BT Express’ ‘Do It (Til You’re Satisfied)’, it took awhile for the practice to reach the UK. Legendary DJ Greg Wilson tells us edits didn’t really come into play in the UK until the mid 90s, as exemplified by DJ Harvey and Gerry Rooney’s seminal Black Cock label, which was inspired by the edits of Ron Hardy. “DJs were much more tuned in by the time Chicago came into play in the mid 80s, but much of what had happened in New York was only understood retrospectively,” Wilson says.

Black Cock’s records were unlicensed edits, sampled from records hooked up to an Atari Mega 4. They were original pirate material, to borrow a phrase, and rarely mentioned the name of the song and were rarely credited to an artist. Their edit of Made In The USA’s ‘Never Let You Go’ is perhaps the most distinguished release of theirs, a track that simply loops the last minute of the original and was made incredibly expensive by an appearance in a Motor City Drum Ensemble Boiler Room set.

UK institution Joey Negro’s first “pure edits” also came in the mid 90s but via a more legal route for famed disco label West End Records. “One of them was a record by Master Dance & Boogie. Before I heard the actual record in its entirety, I heard this West End Mastermix and it was Tony Humphries. It came out on vinyl and it just had a minute and 45 seconds of various tracks, you know like about 20 tracks in a 15-minute mix. I heard a bit of this track and I thought, ‘This sounds like a wicked track’. When I actually got the record, he’d only used a bit of the record and I thought, ‘This is a bit disappointing, actually’. So when I did my edit, I tried to edit a full-length five/six-minute version to make it sound like that bit I had heard in the mix.”

What he ended up with is a track perfect for the DJ, with an extended break at the start for mixing and the best bit of the groove as the main focus of the track. Both of these are perfect examples, both legal and illegal, of why edits are important. One artist’s vision can revolutionise another’s while still maintaining the lineage and heritage of the original. Little tweaks made for an ever evolving dancefloor.

“Some people might say, ‘I really like that record, but I much prefer what happens after 5 minutes’. Some records that were made, especially in the 70s, the nine-minute records, there might be a point where it breaks down at six minutes and then it goes off in a completely different direction, so you might base your edit on just the second half of the track. Or, there might be an edit where you think, ‘I really don’t like the vocals in this track’ – there are definitely records that came out in that era with pretty crap vocals,” explains Negro.

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