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Old DJ sets resurfacing on the web reveal the true outlines of dance music history

Raiders of the lost art

  • Words: Michaelangelo Matos | Illustration: Calum Heath
  • 4 October 2018

Dance music’s glorious past has been increasingly easy to hear for more than a decade now thanks to the endless outlay of DJ sets online. By now, all a curious listener really needs to do is follow some Mixcloud or SoundCloud users who regularly upload new rips of old sets, and you can glean the historical outlines as you go, like an archaeologist on a virtual dig. It’s rewarding: over the spring and summer, I’ve found more than a dozen newly uploaded or digitised old sets, from the 80s forward, that I’d put on again in a second. Moreover, these sets have things to teach us about the conditions and trends of their era – things that even those of us who lived through some of it may have missed at the time.

Take the Mixcloud page Unique Sounds of America, run by an anonymous Brit with a whopping six followers (I’m one, obviously) and specialising in vintage Chicago house DJ recordings, largely from the Hot Mix 5, Chicago radio station WBMX-FM’s legendary DJ crew, including heavy-hitters from Frankie Knuckles to less legendary but still major figures like Ralphi ‘Rockin’ Rosario and Farley ‘Funkin’ Keith, who later became Farley ‘Jackmaster’ Funk (Unique Sounds features sets by both names).

Unique Sounds’ tapes sound uniformly good, which is rare with this stuff: hearing the music’s details is an education in itself, and a handful of sets demonstrate house’s evolution in vivid detail. Unique Sounds’ first upload, a February 1985 set by Rosario, is virtuosic, cramming 24 tracks in under 45 minutes, with a lot of fast cuts, sharp as a knife. We know that early house commingled electro, new wave, disco and Italo, and this set, which goes out on heavy disco from Melody Stewart and Kleeer, shows how old and new worked together on the turntables. Remember, at that stage, most of what was ‘new’ wasn’t Chicago house records – they existed by then (Jesse Saunders’ ‘On And On’, the first house recording, was late ’83), but the flood was still a short way away.

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