History revision: The art of the disco edit
The controversial practice still shaping modern dancefloors
The line between thief and innovator is a thin one. "Good artists borrow, great artists steal" goes the infamous Pablo Picasso quote. In music, we regularly see these parallels hotly contested and everyone seems to have an opinion. Fact of the matter is that the re-contextualisation of someone else's music is the reason we have the club culture we have today. The nefarious practice of disco edits are still shaping modern dancefloors today.
Editing has been around ever since music was committed to tape, but in the scheme of dance music, New York was the starting point. The city's budding DJs realised the short run time of the radio tracks they wanted to play wasn't optimal for their sets. In order to blend tracks, they needed drum breaks at the start and extended breakdowns. So with a DIY, almost punk spirit, they set about using the tools at their disposal: a tape deck and cassettes.
"My first tape machine was an old Sony PC30 and then I bought a TEAC that I learned you mark at the playback head and you cut at the record head,” legenadary producer and remixer John Morales, responsible for over 650 reworks with his M+M Music label, tells us. “I mean you would listen to some of those mixes now and you’re like ‘holy fuck it’s in the wrong place’. We were just figuring it out." Morales name-checks Eddie Kendricks' 'Date With The Rain' in 1975 as his first edit.
To begin with, edits were personal pieces of work that artists would do for themselves until bootleggers got hold of copies and started to sell them. The hustle became real. Tuesday was record day in New York and Morales would roam the stores with a group of 15-20 budding DJs and editors, looking for this new form of music. It was a community that included the likes of Jay Negron, François K, Tee Scott, Jelly Bean Benitez, Shep Pettibone and Bruce Forest, to name a few, and it was a family affair according to Morales.
"Everybody knew when somebody had a new release and we’d go ‘Yo, we need to go see Atlantic because they got the new CJ & Company," he says. "The DJ thing back then was more of a community and more of a friendly family atmosphere than it is today where everybody’s a DJ and everybody’s trying to cut each other’s throats."
Eventually these homemade techniques were taken into the studio where legendary producer Tom Moulton basically invented the 'extended mix' despite not being a DJ. Eventually Gibbons, Morales and co made the move into properly facilitated digs like Sunshine Sound and the rest is history.