special disco mention #3: patrick cowley
For this installment of Special Disco Mention, wed like to raise a toast to one of the true greats of early electronic music – Mr Patrick Cowley….
In his short life, Patrick Cowley managed to revolutionise electronic music, leaving a legacy that were still discovering to this day. Although best known for his storming, epic remix of Donna Summers I Feel Love, a feeling persists that Patrick Cowley is somewhat of an unsung hero within the history of Electronic music. His work with Sylvester is well documented and, of course, hes the man who produced You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) the soundtrack to hen nights the world over – but, also, hes the man behind the most spooked and restrained track of Sylvesters oeuvre – the incredible I Need Somebody To Love Tonight and its this side to Cowley, the brooding and bittersweet – a million miles from the pounding, hyper camp Hi -NRG sound he pioneered, that the forthcoming School Daze compilation on the Dark Entries label shines a light on.
Born in the New York area, Patrick relocated to San Francisco in his early 20s to study music and swiftly became involved in the vibrant gay scene of the city while simultaneously learning his trade at college as a wizard of the synthesizer. During this time he produced reels and reels of experimental electronic music, some of which would later find its way into the hands of Sylvester, who recruited Cowley on the basis of this early material. Cowley and Sylvesters synergy was powerful and immediate, Sylvesters vocal range the perfect compliment to Cowleys talents – and by the end of the 1970s the pair had collaborated on a number of hugely successful records.
The success of the pairing brought Cowley to prominence as a producer in his own right, producing the New Wave band Indoor Life and later San Fran disco star Paul Parker. At the beginning of the 80s, he also began releasing music under his own name on his own label, Megatone Records, including the likes of the seminal Megatron Man, Menergy and Mind Warp which all received huge success in the clubs of the gay scene and beyond. It was at this point that Sylvester passed a number of Cowleys recordings to a friend of his, someone called John Coletti, who owned Fox Studios, an LA-based gay porn outfit. Coletti was rightly impressed and suggested Cowley score his films. Cowley, who lived his life deeply embedded in the gay scene was taken with the idea and sent Coletti the tapes from his college explorations into synthesized sound.
As mentioned before, these tapes showcase a different side of Cowleys musicianship – dark, spaced out, drone like, worn-down. The timing of the release of this collection of tracks is perfect – they fit perfectly with the current trends in bleached out techno purveyed by the likes of Raime and Actress, showing Cowley to be a true Godfather of the electronic music movement. The music is so ahead of its time (considering the majority of it was made in the early to mid 70s) its frightening. Over the course of the 11 tracks on the comp, ranging from the the beatless weirdness of Nightcrawler and Out of Body to the echo-experiments of Pagan Rhythms and Seven Sacred Pools, Cowley proves himself an almost peerless master of the dark arts of experimental electronic music.
The compilations release is made even sweeter by the fact that all proceeds of the record will go to the San Fransisco AIDS Foundation, an organisation that have been working to end the AIDS pandemic since the early 80s. To achieve what he did in such a short space of time (sadly, Cowley died of AIDS at 32), for setting such a high benchmark and for being a full 40 years ahead of the game, we think Patrick Cowley is as much deserving of a Special Disco Mention as anyone can be….