House Hunting #47 - Quest

Aiden treats the Mrs to a summer sojourn down to Brighton beach. Sort of...

House Hunting #47 - Quest

Aiden treats the Mrs to a summer sojourn down to Brighton beach. Sort of...

So the week before last my days off coincided with a spell of decent weather so thought I’d treat the Mrs to a summer sojourn down to Brighton beach. However, you know me any trek outta London and I’ve always got my rack raiding radar on – this would be no exception as I already planned some premeditated perusing… I was straight up with Tonya as could you imagine takin’ a jaunt down to Brighton and me saying “just one record shop…” then goin’ on a crate crusade abandoning her and forsaking the sun, beach, lunch for the dingy depths of a dusty record shop. I promised her that’d I just check out one joint – the deal was I’d go straight there in exchange for some proper cocktail couture. I said I’d be about an hour though as always the case when crate diggin’ I knew I’d be longer but she could get a bout of Brighton bohemia browsing all them boutiques…  

So what place was I checkin’ out? Well it wasn’t a record shop per se but actually renowned record dealer and Lifeforce alumni Nick The Record’s gaff – you knew if I was gonna jet down to Brighton I had to check out his serious selection. A few days prior we pre-arranged that I could check out his vinyl vaults so was looking forward to this diggin’ deviation from my usual house haunts in London town. I got a taxi straight to his record residence and upon entering his hallowed turf there were records EVERYWHERE – a proper Aladdin’s cave with wax jewels waiting to be unearthed… After gettin’ the kettle on and exchanging pleasantries (more like talkin’ house and records standard), Nick pointed out where all the house was in all the nooks and crannies. However, he said I should first check out the stax o’ wax that was cascading down the stairs as this haphazard heap of house had just come in and was yet to be listed via his DJ Friendly website or Discogs account. So I ascended the stairs to start from the top and made my way down rummaging through every pile leaving no record unturned… I clocked loads of records on legendary labels such as Chicago’s DJ International and Clubhouse, some NYC flavour via Easy Street and Underworld plus Toronto powerhouses Bigshot and Strobe. However, on the last stair in the last pile I pulled out an original black label copy of Farley Jackmaster Funk’s ‘Funkin With The Drums Again’ on Trax – decent condition and Nick let me have for just £4 nice one! All about ‘Farley Knows House’ on this one…

Whilst gettin’ my deep dose of dusty fingers Nick regaled me with the trials and tribulations of his diggin’ expeditions as far as the US and Japan – love hearing these stories whilst gettin’ my dig on especially with his decades experience as a discernible dealer. Next up he pointed out the racks which had the hallowed house joints that were on his website. On flickin’ through I clocked some of my fave LP’s including Fingers Inc.’s ‘Another Side’, Farley’s ‘No Vocals Necessary’ and Dream 2 Science’s eponymous opus so I was in prime house hunting territory. There were the usual suspects too like Trax Records including Mr Fingers, Phuture and a couple of copies of the house Holy Grail ‘Never Let You Go’ by William S which you don’t see every (with loads in original Trax sleeves I thought I was gonna faint), some Nu Groove necessities (I scoped a sealed copy of Basil Hardhaus) plus some Gherkin flavour so I was in house hunting heaven… Nick also signalled towards another room which was crammed with crates overflowing so time for some more dusty fingers fervour. Some more NY/NJ needs on stables such as Strictly Rhythm and Bottom Line plus more super rare platters outta Chicago including Z-Factor’s ‘I Am The D.J.’ (red vinyl pressing!) and ‘Beat The Street’ by DZ’s Pump Girls aka Dezz of New Power and Gherkin. Man in this labyrinthine lair I could rinse some serious £££’s – time was ticking and Tonya called askin’ where I was (f**k where did the time go?!) so I got a stack ready and managed to spend under a ton which ain’t bad goin’ as I could have easily dropped a grand. Here’s a few of my choice cuts that I copped…

However, there was a particular pink-labelled hallowed house hotplate that caught my attention – no it ain’t a fabled Joe Lewis Target 12” so relax it’s a more than able substitute in the form of Sound Pak record ‘Mind Games’ by Quest aka Chicago House hero Carl Bias. This one’s been on my rack raiding radar for time and finally found a copy at a decent price – can’t complain for a tenner…

So how did the story of Quest begin? Well, prior to forming the group Carl Bias was behind the counter of Loop Records in Downtown Chicago on State Street. During this time Carl had started recording some primitive productions with fellow employee and buyer at Loop Records Jesse Jones on vox. One day when working a guy called Rick Siepak dropped in with his label Sound Pak who already had a record pressed up by Larry Sherman. Carl had just collaborated with Liz Torres on a track called ‘Mind Games’ – he gave it to Rick thinking nothing would come of it. When Rick pressed it up and released it on Sound Pak in ‘85, to Carl’s surprise it struck a chord in Chicago and was a major city hit. The driving Roland rhythms and sinister synths contribute to a haunting yet beguiling production complimented by Liz Torres’ fierce delivery – though her vox unpolished what she lacked technically she made up in pure raw emotion. This precursor would be the blueprint of Carl’s future productions as Quest and later incarnation Master C&J – lose yourself in this one and watch it I said NO MORE MIND GAMES!

As well as bein’ a hit in the city, the track also proved influential to a cohort of aspirational Chi-town producers with Liz’ vox even later reaching out to the early nineties rave generation as was sampled by Second Phase (aka Joey Beltram and Mundo Muzique) on their R&S anthem ‘Mind To Mind’ and even gettin’ some UK hardcore flavour via ‘Try To Love Me’ by Manix on 4 Hero’s Reinforced Records. This debut release would both be the catalyst in both Carl’s and Sound Pak’s lasting legacy. Under his Quest guise, Carl was a label mainstay on Sound Pak producing ‘Escape’ by 3-Voices that was released in ‘87 – the instrumental my choice cut though you can also get a ‘House Mix’ of the track via Chicago bootie label House Musik (released a year later with the track title being ‘Escape To The Jungle’) which is like an old-school medley of all the remixes on the Sound Pak pressing. My advice cop both… Also as Quest he released ‘Looking Into My Eyes’ in ’88 this time hooking up with Tamara Sanderson of Scamara (who released records on Trax and Gherkin) – returning to the same formula of his first Quest prototype with another deep production and Tamara yearning “Look into my eyes, what do you see” with her spine-shivering vox bringin’ some light to proceedings. Carl also mixed a killer dub for Mink’s ‘Rhythem Method’ 12” which though has a more jackin’ flavour still has his distinctive deep touch. Though most will identify the label with the Quest releases don’t forget Sound Pak necessity ‘Night Moves’ by Rickster aka label head Rick Siepak who got Steve “Silk” Hurley on the mix and Charles Steward to lay down that infectious hook – check ‘em all out here…

After releasing the first Quest 12”, Carl and Jesse reincarnated themselves as Master C&J and in ’86 they released their debut production ‘When You Hold Me’ on Larry Sherman’s Trax Records.  Upon listening to the EP (whether the original version or the more stark ‘Dub Love’) you may realise it’s reminiscent of another house production that was simultaneously released the same year on Trax. A couple of Trax releases before Chicago House hero Farley “Jackmaster” Funk under his The Rude Boy Farley Keith alias released ‘Give Your Self To Me’ featuring fellow house marvel Danny “Sweet D” Wilson on keys. The killer keyboard line is what you’ll hear in both interpretation and as typical of the era you knew one of them had to have raided off the other. After my Sweet D article was published on Ransom Note a few weeks back Danny himself elaborated on what went down:

There’s only one thing I’d like to set the record straight on though. Farley and I made ‘Give Your Self To Me’ before Master C&J made ‘When You Hold Me’. Here’s a little known fact for you. I was actually mad at Carl Bias for taking my keyboard line. We shared some bad words about it back in the day. Shame on me! In hindsight, what was I mad at him for! How could I be mad at him using my keyboard lines when I’d taken lines from so many others. My apologies Carl.

Anyway both Chi-town classics in their own right regardless of which record was released first and their resemblances. Perhaps unjustly, the original Farley version was left in the shadows as the Master C & J interpretation went on to be a staple in Larry Levan’s sets at the Paradise Garage – no doubt the stark synths, ominous bass and breathless moans sending the dancefloor to a dark, deeper place… On the flip ‘Dub Love’ brings that sense of foreboding even closer strippin’ things right down with those menacing keys comin’ to the forefront. Proper haunted house…

A year later Loop Records’ owner founded State Street Records which was named after the street the shop was on – love that Chicago Skyscraper skyline artwork one of my fave house logos! Anyway, the label would provide the perfect platform for Carl and Jesse’s Master C&J project who recruited Liz Torres in the process. They launched the label with ‘Face It’ and later released ‘In The City’ with these hypnotic rhythms havin’ those haunting hallmarks synonymous with Carl’s earlier productions complete with Jesse and Liz’ longing vox adding further depth and emotion. Edward “Get Down” Crosby also joined the roster, laying down ‘Can’t Get Enough’ for Liz and contributing to Liz Torres’ Master C & J produced ‘Can’t Get Enough’ LP which was licensed to Jack Trax. They also released a series of records on Streetside Records including ‘One Day We’ll All be Free’ and ‘Master Of Love (Satisfaction Guaranteed)’ plus produced a few more Liz Torres releases including her killer Queen B**** EP – which I also copped off Nick The Record. However Carl ain’t on the credits on all these (just Jesse and Edward) so whether he departed, was behind the scenes or more of those Chicago House politics that were synonymous of the era I don’t know. Let’s just go back Downtown to State Street and also check ‘em out playing live at the Paradise Garage for the grand closing party in ’87 (watch from 1 hour 6 minute mark) proper house history…

Come the early nineties and now Chicago had its house heyday instead of re-treading former glories Carl set up Velvet City Records – complete with Mason Arrigo supplying the ace label artwork (who also drew the iconic Gherkin logo for Brett Wilcots legendary label). Carl formed the house posse Black Ice Productions whose alumni include Larry Thompson and Rick Lenior (of House Jam fame), Sherman Rodgers of North/Clybourn on Gherkin and Darren Brandon aka Donnie Tempo (who’s undergoing a revival with his EP’s on Moreaboutmusic) and they released the ‘Black Ice E.P. Vol.1’ on his imprint. I don’t know what DJ has dropped these of late most of the Black Ice EP’s have become proper speculator specials whether the Velvet City 12” or their EPs on Night Club, Swing Street or Large – buy on sight if you clock one at a decent price! Another fave on Velvet City that Carl Bias produced is the Color Of Music 12” which bears the hallmarks of his Quest and Master C&J records with those hypnotic rhythms but with more NY/NJ influences. Also under his The Bias Project alias he laid down ‘The Valley’ for the ace ‘Airtight Garage’ comp on Easy Street again showcasing his new house direction – check that along with some of that Velvet City flavour here…

He had a few more records released on labels like 4 Liberty however after the mid-nineties things lay dormant for over 15 years until 2011 when Simoncino brought him outta retirement and got him to contribute with his track ‘I Feel It’ on the ‘Underground Dance’ EP that launched Simoncino’s HotMix Records imprint – the track has all those classic Carl Bias characteristics and definitely not lost any of that production prowess… Though probably not the first producer most heads will reference when talkin’ about Chicago House, there’s no question of Carl’s influence and lasting legacy which as my main man Chez Damier puts it:

There’s this guy Carl Bias, largely unknown but a very intricate ingredient to the early Chicago scene.

I couldn’t put it better myself… 

AIDEN d’ARAUJO

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