House Hunting #49 - Sleeping Bag Records

Aiden gives us another label love letter...

House Hunting #49 - Sleeping Bag Records

Aiden gives us another label love letter...

So after last week’s 400-strong serious house haul I've already been wheelin’n’dealin’ as the records are overflowin’ all over the gaff – I’m still goin’ though it seriously I could write a year’s worth of articles from all the hallowed house I’ve unearthed! Naturally any spare sec I’ve had I’ve been sortin’ through this house hoard – sorry Tonya this supply of black crack got me hooked! So I ain’t needed to jet on a crate crusade as when not working I’ve been house-bound in perusal paradise with my platter matter though you know I never fully switch off my house radar...

Through the column I’m further playing diggin’ detective with messages and requests like for instance can I detect a track in a mix, where I can help find a certain record, what shops to check out etc so I help out where I can  with the #househuntinghotline. As well as aiding others, I get frequent messages from the dealers and the shops that are just fuelling my house habit even more – they know I can’t resist when it’s an original pressing with clean labels and sleeve in shrink easy prey... So when I logged on to FB and saw a message from Jake at Love Vinyl you know it’s gonna be a serious record with his crate credentials as a discernible dealer. He said they just got a copy in of Colonel Abrams’ super rare Paradise Garage and Zanzibar classic ‘You Got Me Running’ (coincidentally another dealer got in touch with me over this one) which had production powerhouse Boyd Jarvis and WBLS wizard Timmy Regisford at the controls. Over on the flip ‘Release The Tension’ ain’t bad either and was a precursor to Boyd and Timmy’s 12” of the same name on 4th & Broadway under their Circuit guise. Check ‘em out here...

This ain’t what I wanna hear after I just rinsed a couple of hundred quid on a collection and though the Colonel record serious £££’s you don’t see it every day so said to Jake to put it on hold and I’ll jet down when I could. As I had a rare early finish at work one day last week I deviated east to the Hoxton wax haunt to pick it up and Zaf already had it bagged up and ready for me behind the counter. Naturally with my OCD tendencies wanted a quick inspection – clean labels, original sleeve plus the vinyl looked mint so lookin’ promising... Roual and Jarvo were trying to flog me some new records from their section but weren’t havin’ any of that no compromises strictly old-school... As it’s a white label I naturally wanted to ensure it was the correct pressing so had a quick listen. Sounded pretty decent but I’m sure I heard it skip near the start, so played on another turntable in case an issue with the needle but it skipped again. I asked the guys to play on the shop soundsystem but f**k even with a record and needle clean it weren’t happenin’ – turns out there was a lil’ nick in the record that was causing it to skip. It’s only minor and to some they wouldn’t be bothered but that’s something I knew would do my head in and wouldn’t be able to drop so I had to regretfully leave it. Though I passed up on that you know I weren’t gonna leave empty handed though...

I had a quick snoop in the new arrivals of the second-hand section and on this rack raid pulled out a pair of Sleeping Bags that were mint complete with stickered shrinks so that sealed the deal. These two were the ‘(You Are My) All And All’ by Joyce Sims and ‘Summertime, Summertime’ by Nocera produced by Mantronik. As well as these two in that house haul was ‘A Little Bit Of Lovin’ by Chocolette – all about the ‘Clubby Dubby Mix’ which Junior Vasquez used to rinse in the Sound Factory. Check out those Sleeping Bag selections here...

So f**k it let’s do another label love letter again this week... Though not strictly house, Sleeping Bag was a seminal label in 80s NYC that was both innovative and influential in being at the forefront of emerging scenes and genres such as disco, house, hip-hop, electro and freestyle. The label was founded in ’81 by visionary virtuoso Arthur Russell along with Will Socolov. Arthur and Wil met through their mutual friend Steve D’Acquisto at David Mancuso’s life-affirming disco sanctuary The Loft. At the time Arthur and Steve were collaborating on their Loose Joints record ‘Is It All Over My Face’ for Mel Cheren’s influential institution West End Records. Wil was invited to the studio sessions but recording the production came to a halt when Arthur and Steve had blown the budget for the project. So Wil went to his Dad who he persuaded to stump up the couple of thousand bucks to finish the record. With the project back on the go they enlisted the evangelical Larry Levan to remix the track but as he was using time from another studio session he was kicked out before he finished the final mix. So the end result was an unfinished raw and sparse production which was in stark contrast to the more polished productions that were synonymous with the label and legendary disco stables of the era such as Salsoul. However, West End proceeded to release the record and Larry’s rough and rudimentary remix went on to be a huge hit and still is a definitive disco anthem to this day...

Through those studio sessions Will found a kindred spirit in Arthur and they struck up a close friendship. Arthur proposed the idea to Will in setting up a label with the inspiration for the name coming from Will sofa surfing with his Sleeping Bag. They tuned in to WBLS one day and on came James Brown’s ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag’ so Will said to Arthur “Papa’s got a brand new bag but I’ve got a sleeping bag” and that was the eureka moment where Arthur got the brainwave in naming their stable Sleeping Bag Records. In terms of the label’s ethos, they wanted to come up with something that was anti-establishment yet encompassed their varied musical heritage which included not just disco but latin, jazz and classical. Though Prelude, Salsoul and West End were the dominant disco labels of the era, Will and Arthur didn’t want to compete with them so went down a more unorthodox route with Sleeping Bag having a more fun and playful aesthetic – their iconic koala logo embodying their philosophy perfectly.  They launched the label with Arthur’s Dinosaur L project (drawing inspiration from Arthur’s fascination with dinosaurs) with his ‘24–>24 Music’ LP which houses the legendary ‘#5 (Go Bang!)’ – inspired by the playground perspective of kids jumping around and exploding with energy. The track was also released as a 12” with the funk-fuelled ‘Clean On Your Bean #1’ on the flip complete with Francois K on the mix – check out Sleeping Bag’s early rise here...

These initial releases by Arthur were actually recordings he had previously recorded in ’79 prior to setting up Sleeping Bag, and though the label was supposed to be a platform for his productions he’d be the first to admit that he couldn’t restrain his procrastination when conceiving his avant-garde opuses – he was infamous for maxing out studio budgets for NY disco institutions such as West End and Sire due to his inability to finish tracks as he was relentless in his pursuit for perfection. They brought into the fold Juggy Gales (who was influential in getting ‘#5 Go Bang’ on the airwaves which naturally resulted in more orders and sales) to be in charge of promotional duties and increase sales in exchange or 10% of the company. However, bringing in Juggy complicated things as he used Arthur’s inability to finish productions and soaring studio costs to manipulate Will against Arthur and confronted him why nothing as coming out. So in ’83 Will pressed ahead with releasing the Bob Blank produced ‘Weekend’ by Class Action featuring Chris Wiltshire – originally penned by Leroy Burgess for Phreek five years earlier in ’78. Arthur was relieved that Will and Juggy released a record as this took the pressure off him rushing the avant-garde opuses he conceived, and with Larry Levan and M&M Productions (Sergio Munzibai & John Morales) on the mix, it was destined to be a hit especially with Larry droppin’ it at the Paradise Garage. The same year they released the disco-tinged ‘Tonight (I’m Gonna Have You)’ by Symeran aka Atlantic Studios’ mastering maestro Dennis King and Larry Levan got on the mix with Ron St. Germain on ‘Need Somebody New’ Jamaica Girls’. Arthur even got in the act and managed to turn out a mix for Sounds of JHS 126 Brooklyn’s ‘Chill Pill’ under another animal alias this time Killer Whale. Though Danny Krivit’s mixes bring the funk to me it’s all about Arthur’s understated ‘Under Water Mix’ with its proto electro styling and echoing rap vox fully immersing you – capturing the spirit of Sleeping Bag and being a precursor for the direction the label will ultimately take. Check out the ’83 catalogue here...

The following year in ’84, Sleeping Bag ventured into Italo territory with label mix mainstays M&M releasing a reinterpretation of Video’s Italo anthem ‘Somebody’ with their version entitled ‘Somebody (Hey Boy)’ bringin’ in a female vox courtesy of Buckelew – the label additionally reissued the original a few releases along the line too.  Continuing with the New Wave theme, they licensed Apb’s ‘What Kind Of Girl (Are You)?’ outta the UK though Will and Arthur’s working relationship was beginning to deteriorate Arthur managed to finish a few more records including his collaboration with Nicky Siano as Felix, remixing Clandestine’s ‘Radio Rhythm (S-I-G-N-A-L S-M-A-R-T)’ and turning in a couple of edits of the Ronald Regan sampling ‘5 Minutes’ by Bonzo Goes To Washington aka Bootsy Collins, Daniel Lazerus and Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads fame. That year Will also signed Dana Vlcek’s outfit Konk who were a hit with both the post-punk/new wave and disco scenes with their meltin’ pot of afro, jazz, funk, electro and hip hop – also makin’ waves when playing live with fellow post-punk peers such as Liquid Liquid, ESG and The Peech Boys. Signing them to Sleeping Bag was a masterstroke as though they only released the one record on the label with ‘Your Life’, with their live residencies at downtown sanctuaries such as Danceteria, The Mudd Club and The Paradise Garage the record was an instant hit and was a fave of Larry Levan – no surprise with that bassline...

Come the end of ’84, Will and Arthur were no longer partners however Will found another prodigious talent in the form of Kurtis el Khaleel aka electro maestro Mantronik. On going to his Mum’s shoebox apartment, Will witnessed Kurtis make beats on his TR-707 in his makeshift studio set-up of the bathroom. Upon hearing ‘Fresh Is The Word’ which Kurtis recorded with M.C. Tee as Mantronix, Will wasted no time in signing and releasing it on Sleeping Bag. Their legendary LP ‘The Album’ was released soon after with its fusion of hip hop and electro influencing a generation with tracks like ‘Needle To The Groove’ and The Latin Rascals edited ‘Bassline’ which both had subsequent releases. The duo were an overnight success not just in NYC but were makin’ waves over the Atlantic in the UK which put Sleeping Bag on the international map. This influenced Sleeping Bag to depart from its more disco roots and embrace the emergence of electro and hip-hop through its mainstay Mantronix. As well as the label’s sound evolving, there was also a shift in its design aesthetic which incorporated more b-boy and street styling as per their ‘Greatest Mixers Collection’ comps – these consist of three volumes and are the perfect introduction to the Sleeping Bag sound. Not usually a fan of comps but these worth gettin’ just for the artwork alone – have a gander below at some of those killer Sleeping Bag sleeves...

Another recommended compilation is Bill Brewster’s Sleeping Bag Anthology on Sources which is a comprehensive 2-disc retrospective which you can check out and cop here. Back to Kurtis and as well as recording as Mantronix he would also polish any rough diamonds – turning a demo with potential into a hit such as this week’s House Hunting finds by Joyce Sims and Nocera. Check out the video of ‘Bassline’ below along with an appearance on UK kids show ‘Lift Off’ (remember that? NEED that Mantronix merchandise!) and performing live in ’86 at the Streetsounds Jam in London which Dave Pearce hosted – yeah that Dave Pearce...

Though Mantronix were a label mainstay there was some freestyle flowin’ from the Sleeping Bag soloists such as Nocera  and Chocolette releasing records with their frequent collaborators Floyd Fisher and Jhon Fair – not forgetting Raiana Paige (the original Rihanna!) with ‘Open Up Your Heart’. Watch out for Morgan Geist of Metro Area fame leading the Freestyle revival collaborating with Jessy Lanza on their new project ‘The Galleria’ on Environ – check it out here. The label also deviated to some of that hip hop flavour that was synonymous with NYC with releases including Tricky Tee’s ‘Leave It To The Drums’ and  Ca$h Money And Marvelous’ ‘Play It Kool’. However, it was the Kurtis Mantronik produced ‘Come Into My Life’ by Joyce Sims that was a major hit for the label as it breached the top ten and gave the imprint some international exposure. Another Sleeping Bag hit I gotta include that still sounds killer is ‘Let Me Love You For Tonight’ by Kariya – me and Tonya got some serious Sleeping Bag sixth sense goin’ down as she started singing this as I was typing about it mental... Check that out here with some of them Sleeping Bag vids...

Not content with just running Sleeping Bag, Will set about in launching another label. He was sitting on a load of records but couldn’t release them all as though the record sales were performing well they were dictated by their cashflow in terms of pressing and promotional costs. So after initially knocking back Sunshine distributor Howard Rumack’s offer of cash up front for releasing records through them, Will liaised with his Sleeping Bag partner Juggy and after shopping the idea around to other distributors, they went back to Howard Rumack and Sleeping Bag’s arguably cooler cousin Fresh Records was born. Will had a tape by session singers Hanson & Davis and upon giving it to Larry he went on to play it no less than six times at the Paradise Garage that evening. From Larry rinsing it demand quickly hit fever-pitch so Will got it recorded straight from the 8-track and mixed it there and then with Timmy Regisford on the edit. The track was ‘Tonight (Love Will Make It Right)’ and with its post-disco, proto-house styling the label’s debut record was a major hit selling 15,000 copies (!) though it’s all about the fierce dub with that breakdown... Will put Kurtis Mantronik on A&R duties at Fresh and his influence was felt with hip-hop being the main flavour of the label with T La Rock, EPMD, Just-Ice and Stezo all major players. However, there’s some House Hunting heroes in the mix as Larry Levan turned out a killer dub of Hanson & Davis’ ‘I’ll Turn You On’ (HOUSE HUNTING HINT: with every Hanson & Davis record heads straight for the dub) and Brooklyn beatsmith Todd Terry joined the party with his The Todd Terry Project releases – pure scenes down at Thunder in Dalston den Dance Tunnel last week where Todd Terry checked in and got behind the booth with Derrick Carter for real! Anyway, a few months back I covered Hanson & Davis and Fresh which you can check out on this edition of House Hunting. Here’s a few of my fave Fresh joints – check out Stezo’s fresh threads...

As they were successful in Europe Sleeping Bag’s Vice President Ron Resnick pushed ahead in launching a UK division of Sleeping Bag in which they even opened a HQ in London – my original pressing OCD tendencies strictly forbid me from coppin’ the UK pressings which you can usually tell by the UK Flag on the labels. However, Will’s relations deteriorated with both Ron and his partner Juggy with them pressing ahead with ill-advised business decisions and haemorrhaging money. The UK business venture lost the label over two million dollars and Will was getting disillusioned with running the label as his Sleeping Bag star acts such as Mantronik and EPMD were getting snapped up by the majors. The relationship soured to the degree that Will attempted to buy Juggy out – as with any success and rise if not managed right comes an eventual demise with the innocence of the label’s beginnings lost in Ron’s mismanagement and Will and Juggy’s differences. Shout to whoever commissioned the Sleeping Bag jackets though some proper club couture that’s been on my radar for year – funnily enough Roual at Love Vinyl was telling me he had one of the rare bombers in the 80s proper old school!

After Sleeping Bag was put to bed Will launched Freeze Records with Todd Terry which would be a vehicle for Todd’s productions and was the label was influential in the NYC Garage scene. Fast-forward to the present and with his experience in pressing records (he ran EKS manufacturing for over a decade which included DFA as a client), Will is securing funding for his new Brooklyn Vinyl Work pressing plant which you can read about here and get updates from the BVW Twitter page. Also check out this interview Red Bull hosted with Will which gives the full Sleeping Bag Story...

Anyway, I’ll leave you with Arthur’s Indian Ocean opus ‘Schoolbell / Treehouse’ mixed with love by disco dub don Walter Gibbons – the sound of NYC get that Sleeping Bag out...

AIDEN d’ARAUJO

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