Space, particularly inner headspace was big news in the early eighties. All those derelict inner city landscapes represented both physical and mental wastelands. The most iconic music of the era serves as a map to those empty spaces rebuilt by flickering minds in stranger, more emancipated times: World Of Echo, Unknown Pleasures, Dare, Remain In Light, Computer World. It's become a cliche to describe these records as strange documents from a lost brave new world but that's what they are. Here are some postcards from the heart of downtown.
Manhattan's Liquid Liquid the quartet of Scott Hartley Richard McGuire, Salvatore Principato and Dennis Young effortlessly melded and shaped there own, very groovy, space. Loose but tight, edgy and inviting, both dry and wet, the phrase Slip In And Out of Phenomenon, the title of this retrospective collection - and the vocal hook from their most infamous track Cavern - perfectly nails both the sound and the sensation of listening to Liquid Liquid.
Over little more than 3 EPs in their lifetime Liquid Liquid rerouted the rythmns of the subway and the steam of the city to some imagined African nighttime future. Contemporaries were busy discoursing on the Fourth World, or re-imaging ethnography for computers. Can had come close at their most sensual but no one had sounded as direct, hotwired and funky as Liquid Liquid. In the space and depth of their sound there was room not only to move, but to get right down deep into it. Orbiting around a core configuration of drums, bass, marimba and percussion Sal Principato's voice incanted and chanted. One minute he's reading out the formulae to surface tension - see Out - or, as on Lock Groove he's a ghost having a good time stuck in an echo chamber. Either way he makes being disorientated sound like the best fun in town. As well as an intensity to the grooves that is very much of its time - you can hear the group reaching for every note and beat - Liquid Liquid were locked together by a sticky looseness - see Where's Al? - that is as head-nodding infectious now as it must have been desirously strange at the time. Cavern kicks off with what must be, by now, the world's most famous bassline. And thereby, via White Lines, Sugarhill business practice, the birth of hip-hop and sampling, hangs a tale.
Now a good twenty five years after legal meltdowns, industry shutouts and bad deals; it's the jaw dropping elasticity and funkiness of Cavern that shine through, one of the most remarkable tracks to ever be put on record. Today Liquid Liquid's legacy is everywhere. The UK's hippest club, Glasgow's Optimo is named after track 13 of this CD, a piece of music any DJ would kill to get their hands on as its skitters and twitches its way across the dancefloor. Fellow NYC residents DFA resurrected the uptight downtown funk of Liquid Liquid and contemporaries ESG in their early productions and edits, whilst today's vogue for live instruments in 'balearock' italo and electro club tracks means Liquid Liquid's way of doing things has come full circle.
So its good news right? That the party's starting all over again.