VA: Change The Beat: The Celluloid Records Story 1980-1987

The Celluloid label first came to my attention in the early ‘80s upon the release of the first, self-titled Golden Palominos album, a wild avant-jazz set spearheaded by drummer Anton Fier and featuring Arto Lindsay, John Zorn, Bill Laswell, and others, and violinist Billy Bang's Outline No. 12, an also-provocative recording of chamber-jazz settings. Being a huge Material fan, I was particularly peaked by Laswell's involvement in many of the label's projects and so followed its ever-broadening output with interest until a culmination of sorts was reached with the release of Trilogy, a three-album collection that covered all of the label's stylistic bases, from the Afro-jazz of Manu Dibango to the early hip-hop of Grandmixer D.ST.

Though nothing from those Golden Palominos and Billy Bang releases appears, a healthy sampling of the label's material re-surfaces on Change The Beat: The Celluloid Records Story 1980-1987, which retrospectively reveals just how visionary the label was during its glory years when Laswell joined forces with founder Jean Karakos after its relocation from Paris to New York in 1981 (seven years later, Karakos left Celluloid and returned to Paris, but returned in 2010 to assume A&R duties for the imprint). Karakos initially focused on releasing Laswell-related work, whether it be stuff by the proto-punk trio Massacre (represented by “Killing Time”) or Material, his experimental dance-based project with Michael Beinhorn (represented by the fabulous “I'm The One,” a Chic-styled throwdown from One Down and featuring Nile Rodgers, Tony Thompson, and Bernard Fowler). Laswell also crops up as bassist-producer on Ginger Baker's “Dust To Dust” (from 1986's Horses & Trees) and on “Big Boss Man,” a brief track by Last Exit, the lethal outfit Laswell played in alongside Sonny Sharrock, Ronald Shannon Jackson, and Peter Brötzmann.

Karakos presciently documented the fresh hip-hop scene and breakdance-and-graffiti culture then exploding in New York, and many of those now-classics appear on the new compilation: Time Zone's “Wildstyle” (trippy electro-funk featuring Afrika Bambaataa and French MC B Side) and “World Destruction” (Bambaataa joined by John Lydon); graffiti artist Futura 2000's “Escapades of Futura 2000” (with backing by The Clash in “This is Radio Clash” mode); Fab 5 Freddy's “Change The Beat”; and Grandmixer D.ST's turntable-heavy “Home of Hip Hop.” But as Change The Beat clearly shows, Celluloid's vision extended far beyond a single style.

On the rawer tip, No Wave and post-punk surface (Shockabilly's evisceration of The Beatles' “Day Tripper,” Snakefinger's “Living In Vain”), while Richard Hell & The Voidoids' “Destiny Street” calls images of the early CBGB scene to mind. Horn-drenched dub (Winston Edwards & Blackbeard's “Downing Street Rock”) and spoken word jazz-funk (Lightnin' Rod's “Sport”) appear, and a heavy African music influence emerges in tracks by Deadline (the overlong instrumental “Makossa Rock”), Bobongo Stars (“Koteja”), Mandingo (“Harima”), and Toure Kunda (“Amadou Tilo”).

A few lesser tracks play like curious remnants of a bygone era (e.g., Ferdinand's “Tele, Apres La Meteo”), but weak moments aside, the collection effectively documents Celluloid's bold vision and provides a powerful cultural record of a remarkably fertile period of New York-based music production. There's more than enough great material on hand for the release to earn its strong recommendation, and the release in its physical formats includes interviews with Karakos, Laswell, Afrika Bambaataa, Lydon, and others, while the digital version features five additional tracks.

January 2013