Warp 9

Freewheeling through time and space, Kris Needs continues his adventures in sound. This month: ‘Nunk’ by Warp 9 

During my fevered record collecting sorties of the last century, certain books became biblical road-maps stuffed with irresistible shopping lists, there to be ticked off with meticulous obsession. These included Peter Guralnick’s ‘Sweet Soul Music’, Rickey Vincent’s ‘Funk: The Music, The People, And The Rhythm Of The One’ and, after it appeared in 1985, David Toop’s ‘The Rap Attack: African Jive To New York Hip Hop’ – just about the only book available on hip hop before the genre invaded the mainstream.

Covering the fast-evolving movement’s pre-styles, birth and story so far, Toop fuelled pockets-draining forays to Soho’s Groove Records and every vinyl henhouse in New York City when I got there. Particularly tantalising were the electro tunes that sprung up in the pulsating wake of ‘Planet Rock’, especially something called ‘Nunk’ by Warp 9 because it was co-written and produced by one Lotti Golden.

Locating it at Vinyl Mania on Carmine Street (round the corner from
Paradise Garage), the tune turned out to be a classic example of music
biz veterans embracing the electronic future, as Lotti Golden had made
a groundbreaking, extremely obscure NY street poetry/funky soul epic in 1969 called ‘Motor-Cycle’, once described as “if The Velvet Underground had signed to Motown”. Thirteen years later, here she is, working with ex-jazz fusion keyboardist Richard Scher (and co-producer “Jellybean” Benitez), planting catchy pop refrains like “Girl, you’re looking good on my video” over what they called their new wave funk – hence the hybrid title ‘Nunk’.

Showing how NY musicians were adapting to electronic developments, Warp 9 also included singing drummers Milton “Boe” Brown of The Strikers and Chuck Wansley from Charades. With spacey melodies uncurling like astral methane and synthesised bass evoking a rusty sheriff’s badge in a longhorn’s rectum, the easy groove and insidious vocal hook of ‘Nunk’ ensnared New York’s radio stations and local dancefloors, enabling alien visitation follow-up, ‘Light Years Away’ (inspired by ‘The Message’), DJ-homaging ‘Master Of The Mix’ and colossal ‘No Man Is An Island’ (which Dom Beken and I sampled for our remix of The Orb’s ‘DDD’). All were gathered on their ‘It’s A Beat Wave’ album.

Golden and Scher’s multi-textured catchiness also worked on their productions of Sharon Brown’s cod-piece rocketing ‘I Specialize In Love’, Chilltown’s ‘Rock The Beat’ and ‘Girls’ Night Out’ by Ladies’ Choice. As Toop points out, they presented a more musical side of the electro boogie spectrum than the harder-nosed missives from Captain Rock, Pumpkin and the awesome Davy DMX, whose ‘One For The Treble (Fresh)’ once burrowed into my brain like a radioactive glow-worm – and is still there!

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