Various Artists - ZE 30: ZE Records Story 1979-2009

by Rich Morris Rating: Release Date:

Any compilation which spotlights the criminally neglected, weird and wonderful world of Ze Records is to be welcomed with open arms, and this one, from the ever reliable Strut, is very good indeed. For the uninitiated, Ze was founded by Michel Esteban, a French punk aficionado, and Michael Zilkha, the well connected son of the owner of UK retail company Mothercare. Both were based in New York when they met in 1978 and decided to start a label which would become a magnet for the no wave and mutant disco sounds emerging from hip venues like CBGB, the Mudd Club and Hurrah, lunching a slew of bizarre, brilliant, genre-splicing, improbably groovy records on an unsuspecting world.

Ze first attracted attention with its releases of no wave acts like The Contortions and Lydia Lunch. The former's 'Roving Eye' is on this compilation, and it's downtown traffic accident sax squeals and organ honks still sound like a quantum leap from the new wave rock revivalists that they were reacting against. From that earlier brace of bands, only synth pioneers Suicide seemed in step with no wave's relentless stripping of rock conventions, although their drifting, undulating 'Dream Baby Dream - Long Version', included here, finds them exploring the same reflective, hymnal mood captured on 'Cheree' from their seminal first album. Alan Vega, Suicide's frontman, crops up again on 'Jukebox Babe', a rockabilly revival song which went top five in France.

Much of the compilation is given over to the mutant disco sound with which the label became synonymous. 1981's 'Things Fall Apart', a blackly comic Christmas song by icy diva Christina, uses the same disco pulse and new wave guitar crosspollination that proved such a success for Grace Jones, another NY resident whose records, like many Ze releases, were distributed by Island Records. Mutant disco's two leading lights, Was (Not Was) and Kid Creole - aka August Darnell, who had a hand in many Ze releases - both feature; the former with the 12inch remix their Regan-baiting, P-funk surfing 'Tell Me that I'm Dreaming', the latter with a zesty Larry Leven mix of the Caribbean-flavoured 'There's Something Wrong in Paradise'.

But it's the more obscure inclusions which make this compilation such a treat, such as Material's collaboration with Nona Hendryx, the stonking disco classic 'Bustin' Out (Seize the Beat Version)' which showcases an electrifyingly soulful vocal from its leading lady. Then there's the robo-Gaelic weirdness of Garcon's 'Re Bop Electronic', a jerky synth oddity which sounds like a fantasy collaboration between The Normal and Serge Gainsbourg. Finally, we're introduced to a new generation of art-rock strangeness with Glasgow-based band Michael Dracula's angular, tightrope tense 'What Can I Do for You?', released in 2005, which proves to be one of the most addictive sounds on here.

Best tracks: 'Bustin' Out (Seize the Beat Version)' - Material with Nona Hendryx, 'Re Bop Electronic' - Garcon, 'What Can I Do for You?' - Michael Dracula

Richard Morris

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