Various Artists ZE RECORDS STORY 1979 > 2009

ALBUM ZE.LP54

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AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman: 4 / 5

Despite some overlap, Strut's ZE 30: ZE Records Story 1979-2009 complements the 2003 expanded reissue of Mutant Disco -- a two-disc comp released by the then-revitalized ZE label, presumably out of circulation at the time of this set's release. Strut didn't come up with a definitive look at one of the maverick labels of the late '70s early '80s. Instead, it chose to go rather deep while throwing in a few of the singles that received a great deal of rotation in underground clubs (such as Was [Not Was]' "Tell Me That I'm Dreaming," oddball disco-funk at its baddest, unless you count the same band's "Wheel Me Out"). Only the most knowledgeable DJs and disco fanatics have known about some of the inclusions, like Sympho-State's brisk and elegant "You Know What I Like," the B-side of a one-off arranged by Carlos Franzetti (a Fania and Kid Creole associate) that features Leroy Burgess (Black IvoryLogg) and Christine Wiltshire (Aural ExcitersMusique). A couple cuts -- the long version of Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream" and the Larry Levan remix of Kid Creole & the Coconuts' "Something Wrong in Paradise" -- appeared just a few years prior on ZE's Mutant Disco, Vol. 3: Garage Sale. Late ZE signing Michael Dracula, from Glasgow, justify their presence with a dread-filled fun-time collision of ZE vets Lydia LunchCristina, and the Waitresses.

 

Strut Records present the story of one of the most influential and revered labels emerging from New York in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, ZE Records. 
After the late ‘70s punk and new wave explosion in New York, ZE became a by-word for the anything-goes culture clashes that typified the Big Apple during the early ‘80s. Formed by French art student Michel Esteban and British journalist Michael Zilkha, ZE quickly created its own unique independent universe, signing artists as varied as Alan Vega’s electronic post-punk pioneers Suicide, trash disco queen Cristina and maverick producer August Darnell a.k.a. Kid Creole. With Esteban’s sharp graphic eye leading the label’s visual identity, ZE hit the New York zeitgeist head on and became supremely hip – in 1982, The Face magazine nominated it « the most fashionable label in the world. »

The label’s early success led to a deal with Chris Blackwell’s Island Records, which gave ZE’s releases worldwide exposure and brought worldwide fame to Kid Creole, Was (Not Was) and more.
Over thirty years on and ZE remains one of the great cult labels of its time. With this new compilation, Strut takes a snapshot of the many weird and wonderful fusions that surfaced on its famous NYC cab-influenced yellow and black label. Highlights include one of the earliest outings by Was (Not Was), « Tell Me That I’m Dreaming », a disbelieving commentary on Reagan-omics, Bob Blank’s short-lived disco supergroup Aural Exciters and a Larry Levan mix of Kid Creole’s biting parable about corruption in the Caribbean, « There’s Something Wrong In Paradise ». Other featured artists include ZE label regulars Cristina, Bill Laswell’s Material, kookie French experimentalist Lizzy Mercier Descloux, and camp disco-electro icons, Les Garcons. 
Prepared in conjunction with ZE Records founder Michel Esteban, the CD and vinyl packages feature a full history of ZE including interviews with Esteban and a number of original ZE artists along with rare and previously unpublished photos.

THE BOSTON PHENIX - USA

AUG. 2009

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POP MATTERS - USA

OCT. 2009

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BBC - UK

2009

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PITCHFORK

AUG. 2009

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01 • WAS (NOT WAS) • Tell Me That I'm Dreaming Ken Collier 12" Remix • 6:29 
Written by Don & David Was
Mixed by Ken Collier
Produced by Don & David Was
Original sound recording made by ZE Records © 1981

02 • DON ARMANDO’S 2 ND AVE. RHUMBA BAND • Deputy Of Love • 5:26
Written by Ron Rogers
Produced Andy Hernandez
Original sound recording made by ZE Records © 1979

03 • CRISTINA • Things Fall Apart • 4:31
Lyrics by Cristina
Written by Don & David Was
Produced by Don & David Was
Original sound recording made by ZE Records © 1981

04 • LIZZY MERCIER DESCLOUX • Hard-Boiled Babe • 4:22
Written by lmercier Descloux & Bassignani
Produced by Michel esteban & Michel Bassignani
Original sound recording made by ZE Records © 2003

05 • ALAN VEGA • Jukebox Babe • 4:33
Written by Alan Vega
Produced by Alan Vega
Original sound recording made by ZE Records © 1980

06 • CASINO MUSIC • The Beat Goes On • 3:51
Written by Sonny Bono
Produced by Michel Esteban
Original sound recording made by ZE Records © 1982

07 • JAMES CHANCE & THE CONTORTIONS • Roving Eye • 3:06
Written by James Siegfried
Produced by James Chance
Original sound recording made by ZE Records © 1979

08 • KID CREOLE • Something Wrong In Paradise Larry Levan Mix • 4:56
Written by Darnell & Mazur
Remix by Larry Levan
Produced by August Darnell
Original sound recording made by ZE Records © 1983

09 • SYMPHO STATE • You Know What I Like • 5:57
Produced by Bob Blank
Original sound recording made by ZE Records © 1979

10 • MATERIAL FEAT. NONA HENDRYX • Bustin' Out Seize The Beat Version • 8:25
Written by Material
Mixed by Tee Scott
Produced by Martin Bisi & Material
Original sound recording made by ZE Records © 1980

11 • AURAL EXCITERS • Maladie d' Amour • 5:33
Written by Hernandez & Darnell
Produced by Bob Blank
Original sound recording made by ZE Records © 1979

12 • SUICIDE • Dream Baby Dream Long Version • 6:20
Written by Alan Vega & Martin Rev
Produced by Rick Ocasek
Original sound recording made by ZE Records © 1980

13 • MICHAEL DRACULA • What Can I Do For You? • 3:32
Written by Emily McLaren
Produced by Michel Esteban
Original sound recording made by ZE Records © 2004

14 • GARCONS • Re Bop Electronic • 2:51
Written by Vidal & Fitoussi
Produced by Michel Esteban
Original sound recording made by ZE Records © 1979


SOUNDProject Co-ordinator • Joel Davies, Quinton Scott 
Compiled by Michel Esteban, Quinton Scott 
Liner Notes by Kris Needs 
Mastered by Simon Francis
This selection (p) & © 2009 ZE Records 
CD Distributed by Strut / K7
 

DESIGN

Artwork Package Design • Matt Thorne

In mid-1977 I took over as editor of Zigzag, the original fanzine, reporting from punk’s front-line while striving to cover other forms of music like reggae and disco. Within two years the boundaries were getting hazier as punk’s shockwaves twisted into a gamut of weird and wonderful sonic creations fired by different cultures throwing their music into the same melting pot.

Post-punk was the popular phrase but it seemed much more than that. ‘Mutant disco’ had a far better ring to it. At this time I enjoyed a particularly close relationship with Island Records, one of the first independent labels to focus on great music, regardless of genre. Head press officer Rob Partridge was an amazing bloke who, in return for sorting out big ones like [what turned out to be] the last UK interview with Bob Marley, just asked we mention new signings like this Irish band called U2 and, one fateful day in 1978, a label which Island was going to be distributing called ZE. Subsequent calls then records unfurled a roster including a tropical wise guy-studio genius called August Darnell, scabrously-intelligent disco chanteuse Cristina, venomous punk harpie Lydia Lunch, intriguing French artist Lizzy Mercier Descloux and a manic, sax-wielding demon called James Chance and his band  the Contortions who should be approached with caution. ZE even gave the much-abused Suicide the chance to make their dream album.

For the next four years we featured all these artists in the magazine as the records appeared, ZE rapidly emerging as one highly-exciting, uniquely-disparate label which never seemed to follow music-biz conventions. No release was the same but drew from an exotic pool of likeminded musicians, non-musicians, artists, movie-makers, scenesters and lunatics, many of the early releases emanating from Bob Blank’s Blank Tapes studio, ZE’s own Motown-style downtown hit factory.

Another major plus was that, although having strong French connections, ZE was from New York City, which still carried a hefty mystique in the late 70s, stemming from the Velvet Underground through the New York Dolls and CBGBs explosion which foreshadowed Britain’s punk uprising. Hiphop was starting to bust out and the city’s glorious disco heritage was then in the hands of Larry Levan at the Paradise Garage. ZE gleefully straddled these forms with an intoxicating mix of gutter and glamour which was fun, funky and fresh: the sound of New York City after dark when the freaks come out.

‘When it came to clubs, Manhattan was unbelievable: every aspect of the musical rainbow that you can imagine,’ recalls August Darnell. ‘It was extraordinary Such an incredibly romantic period with all ethnic groups in the clubs having a good time in harmony. If you went to CBGBs or the Mudd Club you'd find a mixture of people you wouldn't believe. I think it was hedonism that brought them all together. It was just escapism, let’s have a good time and forget the political and racial divides that are destroying other cities and other countries.’

‘New York at that time was not the Disneyland it became in the 90s,’ remembers ZE co-founder Michel Esteban. ‘It was the background for Scorcese movies like Taxi Driver or the Blaxploitation-type Shaft. Club culture returned in 1977 with Saturday Night Fever, Xenon, Studio 54 and Paradise Garage, where it was boosted by gay culture and Warhol-type socialites. For more rock-oriented music you had the Peppermint Lounge, Hurrah or Mudd Club. At one point, rock – or punk or no wave, call it what you want – and dance music all melted into one!’

Michel’s own background was crucial in shaping the ZE ethic, where the visual aspect was a crucial compliment to the music, including the label design based on the old New York checker cab. [‘I thought we were a New York label, so what’s the most visual thing in New York? The cab.’]. After studying at Paris’ Arts Graphiques and Milton Glazer’s School of Visual Arts in 1974, Michel undertook the traditional Kerouac-style cross-country US road trip, ending up silk-screening rock t-shirts in San Francisco. Returning to Paris he opened the Harry Cover shop selling t-shirts, merchandising and imported records and magazines, while the basement became a focal point for the city’s nascent punk scene.

A trip to New York in 1974 proved a turning point. While staying at the legendary Chelsea Hotel, Michel met Patti Smith, then embarking on her own spectacular singing career recording Horses with John Cale. ‘She became a friend and introduced me to everybody on the new Downtown scene: Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell from Television, Talking Heads and the Ramones. I also met Malcolm McLaren, who was managing the last version of the New York Dolls. I guess he realised, like most of us at that time, that something new was emerging that would change the face of music in a couple of years.’

Inspired, Michel returned to France and started a punk-oriented magazine called Rock News in late 1975, covering that period’s major groups and gigs. After being smitten by a band called Marie et Les Garcons, he started a label called Rebel Records and asked John Cale to produce them. Cale was impressed enough to produce their ‘Re Bop’ single in New York, which became an underground hit in France. When Cale started Spy Records in 1977 he asked Michel to be art director. In 1978, Michel and his girlfriend Lizzy Mercier Descloux, who he’d encountered writing for Rock News and had relocated to New York,  shared a loft with Patti.

Another turning point came when Michel met Michael Zilkha, a potential investor in Spy, who came from another world altogether as his father owned baby chain Mothercare. British–born Zilkha, who had studied at Westminster School, Oxford University and the Lycee in France, was now a New York theatre critic with a penchant for good song lyrics and fascination for New York’s wild side beyond Studio 54. Though polar opposites, the pair hit it off and decided to start a record label, creating the name from their initials. It’s somewhat surreal that the Mutant Disco was initially financed by Mothercare or, as Michel puts it, ‘He had daddy’s money to spend – the Mothercare fortune!’

The new label still needed distribution and promotion so the deal was struck with Island, whose Antilles offshoot had recently released the seminal No New York album, featuring the Contortions, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Mars and D.N.A., who were against what they saw as New Wave diluting punk’s original energy.

Michel Esteban: ‘By 1978 it was the end of the first new wave, with bands like Patti Smith, Talking Heads, Ramones, Television and Blondie all signed to big labels. Lots of new bands were reacting against that wave and no labels were interested in them. Chris Blackwell had missed the first wave and didn’t want to miss the new one. He asked Brian Eno to make demos with all the promising bands in New York but didn’t like any of them. He eventually released the No New York album from these demos. So we thought it was the right time, right place. These bands were signed to ZE then distributed by Island.’

Zilkha initially wanted his doll-like Harvard history student girlfriend Cristina Monet, then also working as a theatre critic, to make a disco single, taking her into Blank Tapes to produce the camp, fluffy ‘Disco Clone’ for ZE’s first release. While Cristina would become the label’s disco princess, Lizzy Mercier Descloux was the restless artistic spirit who entered Blank Tapes that July with DJ Banes (Michel’s brother) to record the primitive no wave howls of the Rosa Yemen EP before finding her wings on 1979’s ultra-vivid creative surge of 1979’s Press Color album, DJ Banes joined by Eric Elliason from Les Garcons.

One of the earliest ZE singles featured a full-blown disco orchestra called Sympho State with session singers rampaging through much-covered chestnut ‘Fever’, coupled with a surging, erotic disco drum-fest called ‘You Know What I Like’. With just a handful of releases, ZE had unleashed glitterball space-disco alongside raw No Wave. Now to mate them.

Most of ZE’s early output was recorded at Blank Tapes. Bob Blank is one of the unsung heroes of NY disco, post-punk and house music but arrived in New York in 1973 as a session guitarist before finding his vocation as engineer then producer. He opened Blank Tapes in 1976, working with names like Sun Ra, Chic, Tito Puente and in the eye of the disco hurricane, particularly with the mighty Prelude. Michel: ‘Blank Tapes was my favourite studio. You could meet Sun Ra or the best studio musicians and disco backing singers in town, mostly from Prelude sessions. Most of the albums we released in 1979 were recorded at Blank Tapes. Bob was working like mad day and night, sleeping a couple of hours on the sofa. He was our own Phil Spector, in all ways, except for the guns! He was always asking any musician to come and play on his side project Aural Exciters, from No Wave to pure disco. The sound of ZE has a lot to do with Bob and his studio. When we came to the studio, all these bands could not really play. Nobody was that experienced in the studio but he treated them like the best musicians. He was an absolutely brilliant guy.’

August Darnell, about to leave his older brother Stony Browder’s Dr Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band through frustration at his restrictive bassist-songwriter role, met Bob Blank around 1978, commencing a period of intense activity which snowballed when he was introduced to Michael Zilkha. Thinking he had produced the Savannah Band, Zilkha wondered if he would be interested in producing Cristina. ‘I lied and said I did produce the Savannah Band,’ laughs August. ‘That’s the only way you can get ahead in the business: taking every opportunity that comes your way!’

Darnell swiftly became ZE’s in-house producer-ringmaster, helming brilliant productions at the all-night sessions at Blank Tapes which threw together disparate friends, freaks and musicians in different combinations, usually underpinned by the lethal rhythm section of bassist Carol Colman and ‘human drum machine’ Yogi Houghton. These included two of Darnell’s home boy role models from the Bronx: Don Armando Bonilla and Fonda Rae fronting Don Armando’s Second Avenue Rhumba Band for a ‘disco western’ concept album [‘with salsa] and Frank Passalacqua, aka Gichy Dan: both inspirations for Darnell’s gestating Kid Creole persona.

Darnell: ‘All these opportunities came because of Michael Zilkha. He was of that world and a great innovator and discoverer. Through him I discovered a lot of things that I never would have discovered on my own. So it was a good combination. Very lucky and very fortunate. The marriage between Zilkha and I was magic.’

Michel Esteban: ‘August was like our in-house producer because he had experience in the studio, coming from Savannah Band who’d had a hit record with ‘Cherchez La Femme’. He was a great bass man and a great guy; right on the tip.

ZE’s first proper signing was an attitude-ridden saxophonist from Winconsin called James Siegfried, aka James Chance. After moving to New York in late 1975, he was soon ostracised from free jazz circles, started Teenage Jesus and the Jerks with Lydia Lunch then, when it became obvious that the group couldn’t contain two such  volatile personalities, formed the Contortions, mixing jazz, punk and funk into one infernal sonic assault which he ended up fronting as singer. By Spring 1978 the Contortions had settled on their classic lineup of Chance, guitarists Pat Place and Jody Harris, organist Adele Bertei, bassist George Scott and drummer Don Christensen. Chance was notorious for leaping into the audience and provoking fights to get reactions while the group barrelled through their wired, clipped punk-funk.

The Contortions tracks on No New York were enough to prod Zilkha into offering Chance $10,000 to record a disco album, which went along with his antagonistic mindset as disco was much-reviled among punks and rock fans at that time.

‘We always left total freedom to the artists because we chose the ARTISTS,’ stresses Michel. ‘They did what they want, not what we want. A good example was the Contortions album. Michael and I were planning to be disco at that time because disco was fun. We said to James, “The Contortions will be great but why don’t you do something for the discoteque?”. He said, “No, I like the album the way it is. Why don’t I do another album as James White and the Blacks which would be that kind of album?”. You could not get that from a major company.’Shortly after the resulting Off White, a slightly different Contortions lineup released the Buy album. By late 1979, the group had split and Chance departed ZE [His old band-mate Lydia showed up the following year for one-off classic Queen Of Siam album].

Island put its full weight behind ZE in the UK. Rob Partridge orchestrated tremendous coverage in the weekly music papers and new style mag The Face, who called ZE ‘the most fashionable label in the world.’ ‘Rob was definitely a key man, especially in the UK,’ says Michel. ‘He liked what we produced and understood it too. I don’t think ZE could have had this type of hype without him. He was also a brilliant guy.’

Much of the buzz stemmed from the 1980 arrival of Kid Creole and the Coconuts. August Darnell now stepped out from behind the mixing desk in his new persona, which he ‘created and casted’ as a ‘macho, egotistical and well-dressed’ character like an actor might approach a role, tongue firmly in cheek.

After Coati Mundi scored the Creole camp’s first UK chart success with early 1980’s ‘Me No Pop I’, the first Kid Creole and the Coconuts album, Off the Coast Of Me, was released in August 1980, followed by the modern day odyssey of 1981’s Fresh Fruit In Foreign Places. But, although rapturously received by the press, the Kid came under pressure to produce a hit. He started what was going to be a solo album called Wise Guy, influenced by the R&B he’d grown up with.

‘We owed Island and Sire a lot of money. Now we had the big boys but the big boys were saying, “We love your live show but we need some hit records”. That’s when I said, “Kid Creole is always going to be esoteric but now we’ve got to deal with this money thing I want to do a copout album, an R&B album!”’

My first encounter with Kid Creole was in October 1981 at Island’s Hammersmith office: larger-than-life and charm itself in all his zoot-suited, panama hatted glory, pacing the boardroom talking about what would be a make-or-break album: ‘If this album fails to make the home run then a drastic rethink will be in order’. He needn’t have worried as the album released the following June in the UK as Tropical Gangsters became a full-blown Kid Creole production knocked out in four weeks at Electric Lady and Blank Tapes, spawning a string of hits: ‘I’m A Wonderful Thing, Baby’, ‘Stool Pigeon’ and ‘Annie, I’m Not Your Daddy’. The album reached number three and spent 40 weeks on the chart while the group’s spectacular June 1982 UK tour [‘thanks to Michael Zilkha and his deep pockets’] compounded the deed. ‘The response was unbelievable!’ laughs the Kid now.

With ZE now established as a relentless fountain of esoteric vinyl and surprises, it still came as something of a shock when Rob announced that Suicide had signed for an album: a major coup. Suicide had started as the terror of New York’s club circuit in 1971, releasing their stark but seminal debut album on Marty Thau’s short-lived Red Star label in 1977 before touring Europe to much abuse supporting The Clash. Red Star’s UK A&R link at Bronze Records was Howard Thompson, who’d also worked at Island. Now relocated to New York, he knew Zilkha and was still championing Suicide after the Red Star deal started falling apart. Unexpected fan Ric Ocasek of the Cars had produced a stellar reworking of their ‘Keep Your Dreams’, now called ‘Dream Baby Dream’.

Zilkha and Esteban were long time Suicide fans but Alan Vega thought they were joking when they called offering a deal. ZE bought the track from Red Star, released it in November and signed Suicide for an album. Zikha paid for Suicide to record their second album at the Power Station, giving them $10,000 to buy some of the new electronic equipment appearing on the market. Rev – ‘I was like a kid in a candy shop!’

Zilkha’s own dream was to see Suicide doing damage at the disco, giving producer Ocasek a copy of Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ for inspiration. ‘That was Michael’s life. He wanted us to be successful and cross over into that,’ says Rev. Instead, they came up with the ‘psychedelic orchestral version’. Suicide; Alan Vega & Marty Rev, released in May, 1980, sounds like a blueprint for all synthesiser-based music that’s come since.

The idea of Mothercare financing the most dangerous group in history... ‘Basically!, laughs Michel. ‘Everybody was broke and Michael was the only one who was rich. Nobody got in the Power Station because it was so expensive but it was easy for him to sort out. Bob Blank’s studio was okay: we didn’t pay that much. When Alan came up with that proposition it was completely ridiculous but the album was absolutely brilliant so...’.

Suicide also recorded ‘Hey Lord’ for ZE’s 1981 Christmas Album, which Vega remixed into ‘No More Christmas Blues’.Ironically, Suicide were floundering as they watched Soft Cell and other electro-poppers storm the early 80s UK charts, same as happened with the punk movement they pioneered. Alan Vega started on the road to his first solo album when he met Texan guitarist Phil Hawk at a party, looking like ‘a blonde Elvis’, recording ‘Jukebox Babe’: an obvious surefire hit which earned an album advance from ZE, resulting in the stripped down rockabilly of the Alan Vega album. ‘I had always wanted to do a rockabilly record,’ said Vega, who recorded the Collision Drive the following year before signing to Elektra when ZE lost momentum after 1983.

1981’s Mutant Disco; A Subtle Discolation Of The Norm compilation, compiled by Rob Partridge, set out the label’s disco-of-the-mind manifesto, unveiled more intriguing mischief-makers and further raised the label’s profile, giving the music a name in the process. August Darnell was represented by his production of Coati Mundi and emerging Kid Creole character with ‘Maladie D’Amour’ plus Creole-related Don Armando and Gichy Dan. The othert two acts on the original album were Material and Was [Not Was]: both loose lineup affairs floating around a core duo.

Material were formed in 1978 by bassist Bill Laswell and keyboards-player Michael Beinhorn, first appearing on the Red label. Laswell’s collision course attitude to musical genres was made for ZE and ‘Bustin’ Out’, his pitstop on the way to becoming a ferociously-prolific, world-renowned producer venturing into anything from hiphop and P-Funk to industrial or ambient is towering, along with ‘it’s A Holiday’, Material’s contribution to the Christmas album.

The alien space-funk invasion of ‘Wheel Me Out’ was the first the world heard of Detroit’s Was [Not Was], another gaggle of sonic renegades showing that disco could also be mutated in the Motor City, with a Motown feel for melodic hooks and Motor City edge previously displayed by the Stooges and MC5 [whose stun-guitarist Wayne Kramer guested], all doused in intelligently surreal humour. Don Was [Donald Fagenson] and David Was [David Weiss] thrust together R&B, funk, rock and loony-tunes, sometimes topped with the soulful tones of former car factory worker Sweet Pea Atkinson. 

Cross-genre collaboration continued to run rampant at ZE when Cristina went to Detroit and hooked up with Was [Not Was] to record the sinister ‘Things Fall Apart’ for the Christmas album. It was a contrast to her self-titled 1980 debut set which introduced August Darnell to Zilkha, Cristina’s sex kitten squeals and detached scorn dripping over Darnell’s exotic tropical disco backdrops like jungle honey [‘a great ice cream soda but not what I want to stay with,’ she said]. Cristina also caused a furore and created ZE’s major collector’s item with her customised cover of Leiber-Stoller’s ‘Is That All There Is?’, prompting the mortified composers to threaten legal action if released, thus creating ZE’s major collector’s item. 

In the three years since writing and producing Cristina’s album, Kid Creole had become a huge star in his own right but elected to stay true to his roots once he’d hit paydirt with his ‘ R&B copout album’, following Tropical Gangsters with an extravagant TV special for Granada TV called There’s Something Wrong In Paradise then the Doppelganger album. It would be his last for ZE which, by 1983, was past its glory period.

In 1984 Michel left to produce Lizzy’s acclaimed Gazelles, among others [unexpectedly, she died of cancer in 2004], then French band Octobre and LIO. After carrying on for two years, Michael Zilkha moved to Texas, got divorced and started in the oil business with his father before going into wind energy to make more millions.

Even if he didn’t want to get involved, Zilkha gave his blessing to Michel reactivating ZE from Paris in 2003, repackaging the catalogue and singing new artists like Glasgow-based four-piece Michael Dracula, met through long-time ZE flag-wavers Optimo.

’We had a very strong visual image, good art covers and posters then the mix of sound from different backgrounds. It was the right mix: no wave and punk meeting pure disco in a good studio where nobody thought they were the real McCoy and respected the others’ music and tried to contribute; when you had the Bee Gees’ session drummer playing on Lizzy’s first album where she could barely play guitar and everybody was happy to make that kind of music without judging the others’ performance or taste. Then you had something new and interesting. 

‘It also reflected Michael and I’s taste: my vision of a French guy in love with New York and a certain American culture whose American heroes were Brian Wilson, Phil Spector and Martin Scorcese, and Michael’s vision of an English guy from Iraqi background raised in London society. It was a good mix.’

‘I am proud of ZE and I’m sure that the bosses of every new label that I’ve liked over the last two decades had, at one point, bought and liked at least one or more ZE album. Like the story about the people who bought the first Velvet Underground album when it came out. There were not a lot but most of them started a band, and in my case a record label.’

Today, as ZE celebrates its 30th anniversary with this set of highlights, its place in music history takes on a greater significance than mere nostalgia, although there’s no better encapsulation of New York City at its no-holds-barred creative peak. The tracks gathered here by Michel Esteban and Strut’s Quinton Scott sound just as vibrant, startling and audacious as they did back then. ZE broke down the walls and we’ve been following ever since. Sadly, Rob Partridge succumbed to cancer earlier this year, but he would have been proud.

Kris Needs, May 2009

Track List
  • 1
    Tell Me That I'm Dreaming - Was (Not Was) - Ken Collier 12
    06:29
  • 2
    Deputy of love - Don Armando's 2nd Av. Rhumba Band
    5:29
  • 3
    Things Fall Apart - Cristina
    04:31
  • 4
    Hard Boiled Babe - Lizzy Mercier Descloux
    04:27
  • 5
    Juke Box Baby - Alan Vega
    04:46
  • 6
    The Beat Goes On - Casino Music
    03:53
  • 7
    Roving Eye - James Chance & The Contortions
    3:10
  • 8
    Something Wrong in Paradise - Kid Creole & the Coconuts - Larry Levan Remix
    04:56
  • 9
    You Know What I Like - Sympho State (Bob Blank)
    05:57
  • 10
    Bustin' Out - Material & Nona Hendryx - Seize The Beat Version
    08:25
  • 11
    Maladie d'Amour - Aural Exciters
    05:33
  • 12
    Dream Baby Dream - Suicide - Long Version
    06:20
  • 13
    What Can I Do For You? - Michael Dracula
    3:44
  • 14
    Re Bop Electronic - Garçons
    02:51