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ZE Mutant Disco complete catalogue, including the 4 Mutant Disco volumes + 6 Bonus tracks Mutant Disco Edits. Hours of Clever Dance Music.

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30 Years ago, in 1981 was released the original MUTANT DISCO album. It was a 6 tracks vinyl Lp. In 2003 Michel Esteban selected 25 Mutant Disco tracks fom ZE Records back catalogue and released a double CD, then came a volume 3 and 4. Unofficial booklet vinyls were even released by an Italian Company who obviously did not give a dam about screwing artists and small indie label…

To celebrate this 30th anniversary ZE Records is releasing at a discount price a MUTANT DISCO Digital Box Set regrouping the 4 volumes and including 6 bonus tracks for a total a 60 Mutant Disco songs, more than 5 H 30 of great Dance music. Enjoy !


MUTANT DISCO # 1 & 2 : A SUBTLE DISCOLATION OF THE NORMIn 1976 a record was released which could have changed the world. It was by the Disco Dub Band; on the Movers label; an extreme reworking of the O'Jays' For The Love of Money. Arranged and produced by journalist Davitt Sigerson, it featured steals of James Brown guitar motifs, free jazz traces, and stripped down, dubbed out disco. Its reverberations would be felt for many years. 

Five years on, consciously or not, it could certainly be felt haunting the dancehall that was home to ZE's Mutant Disco revolution. ZE by that time was ready to burst overground in a riot of colour. A perverse over-the-top Hollywood musical spectacular to complement the grainier, underground pop that could equate to the black and white French new wave films of tortured New York noir novels. So, Mutant Disco acknowledged that disco music circles were creating sounds as absurdly adventurous and radical as anything emerging from those fighting rock orthodoxy with more traditional instrumentation. We now know of course that disco alchemists like Arthur Russell and Larry Levan, labels like West End and Prelude, to use ZE's own words subtly discolated the norm in as spectacular way as say The Pop Group and A Certain Ratio, Rough Trade and Factory. What it boiled down to was that imaginations could soar and people could dance. The two were an irresistible force. The same as it ever was. ZE just gave us the best of all possible worlds, and opened up all sorts of new vistas. ZE's original Mutant Disco compilation came after the label's first few years of quiet artistic defiance, steadily releasing records from the US and French underground resistance. By 1981, however, ZE's records had caught the imaginations of the hungry pop press and daring DJs; and there was no turning back. And like any Hollywood spectacular, ZE had its own superstar-in-waiting in August Darnell. The pop press twisted itself inside out to find the right words to pay homage, and Darnell's Kid Creole persona lit up the pop sky. It's easy now to forget this man co-created the greatest disco song ever in Machine's There But For The Grace Of God Go I, and wrote the Aural Exciters’ Emile (Night Rate), which was downbeat dub disco ten years before Massive Attack.

Darnell's fingerprints were all over ZE. It's impossible not to play join-the-dots with the broad brush of Mutant Disco, and trace connections. Some of the artists involved with ZE went on to record and produce many a thing elsewhere. Myself, I thought some like Was (Not Was) and Material never produced anything as glorious and life affirming as their contributions here. Material's Busting Out, with Nona Hendryx on vocals links us back to Labelle and hence Laura Nyro ! the original New York poet-princess creating unique pop by paying her debts to inventive black dance music. 

ZE had its own unique contenders to be New York's disco queen in Cristina and Lizzy Mercier Descloux. Exotic and quixotic, sexy and sassy, as they were, it's impossible not to imagine Madonna waiting in the wings taking notes ahead of the pop perfection of Holiday, Into The Groove, and Like A Virgin. And it seems only natural that the works of French disco experimentalists Garçons should be collated for Other Records by A Man Called Adam, unsung UK techno adventurers with a fevered imagination ZE would have approved of. Perhaps more than any other Mutant Disco artifact, the Aural Exciters' record features a special spider's web of links and lineages. Besides, the aforementioned August Darnell connections, the record was a side project of Bob Blank, ZE's in-house studio scientist and a man who can boast of being involved with Sun Ra's immortal Lanquidity set. The Aural Exciters also featured Taana Gardner, who later song on Heartbeat, her awesome West End disco classic, and Pat Place the sometime Contortion and Bush Tetra. It is irresistible to mention the Mutant Disco records she would produce with the Bush Tetras for labels like 99 and Fetish, homes to legends like ESG, 23 Skidoo, Clock DVA, and Liquid Liquid. Her Contortions' band leader James Chance (or James White) played a part too in the Aural Exciters, and no excuse is needed to mention his signature tune Contort Yourself. It has everything: the twisted James Brown guitar motifs, the free jazz colour, the taut minimal funk, and tortured screams. It was a record so extreme it would utterly inspire Edinburgh's Fire Engines to create a new pop form. And ZE would ultimately destroy new pop groups like the Fire Engines. For ZE hinted at all those possibilities, suggested that extreme sounds could fill dancefloors, that inventiveness did not mean playing to a dozen people in a dusty pub back room. It was almost too much to live up to, but the dream, the aspiration, was everything. It was as Suicide were singing: It's all you got you know, your dreams. Keep them burning ? forever. Yes, in 1981, people like Ian Penman, Paul Morley, and Robert Elms were writing about new torch songs on a par with Cry Me A River and Fever. But people like Alan Vega and August Darnell were making dreams come true with these new torch songs. And it would not have mattered if no one was listening or nobody dancing. The Mutant Disco show would have carried on regardless. In over 20 years, the world has changed a lot. Original copies of that Disco Dub Band single now change hands for small fortunes, and Davitt Sigerson went on to record two LPs for ZE appropriately enough, and more strangely to be Chief Executive of EMI.. Yet, the urge to let our imaginations run riot, and the need to dance to twisted sounds remain. 


Kevin PearceLondon, March 2003 


It is probably difficult to imagine that Club culture was born in a small underground room in the Latin quarter of Paris during the period of German occupation in the Second World War. The Nazis had prohibited jazz and closed the Clubs where musicians performed thus forcing music lovers to meet in secret in cellars to listen to their favorite music on 78s. One such place was on Rue de la Huchette and was known as “La Discothèque”. Historically this was the first time that the name was used to designate a club where people could go to listen to recorded music. 

Next came the “Whiskey a Go-Go” created by Paul Racine, which introduced the concept of a public dancing on a dance floor to music played by “Disc-Jockeys” with two turntables. Racine developed his concept throughout Europe. When Régine opened her first club “Chez Régine” in Paris in 1960 this was frequented by the American jet set and immediately inspired “Le Club” in New York, quickly followed by the “Peppermint Lounge” in 1961. The rest is history! 

In 1980, when ZE Records first published the vinyl LP “Mutant Disco” there were only 6 tracks on it. In 2003, when I decided to relaunch the label that Michael Zilkha and myself founded in New York in 1978, I transformed this mini album into a double Digipack CD with 25 tracks. It was as if Mutant Disco had become a style of its own in which musicians from different cultures and nationalities could find common ground. Between 1978 and 1983 in New York City, music from a wide range of styles developed based on a common denominator – you could dance to it. 

The title of “Garage” comes from “Paradise Garage”, the now mythical club at 84 King Street, which was one of the focal points for New York gay and disco culture for 10 years (1977-1987). The turntables were under the magic touch of Larry Levan, one of the pioneers of NY Dance Music that some began calling Garage, while his childhood friend Frankie Knuckles did pretty much the same in Chicago where certain began to call his style House music. 

I have never really been too fond of labels, which are often stuck on for marketing purposes in order to sell more products. I have always believed that there is good music and the rest… The ZE Records back catalogue is proof of the eclectic approach that Michael Zilkha and myself have in our musical tastes. For an adolescent who had the privilege of growing up in the 60s there is no difference between James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Sly Stone, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Jimmy Hendrix, nor between Norman Whitfield, Brian Wilson or Phil Spector. 

Larry Levan also promoted open and eclectic musical sources and many DJs today have drawn inspiration from this. The Sound System at Paradise Garage developed by Larry and Richard Long was reputed to be the best in NY. Many producers would test their mixes on the dance floor at the Garage. Many of the remixes at ZE, especially those by August Darnell were first played at the Garage before being produced. Larry remixed for August and KID CREOLE & THE COCONUTS: Something Wrong in Paradise, (...) which certainly has its place in this third volume of MUTANT DISCO. 

In addition to this remix,“GARAGE SALE” includes several jewels from the ZE Records. back catalogue: the long play version of the sublime Dream Baby Dream by SUICIDE; a remix of Alan Vega’s Outlaw by August Darnell; Techno-Freqs by Junnie Morrison, founder member of Funkadelic who brought out an excellent album, Evacuate your seats, on ZE in 1983; a mix by Don Was of What’s a Girl to Do by Cristina. Don was also involved in the production of Dance or Die by Sweet Pea Atkinson (singer of Was (not Was) from his solo album Don’t Walk Away (ZE Records 1982) this can almost be considered as a WNW album given that virtually the full band is present. Also present are Man VS The Empire Brain Building from the second album by Was (Not Was) for ZE in 1982, Born to Laugh at Tornadoes and Read my Lips, another production by the Was (not) brothers under the pseudonym of “A THOUSAND POINTS OF NIGHT”. There is also the underground classic He’s the Groove by Snuky Tate, released on ZE in 1979 as a single and 12” single, plus the classic No time to Stop Believing in Love, by DAISY CHAIN, in the international version. There are two excellent tracks from RON ROGERS, a very active member of the ZE dream team in the early 80s. Ron also took part in the sessions with AURAL EXCITERS, BOB BLANK’s After Hours Party Band, with Maladie d’Amour. 

As Kevin Pearce wrote in the liner notes in MUTANT DISCO Volume 1 & 2: “Yes, the urge to let our imagination run riot, and the need to dance to twisted sounds remains. « The MUTANT DISCO, the haunted dancehall will never close down ». This new selection is a step towards perpetual motion!

Michel Esteban Paris, October 2004


During the summer of 1977 in Memphis, cortisone puffed up Elvis was about to join his twin brother Jesse Caron, who let him carry the much too heavy title of King of Rock & Roll. In the mean time, in New York, where a record-breaking heat-wave was intensified by a permeating atmosphere of paranoia caused by the son of Sam scare, Michael Zilkha and I were about to form ZE Records, with the clear goal of  breaking down boundaries between the two sounds that we both grew up with: Rock & Roll and Rhythm & Blues.

Michael and I were brought together by our common love for the Velvet Underground. John Cale, with whom I was working as a D.A for his new label “Spy Records”, introduced us.  Michael wanted to invest in Spy’s capital. Ultimately, we created our own label, at a time when rock was starting to go around in circles and,  despite hysterical campaigns such as “Disco Sucks” or “Death to Disco”, the fun acts were to be found in the Clubs.

Ten years earlier in the East Village, Andy Warhol, who’s flair is once again to be saluted, had already breached barriers by turning a Polish immigrants’ ballroom into a club, “the Dom”, located on Saint Mark’s Place. He was then projecting his movies and light shows over the resident band, the now cult Velvet Underground with Nico, Eddie Sedgwick, the whole Factory crowd: artists, downtown Bohemians, the filthy rich from uptown, models, transvestites and junkies were all gathering around Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Evitable Show. Things were stirring it up and this mix of genres was about to become a winner. John Wilcock was then writing in the East Village Other: “Art has come to the discotheque and it will never be the same again.”

In April 1977, Steve Rubbel and Ian Schrager already started to popularize this idea with the opening of the Studio 54, followed in September by Michael Brody’s Paradise Garage. The year after, Fabrice Emaer would do the same in Paris opening Le Palace, with the success we all know. However, in the end of 1977, a breaker called “Saturday Night Fever” was about to rush onto New York’s screens and forever shatter the nightlife of every single city of our small planet. Within a few months, what was an underground trend predominantly connected to blacks, gays and a few hundreds hip socialites packed in front of the Studio 54, Paradise Garage or Xenon (for those driving back from 54), was about to become a cultural phenomenon.

Much like the suburban kids, second generation of Brooklyn immigrants taking Manhattan by storm, blow-dried and rigged out in polyester shirts made from living-room curtains, millions of working class heroes were about to establish Disco as a worldwide economic model for the following 30 years…

In 1978 and 1979, ZE Records released its first 12” singles and LP’s.  From No Wave with James Chance/White, Arto Lindsay, Mars, Lizzy Mercier Descloux or Lydia Lunch, to the birth of Electro with bands such as Suicide; or even twisted Disco with Kid Creole, Don Armando, Aural Exciters, Gichi Dan, Junie Morisson and Was (Not Was). Some kind of timeless Disco, which we would describe as “Mutant” for our first vinyl compilation, (thanks to the great Rob Partridge) back in 1980. August Darnell was the first to carry through this crossover ambition between Rock and Disco, with the now cult remix of James White’s “Contort Yourself”. Pseudo-brothers David and Don Was would add to their band the MC5 guitarist, Wayne Kramer, Charlie Mingus’ trumpet player, Marcus Belgrave, and Parliament/funkadelic’s percussionist, Larry Fratangelo; thus standardizing a musical pattern for generations of bands who would go on pleasing dance-floors around the world.

30 years after the release of the first vinyl, which launched what we now qualify as a new “style” : The Mutant Disco, I can proudly say that it has held it’s own, inspiring several generations of future wannabes behind their turntables, or in their studios – and moving thousands of clubbers on the dance floors around the world. Although we didn’t realize it then, that was certainly the goal!  It was not really mainstream disco music, but rather, as we subtitled it on the original album, “ A subtle Discolation of The Norm”

Hence, we bring you the fourth volume of the series, in a way, to come full circle with the ZE Records’ Mutant Disco. 

In this latest opus, one finds a remix version (Let’s go to bed) of Was Not Was’ “Shake your head”, with Ozzy Osbourne and the lovely Kim Bassinger on the microphone; as well as a remix of the delirious “The Party Brooke Up”, two tracks from their first album “Born to Laugh at Tornadoes”.  An Optimo Remix by Twitch – one of today’s best DJ’s – of the cult classic “Contort Yourself” by James White & The Blacks.  Another remix by Australia’s Stiff Figure of the rather minimal “Herpes Simplex” by Rosa Yemen, Lizzy Mercier Descloux’s first musical incarnation from 1978. There’s also an Arthur Baker legendary remix of “Tease Me” by the no less legendary Funkadelic member Junie Morisson, of whom ZE Records is reissuing the 1984 first Lp on ZE: “Evacuate Your Seat”. A remix of : “Rico Mambo” by Breakfast Club for their first single on ZE, being no-less than Madonna’s first band, drummer at that time. On the rocker side, we have a mix of Alan Vega’s “Fireball” out of his first LP. A remix by San Fransisco based band TUSSLE, of Irving Berlin’s classic “I’m an Indian Too”, on its Don Armando 2nd Av. Rhumba Band’s version (while their album “Deputy of Love” is about to be reissued on ZE). A Mutant Disco ReMix of Lizzy Mercier Descloux’s last track in 2003 Hard-Boilled Babe. Last a remix of Michael Dracula’s track “Destroy Yourself”, originally recorded for their debut album “In The Red”.

In 2009, Club Culture has never been so prolific.  We expect it will thrive for many years to come.  We’re proud to have blazed a few trails in this direction, with our own contribution.

Michel Esteban  Bahia, October 2009

Track List