Excerpted and adapted from Hold On to Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene, 1973-92 by Tim Lawrence. Copyright Duke University Press 2009.
The album 24 −−> 24 Music can be traced back to the moment when Arthur Russell invited Mustafa Ahmed (congas), Jeff Berman (drums), Julius Eastman (organ), Peter Gordon (tenor saxophone), Rome Neal (percussion), Larry Saltzman (guitar), and Peter Zummo (trombone) to perform an orchestral disco jam at the Kitchen, an experimental venue for compositional music, on 27–28 April 1979. The musicians improvised around scores in order to create a continuous, evolving groove, while taking their cues from Arthur as he sawed away on his cello. Happiest when asked to take a risk, Zummo says he felt “very free” during the performance, while Neal remembers, “The Kitchen gig gave me a chance to really stretch out on my instrument and jam with the conga player, who was amazing.” The result combined frenzied percussion, a raucous guitar, excited drums, and a plummeting trombone, and resembled a cross between Osibisa, the Clash, and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. At the end of the gig the crowd of people dancing at the back of the venue applauded, while the rest of the audience tried to make sense of what they had witnessed. “There was a schism between the presence of Nicky Siano [the DJ at the Gallery] and the disco crowd, and the new-music people,” says Donald Murk, who worked as Arthur's personal manager during the late 1970s. “The new-music people seemed to be fascinated by the strange, disco-ite presence. The atmosphere was one of bemusement.”
Convinced the Kitchen audience was “very snobbish about disco,” which it judged to be “a ‘low’ form of music,” Steven Hall, a close friend of Arthur's, says the orchestral disco concert was “a very careful, well-staged affront to the Kitchen people and their sensibilities,” and he recalls being euphoric at the end of the concert because the idea of presenting orchestral disco as a form of “serious classical music” had “really worked.” “Arthur was baffled as to why they would discriminate,” notes Hall. “The concert was a very political move on his part, because he was doing this in the Carnegie Hall of downtown.” Arthur had already encountered a slice of the growing disdain for disco when he played a Hamilton Bohannon record to a friend, only for the friend to judge it “second-rate music.” “That was such a weird thing to say,” Arthur commented in a later interview. “I’d never thought of it in those hierarchical terms. It always seems important to me to avoid such value judgements.” In a similar vein, Zummo recalls Arthur saying, “If the beat is good enough to move people’s bodies, it won’t be treated as serious music,” and the trombonist adds there was “tension” in the Kitchen during the “orchestral disco” performance.
According to Hall, the concert was controversial enough to provoke a feud. “There was a sense that Arthur sold out his so-called ‘serious’ reputation with disco, and the people running the Kitchen were shocked that he had the audacity to bring this world of sleazy music into this highbrow situation,” he explains. “It was very bold of Arthur, and he was very proud of that break.” Less certain than Hall that Arthur “intended to flip the bird,” Murk remembers Arthur believing there were many Kitchen regulars who thought he was making good money from disco and regarded him as a “traitor to the new music scene.” Yet Murk also recalls the orchestral disco audience being more baffled than hostile, and his recollections are in line with those of Arnold Dreyblatt, who had studied media art at Buffalo and composition at Wesleyan before he moved to New York to work with La Monte Young. “Nobody knew what the hell to make of it,” notes Dreyblatt. “Rhys and Glenn were high energy and strong overtones, but here was this music that had a disco beat, lovely melodies, strange twists, and bizarre lyrics.” Whereas Rhys Chatham belted out a clear message of intent when he played his minimalist guitar compositions, Arthur’s wonky groove music seemed to be much more difficult to interpret. “I remember being very surprised, and at first I found it partially unintelligible,” continues Dreyblatt. “It wasn’t accessible as a statement without somehow knowing Arthur, or knowing more than what was happening in new music. And very few people who were there that night would have known about the alternative disco scene.”
Having developed his production skills with recordings for Sire and West End, Arthur zipped in and out of Blank Tapes to preserve the orchestral disco concept on multitrack tape with an appropriate mix of musicians. Established collaborators included Wilbur Bascum (bass), Julius Eastman (keyboards and vocals), Peter Gordon (tenor saxophone), Kent Goshorn (vocals), Butch Ingram (bass), Jimmy Ingram (keyboards), John Ingram (drums), Timmy Ingram (congas), William Ingram (guitar), Jill Kroesen (vocals), Rome Neal (percussion and vocals), and Peter Zummo (trombone). New faces included Rik Albani, a Zummo collaborator, who played trumpet; Marie-Chantal Martin, a little-known vocalist; Denise Mercedes, a guitarist in the punk outfit the Stimulators and a Poet’s Building resident; and Ed Tomney, the moving force behind a new-wave outfit called the Necessaries, who also played guitar. “Arthur was special in his mission of merging the worlds of black music and orchestral music,” acknowledges Neal.
During the session Arthur sat on top of the studio’s Rhodes piano and blew bubbles through a mug of ginseng tea while the musicians acclimated to their surroundings. “Arthur was on a mission, but he was very, very sensitive to the vibe of the people he was working with,” says the engineer Bob Blank. “He was very concerned with their comfort and their feeling OK around him. It seemed like he was being casual and random, but he was very prepared and had a lot of paperwork with him.” The paperwork included conceptual scores filled with staves and colored Cagean parabolas, and he instructed the players to feel out a section of the notated music before developing a decentered, improvised flow, because instead of recording specific songs, he wanted his musicians to lay down shifting combinations of sound. “Arthur came in with this road map, but then had five different pieces going at once,” recalls Blank. “He had one of those lateral brains that could hear across all this different material.”
Arthur was entering uncharted territory. Whereas his first twelve-inch single “Kiss Me Again” was written before he went into the studio, and the subsequent Loose Joints jams were organized around a series of songs, the orchestral disco sessions cut the songs altogether—and upped the improvisation that had started to unfold during the Loose Joints recordings. “Arthur might have had a sense of what the finished product would be, but I saw it as a process,” says Zummo, who was asked to play in what Arthur called his “chromatic style,” setting off the cellist’s more tonal mode. “He’d put some music in front of me and I’d say, ‘Where do you want me to play from?’ He’d say, ‘Just play.’ I never understood how the score guided the process. It was a very open sound field.” A novice in dance music, Zummo saw the sessions as “working with Arthur,” who happened to be recording dance. “The Ingram brothers were hot, and because the drummer was so good and the beat was happening, the trombone wasn’t an impediment; it could just soar above. It’s also true for jazz. Playing the trombone can be a struggle because it’s a difficult instrument, but I don’t recall finding it difficult to record any of that stuff.” One of a number of musicians who were asked to return to the studio to record overdubs, Zummo adds: “Arthur used conceptual bases to go into a recording studio and then proceeded to record funky tracks. I was generally astonished. It was all new.”
The vocalists ensured the final cuts would bear only a fleeting resemblance to disco. Martin delivered a series of surreal phrases in a shrill, squeaky voice that mixed French and English. Eastman sang “In the corn belt” as if recording atonal opera with Maxwell Davies, and “Go baaannnggg” as if that opera had been staged in a gay sex club, like the Anvil or the Mineshaft. And Kroesen sounded like she was halfway through a second bottle of whisky when, depressed and unsteady, she almost wailed out:
Thank you for asking the question
You showed us the face of delusion
To uproot the cause of confusion
I wanna see all my friends at once
I need an armchair to put myself in your shoes
I’m in the mood to ask the question
Ohhh, thank you
Oh, oh, thank you for asking a question
You showed us the face of delusion
To uproot the cause of confusion.
With the tracks laid down and no record company leaning on him, Arthur made a copy of the tape and started to explore the infinite sound combinations that were available to him. “Arthur began bouncing tracks back and forth,” remembers Gordon. “He had two twenty-four-track machines that he synched up, and he would find songs by combining these elements.” At the end of the process, Arthur labeled the tapes “24 −−> 24,” as if his own presence and that of the musicians had become secondary to the tape-to-tape conversation, which offered not so much a documentary capsule of the sessions as a way of exploring them ad infinitum. “Arthur was playing the studio the same way he would play the cello,” adds Gordon. “He tried to capture a certain roughness of performance. The process was getting looser and Arthur was feeling freer. There was almost a sense of him saying, ‘I can do this!’”
Along with Gordon, Arthur became one of the first composers to join pop alchemists (George Martin, Phil Spector, and Brian Eno), dub excavators (Lee “Scratch” Perry and King Tubby), and disco remixers (Tom Moulton and Walter Gibbons) in the mission of reinventing the studio as a place where sound wasn’t merely reproduced but also created. The move was innovative in the field of compositional music, for while John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen had experimented with computers and tape, they also subjected their work to the discipline of rigorously developed scores; others had challenged the totalitarian status of the score without acknowledging that the recording process could be a key aspect of composition. “Scoring moved away from being a precise description of the sound, with every possible parameter notated, to a set of instructions that produced a precisely defined but at times highly variable result,” comments Sublette. “But by the 1960s, some of these instruction pieces had gotten very abstract indeed, and consisted even at times of what seemed more like poems in the form of instructions.” By the late 1970s, composers began to acknowledge that the recording process could generate sound that existed independently of a score, and in July 1979, just a month or so after the orchestral disco sessions were wrapped up, Brian Eno presented a paper titled “The Recording Studio as Compositional Tool” at the Kitchen. “Arthur was really dealing with the studio as an instrument,” notes Gordon. “This approach was something that was in the air, and it was radical.”
Refiguring the role of the orchestra and the score, Arthur also took disco though a series of highly original, counterintuitive maneuvers. For the best part of a decade, disco producers such as Alec Costandinos, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, Vince Montana, Giorgio Moroder, and Barry White had worked with the sound of the symphony orchestra, and their records imbued disco with a combination of musical complexity and emotional force that, when not treated with care, could also sound excessive and bombastic. Orchestral disco ran the additional risk of eliminating the felt groove out of disco -- because the symphony orchestra was too large to allow for this kind of work, and also lacked players who were attuned to this kind of expressiveness. Arthur, however, slimmed down the size of the orchestra and assumed a nonchalant approach to his own score, which his jam-oriented musicians were encouraged to drop whenever they felt the need.
As Arthur refined his approach, he distinguished his own use of repetition from the kind of repetition that appeared in earlier minimalist works. “I think the kind of repetition that comes out of me and is in dance music is somewhat different to the repetition of minimalist works of the Sixties and Seventies,” he explained in an interview several years later. “Dance music is more improvisatory. It uses an extendable structure which on the one hand is recognizable, and on the other, improvisatory. It's based on hearing what you do while you do it." Convinced the engagement with dance was as important as the exchange between orchestral music and pop, Arthur urged other composers to explore the culture. “I have a recollection of Arthur describing disco clubs as ‘temples of music’ and evocatively describing the beauty of bass frequencies coming out of the subwoofers,” comments Chatham. “I went to a disco at the old Fillmore East [the Saint] and decided that he was right. I was blown away and had no idea where this music was coming from. But I was so into my own trip I just didn’t pursue it. It was Arthur who explored this other exotic area.”
* * * * *
Arthur identified with the natural world. His handmade flyers featured childlike sketches of birds and antelopes; he stuck a cutout cardboard rabbit onto the front of his cello; he carried stuffed animals onto stage with him during performances; and songs such as “Eli” developed animal themes. In assuming the Dinosaur moniker when he released “Kiss Me Again,” he took up the cause of the extinct, and his subsequent use of the name “Killer Whale” would create an alliance with the endangered. And as he set about establishing his own label following the falling-out with West End, he started to nestle up close to a cuddly koala bear.
Arthur met his label partner at the Loft, the weekly house party hosted by David Mancuso on Prince Street. The stocky son of one of Mancuso’s lawyers, Will Socolov met the Loose Joints coproducer Steve D’Acquisto and then Arthur, after which he asked his father to provide the Loose Joints producers with a loan to enable them to complete their sessions. Realizing he had been drawn into a “fucked up situation,” Socolov turned against D’Acquisto—who had “no right being in the studio” and “bossed Arthur around constantly”—and told him to “fuck off.” Socolov drifted until a chance collision with Arthur on West Broadway resulted in Arthur asking him to form a partnership and open a record company. Backed by Socolov’s father and an oldtime record promoter called Juggy Gayles, the label acquired a name when James Brown’s “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” started to play over the radio, which prompted Socolov to joke that he could forget about buying a brand new bag—he was still going to bed in a sleeping bag. Arthur seized on the throwaway remark, and Socolov agreed that “Sleeping Bag” sounded like a good name. “It was supposed to be a reaction to the disco era and to make fun of that,” he notes. “Arthur and the rest of us were, ‘Fuck the cool way! We’re not going to be wearing designer suits!’” Emphasizing the label’s alternative, idiosyncratic intentions, Arthur proposed that they also use a picture of a koala bear sitting in a sleeping bag as their logo.
Socolov’s entrance encouraged Arthur to move away from D’Acquisto. An important enabler and an inspirational presence, D’Acquisto’s relentless championing of Arthur’s ingeniousness had provided the self-doubting composer and instrumentalist with a valuable dose of self-belief. Yet the Loose Joints coproducer also required a return for his big-heartedness, and when Arthur chose not to follow a particular piece of advice, a more confrontational side emerged. Having lent Arthur money to record the 24 −−> 24 tapes—it’s not clear how much—D’Acquisto assumed they were part of an ongoing production team, but Arthur had become less sure about that, and the emergence of Socolov and Sleeping Bag Records encouraged him to think laterally. Whatever his stake, D’Acquisto hadn’t managed to engineer a release for the 24 −−> 24 tapes, and given that eighteen months had passed since they were recorded, Arthur had no qualms about taking them to Sleeping Bag. D’Acquisto was devastated. “Arthur was basically a bit of an opportunist,” he says. “He was an artist who needed to work and he would go anywhere if somebody promised him money.”
With D’Acquisto out of the picture and the 24 −−> 24 tapes lined up to appear as Sleeping Bag’s debut album, Arthur returned to the studio to record additional tracks with Lola Blank, a backing singer with James Brown who was married to Bob Blank. In possession of a powerful, gospel-trained voice, the vocalist had to unlearn everything she knew. “I had just come off the road with James, and I said, ‘Arthur’s great! He’s funky!’” she recalls. “He was this very quiet, non-descript person who would sit and watch, and the next thing you knew, he’d create this funky music! He was one of the most creative, innovative, and off-beat producers and composers I’d worked with.” “Bang go-bang-bang go-bang-go,” she sang in a crazed, little-girl voice that made it sound like she had escaped from a psychiatric hospital in a helium balloon. “Go bang bang bang go-bang it back.” “Most of the R&B singers are gospel,” adds Lola, whose voice was augmented with echo in the studio. “You’ve heard one, you’ve heard them all. For me, recording with Arthur was a time when I could be creative and fun. It was a time when I could go a bit crazy. I could sing anything and he’d make it work.” Bob looked on open-mouthed. “I hadn’t seen that side to her,” he explains. “Arthur brought that out of her.”
Wrapped in a silkscreen cover designed by Tom Lee that featured a gray print of a marauding dinosaur plus a cluster of bright red, floating “24”s and arrows in the top left corner, 24 −−> 24 Music by Dinosaur L was released on Sleeping Bag at the end of 1981. (Arthur had added the “L” to provide the artist name with a more powerful numerological value.) Discordant and manic, “You’re Gonna Be Clean on Your Bean” opened Side A with sharp beats and a repeated Peter Gordon saxophone refrain, after which a rhythm guitar and a synthesizer underscored a barrage of high-pitched, hysterical yelps delivered in a female voice’s Franglais, and a recurring rap-chant of “You gonna be clean on your bean” in male voices that sounded deadpan yet quizzical. “No, Thank You” continued the stumbling-out-of-the-asylum ambience, with Zummo’s chromatic trombone skipping over echoey keyboard notes as a female voice intoned in a pained, desperate near-shriek, “I said, ‘No thank you.’ I meant, ‘No thank you, please.’” “In the Corn Belt” featured Arthur’s descending cello lines and Zummo’s zigzagging trombone, as well as a surreal operatic cameo by Julius Eastman, who sang, “In the corn belt, CORN, COOORRRNNN.” “Get Set” interspersed its merry-go-round sound clash of instrumental riffs and longer solos with a range of percussive effects. And “#7” consisted of a live take from the orchestral disco performance at the Kitchen—the night when Arthur’s weird, funky, art-house jam began to take shape.
That jam found its ultimate expression on the album’s second track, “Go Bang!,” which opened with John Ingram’s tight, sibilant drums, Eastman’s faint keyboard, and Jill Kroesen’s slurry, unstable vocals. Judging by the tone of her voice, Kroesen wasn’t in a fit state to buy a pint of milk, let alone “uproot the cause of confusion,” which was one of her stated goals, yet the musical backdrop provided an outlet from the chaos when it shifted to a toughened beat pattern that incorporated Eastman’s keyboard and Timmy Ingram’s congas along with Arthur’s twangy, pizzicato cello. Running for several minutes, the groove was interspersed with Eastman’s faint orgasmic cries of “I want to go baaannnggg” (which began at a subterranean register before scaling three-and-a-half octaves to end on an orgasmic high) and, a little later on, the sound of a sustained, discordant, undulating cluster of notes (as if Eastman had taken a few swigs of whatever Kroesen was drinking and ended up crashing on the keyboard). While layers of percussion washed in and out, a group of male vocalists—probably Arthur, Rome Neal, and Kent Goshorn—blurted out:
I wanna see all my friends at once
I’d do anything to get the chance to go bang
I wanna go bang
I wanna go bang
I wanna see all my friends at once
I’d do anything to get the chance to go bang
I wanna go bang.
A cluster of scrunched-up guitar and trombone lines prefigured the close of the track, which concludes at seven minutes and fifty-two seconds.
In a nod toward the nonlinear underpinnings of the tracks, which had been spliced from tapes of tapes of tapes, the album’s six tracks were given new numbered titles and listed in a jumbled-up sequence—“#1 (You’re Gonna Be Clean on Your Bean),” “#5 (Go Bang!),” “#2 (No, Thank You),” “#7,” “#3 (In the Corn Belt),” and “#6 (Get Set).” The studio had become the space of searching and madness, where tapes overflowed onto the floor and the splice reigned supreme. “Arthur didn’t say, ‘I’ve got a song called ‘Go Bang!,’ let’s record it,’” notes Gordon. “It was more like discovering the song in the raw material.” As the molecular composition of sound was explored, knowledge didn’t so much accumulate as disintegrate, and although most of the tracks were given names, these were bracketed and provisional, suggesting that they were unfinished and might (or perhaps even should) continue to evolve after their initial release. Music can unravel under this kind of scrutiny, and the unraveling that took place on 24 −−> 24 Music was reflected in Arthur’s sound, which often seemed to slur as the instruments and vocals were slowed down or sped up to the point where their waves didn’t produce any kind of meaning.
Nevertheless, 24 −−> 24 Music wasn’t so much illegible as unpredictable, with its shaky jams and counterintuitive patterns taking up residence on the precipice of implosion. Drawing on the solo workout of jazz, the spatial awareness of dub, the raucousness of rock, and the insistent drive of funk and disco, the album’s instrumentation and claustrophobic edits depicted a universe that consisted of tangents and coincidences. Yet the album also flirted with structure, with its rhythms searching for a sustained groove and its songs hinting at the possibility of organized form. Refusing to gloss over the complexities of the world, the album sounded surreal but was actually very real, as well as foreign while being grounded in a neighborhood where disco, jazz, rock, new music, and Latin music seeped out onto the streets. Presenting a strangely coherent, left-field sound that hinted at genre yet remained steadfastly unnameable, 24 −−> 24 Music could only have been developed by an artist who was embedded in the full range of downtown’s diverse music scenes—which is to say, it sounded like an Arthur Russell album.
The album confirmed Arthur as a significant writing talent. “Kiss Me Again,” “Pop Your Funk,” and “Is It All Over My Face?” (the latter two released by Loose Joints) had provided snapshots of his ability to come up with memorable hooks, and with the release of 24 −−> 24 Music he demonstrated that he could come up with vividly expressive lines with ease. Track “#3 (In the Corn Belt)” harked back to the earthiness of his home state, while “#1 (You’re Gonna Be Clean on Your Bean)” and “#5 (Go Bang!)” were laced with the same kind of witty sexual innuendo as “Pop Your Funk” and “Is It All Over My Face?” Yet as far as Arthur was concerned, this was all very unremarkable. Ever since his time in San Francisco, he had penned lyrics that combined vernacular language and evocative imagery at a phenomenal rate, and Tom Lee, Arthur's lover, points out that the popular appeal of his lyrics was deliberate. “Arthur saw them as catch-phrases,” he explains. “As serious as he was, he wanted people to respond to his music. He wanted his lyrics to be anthemic.”
Arthur also wanted his lyrics to appeal beyond a gay male listenership, and “#5 (Go Bang!)” remains indicative of his oeuvre. The record contained obvious homoerotic undertones, with Eastman’s vocals simulating the moment of male orgasm with startling expressiveness, and the lyric “I want to see all my friends at once, go bang” suggested a male orgy. Indeed it’s even plausible that Lola Blank’s contribution was cut from the final mix in order to emphasize the all-male thrust of the lyrics. Yet the line “I want to see all my friends at once, go bang” also evoked the better-than-sex moment of the dance floor when the DJ worked a mix with sublime dexterity or caught the mood of the floor, and the crowd responded with energized moves and jubilant screams. “Arthur’s lyrics were more sexual than homosexual,” comments Steven Hall. “‘Go Bang!’ is about having all my friends in one place, which is more like a hippie ideal of everyone making out together. Arthur was inclusive in a way that even some early gay pride pioneers were not in terms of straight sexuality, and he was also informed by his experiences with women. It is limiting to think of his music through the gay prism.”
Although “#5 (Go Bang!)” was the likeliest dance cut on 24 −−> 24 Music, most of the DJs who had got into “Kiss Me Again” and “Is It All Over My Face?” were unnerved by its spider’s web structure, in which threads of instrumentation were woven together into a springy, mucoid mesh. Larry Levan, the DJ at the Paradise Garage, persevered with the record, and so did David Mancuso, but most thought it was too difficult for dancers, so when album sales ground to a halt at the two thousand mark, Socolov gave Arthur the green light to ask François Kevorkian to remix the record. The Prelude Records mixer agreed, even though he hadn’t warmed to “Kiss Me Again.” “There was something in the hook, in the songwriting, in the germ of it that meant it could never become one of the great songs,” he comments. “There were parts that were really intense—the tom toms at the end of one mix—but they lasted for a minute and then they were gone.” Because it was “extremely complex, disorganized, and uncompromising,” “#5 (Go Bang!)” presented a different kind of challenge, but Kevorkian reckoned it was something he could work with. “There are people who think the original version is a work of genius, which I’m not going to disclaim, because Arthur had his own vision of things, which was very peculiar and very much genius-like,” he says. “But sometimes genius works are hard to play at parties.”
Asked to deliver the remix for as little money as possible, Kevorkian went into Right Track Studios, worked through the night, and emerged the next morning unhappy with his effort, which was “not to the point at all.” Kevorkian came from a jazz-rock background and was familiar with the chaotic beauty of Sun Ra, Pharaoh Sanders, and Cecil Taylor, yet none of their music prepared him for the Byzantine complexity of Arthur’s studio work. “The multitrack was an absolute, utter, and total mess,” he recalls. “The way all the elements were thrown in there seemed to be gratuitous. It was just so thick. There were all these great ideas, but every thirty seconds there would be a change of direction. There were at least twenty songs that could have been put together from those tapes.” Having studied the tapes track by track in order to create a “master score” map, Kevorkian ended up spending so much time on this task that he failed to “absorb all the data and make sense of it.” Adamant he wasn’t willing to hand over the remix, he insisted that Socolov allow him to go back into the studio and work on it for an extra day—even if he had to pay for the studio time himself. “There was some arguing back and forth,” recalls the mixer. “Finally we came to an understanding.”
Kevorkian returned to the studio intent on providing the diffuse if compelling original with a more streamlined and structured focus. First off, he plucked out a Zummo trombone phrase from the depths of the multitracks and positioned it as an avant-garde fanfare that opened the remix. After that, he created a streamlined groove in which instrumental phases were signaled with greater clarity. Key parts, such as Eastman’s sound-swarm synthesizer, were chopped into recognizable shape, soaked in echo and reverb, and given a curatorial position above the driving track. In addition, two vocal quotes—Eastman’s operatic orgasm, which was hazy and submerged in the album mix, and Lola Blank’s off-kilter, little-girl utterances, which hadn’t been used at all—were transformed into vivid motifs that regulated the tense drama of the mix. “Lola and Julius Eastman were outstanding in their unique and quirky way,” reflects Kevorkian. “The rest was the icing on the cake.”
With the studio work completed, Kevorkian cut an acetate of the remix and handed it to Mancuso, who played it at the first opportunity. “The whole thing took fire right away,” says Kevorkian. “It was one of those instant records. There was nothing like it and you couldn’t forget it. From the Loft perspective, the record was all about baaannnggg.” But when Arthur went to the Loft with Socolov the following weekend, he was disappointed with what he heard. “After David played it Arthur came up to me and said, ‘I can’t believe it! François is trying to sabotage me!’” recalls Socolov. “I thought he was going to say, ‘Man, it’s fucking great, I’m really happy,’ because that was the first time he heard it in a big venue, so I was surprised.” Socolov asked for clarification. “I said, ‘Arthur, what are you talking about?’ And Arthur replied, ‘François is trying to ruin me! The drums are muddy! They’re not the way they’re supposed to be!’” Arthur wanted the drums to be pounding, perhaps after Bohannon, who was one of his favorite percussionists and producers, but Socolov just laughed. “I said, ‘You’re out of your mind! The people went crazy! It sounded great!’ I think he agreed afterwards. But he still felt the drums could have been EQ-ed [equalized] differently.”
Convinced Arthur was way ahead of his time, Mancuso made a point of hanging onto his album copy of “#5 (Go Bang!),” which contained so much information and so many nuances it reminded him of John Coltrane. But the Loft host also thought that Kevorkian’s remix was “very, very good,” and because the remix was tailor-made for the circus-like climax of his parties, Mancuso started to play the album version as the party was warming up and the twelve-inch during its peak. The remix would also become Levan’s favorite record of all time, and Arthur made a point of traveling to the Paradise Garage to hear it thunder out of the world’s most powerful sound system while some two thousand black gay men responded in an explosion of energy. When a spandex-clad Lola Blank and a tuxedoed Wendell Morrison (a session vocalist with Inner Life) performed “Go Bang!” at the venue, the song’s lyrics were so effective in generating their utopian objective, the performers were drowned out in the din. “When Wendel went ‘Go baaa . . .’ you couldn’t hear the record any more,” remembers Bob Blank, who looked on from Levan’s booth. “It was amazing to see the reaction. I had no clue.”
Featuring an echo-laden Kevorkian remix of “Clean on Your Bean” on Side B, the twelve-inch remix of “#5 (Go Bang!)”—now titled “Go Bang! #5”—was released in the spring of 1982. It was picked up in no time at all by Frankie Crocker, a regular at the Garage who would take a peek over Levan’s shoulder whenever a record caught his ear, and the WBLS DJ started to rotate the twelve-inch immediately. “We heard ‘Go Bang!’ on the radio and on the street,” says Lee. “The whole idea of it getting played was a big boost.” Enthusiastic reviews increased the record’s momentum: Billboard described it as “progressive jazz”; New Musical Express named it as “a strange new fascination, a jazzy sensation”; Dance Music Report hailed it as “an instant ‘underground classic’”; and New York Rocker noted that “with its electric piano and congas, it sounds almost Nigerian.” The author of the New York Rocker piece, Steven Harvey, was an unlikely convert given that he was a member of the experimental rock group Youthinasia, yet he found himself drawn to Arthur’s combination of dub and repetitive rhythms—elements that the journalist-musician would later identify as being the most salient feature of downtown dance music in the early 1980s. “Arthur was really hip to that in the way he mixed his music,” notes Harvey. “I got to know him, but it was completely around the music. Arthur struck me as being very ambitious about his music and he worked hard at getting it over, but he was shut down, slightly strange, and emotionally cool.”
Composed by Arthur and refined by Kevorkian, the “Go Bang! #5” twelve-inch uncovered fresh territory for both experimental music and disco. Zummo, who actively sought out difficult music, was wary of the process that resulted in the record becoming “presentable,” yet still appreciated the remix, while Gordon (who received a coproduction credit for finding the male rappers who performed on “Clean on Your Bean”) felt that Kevorkian’s disciplining handiwork “revealed another side of Arthur’s music.” The mixer, meanwhile, believed the twelve-inch was one of his finest to date. “It sounded really special,” he notes. “It brought all these different elements into a flow that is so natural you’d think it was recorded like that, when it fact it was the opposite.” Having expressed concern about Kevorkian’s use of the drums, Arthur came to appreciate the mixer’s work, which he valued above Jimmy Simpson’s version of “Kiss Me Again” and Levan’s reworking of “Is It All Over My Face?” “It was very different from the album version, but that was never a problem for Arthur,” comments Lee. “The song was still his basic idea and he was thrilled with what François did.” Arthur, adds Kevorkian, was also excited to see his record “become a major-league contender.”