Today’s Sunday Spotlight is something new. Instead of focusing on an artist as I usually do, today I’m focusing on a quasi-new label that has been pumping out some incredible releases lately. I’m talking about the newly re-opened Strut Records. Strut first formed back in 1999, but closed its doors in 2003. Just this year, it has been reactivated and has joined up with German label !k7 to continue its mission: to bring forth dusty gems from the past and share them with new ears.
Strut’s primary focus is on music from the fringes and the dance floors of old (and new in many cases as this music is brought back to life) – disco, funk, old school hip-hop, as well as taking it a step further back and looking at its African roots. Since coming back to life, the diggers at Strut have given us Disco Not Disco, Funky Nassau: The Compass Point Story, Nigeria 70: Lagos Jump, and Going Places: The August Darnell Years 1976-1983 (click on each title to read what I had to say about them). What they’ve got lined up for the near future is just as good, if not better: Disco Italia: Essential Italo Disco Classics 1977-1985 and an as-of-yet unnamed NEW Grandmaster Flash album.
Personally, I really enjoy well done compilation discs like these for several reasons. First, it gives me a chance to listen to some music that I missed the first time around for whatever reason: be it I was listening to something else at the time or I wasn’t even born yet. But these discs represent more than just a trip down memory lane. There is some seminal work here that is too easily forgotten in this day and age of connecting to the internet and downloading the latest buzz. Secondly, reading the well written (both in an informative fashion as well as entertaining) liner notes is like peering into the past. Sitting down, listening to the album, and reading the liner notes just makes my day. It’s an insider’s perspective that makes you feel as if you were sitting in the corner of the recording studio, watching music happen.
That being said, please do yourself a favor and check out Strut’s catalog. Their productions are available digitally via iTunes and eMusic, but consider picking up a physical copy as well, as the liner notes really do go hand in hand with each album’s experience. Keep your eyes open here as well for future reviews of some of their upcoming releases.
To give us an insider's perspective on what is happening at Strut, Quinton Scott was kind enough to take some questions. Questions in black are mine, answers in red are his.
Can you introduce yourself and your role at Strut?
I’m Quinton Scott and I work on the A&R for the label. My role is coming up with the ideas for the releases and working on all aspects of each album up to the finished item.Were you involved with Strut in its first go-around between 1999 and 2003?
Yes, I originally set the label up in 1999 and ran it during its first incarnation.What brought about the reorganization of Strut?
I made the decision to close down the original company in Summer 2003 – we had hit cashflow problems and it was the right move at the time. I had talked on and off with Juan Vandervoort, one of the main label managers at !K7, about doing something with the label again at some point and !K7 eventually bought up the brand and logo last year.Where does the inspiration for new projects come from?
From DJs, diggers, chats in the pub and from general hunches about types of music that will work well at a certain point in time.Where do such diverse ideas come from?
Strut was never really designed as just a soul, funk or collectors’ label. I suppose we’re always trying to be open-minded – there’s a general link to dance music and black music but an idea is often about timing as much as anything. Something like the August Darnell album came about because a few different people had mentioned it and we kept hearing different DJs playing his early music.As of now, Strut has about a half dozen albums either released or in the pipeline. Is there one in particular that stands out as most enjoyable for you?
They’ve all been great to do – I’d say the Funky Nassau album documenting Chris Blackwell’s Compass Point studios has probably been the most rewarding so far. All of the artists and studio people involved were really helpful and we were lucky to find some incredible unseen archive photos. And, personally, I love the music.Were there any that were particularly easy or difficult to assemble?
None are particularly quick, mainly because of the work involved in the licensing, sleeve notes and all the archive research. The licensing’s often the trickiest area – the latest Nigeria 70 involved some obscure ones to track down and we have a Caribbean album on the way which has been even more complex. None of the original labels still exist and we have had to track down original artists or producers for most of the tracks.What are the stand-out tracks that you particularly enjoy from this year’s releases, either already out or upcoming?
Love the rolling funk of Ify Jerry Krusade’s Everybody Likes Something Good on the new Nigeria 70 and, from the new Caribbean comp, Lancelot Layne’s Chant is a belter, a no-nonsense ghetto commentary over a heavyweight percussive groove.Do you ever find time to listen to current releases and artists, or are you always digging in the past, even on your own time?
Always discovering older records but I listen to a huge variety, both new and old. Of the new stuff, currently really like Mala’s Unexpected, kind of cosmic dubstep, and Daniel Stefanik’s mix of Gregor Tresher’s Break New Soil which is more techno-based but funky as hell.What’s your own record collection like?
It’s a really mixed bag. A lot of original soul, funk, Afro, disco as you’d expect, pockets where I’ve honed in on particular labels and styles. There’s a large section of ECM label CDs in there, a huge amount of original early ‘80s electro and hip hop. A few dark secrets too – quite a bit of, ahem, old skool hardcore…Where do you go to find obscure material to listen to?
Definitely spend less time digging since I became a Dad. Still scour second hand shops and collections for sale but check in with online music sources more and more. Dealer sites like Diaspora Records and Casbah, Dusty Groove of course and the deeper blogs like Frank Conakry’s Voodoo Funk are always an education.Can you name a favorite album that you think everyone should have that almost no one has heard of?
Mr Andrew’s Magic Planet is a recent favourite. Quite dark early electro / new wave on the Base label from ‘82. Slightly better known now since it appeared on the Mutant Sounds blog last year.
Mr. Andrew - The Bats : Magic Planet
Any pet projects or interests percolating in your brain that you’d personally like to eventually work on for the label in the future?
Have been after doing a wide-ranging Giorgio Moroder compilation for a long while with his management but he’s too busy doing music for the Beijing Olympics. One day, hopefully….With the increasing ease of finding, sharing, and downloading previously hard to find music as it grows increasingly digital, how do you see Strut faring in the future?
Strut will certainly have to adapt but I think it’ll still have a place. The album ideas and all the background info and photos will work digitally – I’m guessing that people who don’t have the time to dig deep to find music will still look to labels like ours to do the dirty work. Digital’s exciting, not as restricted by album formats and the mindset of the modern day record store.
Well, there you have it, a look behind the scenes at Strut records. Not only was Quinton kind enough to take us on a tour, but the label has generously provided a copy of each album they have put out so far this year (Disco Not Disco, Funky Nassau, Kid Creole, Disco Italia, and Nigeria 70) for me to give away. That's right, one lucky winner will walk away with the complete Strut catalog from the first half of this year - all five discs! All you need to do to enter is leave a comment (or e-mail me) with your name, e-mail address, and your vote on which of the 5 comps is the best in your opinion and you'll be in the running. I'll choose a winner randomly Saturdayish and send them the good news via e-mail.
In the meantime, here are some tracks to get you salivating over the 5 albums up for grabs!
Delta 5 - You : Singles And Sessions 1979-1981
(Their big hit Mind Your Own Business is one of the tracks on Disco Not Disco)
Tom Tom Club - Wordy Rappinghood : Tom Tom Club
(You'll find the 12" version of their mega-hit Genius of Love on Funky Nassau: The Compass Point Story 1980-1986)
Kid Creole & The Coconuts - There But For The Grace Of God Go I (12" Mix) : Off The Coast Of Me
(You'll find a whole album's worth of the Kid on Going Places – The August Darnell Years 1974 - 1983)
Sir Victor Uwaifo - Guitar Boy : Greatest Hits Vol. 1
(Sir Victor is one of the artists you'll find on Nigeria 70: Lagos Jump)