Arthur Baker is one of the few producers who can actually lay claim to having changed dance music history. He made the first electronic rap record "Planet Rock" - with Afrika Bambaataa. He pioneered cut-n-paste sampling tunes before "Beat This" and "Pump Up The Volume" with "Put The Needle to The Record". His early remixes were among the first to create new rhythm tracks and employ breakdowns. He is equally at home working with Bob Dylan or Mick Jagger as Ash or Blak Twang.
Arthur Baker started DJing in the early 70s in his native Boston playing classic soul and Philly grooves off 45s. Realising he didn't have the patience to be a DJ - if the crowd wasn't dancing he'd whip off the disc and hurl it across the dance floor - he turned to making records and, after hitching up with later-to-be-big names like Maurice Starr and Michael Jonzun, first appeared on vinyl around 1977.
After the usual early disappointments and rip-offs Arthur started hanging out in New York, which was at its peak of disco fever. He struck a club hit with a song called "Happy Days" under the name North End, made connections like Larry Levan at the Paradise Garage and was already foreseeing dance music trends by bringing in DJs (Jellybean Benitez, Shep Pettibone and Tee Scott) to help him mix records for maximum dance floor effect (which could then be used on the new format of the 12" single).
Shortly afterwards Arthur hooked up with Latin musician Joe Bataan, who went on to make the first record on Salsoul. Together they made "Rap-O Clap-O" which, had it come out when it was recorded would have beaten the Fatback Band's "King Tut" and Sugarhill Gang's "Rappers Delight" as the first rap tune...
'Joe said "Yo man, you got to come up to the Bronx to see this, there's guys talking over records. Someone's going to make a million dollars out of this." I'll always remember him saying that'.
In the early 80s Arthur was working in a record one-stop in Long Island City. Lunch times would be spent in the parks soaking up the sounds pumping out of the ghetto blasters and watching kids break dancing. One of the most popular tracks was Kraftwerks "Trans-Europe Express". It stuck in his head and when he met Afrika Bambaataa up at Tommy Boy - with whom he had released "Jazzy Ssensation" by the Jazzy 5 - they came up with the idea to transpose that haunting melody onto an electronic drum track. Arthur was introduced to long time partner John Robie and together with the Soul Sonic Force they embarked on the voyage of sonic discovery which gave an unsuspecting world "Planet Rock", the first electronic hip hop that had seismic effect as electro-funk was born and New York City became an 808 state.
"Planet Rock" was followed by a string of electro killers including "Looking For the Perfect Beat" (sampled by Bomb the Bass on "Beat This" and 95 South on "Whoot There It Is") and "Renegades Of Funk" with the Soul Sonic Force (later to be covered by Rage Against The Machine), Arthur's own "Breakers Revenge" (from the first hip hop movie "Beat Street", which Arthur executive produced), Rockers Revenge "Walking On Sunshine" (sampled on Pizzamans "Tripping On Sunshine") and "IOU" by the UK's Freeez. He also suggested to New Order that they convert a short instrumental on their "Power, Corruption and Lies" album into a full-blown song. This became "Blue Monday" and Arthur went on to co-write and produce their next single "Confusion" and their classic "Thieves Like Us".
By 1983 Arthur had started his own Streetwise label and one of the unknown hopefuls he struck a deal with was Rick Rubin - then a student at New York University who had a mate called Russell Simmons and a head full of ideas. The first Def Jam record "Its Yours" by T la Rock, came out on Streetwise/Def Jam, but Rick and Russell then went independent. Arthur by then employed the Beasties Boys' Adam Yauch as an assistant in his studio cutting a record called "Drum". Arthur went on to strike gold with New Edition (whose members included a pre-teen Bobby Brown and Bell, Biv & Devoe) signing and mixing the "Candy Girl" album, before his label was struck down with dodgy business partner syndrome.
Arthur saw out the last half of the 80s with remixes and productions. His 1984 reworking of the Rolling Stones "Too Much Blood" is widely regarded as a seminal pre-acid house prototype and he went on to work on the likes of Mick Jagger, Cyndi Lauper ("Girls Just Want To Have Fun", "She Bop", "Good Enough") Bruce Springsteen ("Dancing In The Dark", "Cover Me" & "Born In The USA"), Bob Dylan ("Empire Burlesque") and Hall & Oates ("Big Bam Boom" album).
He co-produced (with Little Steven van Zandt) the anti-apartheid anthem "Sun City". He signed a deal with A&M and released the classic "Message of Love" featuring Al Green; started the Criminal & Minimal labels which scored with the Brooklyn Funk Essentials and Wally Jump Jr (whose lead singer Will Downing would go on to release the Baker produced jazz house classic "A Love Supreme"), took Paul Oakenfold into the studio for the first time while making "Opera House", hired Junior Vasquez as his assistant and, as samplers became readily available, created "Put The Needle To The Record", which was widely pilfered by MARS for "Pump Up The Volume". Other remixes at this time included Fleetwood Macs "Big Love" and "Family Man" and "Living In A Box" by Living In A Box.
In '91 Arthur signed to RCA and released a single "Let There Be Love" as the Backbeat Disciples, along with an album which had marginal success. More successful was his work on soundtrack projects, with his production of the "Fried Green Tomatoes" soundtrack yielding a top fifteen US pop smash for Paul Young and his music supervision of "Listen Up - The Lives of Quincy Jones" and co-writing and production of the theme winning much critical acclaim. He also found time to co-pen Taylor Dayne's top five US hit "With Every Beat Of My Heart." and produce and write tracks for Quincy Jones discovery Tevin Campbell.
In 1992 Arthur stopped going to clubs because it had 'gotten boring'. He was also still smarting after business problems leading to the folding of his Minimal label, despite successes like the Jackie 60 and Soul Boy projects. He calls it a period of 'not much work' but he still managed to work on the soundtrack for The Flintstones movie, co-produce the Brooklyn Funk Essentials album, executive produce and produce and write an Al Green album, and write hit songs for MN8, Billy Ray Martin and Tina Turner.
But in 1995 Arthur started spending a lot of time in London and while checking out clubs like Blue Note, Speed and Bar Rhumba began to notice all the great dance records emanating from the likes of the Ashley Beedle posse, and started to get excited again. When he returned to New York old friends like Benji Candelario and Victor Simonelli, who he had employed as editors back at the old Shakedown, would turn him on to the new sounds busting out of the Louie Vegas' Sound Factory bar night.
'It all made me think "Well, I'll give it another shot and see what happens"'. So Arthur set up a deal to revive his Minimal imprint with Dorado records, putting out such club hits such as his blowout Express outing "Your Mine", Diana Browns' "Love In Return", the First Choice remix series and the "Minimal Expressions" album. He also saw his star rocket when he remixed an unknown outfit called Babylon Zoo and saw the resulting mix of a song called "Spaceman" become a raging success on the back of a Levi's ad.
Arthur spent the remaining part of the 90s working with a slew of name acts, including Electronic, on their critically acclaimed 1998 album, "Twisted Tenderness", which also spawned the Top 15 hit "Vivid"; Ash, on their Top 10 hit "A Life Less Ordinary" (from the film of the same name); and Mansun, on their 1999 Top 15 hit "Seven". He was also keeping the breaks alive with Renie Pilgrem, co-producing the cult hit "Like No Other" amongst other successes.
In 2001, Arthur started to work more on his mac computer and got himself more self sufficient with the Logic software programming - both starting tracks for a solo projects with such acts as Suicide, Mogwai, The Alabama 3, Ash and Pharoah Sanders, and for a dance based project which was an ambitious fusion of both his old classics and new tracks, whose metamorphosis began after he went to Creamfields 2001: 'I was trying to get into a tent to catch, coincidentally, Paul Oakenfold DJ-ing. It was absolutely rammed and when I finally managed to get in, the experience of seeing and feeling the power of dance music made me want to make tracks to rock the crowd again'.
The project, entitled "Perfecto Presents. Arthur Baker Breakin" featured a "New Skool" and "Old Skool" cd. The first CD was firmly in the zeroes, featuring 16 collaborations/remixes with a stellar array of current luminaries ranging from Dave Clarke and Utah Saints to Meat Katie, Rennie Pilgrem, and Felix Da Housecat, a wicked reworking of Timo Maas' "Der Shieber", and Oakenfold's latest assault on "Planet Rock". Arthur tells us more: 'Most of the collaborations came about very organically, whether it was being introduced to Dave Clarke by Roger Sanchez at the Elbow Rooms or bumping into Felix on his way to DJ at Fabric. With each collaboration I would bring the ideas to the table and then it would be give and take between the other artist and myself'.
The second CD, "Old Skool", strapped on its battered old Adidas shell toes for a break dance back in time to a poignantly nostalgic brew of classic Baker productions - try remembering where you first heard New Order's "Confusion", Criminal Element Orchestra's "Put The Needle On The Record", or indeed the legendary "Planet Rock" for starters.
Arthur: 'The spirit of making dance records is exactly the same to me as it's always been. You have more control in the studio, that's the whole new thing. But the spirit in which people make dance records is still DJs and the kids who want to go to clubs and hear their own records. I've never made a great dance record that wasn't a direct result of being in a club the night before. Never. When you make a dance record the objective is clear - to make people dance and have a good time. You really can't take it too seriously'.
2001 also saw Arthur start to focus on DJing - touring with the Tommy Boy 20th anniversary tour along with Afrika Bambaataa, Maceo of De La Soul and Dan The Automator and opening for old friends New Order on their world tour. Also the end of 2001 saw the startup of Arthur's restaurant concept - Harlem Soul Food - which launched with a restaurant residency at the Saint in London's Soho. Harlem would eventually open in its current Westbourne Grove site in November 2003 - it has won such awards as Theme magazine's Best Brand Development in 2005 and be shortlisted as BEDA's Best London Bar in 2005.
2002 saw the beginning of the regeneration of the electro scene. While attending and DJjing at the Sonar festival in Barcelona, Arthur was asked to write a feature on the new New York scene for New York's Fader magazine - his article ended with the line 'Maybe I can now return to New York'. With that line, a new London club night was launched - with its initial home at the Great Eastern Hotel, the RTNY nights were 'the best club nights on offer in London' (the Guardian Guide).
Return To New York helped launch the careers of such acts as LCD Sound system (first live gig outside of NYC, their second gig ever), 2 Many DJs (residents for the first 5 parties), Erol Alkan (resident, first big gigs), Mylo (first live gig), Peaches, DJs Are Not Rock Stars & Whitey. Return To New York is now an international brand from 2003 to 2005 and has hosted regular nights in Barcelona (Razzamatazz club), Paris (The Rex Club), Toronto (The Mod Club), Lisbon (Lux), Ibiza and various parties in the USA, including an annual Winter Music Festival Party (the first one, at the Soho Lounge, featured 2 Many DJs, The Rapture, LCD Soundsystem & Peaches on one stage!).
2003/2004 also saw Arthur managing and executive producing The Loose Cannons.
While running his restaurant Harlem & the Return To New York Club nights, Arthur continued to keep his hands in music- DJing regularly and mixing and recording both his own music (the AB/Dave Clarke track "This Feeling" was finally finished and on the Southern Fried release schedule) and working with other acts. Collaborating with Princess Superstar (a collaboration started with the duet "Return to New York" track in 2003), Arthur executive produced her 2005 "My Machine" album; he remixed old friends New Order's "Jet Stream" and worked with such diverse acts as Rammstein, Sophie Ellis-Bexter, Ian Brown, Blak Twang (with whom he recorded his first rap track in 20 years - the Arsenal anthem "Stand Up") and Mute Record's Pink Grease.
With all this music around him, Arthur felt the motivation to start completing tracks he had started for his solo projects (one song, "My Father, My King", was a collaboration with Mogwai that had already been released by the band after having been their live festival encore). Another song in particular had aged quite well. The track, Glow, a collaboration with Arthur's old friend Tim Wheeler (lead singer/guitarist of Ash) had received a great response in various mixes over the years - a particular fan of the track was one Darren Emerson, ex-Underworld, dj and label owner of Underwater. Over the years both Arthur and Tim, always separately, would meet up with Darren at various festivals/nights out, where he would claim his love of the track and his desire to do a mix of it. Finally one drunken night in Brixton in 2005 it was decided that Underwater Records would finally give the track its just release, with new mixes by Darren Emerson, The Freelance Hell Raiser, Si Begg and Jagz Kooner. Then there was the idea of an Ash remix, a rock version of Tim's first dance track. Arthur, Tim and Rick (Ash's drummer) went into Mute's studios to record a quick rock version, and out came (after a bit of work in Arthur's laptop), a hot dance rock fusion which would fit quite well in a set surrounded by The Killers, The Bravery, Franz Ferdinand and The Rapture. The passion's still there. Soon to be released on Underwater.
"If It Moves Funk It"