I have to say, I was impressed by Cristoz’s latest project. A website and forum in celebration of the 45 rpm 7” single – excellent stuff! fortyfiveday.com is now firmly established. Congratulations Cristoz – it’s great to have access to a host of excellent DJ’s 7” mixes, articles and interviews – It’s a tidy concept, hat’s off to you Sir.
That said, when I read the strap-line “Enjoy an epic line-up of over 45 curated DJ’s playing 45 minute sets using THE GREATEST MUSICAL FORMAT EVER, the 7” vinyl” – I spat a mouthful of hot tea all over myself and fell out of my hammock; damaging beyond repair the fine bone china cup said tea had been delivered in. The Waitress was not impressed.
Had Cristoz not had his morning three coffees? Was he nursing a cheeky hangover? Perhaps he was sleep-writing – or was it worse still.. Dengue-Fever? Maybe even the 50% dreaded / 50% scoffed at “Man-Flu”?
Thinking it better to be safe than sorry, I assumed Man-Flu and scrambled the Air-Ambulance, and confident that Cristoz would be getting the best help available – and restraint (or tranquilizers if necessary) I scrambled some eggs and fired up the typewriter.
Now, I’m a big a fan of the 45 – it’s a fantastic format: loud-playing, small; and light enough to pack hundreds of tunes to heat up dancefloors anywhere in the world. It’s versatile, and those who manage to master “flipping 45’s” hold an exalted place in DJ culture – rightly so. However – sometimes a 7” just isn’t enough – no matter how glossy and clean, or how rare the groove. Sometimes, you need a dirty old 12” to get the job done.
In my opinion the format that has had the greatest, most significant and sustained impact on DJ & club culture, the progression of mixing, and particularly Turntablism & Scratch-Mixing is the 12” (Twelve / 12-Inch / 12” are commonly used terms, we’ll stick to 12” for the sake of continuity – I’m also including E.P’s to avoid splitting hairs*¹).
The 12” single has also had significant, and perhaps under-appreciated effects on the Music Industry as a whole, fashion and mainstream culture, and more obviously on driving technological advances in DJ equipment.
1976 was the year the revolutions found their medium – and it would be difficult to over-state the importance of this: until this point in time, recorded sound was available for playback on the following: Phonograph (1878), 5” or 7” shellac discs (1889), 10” various rpm Gramophone discs (1901), 12” various rpm Gramophone discs (1903 – with rpm standardized on both 10” and 12” at 78 rpm c.1925), reel-to-reel tape (1928), 16” 33 rpm Soundtrack discs (1926), 12”,10” and 7” Acetate / Laquer discs (early 1930’s), 33 rpm 12” Long-Playing (LP) record (first introduced in 1931, launched successfully in 1948), 7” 45 rpm single (1949), Compact Cassette (1963), 8-Track Tape (1964) and 8” Floppy Disk (1972).
The innovation in 1976 was a bit different though. For the first time, the requirements of DJ’s and dancefloors directly influenced the creation of a format that would change the way music was produced, mixed, mastered and pressed – and the way it could be played and manipulated by DJ’s – and marketed commercially.
Tom Moulton and his Engineer, Jose Gonzales, cut a reference mix to Al Downing’s “I’ll Be Holding On” on a 10” acetate. Moulton recognised the potential, and cut a 12” mix. It was a defining point in music history – and although there are examples of experimental 12” singles that pre-date ’76, it was the New York Disco scene – and DJ’s like Nicky Siano, David Mancuso and Larry Levan that created the demand for longer mixes.
At the same time, something big was happening in the Bronx – but we’ll get to that later.
The space on the 12” format allowed for wider grooves, even on long (seven minute plus) tunes; and provided crisp and loud, dynamic sound. Amplitude and range like this simply did not exist on other formats. The available playing time created space for instrumental break-downs in the mix, where drums / percussion were isolated – usually just prior to the last third of the full mix second drop. These hallowed break-down sections, inspired by the original funk and jazz drum “Breaks” were championed in the Disco scene. Enter the 12” disco mix: the format of 7 plus minute songs with a prolonged break-down, which came to define dance music production.
Certain genres, such as Drum And Bass from the late 90’s through to recent releases are easily identifiable in dusty stacks of records – even without readable labels – due to their long break-down sections being clearly visible (break-downs also evolved with electronic music production, and particularly with more euphoric dance music, the isolation focused on synths rather than drums – hence the more visible “breakdown” sections).
The first commercially available 12” single was “Ten Per Cent” by Double Exposure, released in 1976 on the much-revered Salsoul Records.
Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”, produced by Giorgio Moroder dropped in 1977 on Casablanca Records, and cemented the format. It’s widely regarded as the first electronic dance music tune, and certainly House, Garage, Electro, Jungle, Drum And Bass and many other genres and sub-genres owe it some kudos. Electronic music is a rabbit-hole though – synth pioneers of the 1960’s and early 1970’s also had a significant influence, Kraftwerk are certainly owed a mention.
For an overwhelming majority of the most sought after dance music, the 12” is its primary – and in many cases, only hard-copy release format. Boogie, Jungle and Dubstep are prime examples – and within the 12” format, test-presses, promos and limited releases change hands for hefty sums.
But let’s rewind it a bit.
If there’s one genre that, head-and-shoulders above all others, owes so much to – and has been instrumental in the evolution of the 12” – it’s Hip-Hop. Without the breaks available on 12” Hip-hop wouldn’t exist in the way it does today. DJ Kool Herc was cutting up funk breaks in the early 1970’s – the birth of Hip-Hop as a Genre is credited to his “Back to School” Jam at 1520 Sedgewick Avenue in the Bronx, on August 11th, 1973.
As early Hip-Hop evolved, the 45 rpm Disco 12” format allowed easier mixing, gave more stability on the platter – and provided a bucket-load of clean breaks which DJ’s exploited to create repetitive, hypnotic, bass-laden beat extensions. While Kool Herc ran the Bronx, a host of other DJ’s innovated styles and techniques all over New York. Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, Jazzy Jay, Grand Wizard Theodore, Grand-Mixer DST and DJ Red-Alert all spring to mind, but there were many more. Double copies of break-downs on 12” were the foundations on which Hip-Hop was built – and when you think about the influence Hip-Hop has had on Pop Music, and the commercial entities that have exploded from it globally – it underlines the true impact of the 12” single on popular culture.
The first ever DMC (Disco Mix Club) contest was held in London in 1985 as a DJ convention and mixing contest – but the very next year the USA’s DJ Cheese introduced scratching in his routine and the mixing contest became a different beast altogether. Scratching, Beat-Juggling and Trick-Mixing over a 6 minute routine to packed venues, raucous crowds and a panel of experienced judges became the order of the day. The DMC embraced the artform, and although the term hadn’t yet been coined, Turntablism was most definitely awake – and hungry. This was no longer a mixing contest, this was a battle.
In 1986 Breakbeat Lou put out the first “Ultimate Breaks And Beats” record, and these fantastic compilations of hard-to-find breaks immediately became a must-have for many Hip-Hop Producers and DJ’s. Again inspired by a hunger for drum-breaks, these legendary albums still hold pride of place in many record collections.
Back into Hip-Hop singles; 33&1/3 rpm started to take over from 45 rpm, with Instrumental B-Sides for Radio talk-over, Emceeing and scratching. As Hip-Hop went global, it stamped its’ new-found identity back onto the 12”::
Radio / Street / Instrumental / Acappella.
And what a format that is! With full-length instrumentals, entire songs in a-cappella, plus the street versions for the clubs and clean versions for radio, DJ’s started to fully dissect and re-construct records in real-time. The ‘90’s were serious! Routines were built at a pace that required more arms and hands than any lone DJ had.. so DJ’s started to form crews, enabling ever more clever dissections, beat-juggles, scratch-phrases and disses. The golden age of turntablism was upon us! The Invisibl Skratch Picklz (USA), The X-ecutioners (USA), The Beat Junkies (USA), The Scratch Perverts (UK), The Allies (USA) and a host of others pushed Turntablism to dizzying heights of creativity.
Battle records were pressed; new mixers with better faders, increased functionality and better build quality were produced; turntables appeared on the market with features specifically designed for Turntablists; cartridges and styli were honed to tracking perfection (R.I.P Shure M44-7..) The list goes on: but it’s unlikely that many of the above would have happened at this pace without the 12” single.
You could be forgiven for thinking that I’m straying from the subject of the article at this point, but I’m trying to emphasise the relationship between the 12” single, DJ’s and DJ equipment.
On that note, as digital music took off in the early 2000’s, the trick-mixing and battle techniques that had been developed by Turntablists using 12” singles inspired many of the functions incorporated on Digital Vinyl Systems such as Serato and Traktor. As the technology improved, more functions were enabled (e.g. multiple deck operation, sync tools, assignable effects and cue point triggers) – and these have led to incredibly compact routines. Much as the technological advances are impressive, and some DJ routines have reached mind-bogglingly technical levels, personally I feel that some of the creative mojo got a bit lost in that late nineties / early naughties transition.
I’d better back that up a bit: If you don’t know these, check out;
DJ Craze’s winning 1998 DMC US Finals routine, DJ Dummy’s 1998 DMC US Finals routine, the Scratch Perverts’ de-construction / re-construction of Grandmaster Flash’s “Adventures On The Wheels Of Steel”, The Allies’ “D-Day” EP, Kid-Koala’s “Drunken Trumpet” routine, DJ Q-Bert’s “Wavetwisters” (listen to the album without the visuals, it’s a trip..) DJ Q-Bert’s “Turntable TV” Intro; and DJ Shadow’s “Endtroducing”, DJ D-Styles “Phantazmagorea”, the X-ecutioners “X-Pressions” and DJ Revolution’s “In 12’s We Trust” albums.
It’s obviously subjective, but this is my desert island list of examples of an artform in hyper-creativity, all of them setting incredibly high technical benchmarks, all composed / released between 1996 and 2002 – and all of them built from 12’s.
Here’s DJ Craze’s ’98 DMC US Finals routine:
Essentially, what I’m saying is that Turntablism had a Golden Era from about ’96 to 2002 – and that Golden Era was enabled primarily by the 12”.
It would have been interesting to see the directions DJ routines might have gone in without such a rapid acceleration in DVS technology.
But that’s enough of the rose-tinted rear-view mirrors.. now for something incendiary;
Hands up for the House and Trance Massive!!
Where would the 12” single be today were it not for the huge popularity of House and Trance in the 2000’s? Quite possibly non-existent. So all you Hip-Hop Heads and Break nerds who like your current release 12’s, let’s have a round of applause for the House and Trance scene that kept record pressing plants in business through the early 2000’s. It’s as simple as this: we wouldn’t have new release wax available in the volumes it is without House and Trance. And there you have that symbiotic relationship again! Often the bane of any dig, endless piles of fairly generic dance releases can yield some absolute gems on occasion.
So: I’ve rambled on about Disco, Hip-Hop, Electronic music, House, Trance (ssshh), spilt tea and scrambled eggs. It’s about time I got to the point. For me, there’s nothing more satisfying than stumbling across a gem of a tune, regardless what genre. Sifting through dirty piles of dusty, musty-smelling records and landing on something that catches the eye.
Which brings me to my favourite kind of record. White-label 12’s. What an absolute sod! I mean why would anyone actively search out white-label 12’s? There’s nothing on the label; no indication of what type of music it is – or is there? Maybe a cheeky little pencil star.. or a “B.2” on the label; or more obvious examples with a promo stamp or sticker. Maybe just something inviting about the layout of the grooves, number of tracks or the spacing of the break-down. Or maybe it’s just blind optimism. Either way, I’m a sucker for a white label.
I was struggling to decide what sort of mix to put together to accompany this article: should it be a celebration of the original format, strictly 45 rpm Disco 12’s? Maybe all Hip-Hop 12’s – or perhaps a good old Drum and Bass tear-out?
And then I realised, part of the Record Junkie’s sickness is over-categorization. I’ve always compartmentalised music. When I was a teenager it was heavy-metal. Then I found Hip-Hop, and got some turntables (belt-drive, character-building). Along came Drum and Bass, and that was it for me, for sure. Then about 15 years ago I started picking up the odd Disco 12”. And a few House 12’s. Then Funk sevens. Then Soul sevens – and now I’m broke – but I always managed to find a couple of quid for a little bit of Dubstep. I have a hankering for good reggae, and I’m usually pretty happy in dub. And of course I like a bit of Jazz – who doesn’t? And definitely a nice slice of Jungle. The occasional breakbeat 12”, and – please don’t tell anyone, but even some Techno snuck in under the radar.
But there’s got to be boundaries, right?
So the mix I’ve put together to accompany this article is composed of 12” singles with a white label. And that’s the only rule – which allows me to include music from every genre I collect, and also to show off some favourites from my collection. I can remember where almost every one of these came from, but the details of that are for another article.
There’s a couple of release 12’s which just happen to have white labels, the bulk are plain / stamped / promos and there’s a test press or two. There’s also three non-compliant cases, which my OCD forces me to declare:
- A Jungle E.P. with black and white (50/50) labels.
- An album track from a 2 x 12 Jungle LP (which happens to have white labels, so I’m accepting that – if that causes any serious issues for anyone, please contact my Solicitor).
- An EP by Linda Dawn (It’s an EP, and it has white labels – I refer the (extremely patient by now) Reader to Note *1 on Page 1.
It’d be rude not to acknowledge a few people who’ve had a significant influence on my musical tastes, and helped me find tunes I didn’t even know I was looking for – so a big thank-you to:
Ed (DJ Evil Ed), Marc (DJ Mr Thing), Phil (Illorn), Glenn (TBC / flying below radar level), Dan & Nini, Ade (Professor Burton), Ollie (Dub-One), Dean (DJ Blatent), Rob Clarke, Jah Pete, Jez, Lester, Lee “Court-Case” Courtney, Ewan at Rarekind Records, Tim Sneath, Nick “Wilson Knickit” Wilson, Ian (Taff) at Coastal Records, Pete Stormcrow, Luke (DJ Jonny Jazz), Morgie-Morgs and Shane (AMS).
Lastly, this mix is for my bass-bin twin – looking forward to meeting you on a packed dancefloor again soon Carly Manning.
I hope you enjoy the mix – and Viva La Revolucion(s)..
The Medicine Cabinet ::
9th July 2020 :: interesting year so far..