Author of legendary Break Dance classics and an essential character from the Street Jam-early Electro era, Man Parrish is still (and will always be) remembered for his timeless pieces ‘Hip Hop, Be Bop (Don’t Stop)’ (1982) and ‘Boogie Down (Bronx) ‘ (1984), played by the Hip Hop and Old School DJs throughout the World. Highly influenced by a range of sounds that includes Kraftwerk, the Ambient godfather Brian Eno and his friend & vocalist Klaus Nomi, Man Parrish gave us his testimonials about his roots, the first steps and the fascination with electronics. Among other amazing stories, he spoke about the day he felt in love with Kraftwerk, the discovery of classy synthesizers and the conception of his timeless treasures on the same famous studio used by Arthur Baker & John Robie on Afrika Bambaata’s productions ‘Planet Rock’, ‘Looking For The Perfect Beat’, as well as ‘Wild Style’.
Most of the people know him from the Street Jam era, but his background emerged way before. “I started listening music like David Bowie, and Pop Glam, that kind of stuff like The New York Dolls on the mid to late seventies. Pink Floyd too… and Psychedelic music” (says the New Yorker on the opening of our conversation. Then he contextualized on deeper levels about the subject). “The importance of Psychedelic was completely related to the World of drugs experiences – Smoke a joint, sit on someone’s living-room, the black lights…” (He laughs). “The seventies decade was like this. You didn’t have music videos, Star Wars (whose saga started only on the late part of that decade) or any other types of entertainment. You didn’t have a club culture like today. I was fourteen, mainly on the clubs context. On my environment there were mostly Rock clubs, much more than Disco clubs. Now, on the Sixties, there was the Hippie stuff, Beatnicks, and the Seventies brought this influence. You had to be trippin’ on the music.”
Psychedelic, hippies and David Bowie were a part of his influences only. On the same decade, he also got submerged into the wild universe of Electronica. “I also remember listening to exoteric music such as Klaus Schulze from Tangerine Dream and Roger Powell (keyboard player), Wendy Carlos, all ground breaking new sounds”, he says, “But these were always Ambient, Experimental, alternative type of music. It was a kind of music you wouldn’t listen to in the clubs, but you’d have to find out, it was good thing.”
PROPHECY OF A FUTURE SOUNDSCAPE
Then, on a certain evening on the year of 1977, Man Parrish witnessed something on a Taxi cab in New York that would change his life permanently. “The driver, a young guy, was listening to that station and suddenly, when we were close to my house, we heard the voice announcing: “And now, something new – Kraftwerk!” It was Autobahn, right in the middle of a Rock & Roll radio Station. “So we pulled the car ten minutes to listen to it, we were both amazed. We didn’t make a single move, only listening to that new sound!” The authors of that new kind of music, the Teutonic knights of Kraftwerk, would bring it to another level and made it popular. “That’s when I realized there were many tunes from them. With a little research, I found out about synthesizers – but back then you only would see it on the Music Magazine adds, it was very hard. You had to write them a letter and learn from it.”
From Autobahn to the World: Kraftwerk became a primar influence to artists such as Man Parrish, Underground Resistance and Juan Atkins
To Listen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zK5_BrTUXjE
Being exposed to those different universes leaded Man Parrish to a more open minded basis. “I realized as a musician that I didn’t have to be Rock & Roll or Disco. There was a new choice: Electronic. A new way to make music was taking place.
At the same period he realized this, Bronx was a harsh Ghetto where many of the African-American and Spanish families would live. It used to have a poor neighborhood in the beginning. While white people listened to Rock n’ Roll and New Wave, these kids were all listening to Rhythm & Blues, Funk, and at the eighties, early Hip Hop – this last genre came from Funky grooves, Rhythm & Blues, and some of the DJs started to talk during the parties.
“When the futuristic music made with electronic equipment based on beats came on, it was very simple, but somehow, that simple groove became popular. It went very deep. The sound may be different, but Kraftwerk had the same Breakbeats that the African-American drummers had back in the sixties & seventies.”
Electro & Hip Hop era was very Inner City, urban music and did not go elsewhere on the States. It was Black music style, lower classes, it was Funk, then Hip Hop. At the same time, he gave the shot: “The music I did wasn’t for white people, it wasn’t even blondie”, said Man, despite the respect everyone had for her. “Everybody was really conservative, and suddenly came this wild girl with a kind of a punk attitude. She wasn’t Sex Pistols, but American, and had that rebel attitude, so she used RAP to express her feelings. It was like white people music, but unhappy, angry with the system.”
“Before the computers, when synthesizers were analog, it was very difficult to re-create a sound the next day if it wasn’t recorded immediately. You’d never get the same sound twice, there were variations.”
SYNTHETIC SOUNDS REVOLUTION
From the sounds to the machines which generated them. In 1978, Man Parrish got his first electronic equipment: an ARP 2600, an Oberheim and a Moog Modular. “They were really expensive at that time, around three to five thousand Dollars! I borrowed the money from my parents and convinced them it was the future kind of music! When everybody else had cars or drums, I had synthesizers.”
These were the three companies with available equipment at that time. “At the start, Moog was very expensive, ARP not as much, and the Oberheim you wouldn’t find easily”, he declared, justifying his initial choice for ARP. The ARP 2600 model turned out to be the favorite of many other well known artists, from Manuel Göttsching to Orbital, Underworld, 808 State, Meat Beat Manifesto, Jean Michel Jarre, Joy Division, Depeche Mode, Weather Report and Stevie Wonder. “In those days, you had to program everything. It had many buttons, I had to be very creative, shape different sounds, whatever my imagination wanted, the ARP was there. There was a so good variation of sounds & timbres! Everything from a bird to a bass sound you could find on it… Drums, ocean sounds as well. It was fully analogue.
As for the Moog Modular, you could get VCA, Oscillators and VCF Filters (see the glossary at the end), among other modules. A big and more complete station would be affordable only for a very high price. Favorite of Hans Zimmer, Vangelis and Richard Pinhas, it gave also a wide ranges of timbres and possibilities for Man Parrish.
Running three at the same time, a hard mission: Man Parrish’s equipments ARP 2600…
… Oberheim SEM Modules and Moog Modular (below) in pre-MIDI times
Also, the recording process appeared to be intriguingly more difficult and adventurous than the post MIDI era back then. He explains. “Running three synthesizers together was a very difficult mission. You never get the same sound twice, there are variations. Before the computers, when synthesizers were analog, it was very difficult to re-create a sound the next day if it wasn’t recorded immediately. Because the synths were not digital, the circuits weren’t stable, and since you had many knobs, wires and faders, even though you put them in the same position on the synthesizer, it wouldn’t sound the same the next time you tried to copy your sound. This would multiply if you were running three synths together like I used to”. Oberheim made a “Modular-hybrid” synth called the SEM. It had two modules, an 8 step sequencer and a keyboard. “I had one of the stand-alone modules. I would sync this with the other synths via cables to have multi parts running at the same time. I must have been crazy to have put up with hours and hours of all this, but I guess it was worth it, and the result was kind of cool.”
Today, with all the digital versions and the plug-ins, the producer has a much more comfortable reality. “You get exactly the same sounds with digital, but when you save them, the next time you open , they’re there. With analogue those days, you’d loose it. There were no memories for this sort of program.”
How would it be back then? Like many other upcoming artists, Man reasoned: “If you wanted those equipment, you had to buy them without being sure of anything at the whole beginning!” Even the electric pianos such as the Fender Rhodes were starting to spread. “How did they take a machine that makes one note and how they turn it to five notes, bass, drums, and put all of this together? I really didn’t know that. They figured out a way how to customize the sequencers!”
Voltage Control Oscillator: It’s using a keyboard to make the sound go up and down with electricity variations. Low would give you a bass sound, high would give you a flute sound. In the beginning, you had this on all the synthesizers. But only some had sequencers. Because there was no music standard, so it was crazy because not always it was compatible.
Sequencer: Gives the Oscillator the instruction of what notes play – on a specific time. You had to get a special box to producer different piece of electricity for each sound. They had average 8 steps and a knob from low to high on each one of them. It would synchronize different lines of keyboards. It was really crazy. You had to have so many equipment to get a so simple sound, if you wanted to make automatic.
MIDI-Equipment came on 1984 to 1985, it took seven to ten years before they became really better. It would allow to have everything
” When everybody else had cars or drums, I had synthesizers.”
BEHIND THE SCENE: THE MUSIC INDUSTRY
At that same period, he met Arthur Baker & John Robie, after all, they used to record on the same studio. “I just said ‘Hello’, we just made similar music. We weren’t close, just knew each other. As for John Robie, he was a big producer, a fashion musician – we hired him to play the keyboards because he was a huge player. At that time, the producer was like a coordinator, he had to hire other people to play the instruments – it’s not like today, where just one person with the computer can do everything. He had a style (today it would be called “Electro style”. I played keyboards, but not as good as John Robie. He was a professional, and not expensive, and available. So, everybody hired him for couple hundred Dollars. Is not that it was cold relationship, it was just a professional one.”
After all, the times at the Studio differed a lot from today. At his early days, Man was a multi function –producer, composer, editor, mixer, remixer, and sometimes even the responsible for the images. “It was like I was a new style, things were changing.” But, as always, each choice has its own price. “Sometimes we had to pay for the studio, so we just had a couple of hours to do everything. Another ones, we only had a thousand Dollars to make the whole track, so we had problems, we would make no money, but we would still make the records. It wasn’t really glamorous back then.”
On the other hand, the Record Industry wouldn’t make it easy as well. According to Man Parrish, he and other artists did not get paid properly for their records. “Some artists would get more money for the jobs he would be hired to. Only when they had their own labels that they would get some real money. I sold three million records, and never got paid. It’s on the Play Station Soundtrack – Vice City Grand Theft Toro 1 & 2 with 44 million copies, and I make zero!”, he complains. “Shannon with Give Me Tonight, Arthur Baker… They never pay the artists!”
Man Parrish wasn’t the kind of musician from a band, but a studio artist, a whole different World. You had to do a record to get paid, not for much money. “I was only 23 years old, what would I know about publishing, lawyer…”
Time is the best teacher, they say. “Now I own my own material, so finally I make some money, and when a new company wants to put out some remix, they have to contact me. I make a lot as a DJ”. The result of the Record Companies stealing money made the artists obsessed by money.
On the other hand, timeless pieces of music won’t necessarily make you to wealthy, but they may grant you a place among those that will be remembered. For artists such as Man Parrish, Grandmaster Flash, Arthur Baker and Afrika Bambaataa, you can spend weeks listening the good memorable stories. And believe me, there are lots of them. Parrish reminded a good one for us: “Grandmaster Flash was someone you would listen to on the radios, but believe it or not, I only met him on a recent edition of the Winter Music Conference, couple of years ago. I was presenting the award for Paul Van Dyk, and when I came out from stage, this guy grab me and shout “Oh, you’re Man Parrish!” I asked who he was, he said “Grandmaster Flash!” so we started saying to each other “Oh, man, you’re the shit!” and the other replied “No, you’re the shit!”, and we kept saying that one on top of the other!” (he laughs).
HIP HOP BE-BOP! (DON’T STOP!): THE HISTORY
No doubt that it was exactly this freedom of creativity and strong musical education that would make all the difference, for seductive drum patterns or aesthetic synthesizer lines. Most of all, for both of them. Sounds that would become pioneers for the generations to come. Here are two that you should certainly know about.
Man Parrish LP – Hip Hop Bee Bop (Don’t Stop) – Importe/12 (1982) was recorded all analogue-synthesized. I used only three pieces: Roland 808 drum machine, my PRO One, a small version of Prophet 5 for Polyphonic and special effects, and PROPHET 1 monophonic for the bass sound and some of the sequencers.”
Risen to the top: ‘Hip Hop Be Bop (Don’t Stop)’s legendary electronic drum sequence was generated on the Prophet 5
“The metallic drums were created on the Prophet 5, it was a cross-modulation system – it takes one sound and modifies another sound. You have a basic simple drum and a special effect together, which made the sound metallic, of another type. You have to combine it, change them, it’s like on a two color combination: red and blue combined can give several types of purple, you have to blend it.”
Quite different from today, right? Those were the times of the real ‘do it yourself’. “When you open a synthesizer and get all those pre-sets, it means somebody had to program that before you. There was no pre–set, no memories. You had to do all by yourself. Sometimes, you had to work on timbers for hours. The metallic drums took me a couple of weeks to do it. Yesterday it sounded good, today not so good. So, I had to try harder.”
Man Parrish LP – Boogie Down Bronx – Sugarscoop Records (1984)
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