BY JENNIFER KELLY
This double disc set documents the evolution of North Side, Latin-derived Chicago house (as opposed to the South Side’s African American branch), a thumping, propulsive, almost wholly-synthesized musical genre that is, despite its computerized origins, about as raw and DIY as it comes.
Sunset Records – a short-lived but definitive player in Chicago house – emerged out of a DJ company known as Sunset Mobile Disco, which played high school parties, weddings and other gatherings in the Latin communities of North Chicago from the late 1970s on. One of the partners in Sunset Mobile Disco, Miguel Garcia started Sunset Records in 1983 with DJ Matt Warren. The labels’ first single “Rock the Nation” was recorded in Evanston the same year with Warren rapping over a synthesized bass line, a heavy 4/4 drum beat and a percolating keyboard line contributed by Dane Roewade. Later the pair bought a Roland TR-909 drum machine, whose snapping, super-sharp snare beats, echoing cowbell and thumping kick drum rhythms became a foundation for the sound. Roewade began experimenting with synth basis, another element that shaped the Sunset aesthetic.
Sunset Records’ output reflected its Hispanic roots, weaving mambo-like rhythmic complexity around reverberating “Pump It Up” beats. Lyrics, too, were often in Spanish, as in the early breakout “Razz Matazz” with its refrain of “Baile! Baile!” Yet their sound wasn’t isolated from the funk-and-soul influenced house styles of South Chicago. “Kill Yourself Dancing,” one of the comp’s most abrasive (and awesome) outings was remixed by Farley “Jack Master” Funkof the influential Chicago Trax studios. The group shouts of “Kill! Kill!” sound more like the rap developing at about the same time on the East Coast than anything to do with disco or Latin music. “Kill Yourself Dancing” opened up the South Chicago market to Sunset Records – and encouraged them to work a funkier sound. Subsequent singles – “You Can Do It” especially – balance new wavy synth lines with a hard-edged funk beat.
Sunset’s artists turned more open-ended and expansive with the emergence of acid house. The 16-minute “Electric Baile” is a mind-bending extravaganza of congas and thumps that extends towards – and well past – the horizon. It is made for the trippy, body-centric dance culture then taking hold in Chicago’s clubs (and in NYC at places like Paradise Garage). It both celebrates and transcends the physical.
Sunset founder Matt Warren left the label in 1987 to found his own imprint AKA Records (whose companion compilation Bang the Box is also available on Still Music), and Miguel Garcia exited soon after. With them gone, the money man Alex Rojo took over, pursuing a lusher, sleeker sound of cuts like Ben Mays’ “Jail Beat.”
It’s the early stuff, though – “Kill Yourself Dancing,” “Yo Baby You,” and “Razz Matazz” especially – that resonate the most. It’s a mystery how music this physical, this raw and this primal could emerge out of a rig of synthesizers, but for a brief period in the late 1980s in Chicago, it certainly did.
DOWNLOAD: “Kill Yourself Dancing” “Yo Baby Yo” “Razz Matazz”