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Making The Contessa’s Party

The Contessa's Party album coverNotes by Mike Thorne

Download bundle of eight three-minute CD song excerpts (22Mb): mp3 m4a, all excerpts are around three minutes long

The Contessa’s Party took longer than anticipated, but turned out the better for it.

For Sprawl, my first CD released in 1999, I took the standard precaution of recording more songs than could fit, even adding Fire at the very end of the sessions after some arm-twisting by BETTY. Normally, you expect that a few won’t make the grade and once they’re all done (assuming they haven’t already been discarded) you cherry pick to build the strongest album. This is how B sides used to come into being. By good luck or good management, there were no dropouts from Sprawl. They became the basis of the as-yet untitled but planned CD in which I hoped to reinvent the extended club mix.

In the eighties, the 12″ vinyl record oriented toward club dance play came into its own, and I was lucky to play a prominent part in the way the music developed over the decade. I had the good fortune to fall in with prime club-oriented artists such as Soft Cell, Bronski Beat, and the Communards. As we were making these records, I realized that it was possible to deliver dance floor action along with great music, and I think that much of our success in the period reflects that attitude: that you can dance, but you can also simultaneously deliver music worth sitting down and listening to.

In that era, we would go out to dance and to check out new music. In the same space. Over the succeeding years, I watched the originating music and its version on the dance floor diverge. I wondered if it was possible to put them together again, to make a party record with music that changed and developed as fast as a classic single. One that you could dance to, or sit down and listen to. One that would keep your attention over a long period.

I thought of making the instruments flat-out synthetic, reflecting the style of most contemporary dance remixes. However, the Uptown Horns were there in the team, and there isn’t much of that about the clubs. You can succeed by fitting in, but’s it’s more fun if you manage it without. The horns and big vocal arrangements introduced the risk of it all turning out sounding retro: anathema. But maybe a little-used route would turn out more interesting. It’s certainly harder to pull together contributions from this wide collection of artists than sitting alone in your studio with synthesizers and sequencers and their huge palette of sounds. And, in truth, it’s a great deal more fun to make, especially with party record energy.

Going further acoustic, I pulled in an old friend made in recordings with Carmel, Johnny Folarin, to pay bongos and congas. His strong presence also pulled the sound away from current electronica, but nicely in the dance direction.

– MT, March 2006

I’ve also written about the making of the individual pieces. You can click through all the track stories with buttons from the pages, or go directly to any: