D: Danger Zone by Midnight Express. Tri-fire records, 1983.
Aaah, Boogie. That beautiful musical movement that filled the space in the late seventies and early eighties between the ‘death’ of disco and the birth of house and hip hop. Some call it electrofunk, men with beards sometimes even refer to it as ‘post-disco’. Whatever, basically, it’s forward thinking funk music that utilised the new machinery around at the time: Oberheim and Linn drum machines, Roland and moog synthesizers; and fused these futuristic bits of gear with soul vocals, guitar licks and electric keyboard.
The style forced it’s way into the pop charts and onto major record labels through the likes of big hitters The SOS band & Evelyn Champagne King, but in truth, most of the boogie that came into being was underground dance music that fared better in the clubs of New York and London than it did on the radio or in terms of sales. A lot of Boogie was released on tiny, independent record labels – with bands and projects regularly producing one minor, localised hit before fading back into obscurity.
One of these labels was Tri-Fire, based in Rock Island, IIlinois. Run by the musician and producer Robbie M, Tri-Fire was a small imprint created as a vehicle for Robbie’s own music, which he wrote and produced alongside his band Midnight Express. Midnight Express only released two tunes on Tri-Fire, on a 7” that came out in 1983. The A side was the track ‘Dial Love, a schmaltzy slow jam that seemed designed for radio, but in fact rarely troubled the airwaves.
The B-side, however, carried something altogether more dynamic and hard-hitting: ‘Danger Zone’.
Danger Zone works like a checklist of boogie components: It starts with a big drum machine playing a heavy four/four funk rhythm, which is quickly complemented by a descending synth bass. Then comes a little funk guitar lick, a ghostly synth stab, then a short blast of horns before the electric keyboard chords come in followed, finally by the lead vocal of Robbie M himself. The track rides along on a wave of joyful noise punctuated by the odd woosh or bubbling synth effect for three minutes, has a bit of a breakdown and then reintroduces the chorus until the piece gracefully bows out. Like a lot of boogie, when taken at face value, the track is very simple, yet the simplicity deceptively cloaked a real musicality and experimentalism, which has led to the music standing the test of time and, retrospectively, the genre is now seen as one of the absolute key influences on everything from house music to modern rnb.
Danger Zone was re-released a couple of years ago on the PPU imprint, who specialise in reissuing lost heavy boogie classics and also recently put out 2 EPs of unreleased Tri-Fire music. The track has been played out a fair bit in recent years, Dam Funk and other boogie revivalists can regularly be heard dropping it into their DJ sets. Robbie M continues to put out music as a solo artist and still tours the US, playing a blend of funk and modern R&B.
Next week: E as in Emmental.
By Joe Evans