An A – Z of seminal tracks from dance music history.
A: Automan (dub version) by Newcleus
Newcleus were originally a DJ collective who formed in Brooklyn at the end of the 1970s: A group of four kids still at school who started playing NY block parties under the moniker Jam-on Productions. They moved into production in 1981, originally as Positive Messenger before settling on the name Newcleus. They had a minor hit with their first release ‘Jam on Revenge’, which made it into the top 40 of the R&B charts.
Automan came out in 1984 on independent label Sunnyview records, owned by Henry Stone who also set up the legendary disco label TK records. The track was released on a 12” as the group were touring the states supporting electro-funk royalty Cameo, as well as appearing on the first ever national US Hip Hop tour alongside the likes of Kurtis Blow and Run DMC.
The dub version of Automan is where it’s at: a classic slab of first wave electro, with synth whooshes that sweep in and out of the crackling drum machine break beats and one-note bass line, creating an atmosphere like a solar storm. The track is driven along by an instantly recognisable arpeggiated synth melody that was famously lifted for the abomination/masterpiece that is Rhythm is a Dancer by ‘Snap!, released in 1992 and still getting rinsed at weddings and bar mitzvahs worldwide.
The breaks on Automan appear in all the right places, but around the three minute mark is what has to be one of the worst synth solos in the history of popular music. Fortunately the solo is mercifully short and is replaced soon after by a sweet, almost Egyptian sounding synth motif that acts as a coda as the track fades out. The track’s arrangement is tight and tempered, foreshadowing a lot of early Detroit techno and the production is solid and punchy enough to hold its own in amongst a set of today’s hyper compressed digital electro. Automan is a classic, beautifully flawed piece of dance music history.
Newcleus are still knocking about, with a myspazz page that promises new material soon.
Next week: B, as in biscuits.
By Joe Evans