It’s so difficult to really pinpoint when exactly disco evolved into house music. Disco, deploying the four-by-four tempo, was primarily a dancefloor sound with a large emphasis on a live-band cadence. This was partly due to the absence of proper technology wherein people would just be able to record a midi or synth to achieve groove. To record a club tune, you’d have to get the band together and really nail the crisp sound with some clean mastering. I wouldn’t say disco died, but proper 70s disco transformed itself into a really strict flavor of dance music: house.
Now if you’re a house & bass geek like me, you’d think that house was born in the depths of Chicago, Illinois– dudes like Frankie Knuckles and Steve “Silk” Hurley making bare, badass club tunes. But the bridge between disco and house music arguably bubbled somewhere, charmingly enough, in Newark, New Jersey first– which at the time was probably the loudest hub for house producers and DJs alike. And I have to arguably say, no other geographic region in the entire world, besides Jamaica and the Caribbean, had more of an influence on UK rave and garage music than the stuff being dished out from the New Jersey house scene.
Most house demographics were making the trek to New York clubs like Paradise Garage which housed the best club tunes in the city, and acted as a mecca for the metropolitan’s dance scene. New Jersey, however, had Zanzibar located inside the Lincoln Hotel in Newark, NJ.
Zanzibar is the really seedy club you’d want to go to if you weren’t really into the glitz of New York posh. A no-frills, no-bullshit narrative intertwined with just the best house music being made. Specializing in a brand of dance tunes that fringe on acid synths and not-so-deeply-explored gospel soul that paved the road for garage producers like Todd Edwards and MJ Cole. This scene and Zanzibar especially, hallmarks exactly what I love about clubgoing; bringing different communities together to dance and start capital-c Conversations. Black, White, Asian, LGBTQ– Zanzibar held these communities in a brilliant bind to help build a culture from the ground-up.
Labels like Nu Groove and Dopewax became essential camps for DJ-catered house music from producers like Frankie Bones, Aphrodisiac and NY House’n Authority. East Orange’s local record shop “Movin Records” acted as mediators of the NJ house sound, distributing it to local DJs and producers. DJ Tony Humphries became a go-to figure for the sound with his Kiss FM radio show, playing the newest, fresh-off-the-press tunes on vinyl.
The New Jersey house sound was a golden nugget in time, vastly imperative and vital to the sounds coming from London raves currently.
Even today, New Jersey plays a role in the output of dance music with the evolving ballroom house scene. Stemming from the drag ball scenes in NY and NJ that started off as forums for drag queens to throw shade on one another, with the DJ role in the background. Now DJs like MikeQ stand in the fray and supply their own brand of ballroom productions which have more to do with Baltimore club music than the gospel house sound of Jersey circa 1980s.
There’s something special going on in this area– a sense of true grit, charming enough to only be found in the state with the worst reputation.
Click here to stream Tony Humphries’ DJ set at Zanzibar in 1988
GUEST POST BY: Ryan Morejon/Two Way (WRGP Radiate FM)