Praise You: A ZE Records Tribute Mix by Baba Ali

ZE Records came during an iconic period of time in New York City. In the late 70s when the music and art scenes were at their most fertile and influential, Michel Esteban and Micheal Zilkha set upon starting their label, which would go on to spawn the no wave sound and launch the careers of several bands and artists including Suicide, Was (Not Was) and Kid Creole.

Fellow New Yorker, 30th Century Records singer and musician Baba Ali first discovered Was (Not Was) at the age of 17 and set about digging deeper into their back catalogue. As well as their fundamental role in the city’s music scene at the time, Baba became fascinated with the label’s vast mix of oddball sounds from disco to punk and leftfield to no wave and dance rock.

Alongside an interview about the label, his tribute mix he traces the sounds that formed the backbone of ZE’s diverse discography and had the biggest impact on him as a musician.

Buy Baba Ali’s latest mixtape: Rethinking Sensual Pleasure.

Why does ZE Records mean so much to you?

New York in the late 70s is probably one of the most influential and iconic periods for music and art, especially how the music world and art world intersected and somewhat birthed the whole No Wave scene. I don’t think it’s said often enough that ZE records was very important in facilitating these strange and wonderful characters and their ideas. From Suicide, to Lydia Lunch, to James Chance and Coati Mundi… and at the same time they’d put out killer disco and leftfield dance tunes. If I ever started a label, I’d aim high and try to emulate what ZE Records did without a doubt.

What makes a ZE Records record so unique?

There’s always a certain oddness to how a ZE record sounds, yet they’re also really sexy, playful and provocative…

When did you first hear ZE Records release and what impact did it have on you?

I was about 17 I believe when I first heard ‘Wheel Me Out’ by Was (Not Was). My parents are of the disco era so I grew up familiar with Chic, Donna Summer, Chaka Khan… I randomly came across this Was (Not Was) track from a compilation I bought while on a school trip in Paris. ‘Wheel Me Out” had that disco/funk sound I was already familiar with but it felt like it was beamed in from outer space, the way the bass lick is juxtaposed with a hard almost punk guitar riff. And then, the vocals are almost like hip-hop samples. The structure of the song was odd… Everything about it is odd but familiar. Around this time I had also heard Suicide for the first time, but I didn’t realize then that they were also released through ZE Records.

What’s your most sacred ZE Records release and why?

I was record digging very soon after first discovering Was (Not Was) and found their record “Born To Laugh at Tornadoes” in a bargain bin. This record doesn’t have ‘Wheel Me Out’ on it, but it was just that important that I at least owned a Was (Not Was) vinyl!

Any standout memories from dropping a ZE Records track in a set?

Cristina’s “La Poupée Qui Fait Non” is always a hit with people, especially women. I think the vocal is just so ethereal and playful and I love that it’s amazing that Cristina basically flips the original narrative on its head. The original is by Michel Polnaroff and from the original intent the song is essentially about a man complaining that his ‘doll’ doesn’t wanna do anything. Cristina flips the lyric so that SHE becomes the doll that doesn’t wanna do anything and I love how that transforms “no” into an empowering thing.

How has ZE Records impacted you as a musician?

I think being exposed to an eclectic range of artists and releases on ZE Records at a formative time of my music knowledge definitely influenced my eclectic approach. What’s great is you get a sense that they just happened to be eclectic because they were chasing what they liked, it doesn’t seem contrived. ZE records were brilliant at presenting challenging and experimental music but still delivering solid post-disco, new wave and punk records that I’d say is better than most of the common stuff everyone’s already heard a million times.

How did you approach this mix? What did you want it to say about ZE Records and their music?

I picked out basically all of my favorite songs and artists that released on ZE Records. I also tried to make sure to reflect their range from punk, to disco, to experimental and all that lies in between.

What would you say is ZE Records biggest legacy on music?

I think a lot of musicians in the post-punk/dance/electro/indie scenes have heard something released by ZE Records but probably don’t realize it. I also think the ZE Record catalog perfectly captures that turning point between late 70s and early 80s downtown New York. It should come as no surprise to hear James Chance’s “Contort Yourself” in Basquiat’s film ‘Downtown 81’.

Track List
Casino Music – Viol af dis
James Chance – Contort Yourself (August Darnell Remix)
Cristina – La Poupee Qui Fait Non
Coati Mundi – No More Blues
Emile – Aural Exciters
Mars – 11,000 Volts
Alan Vega – Fireball (Mutant Disco Remix)
Disco Rough – Mathématiques Moderne
Richard Strange – International Language
Was (Not Was) – Wheel Me Out
Sweet Pea Atkinson – Dance or Die
Lydia Lunch – Spooky
Arto/Neto – Pini Pini
Lizzy Mercier Descloux – Hard Boiled Babe
Rosa Yemen – Decryptated

Buy Baba Ali’s latest mixtape: Rethinking Sensual Pleasure.

Comments are closed.