This is the second part of the Disco Damnation interviews. This one is with Conrad McDonnell of Idjut Boys. The Idjuts, as they were commonly called, were very early out of the gate in the world of disco reassessment. At the beginning of the ’90s they joined a handful of other disco evangelists, like DJ Harvey, in providing a new round of re-edits and sample-filled, original compositions that drew heavily from the canon of essential tracks made famous by legendary DJs such as Tee Scott, Ron Hardy, Larry Levan and Tony Humphries.
They were no strangers to the Bay Area and played often in San Francisco. Their sets were always eclectic and filled with top-notch records. I remember bumping into them once in the clearance bins underneath the dance music section in Amoeba Berkeley on an overcast Tuesday morning. They are mad diggers and it showed in how they threw down. The interview below was the perfect accompaniment to the previous one with Daniel Wang and I had a lot of fun conducting and transcribing both of them. Hopefully you’ll get as much enjoyment out of this as I did.
London’s Idjut Boys, Conrad and Dan, like Daniel, have released a small number of tunes on their own label, U-Star, but their originality and innovation shines through. This, coupled with a zaniness that is reflected in the titles of the EPs, and the graphics employed, has made their eight releases much sought after commodities, dancefloor delicacies and documents of disco dogma. I rang Conrad at home in Islington, North London, to ask him what it all means, where it came from, where it’s going and should, or will, everyone be doing the Cocomotion?
Firstly, I informed him that this would be a painstaking and gruelling interview (like all XLR8R interviews, in fact like the XLR8R experience as a whole), full of difficult questions, demanding insights and agonizing soul (and disco) searching. Conrad’s reaction was calm and collected, merely stating that this “Seems fair to me.” So I hurled the ball of intensive interviewing into the savage stadium that is modern dance music by asking him how, where and when did U-Star and Idjut Boys start, “Three friends; myself, Dan and a guy called Rich moved into a flat in London, set up the decks and got the 4\4 beat going. This guy who lived in the flat underneath us and who had been involved in the UK arm of MCA records said to us — apart from, “Turn it down!” — that we should get into the studio. Next thing he got a job working for Hollywood Records in the UK and he blagged us some studio time, so off to the studio we went and 48 hours and a bag of skunk later ‘The Idjut Boy” EP was born.”
I kindly inform Conrad that he is one of the jammiest bastards that I have ever had the misfortune of encountering, “Honest to God, man, that’s how it all began, two years ago, so we kinda thanked Hollywood Records for putting us in the studio and pressing up 1,000 copies of the record. That’s where the break from the Danny Tenaglia remix of Yothu Yindi’s “Treaty” comes from. Originally we were supposed to remix it, but there wasn’t really anything about the record that we were into, we didn’t have the original DATs and all we could do was sample off the record and thought that was wack, so we sampled a tiny little section from the Danny Tenaglia remix.”
Anyone who has heard an Idjut Boys record will no doubt testify to the overwhelming discoid flavour contained within the grooves. I enquire if the boys are disco freaks, or is it just my imagination, in fact, is it just an illusion? “We’re big disco fans, specifically of the early eighties sound, Francois Kevorkian, Larry Levan, Walter Gibbons, Nick Martinelli of Loose Ends fame. Tracks like “I Got The Feeling” by Two Tons of Fun (big girls, big tune), “I Was Born This Way” by Carl Bean. Then there’s Prelude, fuck man, you could go on forever about Prelude, artists like Musique and Visual. We love artists like Dexter Wansel, Norman Whitfield, The Undisputed Truth’s “You + Me + Love.” Dan went to America 18 months ago and came back with 600 records (“Good man, Dan,” says I), he went all over the country, New York, Washington and San Francisco, so he picked up a lot of stuff. “I love the West End stuff as well, The Peech Boys, obviously, Shirley Lites’ “Heat You Up (Melt You Down)“, Raw Silk’s “Just In Space And Space (Dub)“, that is awesome, in fact we’ve just sampled that on the new one.”
I ask Conrad if the Idjut Boys’ music is a reaction against some of the conventions that have become aparent in dance music, “I don’t know, our music is just what we come out with, we’re just going with our own flow. To be honest, I don’t like to slate anyone, everyone gets a bit too pigeon-holed over here in Britain and that gets very boring. We haven’t been pigeon-holed for the simple reason that we’re a monstrously small operation, we don’t have an office, when we get the money together we get into the studio and put some tracks together. My attitude is just to let everyone do what they like and I rate loads of people. England at the moment is hot, there’s Honeydipped Records, Nuphonic. I like Honeydipped because they’re really brave, the Sensory Productions boys are good, Junior Boys Own are brave all the time, we have to give serious respect to all these people because they’re sticking to what they re into and not just churning it out. Ludovic Navarre is doing some great stuff and stateside we rate the Balihu stuff and Todd Edwards, I’m working two copies of “Alabama Blues” currently. I’m into Todd because he’s into inventive sampling, inventive sampling was what made hip-hop so good, this new R&B, swingbeat thing is crap because it doesn’t use anything inventive at all.”
As Idjut Boys’ music is so reliant on a disco influence, perhaps people, especially DJs who strive for forward looking music, may feel that their music is part of a regressive wave of sample disco, a phase that heralds house reaching the end of its creative tether and instead of looking back for inspiration is merely robbing ideas from the past. But, then again another side of the coin is that disco is a constant and that house is reinventing and modernizing disco, “I think disco was modernized when house came about, I think producers like Glenn Underground are taking disco in a new direction, taking it in their own direction. Here in Britain some people just jump on the bandwagon and that’s why some sounds get cained, they need to watch the leaders and then copy their sound and that’s why some disco house sounds tired”.
Idjut Boys take on disco is very original, very inventive and, like Glenn Underground, they mix the melodic and rhythmic elements of disco with the groovy elements of house and techno. What adds to their freshness is the crazy graphics and quirky titles they choose for their projects, “Not Reggae” EP, ‘The Phantom Slasher,” where slashing relates to the British slang for taking a leak, and their latest, “The Beard Law” EP. These are obviously the work of young men with too much time and weed on their hands. “Those graphics and titles come from us, I mean you have to inject some humour into the music plus we’re fortunate that we have a friend who’s got a really wicked computer so we just go round his place and he puts our wacky ideas together. For instance the “Not Reggae” EP, originally we were going to sample the Instant Funk track “It A’int Really Reggae (But It’s Funky).” That track is wicked, but we couldn’t get it the way we liked it so we thought, fuck it, we’re not going to butcher it, but we liked the title so we kept the idea for the EP.”
U-Star is yet to get the props it really deserves, especially in Britain, but recently in a ‘DJ’ magazine guest review page, Ashley Beadle (of Black Science Orchestra), when reviewing the “Quakerman” EP, said that the lads should come out of hiding and grasp the fame that they truly deserve (even if they are jammy bastards). This gave the impression that Idjut Boys were doing a ‘Maurizio‘ on it, ducking from fame for the greater good of the music, “We’re not hiding from anyone, but we’re not putting ourselves out in a commercial way, we don t have press agents. However, Crispin J. Glover (Caucasian Boy, Rhythm Grafitti and Century Falls) who we really like, has asked us to do some ‘fucked up dubs’ of a Phillip Ramirez track that he is laying down.
So hopefully we’re going to do that and that will go out on Junior Boys Own. Given the chance to remix whoever we wanted, we’d remix basically anyone who has the groove. We can only go on what we hear, there are certain people who are really special, people like Robert Owens, his voice just gives me the shivers. Robert put out a record on our label, “Was I Here Before.” That was our second release, it had mixes by Chip E., Farley Keith and Adonis, but our mix the ‘Route One Mix’ has no bottom end for some reason and that really annoys me. That came about when we asked Robert to come over and sing in a club that we we were running, he liked us so we took it from there. We’re still DJing and running nights, at the moment we’re looking for a new premises because all the venues have been kinda hammered with the standard British sound that’s happening, it’s difficult. But some artists, like the ones we talked about tonight, make it all worthwhile, they’re what saves the scene.”
What madness can the world expect from the Idjut Boys over the festive season? “Well, you didn’t hear this from me but we have another one of those interesting promos coming out soon. We’re trying to sort out a new space to record in so we can work out new ideas. We always end up with too much stuff to go on each record then we have DATs lying around full of usable material. As well as the stuff we’re doing for U-Star, we want to start another label, use different names for ourselves, branch into producing techno, we’d like to go all over the place with our music.”
Which brings us to the final and most important question of the interview, should, or will, everyone be doing the Cocomotion? “The Cocomotion” by El Coco is a famous disco track with a wicked bassline, to which homage was first paid by MG2’s “My House Is Bigger Than Your House” on the Hot Mix 5 label from about the time of John The Baptist (1986, to be exact) and was recently revamped by the Boys on their promo collection of naughty edits. I posed this question to Conrad with reference to Night Communication’s “Lose Control,” which also used the bassline, “(Big laugh) when you hear “The Idjut Boy” EP you’ll realise how much we like Night Communication. There’s not really much more you need to know about us except, check our music and finally, people have to stop making disposable house music, it’s more important than that, I think that’s my only message to the world”. Hopefully 1996 will be the year when Idjut Boys get all the credit they are due for creating some of the wackiest, most adventurous and downright danceable tracks of 1994 and ’95. A global DJing stint is imminent, as are new tunes and edits, and maybe they’ll even get a chance to meet Nyles Arrington.