Strut Records announced its revival, of sorts, as part of the Berlin label, !K7, when they put forth their third release since almost dissolving in 2003, Funky Nassau—a fantastic compilation highlighting the sounds and artists who passed through Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas. Now five years into its deal with !K7, Strut curates what could serve as a bookend set of dead sound: music from the legendary ’70s and ’80s label, Celluloid Records.
Both Funky Nassau and the new collection, Change the Beat, manage to explore similar time periods and cross-sections of musical culture. Each look at the front two-thirds of the 1980s, which found punk growing into its brain to become post-punk and more. The funk touchstones of those subgenres also bled into hip-hop and early house music, and traded punches with island and African music.
Celluloid began through the efforts of French record store owner Jean Karakos, and Change the Beat gives significant nods to Europe’s embrace of No Wave (Mathematiques Modernes’ “Disco Rough”) and African pop (Manu Dibango’s “Abele Dance”). But these comprise just a few threads in the label’s quilt.
It was also blessed—and ultimately cursed—with production and de facto A&R by multifaceted bandleader and producer Bill Laswell. Laswell’s best-known band, Material, appears here (with cult classic “I’m the One”) as does his edgier outfit, Massacre, and he helped weave artists and genres featured on Change the Beat to give Celluloid a truly New York imprint.
The label’s artful melting pot included skilled efforts from relative unknowns (Lightnin’ Rod’s rap, Ferdinand’s French punk extensions) and a few underground classics (Fab 5 Freddy’s “Change the Beat,” the beepy “Day Breaks, Day Heals” by Thomas Leer & Robert Rental). Through means both legitimate and otherwise, the Celluloid logo also appeared with significant musical veterans: Richard Hell, John Lydon, The Clash, The Last Poets and Ginger Baker represent some of that re-contextualized star power here.
Laswell was so good at what he did that bigger projects took him further and further away from Celluloid, and Karakos couldn’t maintain its momentum alone. The label has started to sporadically release music again, and much of its old catalog is still in print. Change the Beat, however, represents a messy, perfect soundtrack for a specific time, place, and collective feeling. It’s a wide cave mouth to start some cool musical archaeology.