Dedicated diggers aren’t exactly a rare breed in the world of electronic music, although Aiden D’Araujo may eventually rank among its top-tier fanatics. His House Hunting column for The Random Note chronicles his trips through London and beyond in pursuit of original pressings of vintage house gems. However, D’Araujo does make a few exceptions to the all-vinyl rule: as he tells Finn Johanssen, one of his most influential early purchases came in the form of a cassette compilation called Rhythm Zone Vol. 1 that featured classic tracks from the likes of Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May and Dionne. Released via Kool Kat in 1989, the tape served as an ideal introduction to the holy trinity of Chicago house, Detroit techno and New York garage.
You chose Rhythm Zone Vol. 1, a cassette compilation. Were you taping radio at a young age, and was this your first foray into purchasing what already had caught your interest?
Yeah, taping radio shows was a ritual when I was a kid. I got that from my mum, who would tape mixes religiously. She amassed a series of tapes that had early electronic auteurs on them, such as Pete Namlook, Move D and Biosphere, and she’s still got ’em! One of her mates hosted shows on Birmingham’s pirate radio station Mix FM, which he would sometimes transmit from out attic. That was my introduction to hip-hop. There was also soul, funk, disco, electro and house, so I didn’t really need to buy tapes, as there were so many avenues where I was exposed to music. Another influence was my dad, who was in a band that covered a lot of rock and blues classics. On the weekends I would stay at his house in Leicester, where there’s a big Afro-Caribbean community. Every year Aba Shanti-I plays at the Leicester carnival, so dub and reggae were the sounds of my dad’s household.
Did you try several compilations, and was this was the one you liked best?
This was the first I bought. I remember clocking the naff early ‘90s trippy artwork complete with the tag line “A galaxy of imports for under a fiver.” I thought it might be like the deep trips on my mum’s armada of ambient tapes. It was pure coincidence that the first one I got was the best introduction to Chicago house, Detroit techno and New York garage.
Before the release of Rhythm Zone Vol. 1, there were better-known compilation efforts to display what was happening the US to European customers. Were you aware of them?
As I was about 8 years old, I didn’t have a clue. As previously mentioned, all the dance records and tapes I saw in the shops generally had a more unusual graphic aesthetic, which caught my eye.
Did or do you have personal highlights in the tracklist, or is this all killer and no filler?
It’s pretty much all killer and no filler, but the first three joints on the A-side still do it for me: Dionne’s “Come Get My Lovin”, the Detroit Mix of Reese’s “You’re Mine”, plus some Gherkin flavor outta Chicago with Brett Wilcots under his Gallifré guise supplying “Don’t Walk Out On Love” featuring Mondée Oliver. If you read my House Hunting column, you’ll know that I’m a proper Gherkin geek.
As an introduction, this compilation is a knowledgeable and well-balanced selection of New York garage, Detroit techno, Chicago house and beyond. I can vividly remember that at the time, local contexts or stylistic differences didn’t matter much—at least not in the club. For example, early Detroit techno did sound different to acid house from Chicago, but it was not perceived as being something else entirely. When did you learn about these differences, and did this tape help?
It was all just “dance music” when I was kid. However, there was always a music magazine in the house, like Mixmag or DJ Mag, and from reading them I’d learn from references to “Chicago house” and “Detroit techno,” absorbing the minutiae of each style in the process. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I could start properly differentiating between them all. I have to give a shout to my mum’s partner at the time, Rich Bee, who further educated me on house. He got me my first set of turntables when I was 16. Once I had decks I used to jet up to Nottingham practically every week. By then I had a decent grasp of the history and differences in the respective scenes, but to me they’re all just facets of house regardless.
Genre tagging is probably a very European way to get a grip on developments in music. A lot of seasoned American DJs I talked to avoid even general names like “house” and prefer to refer to what they play simply as “dance music.” Do you rate this approach over breaking down music into several small genres, or do they also serve an important purpose?
When you listen to an old mix, whether it’s Farley on WBMX , Timmy Regisford on WBLS or a load of those legendary KISS mixes by Hiroshi Fujiwara or The Hump, it ain’t just house. There’s disco, Italo, garage and techno, and it all flows together seamlessly, just like on Rhythm Zone Vol. 1. Whenever I’ve seen an American or Japanese DJ, though they may be considered “house,” they only loosely conform to what that’s supposed to mean, whereas I’ve found more European DJs to be more specialist. I don’t go out often now, though, so that may have changed and I’m talking shit!
Neil Rushton—the A&R for the label Kool Kat, which released Rhythm Zone Vol. 1—also wrote the liner notes. He started out as northern soul DJ and later played a quite pivotal role in bringing US house and techno over the pond. His activities and this compilation represent the digger instinct associated with the rare soul circuit, don’t you think?
You’ve unearthed some history in the tape’s origins. I loved Rushton’s liner notes and used to read ‘em over and over. I think that was a contributing factor to me obsessing over the finer details of a record, whether it’s an original pressing, what’s in the run out, does it have promo sheet, studying the sleeve notes…
In Germany, labels that licensed music from abroad in Europe were very important in establishing house and techno to a wider audience. Was it similar in the UK, or would it have reached the same level of public recognition regardless?
Kool Kat would be a perfect example. Though many heads probably haven’t heard of it, they set up a subsidiary in the form of Network Records, which left a lasting legacy by licensing legendary labels such as Metroplex, Transmat and KMS to the UK and Europe. So Network specialized in the Motor City, and you had labels like Republic Records that licensed a lot of the New York and New Jersey sounds. Then there’s all the Chicago ones…I could wax lyrical about these all day. So yeah, I think they played a major part in exposing this music to a wider audience and a more diverse dance demographic.
Today, compilations are not at all as important as they were in discovering new musical interests. Were they adequately replaced by something as efficient, or did different preferences require different formats entirely?
As music is so accessible now, I think compilations aren’t the necessity they once were in seeking out new or interesting music. I think a lot of people judge on a sound clip and make an instant decision whether they’re feeling it. As you can buy a download for a quid, most heads will probably think: What’s the point of buying a compilation in which they’ll probably like a just few tracks when they can buy ten downloads of what they exactly want instead? That’s the charm I loved about compilations, though; you’d warm to the tracks that you’d skip initially and ultimately broaden your musical spectrum. What’s encouraging is that you’ve got a new wave of influential institutions such as Rush Hour and Strut raiding the DATs and releasing retrospectives with forgotten or unheard-of artists, complete with hard-to-find tracks and unreleased exclusives. So if you ain’t an anorak like me obsessing over original pressings then compilations are still a great source in discovering new music.
Being quite a digger for dance music rarities yourself, you probably own all the records compiled on Rhythm Zone Vol. 1 by now. Or were there exclusive versions on there that you could not find elsewhere?
I’ve pretty much had all the records on the tape at some point. But as this interview got me reminiscing, I’ll probably obsess over trying to find ‘em all now! One I’ve never come across is the Wayne Archbold remix of LNR’s “Work It To The Bone” on the Kool Kat pressing, which is probably languishing in bargain bins everywhere. You know how it is: sometimes you never come across that one record you’re after and I can’t bring myself to spend a quid on a record and pay the shipping. I’d rather just chance upon one when getting a deep dose of dusty fingers.