In 2012, Strut Records released Only For You: The Sound of Cajmere and Cajual Records, which paid homage to Cajmere, one of the innovators of the Chicago house scene and his label Cajual Records. This proved to be one of Strut Records’ most critically acclaimed and commercially successful releases of 2012. Now, for Strut Records first release of 2013, they’ve decided to revisit another pioneering, innovative and experimental record label Celluloid Records. To do this, Strut Records will release Change The Beat-The Celluloid Records Story 1979-1987, on 25th February 2013. I’ll now tell you about the story behind Celluloid Records, and and music on Change The Beat-The Celluloid Records Story 1979-1987.

It was in Paris, France in the late seventies that Jean Karakos founded Celluloid Records. This wasn’t Jean’s first involvement with music. He’d spent the last decade running record shops. Much of Jean’s success running record shops came by importing music. Towards the end of the seventies, Jean had established a routine that would prove profitable. Each Sunday night, he headed to London’s Rough Trade Records just when the latest releases arrived. After looking through the new independent releases, Jean would buy copies of he forthcoming week’s releases. Then he’d head back to Paris. Once Jean returned to Paris on Tuesday morning, he’d phone other record shops and sell the records. This was at a time when music was evolving, and evolving quickly. 

Punk had proved to a musical game changer three years earlier in 1976. After punk and post-punk, the musical rules change. Indeed, the rules weren’t just rewritten, but ripped up and thrown away. Following punk and post-punk, music was about to change again. In many ways from the nihilistic sound of punk, music was about to evolve into something with a more sophisticated sheen. This change came about as technology entered the musical equation.

Drum machines, synths and samplers were all becoming much more affordable. No longer were drum machines, synths and samplers only available to groups with large budgets and found in high-end recording studios. Instead, they were within the budget of aspiring musicians and producers. This meant artists and producers were able to create and manipulate music that was much more complicated, multi-textured and complex. For anyone looking to start a new record label, this was the perfect opportunity.

When Jean founded Celluloid Records in 1979, he’d already had experience running a record label. Previously, he’d run spiritual jazz label BYG, which meant he knew how a record label was run and the pitfalls surrounding this. So in the Porte de Lilas  in Paris, Jean and Gilbert Castro, a former Director of the Maoists founded Celluloid Records. They were a contrasting partnership. While Jean was an extrovert, Gilbert was cultivated and urbane. Jean had also founded Actuel, a monthly magazine, which focused on the artist and current affairs. With Celluloid Records founded, they began releasing music, including reggae tracks licensed from London’s Jetstar label. However, from the day Celluloid was founded, they were releasing cutting-edge music.

One of Celluloid Records first releases in 1979 was Robert Leer and Robert Rental’s album The Bridge. It featured Day Breaks, Day Heals, four minutes where new wave, industrial and ambient music hypnotically combine. As a new decade dawned, then Celluloid Records would enter the most important years of the nascent label’s history.

Five very eclectic tracks from 1980 feature on Change The Beat-The Celluloid Records Story 1979-1987. It seems quite apt that the first is a dub reggae track licensed from Studio 16, a London label. Winston Edwards and Blackbeard’s Downing Street Rock, was a track At 10 Downing Street-Dub Conference. Demonstrating the eclectic nature of Celluloid’s releases is Mathematiques Modernes’ single Disco Rough. Written by Claude Arto and Edwige Belmore, electro and synth pop unite. Similarly eclectic was Ferdinand’s album El Forme, which included Tele: Apres La Metro. Here, Ferdinand, a French group merged new wave, art rock and punk seamlessly. That year, Snakefinger released their genre-fusing, sophomore album Greener Pastures on Ralph Records. Celluloid Records licensed this experimental album, which featured Living In Vain, a track that has Celluloid’s name written all over it. So too does Nini Raviolette experimental, synth pop track Suis-Je Normale. Filed will beeps and squeaks and Nini’s deliberate, sultry vocal. Already, people were taking notice of this pioneering French label Celluloid Records. The following year, 1981, would prove an important one for Celluloid Records, for several reasons

Not only did 1981 see Celluloid Records start building a reputation as a pioneering and experimental label, but Jean would meet a likeminded man who’d prove crucial to the label’s future. That man was Bill Laswell. Jean was now regularly flying between Paris and New York to sell Celluloid’s releases. It was on one of these trips, Jean met Bill, who’d just flown in from Michigan to New York. Bill was another musical innovator, who produced genre-sprawling music. He took various musical genres, deconstructed them and reinvented them as something, new, pioneering and cutting-edge. So Jean, liking what he heard from Bill’s group Massacre, decided Celluloid would release their debut album Killing Time, where avant garde, improvisation and rock combine. Given the importance of this meeting, the title-track, Killing Time features on Change The Beat-The Celluloid Records Story 1979-1987. 

Massacre wasn’t the only Bill Laswell project Celluloid would release. They also released Bill’s post-punk dance project Material’s I’m The One in 1982. It sees Bill collaborate with Michael Beinhorn, Bernard Fowler and Nile Rodgers. Another Bill Laswell project is Last Exit, whose track Big Boss man features on Change The Beat-The Celluloid Records Story 1979-1987. Having established their reputation as one of the most eclectic and innovative labels, Celluloid would continue to do so.

Richard Hell and The Voidoids had been releasing music since 1977. Having started as a punk band, their music had mutated into new wave. 1982 saw the release of their sophomore album Destiny Street. In many ways, they were too good as musicians to be called a punk band. They combine funk, rock, garage, new wave and even hip hop. It was delicious fusion of genres and influences, proving their was life after punk. One musical genre that proved even more important that punk, was hip hop.

During his trips to New York and through meeting Bill Laswell, Jean Karakos had first gotten involved with hip hop. This was during the early eighties, when hip hop was growing in popularity. Soon, Celluloid Records started releasing a series of hip hop singles. Several of these hip hop tracks feature on Change The Beat-The Celluloid Records Story 1979-1987. This includes Fab 5 Freddy’s Anglo-French slo-mo rap Beside. It was released in 1982, the same year as Futura 2000’s The Escapades of Futura 2000, which features The Clash. Produced by The Clash, who were now embracing various musical genres and influences, Mick Jones wrote this fusion of electro and hip hop with Futura 2002. Little did they realize, they’d just released a cult classic. The next year, 1983, would prove to be one of Celluloid Records most important years.

By 1983, Celluloid’s reputation as innovative, progressive label had been established. Four tracks on Change The Beat-The Celluloid Records Story 1979-1987, demonstrate this. Celluloid licensed Shockabilly’s 1983 album Earth Vs. Shockabilly from Rough Trade Records. Day Tripper fuses elements of electro, avant garde, rock and punk. That year, Celluloid released two albums of Afrobeat.These were Bobongo Stars’ album Makasi, which features Koteja, and Senegalese singer Toure Kunda’s sophomore album Amadou Tilo. The title-track Amadou Tilo and Bobongo Stars’ Koteja both demonstrate how gradually the emergence in popularity of what was then known as World Music.

Timezone’s The Wildstyle was also released in 1983. Produced by UK DJ Rusty Egan and featuring Afrika  Bambaataa and French MC B SIde. It’s the 12’ Vocal version that features on Change The Beat-The Celluloid Records Story 1979-1987. So too does World Destruction, Timezone’s collaboration with former Sex Pistol and now member of PIL, John Lydon. Then later in 1983, Jean and Bill would have a profitable collaboration with a jazz giant.

Later in 1983, Jean and Bill Laswell were working with jazz legend Herbie Hancock, on his electro hit Rockit. Indeed, it was Jean who suggested using a keyboard riff from an early demo as the single’s hook. Jean’s suggestion proved profitable, with the income he received from publishing royalties allowing the pair to continue exploring hip hop. After that came Grandmaster DS.T’s seven-minute epic Home of Hip Hop, released in 1985. Before that, came an eclectic year for Celluloid, 1984.

Change The Beat-The Celluloid Records Story 1979-1987 features three tracks from 1984. This includes Lightnin’ Rod’s Sport, a delicious fusion of funk, jazz and hip hop. It was released eleven years after Lighnin’ Rod released his only album Hustlers Convention in 1973. 1984 also saw the release of B Side With Bernard Fowler’s electro hip hop SIngle Odeon and Mandingo’s album Watto Sitta.

Access to Mandingo’s album Watto Sitta, which featured Foday Musa Suso came about through Bill Laswell. He’d moved on from Celluloid Records, although they continued to support his musical project. Harima, Watto Sitta’s opening track, is a glorious melting pot of influences, sung call and response style. Folk, World Music and a twist of electronic music combine, creating one of the most enchanting tracks on Change The Beat-The Celluloid Records Story 1979-1987.

Two tracks from 1985 demonstrate just how eclectic a label Celluloid was. Sapho released her fifth album Passions, Passions in 1985. Carmel was the track that opened Passions, Passions and the 12” version features on Change The Beat-The Celluloid Records Story 1979-1987. It’s hypnotic synth pop combined with dance music. The same year, 1985, veteran Manu Dibango released his E.P. Pata Piya, which featured Abele Dance ’85 Remix, where dub, hip hop beats and electro combine.

1986 saw a slowdown in the amount of music Celluloid was releasing. Bill Laswell was now collaborating with other artists, including Fred Firth, Yoko On and jazz legends John McLaughlin and Eric Dolphy. However, Celluloid did release ex member of Cream, Ginger Baker’s album Horses and Trees. It featured Dust To Dust, one of the highlights of Change The Beat-The Celluloid Records Story 1979-1987. It’s a fusion of jazz, country and rock, featuring some incredible slide guitar.

Bill Laswell wasn’t the only person to influence and collaborate with Jean at Celluloid Records. So would US producer and music entrepreneur Alan Douglas. This meant that Celluloid Records were able to license albums by The Last Poets and Ronald Shannon Jackson. Indeed, closing Disc Two of Change The Beat-The Celluloid Records Story 1979-1987 is The Last Poets Mean Machine/Mean Machine Chant. Mean Machine was a track from their 1992 hip hop album Retro Fit. This came seven years after their first release for Celluloid Records, Oh My People. Given that The Last Poets had been such an innovative group, it seems fitting that it’s a Last Poets’ track that closes Change The Beat-The Celluloid Records Story 1979-1987, a retrospective of one of the most pioneering European labels of the last forty years.

So, the two discs that comprise Change The Beat-The Celluloid Records Story 1979-1987, feature a suitably eclectic selection of tracks that’s representative of Celluloid Records back-catalogue. Celluloid Records lasted only eight years, but during that time, Celluloid proved one of the most innovative, pioneering and bold record labels. They were never afraid to challenge musical norms, releasing music that strayed from the norm. Sometimes, well away from what was the established musical norm. Indeed, Celluloid Records proved to be a trendsetting label, masterminded by Jean Karakos. Hip hop, electro, synth pop, Afro Beat, dance, avant garde, jazz, rock and much, much more. Often some of Celluloid’s releases defied description, as musical genres seamlessly melted into one. Celluloid Records back-catalogue hasn’t been available since 1995, when it was last licensed. That’s why Strut Records’ forthcoming compilation Change The Beat-The Celluloid Records Story 1979-1987, which will be released on 25th February 2013, will be so widely welcomed by music fans. For anyone whose yet to discover the many and eclectic delights of Celluloid Records’ back-catalogue, then Change The Beat-The Celluloid Records Story 1979-1987 will prove the perfect starting point for a compelling and captivating, genre-sprawling, majestic, musical journey. Standout Tracks: Robert Leer and Robert Rental Day Breaks, Day Heals, Bobongo Stars Koteja, Lightnin’ Rod Sport and Ginger Baker Dust To Dust.



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