October 02 2018

Arthur Baker, On A Mission

New York-Le Bain
We caught up with legendary producer and electro pioneer Arthur Baker, who has been shaping dance music, electro, and hip-hop since the early 80s, before he DJs for Christina Visca's 'Birdcage' party on Sunday night, October 14th.
LE BAIN: You just reunited with Rockers Revenge for Crosstown Rebels’ 200th release, “On A Mission.” Is that how you've always felt, that you were on a mission?  
ARTHUR BAKER: I’ve always felt like I was on a mission to make music from the time I heard Motown, Philly and Sly and the Family Stone. My mission started as a hobby and still feels like one now. A hobby that you can make a living from for over 40 (!) years is a pretty damn good hobby I'd say. And I never really had a day job to quit. Reuniting with Rockers Revenge and making this new track (along with an album and documentary, which I’m now filming) has pushed me even harder to keep the mission alive. 

Tell us about that mission. What has been driving you? 
I started my musical journey by working in record shops, reviewing records for a local Boston paper, then DJing school parties, mafia dinner clubs and a middle-eastern disco called Rashids. At that point I realized I didn’t really have the temperament to DJ (it's better now with CDJs and USBs) so I turned to the studio, first with an engineering course at Intermedia Studios in Boston, the studio where Aerosmith cut "Dream On", then after convincing the owner of the studio to jump aboard the disco train (it was 1976), to producing. 


"My vibe was–go out to the club, get inspiration for new music, go back in the studio, and create..."
Let’s talk about the iconic “Confusion” video by New Order, which you co-wrote and produced. How did you end up being featured in the video itself?  
I had nothing to do with being in the video for Confusion. I was definitely a reluctant actor. We filmed it on a hot humid July evening in NYC. All I wanted to do was finish it and get out to The Hamptons [laughs]. It was the director’s idea, which he got from doing research on the Funhouse. I think he probably read Steven Hager’s Funhouse article in the Village Voice. And the band got a kick out of it too. I did, however, force my way into the Holy Ghost video that was a pastiche of Confusion... James Murphy was meant to play my part!

The video incarnates NY nightlife in the early 80’s, Paradise Garage, Fun House, and you, doing your stuff, going out, bringing the music from the studio to the DJ. Almost like a documentary...
The video was pretty much a docu-drama [laughs], but it's great that the video was made because it's one of the few things that document that time in NYC clubs from 1982 to 1987. Also, I don’t remember all that much because I was often pretty f*cked! My vibe back then was to go out to the club, get inspiration for new music, get back in the studio, create, then get back out to the club with my works in progress to test them with a captive audience. Funhouse, Danceteria, Garage, Better Days were definitely my spots. And luckily the DJs at those clubs –Jellybean, Larry, Mark Kamins, Johnny Dynell and Freddie Bastone, Tee Scott, Bruce Forrest, would slap my tracks on.
Afrika Bambaataa & The Soulsonic Force
"Planet Rock" (mixed & produced by Arthur Baker)

You will be playing at Le Bain for Christina Visca's Birdcage party. You met Christina in the mid-80’s, I believe your connection was through Junior Vasquez? 
I met Christina thru Junior [Vasquez] whom I met thru Shep Pettibone. Junior worked for/with me for years– as Ellis D, as my editor and head of A&R of [my label] Minimal Records. I was meant to be involved with the first incarnation of Sound Factory, called Bassline (I think). I definitely regretted not having invested, because Sound Factory definitely was the last great NYC club. Great sound and vibe.

After being at the heart of NY nightlife through the 80s, the 90s and 00s must have paled in comparison. Would you say clubs like the Sound Factory or later Body & Soul in NY kept the spirit alive?
Body and Soul parties kept the NYC spirit alive, but the golden era of NYC clubs has unfortunately passed. You really now have to visit Ibiza for that quantity and quality of clubs.

What about Boston in the late 60s triggered your passion?
The trigger in Boston was the openness of the DJs and their willingness to share their musical tastes–John Luongo was definitely a mentor for all of us DJs back then–more than the clubs, although there were some great ones like 1270 and Rhino. But I think, more than a fascination with nightlife and clubs, it has always been a fascination with hearing inspiring new music played very loud for a crowd of people dancing off their face!

On Sunday, October 14th,
Le Bain presents 'Birdcage' feat.
 Arthur Baker
10pm | The Standard, High Line

Header photo by Eileen Feighny