Still Changing the Beat: The Story of Celluloid Records

Before Aerosmith went adidas-toe-to-toe with Run DMC, Celluloid Records was changing the face of music with their dance / post-punk music. In February 2013, Strut records released Changing the Beat, Celluloid Records’ best songs from 1980 – 1987. A two disc compilation, Changing the Beat contains some of the most experimental, open minded, and exciting music you’ll ever hear.

Celluloid Records’ international blend incorporates the New York punk scene with sleek Parisian intellect. Jean Georgakarakos started the label in the late 1970s while he was in New York, bringing together influences from the New York hip-hop scene, as well as jazz, and the increasingly popular European electronic music culture.

Celluloid Records was one of the most unique labels of its time and Changing the Beatcollects the obscure and the famous alike to tell its story. It was a label where the inimitable music itself was the driving force.

The first disc kicks off with Shockabilly’s deconstructed post-punk cover of “Day Tripper”. The song is abrasive, but bleeds perfectly into Massacare’s “Killing Time” – a ferocious punk track that has something of the technical prowess of the darkest metal. The third track, “Télé Après La Météo” by Ferdinand, takes a more classic punk rock approach, despite, yes, being in French. The French influence permeates the entire compilation, representing a clash of cultures that is reflected in the music as it began to fuse punk and electronica in a danceable way and “Disco Rough” by synth-pop duo Mathematiques Modernes is a stone-cold dancefloor anthem.

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Mathematiques Modernes – “Disco Rough”

Punk gives way to reggae and funk in “Downing Street Rock”, and Lightning Rod’s proto-gangsta rap anthem “Sport”. Flowing seamlessly to the early hip hop of The Escapades of Futura 2000, disc one gathers pace towards an unlikely finale with the Senegalese drums and tear-jerking harmonies of the famous Touré Kunda.

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Lightning Rod – “Sport”

The second disc showcases the European influences on Celluloid Records: the opening track “Suis-Je Normale” (essentially: If I Were Normal), is picturesque French electro pop – but there’s nothing normal about it. “Camel” by Sapho is definitely prototypical of the 80’s electronic sound, but its 6-plus minutes of instrumental beats still sound fresh, even in hindsight. Elsewhere, Ginger Baker’s “Dust to Dust” reveals the folksy blues influence that had begun to infiltrate Celluloid Records during the mid 80’s.

It is this progress through each disc, from first track to last, which best charts the path of Celluloid Records. It’s early releases were comprised mostly of American post-punk and French avant-garde pop; kindred genres on opposite ends of the spectrum. Celluloid’s mingling of these two forms was indicative of the over-riding theme of the label – a bringing together of disparate groups through music.

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The Last Poets – “Mean Machine”

Around 1982, the label began incorporating hip hop acts into the fold, drawing on its roots in jazz and funk to broaden a sound that would go on to include West-African Dibango electro. The final track on the second disc “Mean Machine” by The Last Poets is the Afro-futurist, post-punk, pre-rap anthem that represents the liminal and experimental space Celluloid Records inhabited.