Written by: Jason Shawhan
Following the success of 2013’s School Daze compilation, the exquisitely-curated synth label Dark Entries has lovingly assembled another collection of Patrick Cowley’s music for pornographies. And while it’s not four sides of butt-banging beats, it is a fascinating overview of an aspect of Cowley’s artistry that gets routinely pushed aside, with his legacy reduced to “Do You Wanna Funk” and “Megatron Man” and his tragic death. Like Klaus Nomi, another gay visionary lost way too soon, the art is always presented in the context of that awful plague, with AIDS serving as an anchor that holds back these great artists, even in death.
So what Dark Entries is doing is laudable, both in diversifying Cowley’s artistic reputation, but also in refusing to disassociate the work from uninhibited gay pleasure. And it’s a delight to hear the slow burn of the opening side’s tropical hump (Cat’s Eye/The Jungle Dream) in the context of today’s antiseptic trop house trend – the key to making an audience sweat in revelry is passion, and today’s VST/soft-synth sounds are profoundly lacking in that requirement.
The biggest draw for fans of the classic Cowley sound is “I Need Somebody To Love Tonight,” an earlier take on what would become one of his seminal tracks with Sylvester on the latter’s magnum opus, 1979’s Stars. It was a catalyzing record for the Morning Music movement, and it’s genuinely fascinating to hear it here, spread out in its initial, more uptempo origins.
But the revelation of the set is “5 oz. of Funk,” which sounds like Cowley and his friends jamming with The Modal Nodes on a cover of “Papa Was A Rolling Stone.” It bridges classic funk, poppered-up space disco, and an uncertain future together in a track that brims with relentless, horny tension. He’s been gone for more than three decades, but Patrick Cowley is still finding ways to surprise us on the dancefloor and in the bedroom.
My hope for this series is that it will continue to bring awareness to Cowley’s work. There’s a certain irony that the biggest appreciation for the man and his oeuvre right now is coming from straight hipsters, while much of today’s gay twentysomethings know very little about their musical history. So it’s with a certain degree of Puckish glee that I anticipate the exchange of ideas and knowledge that this record can perhaps motivate among listeners.
Gay, straight, nonbinary, or other- everyone benefits from experiencing what Patrick Cowley can do. I’d love to see Dark Entries do a U.S. release for Cowley’s art-rock project Catholic (still unreleased on vinyl anywhere in the world) or an official (or even expanded) release of the legendary bootleg Patrick Cowley Dancefloor Classics 1. However that may turn out, Muscle Up is another great history lesson for students of the synth, still throbbing with analogue majesty and getting all up in your business.
For more writing from Jason Shawhan, check out his blog – Rebirth of the Flesh.
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