"Powerline" (Prelude) 1981



PowerlineThe beginning of Mark L. Lester’s skating opus Roller Boogie always struck me as akin to a George A. Romero movie.

As the sun beats down on a seemingly deserted, post-apocalyptic Venice Beach, two roller skaters begin to slink their way down to the beach. So far, so Xanadu, but within moments more skaters enter the scene, their number multiplying with every transition until phone boxes, park benches and boardwalks are swarming with youthful, bikini-clad kids on quads, driven by a singular, primeval desire to skate.

In the words of Roger looking down from his chopper in Dawn of the Dead, “It’s everywhere!”

In the early ’80s, the roller discos around North West London probably had a similar vibe. But compared to the sea and sun of Venice Beach, the concrete flyovers that blight these outer reaches of the city would have been incongruous settings for bronzed, micro-shorted, teens on size 4 Union Jets. Wembley Park has always been grittier than Venice Beach; more Rollerball than Roller Boogie.

Powerline’s “Journey” would have accompanied many nights on quads, a favorite, as it was, throughout the U.K.’s roller discos and nightclubs.

Discovered after guitarist Patrick Folie took a demo cassette into Andy Sojka’s All Ears record shop,  Powerline would begin life on Sojka’s Elite Records; the same label that launched Atmosfear’s “Dancing in Outer Space” into the crates of iconoclasts Mancuso and Levan a few years earlier.

“They just wandered into the shop one Saturday,” remembers Jerry Pike, who used to work the counter. “They said, ‘We’ve got a band. Look, it’s on this cassette.’ So we were like, ‘Yeah, yeah, put it on.’ And it was really good. It wasn’t anything like it sounds now at all.”

They were a young septet from North West London, a melting-pot area of the capital whose musical denizens, in the early ’80s, distilled U.S. jazz-funk, reggae, and dub into a style of music that would eventually be labeled brit-funk. Joe Sebastian Cofie, the groups keyboardist and—at the age of sixteen—their youngest member, was too young to sign the contract with Elite Records.“I had to go through it with my parents,” he recalls.

Their debut was a bass-driven masterpiece of simplicity. It’s uncomplicated yet infectious groove, complete with intermittent cowbells and timbales, propelled all those with a beating heart onto the dance floor; whether wheeled or otherwise. Pike, who co-produced it with Andy Sojka, flexed his dub credentials throughout with choice flourishes of echo and reverb.

The auspicious deal was sealed with Prelude Records the same year. And after Herb Powers Jr. and Francois Kevorkian oiled the original, boosting the bass and whetting the hi-hats to razor-sharp intensity, “Journey” became a 4:00 A.M. staple at New York’s Paradise Garage.

Although their most well-known release, “Journey” wasn’t the group’s only contribution to dance music. Two private presses followed on the group’s own PLR label—the funky “You’re the Girl” in 1983 and the sweaty, voyeuristic “Watching You” the year before.


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