Legendary dance music guru Francois Kevorkian talks about remixing “Go Bang”

Arthur Russell's classic needed some gentle shaping to get it ready for the NYC clubs

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Francois Kevorkian at Sigma Sounds Studios, NYC, circa 1983. Photo by Gail Bruesewitz and courtesy of Francois K.

Francois Kevorkian at Sigma Sounds Studios, NYC, circa 1983.
Photo by Gail Bruesewitz and courtesy of Francois K.

Francois Kevorkian: Will Socolov and Arthur played me this track, which was part of an album [24-24]. They wanted me to do something for their first 12-inch release. I was always intrigued by Arthur, because he was more on the quirky side of things. I didn’t really know a lot of his work, but I figured I could go in and try to do something with it.

This was a very low-budget project, and as I was trying to help them out, I ended up doing the mix, as well as engineering it on my own, at Right Track Recording, New York City. The first mix I did, I hated, because the track was so disorganized. It was like you had five or ten different records in there. Maybe the idea of having ten tracks layered on top of each other would appeal to some, but it was something I felt that I couldn’t play in the form that it was on the album. Recently, there’s been some people that hail it as a work of true genius, but to me it felt like a total mess. It needed a lot of sorting out, and I tried to conceptually focus the elements that needed to be brought out, and take out all the stuff that made it completely dissonant and incoherent and like a cacophony.

 

Originally published in Wax Poetics Issue 23 (June 2007)

 

So I went in the studio, and I tried to do it the first time, and I really hated it. I didn’t even give the record label the mix. It didn’t have a flow. It didn’t have any kind of punch or dynamic; it was just a whole bunch of parts. It didn’t really tell the kind of story I felt it should. So I told the label I couldn’t let this go as it was and I’d have to do another mix. I really wanted to bring out the quality that I thought was in there. I had a bit of an argument with Will, because obviously it was going to cost them more money to pay for another night of studio time. I said, “I don’t care if I don’t get paid; I’m doing this so that it’s a good record.” So he agreed, and then I went back in, and I was obviously a lot more familiar with elements on the multitrack tapes, so I think it was a lot easier for me to focus on the bits that I really wanted to concentrate on and to highlight.

Thematically, I liked the horns that I used for the intro, but I didn’t like them later on in the song. I thought they added to that sort of cacophonic vibe. But at the beginning, they were nice and I used them, and then went into that very strong, simple groove with the bass. Then it kind of fell into place. From the bass, it grew into the organ, and the organ leads into the vocal—the guy saying “bang”—and then more organ. And there were all these other things going on at the same time—the viola and this and that—and I was like, “Never mind all that other stuff: just the drums, the percussion, the bass. You got a story right there.”

I managed with just a couple of the big male vocal things—which I thought were outrageous—to at least set the story. Then there were some other guitar elements that were brought into the mix, and it had good energy. Then the female vocal comes in. I thought that there was something about her voice that was quite good, and I felt that after a while the track could carry on with just the organ and the male vocal here and there. But still I felt that by that point it was pretty sparse and focused—tight so to speak. And then she came in and really gave it a lift of energy to a whole different level.

So I did all that, and then the multitrack was very long—it was eleven or twelve minutes until the tape ran out of the reel. Arthur was always like that. He’d record everything until the very end—they were just jamming in the studio. Then I found another bit much further on in the song, where it brought things back down to a different level, more meditative. So after that whole kind of orgasmic part with the female vocal, I decided to clip that in to get to this part where things had really come down with just the tom-toms and the electric piano. And I just focused in on that. Then it built nicely with the piano noodling along, and then the thing that really made it hit was that vocal—the male vocal comes back again and then he explodes.

Then at the very end is the sound of the tape rolling off the heads, like when there’s no more tape and it just spools out. I like that attitude of saying this is exactly how it was recorded, so I left it like that. I thought there was an elegance about it.

It was a little bit longer—I actually had it going on for an extra minute and a half, or two minutes, but after I did the mix and I tested it, I could tell that it was quite long, so I ended up clipping at least forty-five seconds to a minute of extra stuff. I kept all that stuff so I have all my outtakes. Maybe one day I’ll decide to go back and do some manipulation and figure out what it was that I originally did, and what it was that I had on the first mix and the second mix. But, at the same time, no matter how much you can speculate on that, the fact is I did what I did and I started testing the final version, the edited-down second mix. I cut an acetate of it, and there was no question that everywhere I brought it, the whole place just completely exploded. It became an instant, wildfire hit record, one of those that people just start buzzing about. The rest is history.

 

Read “Disco Savant,” the story of Arthur Russell.

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