Bring Down The Walls, the album, is a benefit compilation featuring covers of the most enduring house hits. Each track is a collaboration between formerly incarcerated vocalists and cutting-edge electronic musicians. The album is available as a pay-what-you-wish download or a limited edition 12” double vinyl on Bandcamp, with proceeds going to Critical Resistance, a grassroots organization building an international movement to end the prison industrial complex.
Featuring classic house tracks from the late-80s, such as “Break 4 Love,” “Promised Land,” “Your Love,” and the project’s namesake “Bring Down The Walls,” the album reimagines songs that are at once political anthems and odes to desire, connection, yearning, and physical action.
The album’s vocalists are talented, non-professional singers who bridge different generations and backgrounds. The contributing musicians represent a range of styles, including names such as Honey Dijon, Empress Of, MikeQ, Ian Isiah, L’Rain, Kyp Malone, and Nguzunguzu. For a special contribution bringing together old and new eras, Larry Heard and Robert Owens, the original creators of the title track, have reunited to produce a new version of “Bring Down The Walls” especially for this project.
Critical Resistance is a grassroots organization challenging the belief that caging and controlling people makes us safe. Rather than “broken,” Critical Resistance views the current prison system as working effectively at its true purpose: to contain, control and kill people representing the greatest threats to state power, including people of color, immigrants, the poor, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. In turn, the organization’s aim is not to improve the system further, but to shrink it into non-existence. Through a member-run national network, Critical Resistance works to build healthy, self-determined communities and promote alternatives to the current system.
Track by Track
BRING DOWN THE WALLS (2.0 REWORK)
Larry Heard, Robert Owens & Cameron Holmes
Recorded, mixed and produced by Larry Heard
Written by Larry Heard, Robert Owens
Originally performed by Robert Owens (1986)
1986/2018 Alleviated Records and Music.
Alleviated Music, Tap Music Publishing Ltd.
First released in 1986, “Bring Down The Walls” appeared on Another Side, a 1988 double album by Fingers Inc., a seminal Chicago house group formed by Larry Heard with vocalists Robert Owens and Ron Wilson. After 30 years, Another Side remains one of the defining statements of house music’s enduring appeal and artistic potential. “Bring Down The Walls” is representative of the album’s iconic sound which has been described as “elegant yet body-jacking songs of protest.” Robert Owens remembers writing the song’s lyrics locked in a toilet at a hospital job where he worked at the time. Especially for Bring Down The Walls, Larry and Robert have come together again to contribute a reinterpretation of their classic track for the here and now.
Larry Heard is one of the architects of the original house sound. Injecting a wider sonic palette – from R&B sensuality and psychotropic ambients, to space jazz explorations and island rhythms – into cold, mechanic grind which characterised early house, he pioneered the genre known as deep house. His productions are imbued with humanity, spirituality and emotion closer to gospel or soul, and have laid ground for a later postulation that “house is a feeling”. Heard’s work, both with Fingers Inc. and as a solo artist under a variety of aliases, has been a key influence on dance music as we know it today. His first new album in 25 years under Mr. Fingers moniker was released earlier this year in April.
Robert Owens is often thought of as the voice of house. From a soulful whisper to a visceral growl, his singular range effortlessly conveys estrangement, grace, anxiety, exhilaration, and defiance which came to define house music’s marriage of opposites: between the human and the machine, the private and the political, the spiritual and sexual. Since his early collaborations with Larry Heard and Fingers Inc. Owens, currently based in Berlin, has enjoyed a decades-long career as singer, songwriter, record producer, and DJ. Amongst his biggest hits are “I’ll Be Your Friend,” “Tears” (with Frankie Knuckles and Satoshi Tomiie), and “Mine to Give” (with Photek).
Cameron Holmes is a Post Release Reentry Facilitator for the Mayor’s Office of Reintegration Services for the City of Philadelphia, where he works with men and women returning from incarceration. In his spare time, Cam enjoys singing and writing original music.
YOU’RE GONNA MISS ME
Empress Of & Michael Austin
Recorded and produced by Lorely Rodriguez
Mixed by Alex Cowan at Studio Toute Garni, Montreal QC
Written by Hipolito Torrales and Paul Scott
Originally performed by Turntable Orchestra (1988)
Hipolito “Hippie” Torrales was the resident DJ at the fabled Club Zanzibar in New Jersey since its opening in 1979. Approached in 1988 to produce his own record, he borrowed equipment from a friend, and wrote, produced and performed “You’re Gonna Miss Me” as Turntable Orchestra. The track sold more than 2 million copies and became a massive club hit in Europe, which at the time was reaching the peak of house-mania.
Based in Los Angeles, Empress Of is the solo musical project of Lorely Rodriguez, a singer-songwriter of Spanish-Honduran descent. Since 2012 she’s been releasing music informed by an idiosyncratic take on synth pop, R&B, and experimental dance sound. Her new album is coming out later this year.
Michael Austin is a Baltimore native and has a passion for music and helping the community, especially at-risk youth. In 2010, Michael started a non-profit organization “In This Together Development,” incorporating music, community service, leadership, self-esteem, character building, and discipline.
MOVE YOUR BODY
Figure Skater & King Tolen
Produced by Eli Keszler and Abe Seiferth
Percussion: Eli Keszler
Piano: Anthony Coleman
Written by Marshall Julius Jefferson
Originally performed by Marshall Jefferson (1986)
Originally introduced by Ron Hardy at his legendary Music Box club in Chicago, Marshall Jefferson’s 1986 single “Move Your Body” lays claim to being the first house track to use piano. Its rollicking piano line became one of the signatures of the house sound, endlessly imitated since. The track is one of the most popular and instantly recognizable house hits, and has been dubbed “the House Music Anthem”. For vocal duties, Jefferson enlisted colleagues from the graveyard shift at a post office where he worked. With self-referential lyrics, he also pioneered the trend of house music about house music.
Figure Skater is the moniker of New York City-based artist, musician and composer Eli Keszler, whose installations, performances and visual work have appeared at cultural institutions around the world. Keszler’s collaborators include Tony Conrad, Jandek, Laurel Halo, and the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra. He has released several albums as a solo artist.
Born in Brooklyn and raised in the Bronx, King Tolen graduated from Kingsborough Community College, and is currently studying English and Creative Writing at the City College of New York. King is passionate about creating opportunities to promote emerging talent and is currently building a recording studio in the Bronx for young singers and rappers.
BREAK 4 LOVE
Nguzunguzu & Cinthia Candelaria
Recorded and produced by Asma Maroof and Daniel Pineda
Written by Vaughan Mason
Originally performed by Raze (1988)
“Break 4 Love” was originally written, produced and recorded by Vaughan Mason, the principal member of house music group Raze. The group’s only significant hit, “Break 4 Love” reached Number 28 in the UK Top 40 and topped Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play chart. A theory of its famous orgasm vocal sound being a sample from the 1980 movie Airplane! was never confirmed. The performance is in fact courtesy of vocalist Erique Dial. “Break 4 Love” was covered by Pet Shop Boys and Peter Rauhofer in 2001 as a neo-disco throwback.
Nguzunguzu is Asma Maroof and Daniel Pineda, DJ duo and producers based in Los Angeles. The music they mix and make is eclectic, futuristic and described by Pitchfork as “the fusion of contemporary R&B and international sounds of Latin America, the West Indies and Africa.” They have collaborated with M.I.A., Kelela, and Total Freedom.
Cinthia Candelaria works as an I-CAN Mentor at the Fortune Society and is currently enrolled as a student in the inaugural class of Bard College at Brooklyn Public Library. Originally from Bushwick and now living in the Bronx, Cinthia has many creative pursuits, including theater, poetry, illustration, and music.
Kyp Malone & Robert Pollock
Recorded and produced by Kyp Malone and Abe Seiferth
Backing Vocals: Kelsey Lu
Percussion: Madame Gandhi
Written by Joe Smooth
Originally performed by Joe Smooth (1987)
On a tour in the UK where, especially in Manchester, Chicago house pioneers enjoyed superstar status from as early as 1986, Joe Smooth, a producer and DJ, was astonished by the rapturous reception which house was receiving. He wrote “Promised Land” inspired by the classic Motown sound, and motivated by the spirit of togetherness and unity which this unexpected cross-Atlantic connection symbolized. The track became one of the biggest club anthems of all times. Smooth described it as taking the essence of a Martin Luther King speech and expanding on it on a musical level. Originally released in 1987, “Promised Land” reached Number 56 in the UK Singles Chart two years later in 1989, following a Top 40 success of a cover version by The Style Council.
Kyp Malone is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, record producer, composer, and member of the bands TV on the Radio, Iran, Rain Machine, and Ice Balloons. He is based in New York City and has been involved with Bring Down The Walls from its early stages, during the music sessions with men incarcerated at Sing Sing. Backing vocals on this cover of “Promised Land” are contributed by Kelsey Lu, experimental pop’s fastest-rising star, with Madame Gandhi, electronic music artist, producer, drummer and activist, on percussion.
Robert Pollock is an advocate of criminal justice reform and its intersection with the arts. He has performed in a diverse range of works by Rehabilitation Through the Arts, Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections program, and the Pen America World Voices Festival. Rob illustrated a children’s book for families with incarcerated parents, Sing Sing Midnight, which is used in therapeutic settings around the country.
LOVE CAN’T TURN AROUND
MikeQ, Ian Isiah & Amanda Cruz
Recorded and produced by MikeQ
Snares: Divoli S’vere
Written by J. M. Funk, Vince Lawrence
Originally performed by Farley “Jackmaster” Funk feat. Darryl Pandy (1986)
Number 10 in the UK Top 40 on its release in 1986, and the first track to crossover from the American dance underground to international mainstream, “Love Can’t Turn Around” was based on the house version of Isaac Hayes’ “I Can’t Turn Around” from 1975. The song was initially covered by Steve “Silk” Hurley, whose flatmate at the time Farley “Jackmaster” Funk teamed up with Jesse Saunders and Vince Lawrence to produce a track removed even further from the original. As singer they brought in flamboyant Darryl Pandy, acclaimed for his performance as Cowardly Lion in a local production of The Wizard of Oz. Pandy’s vocal range of six and a half octaves, exuberant style and on-stage histrionics came to define the notion of a “house diva.”
MikeQ is a leading figure in the New York City’s long-running ballroom/vogue-house underground culture. Based in New Jersey, he heads up his own Qween Beat label, and is an in-demand producer turning out a steady stream of original tracks, re-edits and remixes to accompany his spine-snapping DJ sets around the world.
Ian Isiah is a New York City native R&B- and gospel-influenced singer and songwriter of Rastafarian and West Indian descent. His debut mixtape was released in 2013. Since then he has collaborated with, among others, Mykki Blanco and Blood Orange. In his art Ian undermines gender boundaries through creative expression.
Originally from Bushwick, Brooklyn, Amanda Cruz currently works at the Fortune Society in Long Island City, Queens, where she supports people detained on Rikers Island. Outside of work, Amanda loves the arts and enjoys spending time with her family.
THAT’S THE WAY LOVE IS
Honey Dijon, Seven Davis Jr. & Q Williams
Recorded and produced by Honey Dijon and Seven Davis Jr.
Written by Byron Burke, Herb Lawson, Byron Stingily
Originally performed by Ten City (1989)
Paying tribute to house music’s lineage to soul, string-laden “That’s The Way Love Is” by Chicago trio Ten City was promoted on release in 1989 as dance-soul. The track shot to Number 8 in the UK Top 40, charted high in a number of European national charts, and topped Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play chart. In 1999 a new version by original singer Byron Stingily, known for his soaring falsetto, returned to the top of dance charts. Stingily is currently a school principal in Chicago.
Honey Dijon is a producer, electronic musician and fashion icon, known for her exquisitely curated cross-genre sets and total dance floor chaos wherever she plays, from Berghain to Space or Smartbar. Honey is also an in-demand speaker on issues surrounding gender in club culture, and a vocal activist for trans rights.
Los Angeles-based Seven Davis Jr. is a singer, songwriter, producer, and DJ working across the globe. He debuted as a solo artist in 2012 on a compilation released on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings. Since then he’s been signed to Ninja Tune label and has toured as main support on the Flying Lotus 3D tour.
Originally from Brooklyn, Q Williams is now based in the Bronx. He has had a lifelong love of music, with a particular interest in R&B. In addition to singing and songwriting, Q has served as a Patient Care Advocate at Queens Hospital since 2007, where he helps ensure the comfort of patients as they recover from surgery.
Morgan Wiley, L’Rain & Patrick Gordon
Engineered by Morgan Wiley
Produced by Morgan Wiley, Taja Cheek
Drum sequencing: Morgan Wiley
Synths and percussion: Taja Cheek
Saxophone: Ben Chapoteau-Katz
Written by Jamie Principle
Originally performed by Frankie Knuckles Presents (1987)
Firmly established in the house canon as one of the all-time-favorites, the version of “Your Love” from 1987 credited to Frankie Knuckles was in fact an interpretation of an earlier song by fellow Chicagoan Jamie Principle. Produced in 1984, Principle’s original counts among the very first house tracks. Its wistful, heart-wrenching melody and lush sound made it stand out from the rest of the scene as more tuneful and atmospheric. Knuckles enhanced those qualities further pitting them against austere minimalist arpeggios and a sneaky bass which creeps throughout emphasizing the vocal’s ambiguous yearning, torn between the bodily pleasure and emotional fulfillment. A mash-up titled “You’ve Got The Love,” which added Candi Staton’s acapella vocals from an obscure weight loss video to the “Your Love” dub, became a huge hit in the UK where it repeatedly returned to the Top Five in various guises throughout the 1990s, and topped the charts in 2009 as a version by Florence & The Machine. Following Knuckles’ death in 2014, “Your Love” re-entered the UK Singles Chart at Number 29, beating its highest charting position of 59 in 1989.
Morgan Wiley is a producer and keyboard player based in New York City. He is one of the masterminds behind the cosmic disco ensemble Midnight Magic, has previously played in Hercules & Love Affair and Jessica 6, and recorded with LCD Soundsystem.
L’Rain: is the solo project of Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Taja Cheek. The New York Times calls L’Rain a “one-woman studio band (…) that’s a sea of loops, guitar arpeggios, synthesizer burbles, and endless layers of vocal harmony.”
Patrick Gordon grew up singing in the church and remains involved in his local congregation. He is very invested in his community and enjoys spending time with his daughter.
All tracks mixed by Abe Seiferth at Transmitter Park Studio, New York City, except where noted.
Photos and video by César Martinez, Creative Time’s Leonhardt Cassullo Video Fellow.