Coney Island Love
Coney Island is as much mythic realm as physical locale, if not more so. Since Henry Hudson's "Half Moon" tripped into the thorny peninsula in 1609, making quick enemies with the local Carnarsie Indians, the beachfront stretch has lived a topsy-turvy existence, including numerous battles and salt manufacturing. Local lore really kicks in circa 1884, when the Switchback Railroad at W. 10th Street, the world's first roller coaster, opened. A smattering of amusement parks shot up, with the Elephant Hotel - a hotel, yes, shaped like an elephant - kept watch over the festivities.
Festive is not the best adjective, however: fires raged, tearing down the long-trunked overnighter in 1896; an 1899 blaze desecrated 60 buildings and caused $800,000 in damage; in 1903 five city blocks were wiped out; Steeplechase Park lost 25 attractions in 1907; a year later Pabst's Loop and Vanderveer Hotels gone; 1911 saw Dreamland and Luna Parks in flames (the latter repeating this fatality in 1944). These heated events don't even touch numerous accidents and economic monstrosities plaguing this seaside haunt. But New Yorkers are resilient people, their flesh can stand burns and mind battle tragedies. Today, outside the annual Siren Festival, not too much occurs down by the Atlantic, yet the very name invokes nostalgic imagery - much like neighboring Jersey's Asbury Park.
Brooklyn-based DJ Nickodemus has also instilled mythic connotations into New York nightlife via his six-year old Turntables on the Hudson parties, a weekly gathering down by another seaside at the Frying Pan. TOTH draws hundreds of hip-shaking hipsters seeking solace in an overpriced, underdeveloped club world, an eventual destination for most any Friday night soul searcher. After releasing numerous successful compilations on the TOTH label/Giant Step imprint, Nick shapeshifts to form offshoot Wonderwheel Recordings. Again playfully capitalizing on modern imagination with Coney Island Love, Nickodemus releases his debut under the new moniker.
New name or not, quality is still the highest standard. TOTH is trademarked as a funky global gathering, as Nick, co-founder Mariano and resident percussionist Nappy G weave and wonder through a world of Latin, African, Middle Eastern and Balkan tracks set to the tune of inviting bass tones and deep grooves. "I have such a mad collection of music, I found a lot of similarities with the rhythms of a dumbek with reggae rhythms," Nick says of early sonic explorations. "I would notice these little things that tied certain genres together, and began experimenting. North African and Middle Eastern music hits me in a certain way; it has a certain tone that really touches me. I really feel it in a soulful yet melancholy way. I grew up listening to soul and blues and hip-hop which samples all the funk and soul, there's something there I can really relate to in a way."
Whatever the way, Coney Island is the destination. Nick covers amazing territorial breadth here, bringing in strains of Romanian jazz, Afrobeat, Tango, Arabic and Indian rhythms. German DJ/producer Shantel scored big on Electric Gipsyland, a compilation featuring remixes of Balkan groups Taraf de Haïdouks and Kocani Orkestar. Here a remix of his "Bucovina" (based on his famed Bucovina club nights) by brothers Felix and Daniel Haaksman add reggae-tinged two-step into searing horn and guitar lines. The cut is followed by the unique "Balkan Hot Step," a slow roving Klezmer brass-led riddim exploding into dancefloor fever (proven to get your feet moving, it was recently featured in a Nike advertisement), supplied by N.O.H.A.
Nick turns to Argentina next, as he and longtime production partner Chris Annibell (aka Osiris) refreak famed bandeoneon player Astor Piazzolla's "Tanguedia 3," adding a nice midtempo flow to the melodic rapture of this Argentine's Muse. TOTH guitar conspirator Zeb - one of the most licensed producers around - appears under two guises: first, as The Spy From Cairo and the crushing Arabic percussive "All is One," followed by his true name on "The Circle," the latter a gorgeous downtempo mix. Leading into the first is Coney Island Love's heaviest, headiest cut, Alpha Bass's "Julianese," a vocal South Asian-derived track led by the blaring Moroccan mizmar. The song sounds like a mix between Mychael Danna's "Aaj Mera Jee Kardaa (Today My Heart Desires)" (from Monsoon Wedding) and a throbbing Bill Laswell-produced Bachir Attar track. Jajouka, meet Brooklyn.
Any record with such a title wouldn't be complete without homegrown flavor. Nick drops "Fulton Street Bonus Beats" (the Seaport never sounded so good), a reworking of his "Cleopatra in NY" rhythm with Pharcyde headnods; DJ Angola gets Fela on friend Quantic's tweaking of "Bailalo"'; Sabo and Zeb (again) lay down a serious four-on-the-floor stomper for Nappy G to get his timbales on with "NYC." "I love to see all different people from all walks of life unified together on a dance floor grooving," Nickodemus would tell me. "And then there's knowing you know how to make it happen in the right way. Its satisfying knowing you've done some sort of body of work and the outcome was that people enjoyed it and were moved." If he keeps this up, the whole world will be moving, soon enough.