Chris Moor’s Artist of the Week: James Chance

I will let you in on a little secret that the tabloids don’t even know. James Brown when he was twenty in 1953, during his Famous Flames years, had a little fling with a beautiful white girl.  Nobody knows her identity but they had a baby.  Brown, trying to avoid the scandalous heat of inter-racial courtship and forking his pay checks as new baby daddy, became a rolling stone.  The left behind child, grew to a man and moved to New York in the 1970s.  His name: James Chance.

Ideally I wish this was the actual profile of James Chance.  But, how else can you explain this white boy from Wisconsin, to be so funky?  Cool charisma, boiled up attitude and yes, he can dance.  During 1977-79, he may not have been the king of New York but one of the main shakers of the No Wave and freak-funk-jazz movements.  He combined off-kilter James Brown riffs with the stamina of punk with his first band The Contortions.  “Dish It Out” and “Contort Yourself” makes you want to dance to near epilepsy, wrench your lungs and bash your head into anything as long it’s not a pillow.

Perversion, decadence, lust, vanity and race penetrate the groves of Chance’s music and screeches in all his saxophone solos.  In order to shake up a largely passive heroin-chic crowd, he would dance with someone’s date or simply start a fight for no reason.  His charm captured the biggest temptress of the No Wave scene, Lydia Lunch.  Their liaison helped form the group Teenage Jesus & The Mary Jerks.

After some tiffs with Contortion band members, Chance later formed James White & The Blacks that focused more on dissonant funk and jazz. James White & The Blacks, heavier than other groups in the same scene like Lizzy Mercier Decloux or ESG, busted out a horn section, which many No Wave groups didn’t.  Him and his bands are featured in Brian Eno’s No New York compilation, and have a spotlight in Jean Michel Basquiat’s movie “Downtown 81.”

To really appreciate James Chance, you’ve got know about the setting and other artists of the No Wave art scene.  To sum up No Wave in a few words, just look at the title.  Many artists, musician and filmmakers flocked to New York during the 1970s as a creative safe haven.  They drew nihilist and confrontational inspiration from the bleak settings of their downtown homes.  All of them were living in border line poverty, growing self-consciously crazier than the far-gone heroin addicts and degenerates.  They opposed the glam of the uptown disco scene.  They wanted to express a more crude insanity than the punks could at CBGB.  Instead, they isolated themselves in small venues and make shift art spaces to even smaller crowds.  Thankfully, the minimal crowd featured some future pioneers like Brian Eno and Thurston Moore.  If you listen to bands like DNA, Mars, Teenage Jesus & The Jerks, Theoretical Girls, Y Pants, Ut, etc. their music is so atonal, so unmelodious, so sporadic, you would think it’s a joke.  The serrated bare bones music actually gave some artists like Swans, Glenn Branca and of course, our guest of honor, James Chance an initiative to play with atonality as a mode of artistic composition. Chance also comes from a scene of witty freak-funk-disco also happening at the time lead by Kid Creole & The Coconuts (check these guys out!).

James Chance is 56 now.  The years haven’t treated his charming looks with mercy and he hasn’t played any of his No Wave hits since 2007.  Judging by some YouTube videos though, he can still get down on the beat and do his trademark “Twitch” dance.  Maybe we can catch him at the next epic festival…if the world is that lucky. I will let you in on a little secret that the tabloids don’t even know. James Brown when he was twenty in 1953, during his Famous Flames years, had a little fling with a beautiful white girl.  Nobody knows her identity but they had a baby.  Brown, trying to avoid the scandalous heat of inter-racial courtship and forking his pay checks as new baby daddy, became a rolling stone.  The left behind child, grew to a man and moved to New York in the 1970s.  His name: James Chance.

Ideally I wish this was the actual profile of James Chance.  But, how else can you explain this white boy from Wisconsin, to be so funky?  Cool charisma, boiled up attitude and yes, he can dance.  During 1977-79, he may not have been the king of New York but one of the main shakers of the No Wave and freak-funk-jazz movements.  He combined off-kilter James Brown riffs with the stamina of punk with his first band The Contortions.  “Dish It Out” and “Contort Yourself” makes you want to dance to near epilepsy, wrench your lungs and bash your head into anything as long it’s not a pillow.

Perversion, decadence, lust, vanity and race penetrate the groves of Chance’s music and screeches in all his saxophone solos.  In order to shake up a largely passive heroin-chic crowd, he would dance with someone’s date or simply start a fight for no reason.  His charm captured the biggest temptress of the No Wave scene, Lydia Lunch.  Their liaison helped form the group Teenage Jesus & The Mary Jerks.

After some tiffs with Contortion band members, Chance later formed James White & The Blacks that focused more on dissonant funk and jazz. James White & The Blacks, heavier than other groups in the same scene like Lizzy Mercier Decloux or ESG, busted out a horn section, which many No Wave groups didn’t.  Him and his bands are featured in Brian Eno’s No New York compilation, and have a spotlight in Jean Michel Basquiat’s movie “Downtown 81.”

To really appreciate James Chance, you’ve got know about the setting and other artists of the No Wave art scene.  To sum up No Wave in a few words, just look at the title.  Many artists, musician and filmmakers flocked to New York during the 1970s as a creative safe haven.  They drew nihilist and confrontational inspiration from the bleak settings of their downtown homes.  All of them were living in border line poverty, growing self-consciously crazier than the far-gone heroin addicts and degenerates.  They opposed the glam of the uptown disco scene.  They wanted to express a more crude insanity than the punks could at CBGB.  Instead, they isolated themselves in small venues and make shift art spaces to even smaller crowds.  Thankfully, the minimal crowd featured some future pioneers like Brian Eno and Thurston Moore.  If you listen to bands like DNA, Mars, Teenage Jesus & The Jerks, Theoretical Girls, Y Pants, Ut, etc. their music is so atonal, so unmelodious, so sporadic, you would think it’s a joke.  The serrated bare bones music actually gave some artists like Swans, Glenn Branca and of course, our guest of honor, James Chance an initiative to play with atonality as a mode of artistic composition. Chance also comes from a scene of witty freak-funk-disco also happening at the time lead by Kid Creole & The Coconuts (check these guys out!).

James Chance is 56 now.  The years haven’t treated his charming looks with mercy and he hasn’t played any of his No Wave hits since 2007.  Judging by some YouTube videos though, he can still get down on the beat and do his trademark “Twitch” dance.  Maybe we can catch him at the next epic festival…if the world is that lucky.

One thought on “Chris Moor’s Artist of the Week: James Chance

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