Disco in its most original form, however, is clearly making a comeback of sorts: It has slyly hustled its way back onto more and more non-disco dance floors over the last two or three years. Now that we can clearly join the dots from Mancuso and Moroder, to Cerrone and Arthur Russell, via Larry Levan and Francois K, across to Metro Area and Prins Thomas, and currently to Tensnake and Horse Meat Disco, we can all wave the disco flag without fear of ostracism or musical arson.
If there is any one artist who has been as wholly committed to joining those dots before, during and after those awkward in-between periods, it's Daniel "Danny Dancer" Wang. The Best of Balihu is a neatly chronological soundtrack to his story, from the seminal Look Ma No Drum Machine EP in 1993, which spoke of his roots as a vogueing disco fan in late '80s New York and Chicago club scenes, through to his development as a re-editor, producer, label head, arranger and A&R.
Like with all good biographies, it's the secondary story arc that provides the real drama here—Wang's musical journey. As his youthful enthusiasm for true musicality and obscure disco began to compete with a growing dissatisfaction with the business and a perceived lack of musical integrity around him, the results were seen, heard and felt. His personal messages on Balihu 12-inch label b-sides shifted in tone from spirited dialogue ("MYSTERIES of HOUSE: What's the woof-woof sound in 'Love Break'?") to a swiftly-forming idealism ("if you want it done right, you gotta do it yourself") to a frustrated, critical perspective ("...today's disposable tracks with no musicianship, variation,or originality"). The messages mirror Wang's own evolution as a producer, from sampladelic jump-up boogie jams like "The Twirl" and the juddering, stomping "Warped," to pared-down and considered disco-house fusions that experiment with Italo, Philly (spot Double Exposure's classic "My Love Is Free" within "Free Lovin"), space disco and tightly-wound funk breaks.
But things began with 1993's "Like Some Dream," and it's remarkable how timeless and unspecifically retro this breakthrough track still sounds. With Wang's earthy arrangement, it's a watertight party-starter with some decidedly oddball elements: the tinpot percussion is fudged with reverbed handclaps, the background "strings" are a single, unbroken looped note, flatlined out into eternity, and the melody is a constellation of flashing neon and firework bursts. Even after 16 years, its rambunctious leftfield funk still tries to get fresh with you, as it reaches out and grabs you by the hips.
1997's Mood Mylar marked a new era for Wang, as he did away with samples altogether and proceeded to rewrite the rules of modern disco-based music, increasingly utilising analog synths, live instrumentation, cosmic electronica and early house signatures. "ADSR (Art.Drugs.Sex.Rhythm)" casually combines Chicago acid squelchiness with spaced-out cosmic disco, as if they were the most natural of bedfellows. This Is the Final Balihu Release, a three-track adieu from 1999, temporarily drew a line under everything. Of the two non-Wang tracks, Carlos Hernandez's "Shyboy 123" yanks at the heartstrings, with a melancholic and surprisingly modern take on melodic electronica, which skirts around a trip-hop breakbeat and abstract electronic noises, presumably contributed by Wang, a theremin enthusiast.
Underground disco compatriot Brennan Green kickstarted the label's surprise third act in 2002, with the insouciant spacey groove of "No Matter." Manning the keys of a vintage Korg 16 on "Zeit ist Ein Fluss" and "Blau Drei" Wang's arrangements from this period—like Metro Area's defining LP that came a few months later—laid down a deep electronic disco blueprint for modern nu-disco.
Both Wang and Balihu have been all but silent for nigh on a year, until this compilation—a release that reportedly only came about after some prompting from Dutch label Rush Hour. Although Wang has stated that Balihu is dormant, and not dead, this excellent and exhaustive collection sadly has the whiff of posthumous celebration. Here's hoping then—unlike most good biographies—that this particular disco protagonist will return from beyond, for a triumphant fourth act.