‘Set It Off’

A lot has been written about this classic track and for many people it’s just been played out too much, but it never gets old for me. Written by its vocalist Steve Standard and produced by George Logios (neither of whom seem to get much credit these days) this track was mixed into the hit it was by the legend Walter Gibbons. I guess it’s impossible to know who was truly the main architect of this track, but whatever, this track is one of the defining moments in the early underground New York club scene.

Walter Gibbons

The story goes that Gibbons, about to launch his record label Jus Born, first gave a test pressing of the record to his friend Tony Smith to play at the FunHouse in New York, but that it bombed on the dancefloor, and Gibbons left the club disillusioned. The young FunHouse crowd were more used to the heavier Arthur Baker sound, but Smith kept playing it (after bootlegging a copy of it from that night’s inhouse tape recording) and soon people started asking Smith to play the “on the left” track. About a month later Gibbons returned with some new mixes that he had prepared (including a reggae mix!) only to find the crowd going wild to his original version.

I’m not sure which one of the handful of mixes ended up on the Jus Born record, but the track had by now also become a hit for the FunHouse’s other regular DJ, John ‘Jellybean’ Benitez, and also for other DJs around the city, including Larry Levan at the Paradise Garage, Farley ‘Jackmaster’ Funk and Frankie Knuckles.

The long instrumental version on the b-side (posted above), with its acapella middle section, is one of the most sampled house records (vocals “let’s get this party started”, “alright, alright” etc) and for me the last two minutes of that mix are as good as any Minneapolis groove… it’s a shame it has to fade out. There’s probably a longer mix out there – on the record it’s 12 and a half minutes, but Tony Smith talks of an 18 minute mix. It was probably only pressed as 12 and half minutes due to vinyl pressing limitations. Maybe someone should try to uncover the rest of it and release it as ‘Set It Off, Part II’… hmm, I’ve set my mind in motion there.

Unfortunately, Steve Standard (the artist known as Strafe) didn’t like what Gibbons had done to his track and refused to work with him again. The creative differences were so strong that Gibbons put out another version of the song with the Harlequin Fours. ‘Set It Off’ was such a hit that there were several other versions released by other artists, including one by a British group, Masquerade, which featured Dina Carroll on vocals.

The version which seems to get the most play these days is actually Kenny Carpenter’s remix of the original which came out a year or so later, and seems to be the most easy to find now. Carpenter was an old friend of Steve Standard’s and his mixes have a bit more kick so they sound good in a club. But despite sounding thinner, it’s the mesmerizing mix on the original record which really stays with you.

Posted by Manny Z

Related Entry:
John ‘Jellybean’ Benitez


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