In technical terms, "Go-go's essential beat is characterized by a syncopated, dotted rhythm that consists of a series of quarter and eighth notes (quarter, eighth, quarter, (space/held briefly), quarter, eighth, quarter)… which is underscored most dramatically by the bass drum and snare drum, and the hi-hat… [and] is ornamented by the other percussion instruments, especially by the conga drums, timbale, and hand-held cowbells. A swing rhythm is often implied (if not explicitly stated).
Another important attribute in go-go is call-and-response with the crowd in concert.
Go-go is a musical movement that can largely be traced back to just one person, Chuck Brown.
Brown was a fixture on the Washington music scene with his band the Soul Searchers as far back as 1966. By the mid-1970s he had developed a laid-back, rhythm-heavy style of funk, performed with one song blending into the next (in order to keep people on the dance floor). The beat was based on one used in Grover Washington Jr.'s song '“Mr. Magic,” though Brown has said in interviews that both he and Washington had adapted the beat from a gospel music beat found in black churches.
Another popular local cover band in the early 1970s, Aggression, would use rhythm breaks to keep fans dancing while they prepared for the next song, fixed guitar strings, etc. As Aggression gained popularity, they started holding dance contests during the rhythm breaks, which subsequently grew in length. The audiences began to look forward to these contests and the band's style evolved to where the beat would stop only occasionally during the course of a show.
In 1976, James Funk, a young DJ who spun at clubs in between Soul Searchers sets, was inspired (and encouraged by Brown himself) to start a band—called Rare Essence (originally the Young Dynamos)—that played the same kind of music.
Experience Unlimited (a.k.a. E.U.) was a band more influenced by rock (their name a nod to the Jimi Hendrix Experience), that started out in 1970. After witnessing Rare Essence in the late-1970s, they modified their style to incorporate the go-go beat.
Trouble Funk had its roots in a 1960s Top-40 cover band called Trouble Band. At some point the band changed its name, and, in the late 1970s; after seeing the light at a gig they played with Chuck Brown, they, too, adopted the go-go beat.
Go-go's first national chart action came when Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers released their "Bustin' Loose" single in late 1978; it reached the #1 spot on Billboard's R&B chart and held it for a month during February and March of 1979 (peaking at #34 on the Pop chart).
In 1984, Island Records founder Chris Blackwell heard Chuck Brown's "We Need Some Money" on the radio in New York, which ultimately led to him signing some of the brightest stars of the go-go scene. Trouble Funk and E.U. were both signed to Island, while Chuck Brown, Mass Extinction, Yuggie, Redds and the Boys and Hot, Cold, Sweat were signed through a distribution deal between T.T.E.D. and Island subsidiary 4th & B'way. As a result of this deal, Redds and the Boys had a #1 single in the UK with "Movin' and Groovin'."
Along with the recording contracts Blackwell was handing out, he also wanted to make a go-go movie; a D.C.-based version of The Harder They Come, perhaps. The resultant film, Good to Go (or Short Fuse, as it was called on video) was plagued with problems: co-director Don Letts was let go halfway through production, the film became less about the music and more about drugs and violence, and despite the fact that most of the post-production was completed in the fall of 1985, the film was held for release until late-summer 1986. When it did poorly on release, it seemed that go-go had missed its best chance to break into the mainstream.
The Junk Yard Band started out in 1980 as a group of kids (as young as nine) from the Barry Farms projects. Unable to afford instruments for their band, they fashioned drums out of empty buckets and traffic cones, tin cans substituted for timbales, and, in place of a brass section, they used plastic toy horns. Adding real instruments to their gear a little at a time, by 1985 they had joined the ranks of D.C.'s finest; it were scooped up by Def Jam, who released a Rick Rubin-produced single "The Word" in 1986. Not much happened with that record—at first. However, within a year or two of its release, the flipside, "Sardines," had become (and remains to this day) the group's signature song; it even performs it in the 1988 film Tougher Than Leather.
E.U. got its big break in 1986 when it was booked to play a party celebrating the release of Spike Lee's debut film, She's Gotta Have It. Lee liked what he heard, and tapped the band to perform a song in his next movie, School Daze. "Da Butt" (written for the film by Marcus Miller) made it all the way to #1 on Billboard's R&B chart (#35 Pop) and scored them a Grammy nomination (they lost out to Gladys Knight). Hoping to build on their success, in 1989 they released Livin' Large on Virgin Records. Two singles from the album ("Buck Wild" and "Taste of Your Love") made respectable showings on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop singles chart but they failed to repeat the success of "Da Butt." (The album peaked at #22 on the R&B/Hip-Hop chart and #158 on the Top 200.) A second Virgin release, Cold Kickin' It, came out the following year but failed to make much of an impression on the national charts.
There is, however, a retro movement going back to go-go's original style of marathon sessions covering currently popular R&B songs. Bands playing in that style include Suttle Thoughts, WHAT? band, and Familiar Faces. Many of these bands use the term "Grown ’n Sexy" to indicate a focus on appealing to audiences over 25. In 2006 and again in 2007, there was a Grown and Sexy Category at the WKYS 93.9 Go-Go Awards ceremony held at DAR Constitution Hall, which the Familiar Faces won in 2006, and L!ssen Da Grew^p won in 2007.
A new style that has branched off from go-go is called bounce beat. The bounce beat is primarily popular with a younger (teen) audience; many Go-Gos in this style are advertised as all ages and are performed in alcohol-free venues. It is considerably faster in tempo than the original go-go, and performed on drums, timbales and keyboard. A dance style called Beating Your Feet was popular for a time. The invention of the Bounce Beat style of go-go is credited to the TCB (Total Control Band). The TCB band receives much scrutiny for this claim. This is more than likely due to the confusion that many go-go fans have between the "bounce beat" style of go-go a groove and the breakdown style of a go-go groove, both of which are characterized by heavy use of timbales and a generally faster tempo. While TCB did in fact create the bounce beat style, the breakdown style has been used for years before forming of the TCB band. One of the first popular go-go with a breakdown groove was "Work the Walls" by Rare Essence.
Some go-go artists have been able to transition into other areas of entertainment. Notably, Anwan "Big G" Glover—a founding member of the Backyard Band—acts, playing Slim Charles on HBO's The Wire. D.C. band Mambo Sauce also had a hit with "Welcome To D.C." which cracked the Billboard charts. Kevin "Kato" Hammond, former lead guitarist for Little Benny and the Masters and former rapper for the band Proper Utensils, started the online magazine Take Me Out to the Go-Go in 1996. In addition to the magazine being a source of information on go-go shows, it serves as a community forum in which go-go fans routinely submit their own articles on issues unique to the genre. Take Me Out to the Go-Go has expanded to include a radio show on GoGoRadio.com, as well as a YouTube channel.
One well-publicized venue with trouble was Club U, located inside a District-owned building at the corner of 14th and U Street NW, where numerous incidents—including murder—occurred, leading to the revocation of its liquor license, and eventual closing.
In March 2007, Jack B. Johnson, County Executive in nearby Prince George's County, Maryland, also cracked down on go-go music, announcing the indefinite closing of nine area clubs that had experienced a high frequency of police calls many for violent incidents in the past year. A court battle is ongoing over whether the closings were justified, with a court order temporarily stopping the closing of five of the clubs.
I Watched Serb Troops Laying Landmines on the Border While 12 Miles Away British Soldiers Have Nothing to Do but the Ironing
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