Ever heard the term “personality jock”? It’s old R&B-radio parlance for the kinds of guys who got on the mike and smooth-talked between and sometimes over the music. Well, Frankie Bones (born Frank Mitchell in Brooklyn) isn’t smooth. But he’s got a ton of personality, and boy does he ever like to get on the mic. Especially during the ‘90s, when the U.S. raver ideal of peace, love, unity, and respect – PLUR – became a byword of the scene thanks to his promulgating it out loud during his sets, something he did with just about every topic that came to mind.
Bones took flak for it from his audience, of course. He played, and trumpeted, “hardcore” – sometimes meaning rough-and-ready techno that could veer into gabber’s 180 BPM netherzone. (One frequent mailing list locution for Bones’s heavily Brooklynite pronunciation of the magic word was “haaahhhdcoooaaahhh.” Spelling varied, obviously.) But beyond his obvious pitchman qualities, he’s a great talker with a very sharp memory, as I discovered over a series of interviews conducted in February and April 2013.
It seems only right for the man on the decks to do most of the talking in this 10 Mixes. Aside from some italicized author’s notes on the mixes, Bones’s own words form this piece’s backbone – mostly from the interviews, as well as some secondary sources, and in several cases the mixes themselves. I’ve also sprinkled in a handful of choice comments made about Frankie over the years. Without further ado, let’s listen to what the man says – and plays.
Bones Breaks Production (Studio Mix) (1989) [side B is here]
Short spoken intro, some muffled beats – a slow start, only to blossom into an exuberant overview of a sharp-eared young DJ vet’s instinctive and learned alchemy. You can hear the seeds of his career here, and much of what made NYC vibrant in that period – namely, the records he made that fused everything from disco (a consistently scratched-in “Let No Man Put Asunder” a cappella) to the vocal house that brings side two to a close, and down. Bones always preached knowing the music’s roots, sometimes with a sledgehammer: the rhetoric peppers his numerous ’90s dance-mag and zine columns. (He was and is also conscious of and vocal about dance music’s crisscrossing racial sub- and paratexts, to his immense credit.) This lays out like a lesson plan, the Bones M.O. in 90 minutes.
FRANKIE BONES: [From side A, 30:47] Trippin’ out – Bonesbreaks style!
[interview] [I’ve been] roller-skating since I was ten at Roll-A-Palace in Brooklyn. I started spinning in 1981, so I go back pretty far. I met Omar Santana at a young age. He was doing edits, and he had a little studio in his house. From 1985 on, basically we were doing edits, and then he was getting projects from old labels. I was like, “Why don’t we just start writing the songs ourselves?” And that’s pretty much what we did. We just started doing freestyle music, and it kind of took off pretty quick.
When my records started coming out, the machines were running 24 hours for the next two years. And the first two years of me producing, it was a lot of records. From ’87 to ’89, 227,000 records that we pressed out of that plant had my name on them. My buzz in the streets was strong because I was selling tons of mixtapes in the flea markets in Brooklyn, in Sheepshead Bay – I had a little side business running on that. This was before techno.
That’s when London and England started getting the rave... It went from being a shoestring budget to a multimillion-dollar operation within two years. It was really exciting because I was on the forefront. I was the guy that came in and made the connection between freestyle, house, and techno. When Lenny Dee and me first met, I was making freestyle and he was making house. We didn’t really pose a threat to each other. And after a few weeks, we realized that blending the sounds together – that was our forte, really. And then techno happened right after that.
Live @ Amnesia, Sky Blue Connection, Coventry (August 23, 1990)
BONES: [39:00] Ahh yeah, make some noooiiise! I would like to ask these people up here on the scaffold to please come down.
Constantly on the microphone and clearly rushing, Bones delivers the hits to an eager crowd. Not always great musically, but this has as much of the period’s eager feel as you could hope for.
BONES: [interview] This guy Tim Taylor gets on the phone with me: “Listen, there’s these giant warehouse parties going on in London. They do them in the summer. There’s a couple thousand people at them. Would you guys want to come over and play with us?” It was June 4, 1989. I remember the date, because the track I was making that day was “Call It Techno.”
We get there on August 22, 1989 and stayed for two weeks. The first big party I did was called Energy [Part 2, on August 26]. It was supposed to be 5,000 people, but they didn’t realize the swell over the summer – it just exploded. When we got there, we were the biggest party that [had] ever happened: 25,000 people there.
QUENTIN “TIN TIN” CHAMBERS [to Sean Bidder, from Pump Up the Volume]: When Frankie saw [the crowd] it just totally took his head off... he came on at about 4:00 [AM], played for a few hours till the sun came up, so he played the dawn, basically. And the music had started in America, you had these producers making it and not really understanding what was going on in England and what was happening to their music. And I think for him to come over and to be able to play his records and for them to have so much of an impact and for people to know them, be able to sing along to them, it must have totally blown him away. Of course, he then took that experience back to America, and tried to set things up there, but up to that point there wasn’t a rave scene in America.
BONES: [68:02] Last year... I was at one of my first aircraft hangar parties with 16,000 people. That was last year, exactly a year ago today, and it’s changed my life. All of you people out there changed my life. We’ve been trying to do this in America, and it’s not happening in America. And it’s right here in England. So make some noise for yourselves!
Live @ Quadrant Park, Liverpool (September 20, 1990)
“Feel” doesn’t always mean good sound. So hooray for whoever captured this, less than a month after the Amnesia set. The selection is definitive – and it coincides with the first serious attempt at a “massive” in the U.S., Stranger Than Fiction in L.A., eleven days earlier.
Bones: [interview] Groove Records [on Avenue U in Brooklyn] opened up April 21, 1990. I made three promo tapes, Groove Promo 1, 2, and 3. That’s how we promoted the store. That totally worked. That’s how we broke the music to people. My store would sell mixtapes, but I had my other spots, like the flea market at Caesar’s Bay – I was doing tapes there for years. I couldn’t really keep up with the amount of tapes that I needed to sell.
There was a couple English guys – the Moonshine guys, [Steve and Jon Levy] – who were in L.A. pretty early. The rave scene in America started right at 1990. I went to L.A. June 1, 1990, through my agency in London. When I get there, they heard my accent [and said], “You don’t sound like you’re English – you sound like you’re from New York.” They didn’t understand. Then once I got booked in L.A., I was in L.A. all the time – as much as I was in New York.
It’s always sunny there. You don’t have to change up your way of doing things in September. The networking there was easier for them and there were more promoters there trying to do it, but they were just going off the music in the clubs. They weren’t on top of it like we were. And the records would take about a week to get out to California [after they’d arrived in New York]. When [L.A.’s] URB magazine first started up, ‘90 into ‘91, it was more of a hip-hop thing at first, but they had raves in there too.
Live in Brooklyn, NYC (1992)
Over the course of 1992, the parties Bones put on with some partners, dubbed Storm Raves, rapidly gained in size and stature. This set captures the blaring Euro-hardcore that dominated the events, as well as homegrown anthems in their image, like DHS’s “House of God.”
[letter to Under One Sky #8, December 1992] If you have been keeping up with the scene over the past 12 months then you know how much progress has been made, especially here in NY. It seems that now everyone wants to throw R+++S, dress like R+++RS and so on. At the same time technology has caught up with our scene. At this point it’s not hard to play ‘hardcore,’ or to make a ‘hardcore’ record. It is hard to live a ’hardcore’ life . . . There has been a lot of talk about . . . how the Sept 19 Storm R+++ was too hard with no change in style . . . Do you remember at 7.30 AM when I put on Rotterdam’s Euromasters, the sea of hands in unity, the tears in some of our eyes? That was then – never again. Rotterdam Records has become so commercial since we broke it, I won’t ever play those records again. As for the scene itself, I don’t know what 93 will hold because it’s a lot different then when we started.
December 12, 1992: The final Storm Rave took place in a Staten Island horse barn. According to a November 1995 NE-Raves post, this is where Bones first gave a speech on PLUR – the raver credo of “peace, love, unity, and respect.”
BONES: [NYC-Raves post, May 20, 1998] PLUR origins are explained in URB #2, way back in 1990. The origins were created by Adam X, Jimmy Crash, and myself . . . as PLUM, the Peace, Love, and Unity Movement . . . PLUR is a novel concept while you read about it off your computer screen, but what happens outside of your environment, in the real world?
MINDFUCK [NE-Raves post, December 13, 1992]: One thing that struck me was how everyone responded when [Bones] got on – it was like a fucking show, like a ROCK concert. Everyone started cheering and people were on each other’s shoulders, all facing the ‘stage’ – no one dancing. I mean, this is only some DJ, not Jon Bon Jovi or something. [Smiley]
Factory 09 (August 18, 1993)
[0:51] Twenty thousand people running around inside my head. [sighs] From what started deep within the Brooklyn underground on freight tracks, under bridges, in dirty warehouses, a feeling was created that cannot be duplicated – anywhere.
[New York, July 19, 1993]: I don’t want to throw a 1992 party in 1993. We’ve got to take it to the next level.
[interview]: I did a little bit too much of a couple things. The angel dusting in Brooklyn was always a very seedy part of the scene, but I got caught up in that for a minute and, basically, lost my mind. I had to go check myself in. I wrecked my car. My mom catches up with me, and they go to take me to detox, to see what’s up, and I wound up staying in the hospital from September 5 to October 15, 1993. And yeah, it was a mental hospital. They didn’t know if I was even going to make it through. But it was so bad that when I got out I made sure that that was a one-time deal.
Catch the Buzz Vol. 3 (1994)
Though Bones would push the harder-faster sound through the rave scene (see below), he also held down multiple club residencies and could still reach well past hardcore when the occasion called for it. This set from D.C. is one of the giddiest examples – what else can you call a breakbeat-goosed “Tainted Love,” played near whole? It’s no mere gimmick – instead it loosens you up for an hour of sharp grabs from all the crates.
FRANKIE BONES [from online questionnaire, April 2, 1995]
Real name: Bonehead
Styles of music: all underground, trance, techno, acid, hard house
Favorite labels: Relief, Chicago, and Drop Bass
Boxers, jockeys or natural?: Ask your girlfriend!!
How did where you came from influence your views today?: It’s hard to say being a Brooklyn roughneck out 4 peace, love & unity
WILL-E [NE-Raves post, March 30, 1994]: [Responding to a complaint that “Frankie Bones spins house more often than hardcore, and I haven’t heard him spin a true hardcore set in ages”] Don’t forget that Frankie was making house records before techno even existed. Considering he owns Groove Records in Brooklyn and listens to hardcore all day long, house is probably ‘different’ to him. I couldn’t listen to all hardcore any more than all house. At least he goes for a bit of variety and does both.
Factory 48 (1995)
This is one of the numerous mixes of Bones’s long-running Factory tape series that shows he really did listen to hardcore all day long, at least some of the time. It’s one of his most punishing sessions (though 1994’s Factory 23 – Tribal Techno Underground Warfare also deserves a nod in that department), and it’s also one of his wildest, starting with the spoken introduction, which levels accusations against Supa DJ Dimitry from Deee-Lite that I refuse to type out for fear of a lawsuit.
BONES: [interview] I did the same thing wherever I went [by 1995] – definitely hard, harder-ish techno.
United DJs of America Vol. 6 (Moonshine, rel. June 16, 1996)
One of the top-selling DJ-mix CD series of the ‘90s recruited Bones for its first serious techno session – only for him to responded with a set as heavy on hard trance – in particular, tracks by Noom Records mainstays Commander Tom and Cores – and acid (cf. the DJ Skull remix of Tesox’s “Braindead II”).
BONES: [interview] My biggest [DJ-mix] discs would sell upwards of 50,000. My fee then was anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000, which is really cheap when you think about it. Moonshine handled the United DJs of America; that one did maybe 40,000 units, so they made money on that. The Moonshine guys were always cool. It was a good look to have. I made sure I got points on that one.
Live at Motor, Detroit (November 25, 1998)
Frankie Bones was brought aboard the roster of Motor, the nightclub in Detroit’s Hamtramck neighborhood, by booking agent Linda G in 1998, during her first year at the helm. This supple set shows him pushing into headier techno territory – a DJ who reads, knows, and respects his crowds.
BONES: [interview] My residency [at Motor] lasted four years. I played there once a month for 48 months. Detroit always like Frankie Bones. I played a different kind of techno than they were used to and I would fill the dance floor up. I don’t think anyone packed Motor out like I did. I had a nice network of friends at the time there. At the time the CDs were doing really well too, so every time I’d go in there, it was a big deal.
You Know My Name (Moonshine, rel. November 14, 2000)
Techno was about to recede, both sonically – thanks to the rise of minimal, among other things – and socially, as house and trance became more popular in clubs. Though Bones has never stopped DJing and still knows his music, it seems appropriate to end our survey with his second and final mix for Moonshine, a lively stomp through hard hitters like DJ Randy’s “Drums Please” and Bones’s own “Get the F%$ Up.” You expected Swan Lake?*
BONES: [interview] On You Know My Name I had to license other people’s records. We were looking at the sound scans on it and I think it sold like 30,000. So they made a good grip of money. I think You Know My Name could have done better, but [Moonshine] had started moving onto trance at that point, and techno took a backseat.