In 1977 a nation was shown its Roots; the King sung for the last time; and the Magic City experienced its first snowfall. In July of that same year, just over a thousand miles to the north in NYC, seven million inhabitants were enduring the kind of heat that steals your sleep and makes breathing an ordeal. New Yorkers were also up against it with one in ten jobless. 

 

According to Tom Wolfe the 1970s marked the decade of a “Me generation” that had let go of the communal spirit of the 1960s and embraced personal gratification and material gain. Such solipsism, disillusionment and searing heat made for a volatile mixture. On the night of 13th July the lights went out. It was not an auspicious moment for the power grid to fail: the people went wild. 

 

Vandalism, rioting, arson, and indiscriminate looting broke out across all five boroughs. However, as Delaney Hall suggests in his article 'Hip Hop and the 1977 New York City Blackout', the darkness didn't merely give cover for random acquisitiveness but, as the story goes, provided instead some citizens with the opportunity to realise their creative aspirations albeit by way of plate glass windows. For the more musically minded among the pillagers, this was the chance, finally, to get their hands on the elusive DJ equipment that was beyond the budget of all but the most fortunate and well connected. 

 

The next day, when the sun rose to reveal broken glass, smashed store fronts and burnt out buildings, Hip Hop and DJ culture had been dealt a significant jump-start. According to DJ Disco Wiz, partner of the legendary Grandmaster Casanova Fly, “Before the blackout, you had maybe five legitimate crews of DJs. After the blackout, you had a DJ on every block.” It was theft but theft with a purpose a cut above mundane materialism or born of economic want or envy. Playing music is an act of giving: giving to the people who listen, giving to the air that carries the sounds and perhaps even giving back to that combination of 'Muses' responsible for music and poetry. 

 

Hip Hop is a genre with re-appropriation in its DNA and which “loves a Robin Hood narrative” (Delaney). So while we don't know for sure whether it is a myth or reality that the blackout of 1977 helped create DJ culture, something clearly unstoppable began in that hot summer of '77. The subsequent surge of DJs gave poorer communities local idols. Idols who brought people together and provided a vehicle for expression. The DJs mattered to the people and the people mattered to the DJs. A crowd without a DJ and his unifying sounds can easily become a mob and a DJ without a crowd is just practising. 

 

Today, in a world where music has become so disposable and humanity's fundamental community spirit seems to be dwindling in the face of more and more competition, it takes a degree of courage to make music that matters and in a way that suggests people matter too. Blackout '77 is a vehicle for such music, informed as much by the spirit that 'liberated' the equipment on that historic night as the actual grooves and sounds of the time. The disco of The Memory Notes is a clear homage to that period while the soulful grooves of Solar Flare echo another golden era of New York's musical history with its '90s style house rhythms. Grafting onto these strong roots are new sounds: the panoramic house of Unknown Unknowns, the electronic experimentation of Charolastras and the open minded Hip Hop beats of The Centillions.

 

The same volatile mix of extreme weather and financial hardship is ever present in many of the world's cities today. What would happen today if all the lights went out in London or LA? Would we witness the genesis of a new musical force? Or was there something unique about that night, that night in '77 night when New York went dark?