This week’s “pick” is School Daze: a collection of songs produced by Patrick Cowley for gay pornographic films between 1973 and 1981. Cowley is perhaps best known for his proto-house remix of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” as well as his work with Sylvester, writing and producing “Stars” and “I Need Somebody To Love Tonight.” On this release, however, we see a very different side of the artist. There are a few up-tempo, funkier songs, but the majority of tracks are sprawling cosmic soundscapes. School Daze is less Larry Levan and more Tangerine Dream or Wendy Carlos. The eerie “Mocking Bird Dream” even sounds like Aphex Twin. Gurgling synths, metallic percussion, and dubby basslines abound.
The CD’s accompanying booklet contains biographical information about Cowley, including notes on his adventures in San Francisco’s discos, bathhouses, and sex clubs (obviously not mutually exclusive categories). There’s a definite sense of exploration – even spirituality – that flows throughout the compilation. To think of these pieces operating in a pornographic context might provoke a radical reimagining of what “sexual music” is supposed to sound like, at least as ambient noise.
If you’re a fan of so-called IDM or ambient techno, School Daze is definitely worth a listen. Even if you prefer Cowley’s dance anthems like “Menergy,” I can guarantee you’ll hear them differently after getting lost in “Seven Sacred Pools.” This is one of those “wow he was so ahead of his time” releases. And yeah there are some new age-y moments…but that’s hip now, right?