REGAL’s New Animated LP Bodes Well For The Future
“The idea that one of the world’s most dangerous and ground-breaking street-cultures, had some of it’s defining stylistic origins created by a taboo-bashing trans-sexual, is just too fuckin’ cool to ignore,” DJ/producer PAUL EVE (aka REGAL) tells 2ser’s PARIS POMPOR. The former Wiseguy and Bronx Dog member is reflecting on the appeal of visual artist Vaughn Bodé, whom Eve first discovered as a 13 year-old via images of subway graffiti and hip hop culture. Now, some four decades later, British-born Eve (who spent a number of years living and DJing in Sydney) releases a beautiful new gatefold LP dedicated entirely to Vaughn Bodé’s cartoon strips and characters.
“My initial introduction,” recalls Eve, “as for most fans of my age and hip-hop-following-insanity [was through] the early images of New York train graffiti. Most important was the ’80’s bible Subway Art (1984), where Bodé characters were revealed appearing hand in hand with the writers’ burners. The most famous of these being DONDI’s Children Of The Grave Again Pt3 a whole car work bookended by the two iconic Bodé kids, arguably one of the greatest subway train masterpieces that ever ran. Then with my fascination piqued, being introduced a couple of years later to some of the actual strips, via Epic magazine and more elusively at the time, the compendium comics of Cheech Wizard and the Deadbone Erotica series that Vaughn’s family had issued in the early ’80s – all of which my various mates had randomly picked up and shared around. These items became the inspiration for my own treasure-hunting of Bodé’s work, where you mainly had to be quick to pick up either the latest re-issue or scour the many second-hand stalls and shops. Many a trip to Kensington Market and Comics Showcase in Covent Garden was had!”
With many of Bodé’s works featuring curvaceous and sexually confident female characters, was part of the appeal for a hormone-fuelled teenage Eve, the sexual and illicit nature of first getting his paws on the works?
“Absolutely… [though, I’m] not sure I’d go as far as to say they replaced Mayfair and Penthouse,” laughs Eve, “but those Erotica issues were pretty on the money. I mean, I was 16 when I first encountered the “Bodé Broads” in full colour and while they were incredibly sexy and stylish, it was more how their encounters and ‘interactions’ with Cheech and the various Lizards, were depicted, rather than just the fact that they were generally always naked! The dominatrix-factor within some of his female characters, alongside the very casual sex that seems to go on ALL the time, can be quite erotic. Today, the fact that [we know] Vaughn Bodé publicly dallied in trans-sexuality, both in person and as a character within his own strips, makes him an extremely interesting character to re-examine.”
Working from the early ’60s until his untimely death in 1975 at the age of 33, Bodé’s sexuality was not confined to one defining noun. His seemingly ongoing journey of fluid self-enquiry was hammered out in part through some of his illustrations, during a less sympathetic era. Omnisexuality (a term he self-identified with, amongst others) provides a unique lens through which to view his art and his ongoing status in graffiti and hip hop culture.
“The work of Vaughn Bodé, especially now in hindsight, was for me, never about it being in a cool comic,” continues Eve, “but about enjoying the characters he created and how they were referenced and used within the original graffiti scene. Since then, the trippy-ness, the anti-war messaging, the early LGBT references, the iconic and unique style of the illustrations, the fact that they were never written or illustrated for normal comic releases, but commissioned primarily for weird exotic fanzines, adult magazines and occasional limited-run self-pressed collections; all these elements have become more apparent and provocative as the years have gone by. Back in the 80’s, my whole initial connection to Bodé was purely through the viewfinder of loving graff and hip hop – basically bunking off school to search for Cheech!”
Since then, Eve’s fascination with Bodé has widened into an appreciation of “just where Vaughn stood in relation to the world around him in that era,” he explains. Despite his longtime love of Bodé and graffiti, it’s a little surprising to discover Eve wasn’t a certified comic addict like many of his generation.
“I have to admit, that I’m really not a comics fan. Yes, I own comics, but only as a means to furthering my collection of stories and artwork in relation to the content within – which for me really just boils down to Star Wars and Vaughn Bodé,” laughs Eve.
Nevertheless, the culture that surrounds collecting and obsessing over graphic novels and comics, is the as same as the discovery of underground music and bands. It’s akin to being part of a secret club; a way for developing adolescents to find their tribe in the playground or in their neighbourhood.
“It meant everything getting a Star Wars action figure, movie tie-in bubble gum cards, cereal box transfer sets (Kojak, Starsky & Hutch etc) and drawing replicas of space ships and characters as faithfully as possible all over our school books! All this was pretty much my world at seven to nine years-old,” says Eve. “Throw in my love of football (up the Hammers!) and trading football stickers at school, that was it really… Though, I was never really a comics kid, I enjoyed Superman, Batman and Spiderman on the telly and at the movies… This was all before I truly discovered hip hop of course. [After that] most of the above became ancient history pretty fast!”
By his 20s Eve had formed The Wiseguys with Theo Keating (aka Touché) releasing material via the iconic ’90s breaks and beats label Wall of Sound alongside artists Propellerheads and Les Rythmes Digitales. Later came the duo Bronx Dogs with Richard Sen (Padded Cell). Later still, solo output for the Unique label, side projects like the wonderful Children’s Television Network-sampling Habitual Parking Violators on the Rebtuz label, and the formation of his own label, Marble Bar. While Marble Bar wasn’t named after the West Australian heatwave town, Eve’s connection to Oz remains strong and the label did release a compilation of Australian hip hop in 2001 alongside output from artists like the Resin Dogs. Throughout his career, what has informed all his output is an ongoing love of hip hop and the art of sampling. And of course, like any funk-leaning hip hopper worth their weight in vinyl, a love of golden-ear soundtracks. Little wonder then Eve’s new Bodé-inspired LP is called Vaughn Bodé’s Stripp’d Universe (A Cartoon Soundtrack Imagining).
“I guess from the earliest years of searching for breakbeats and records to sample… film and TV soundtracks played a big part in our journey of discovery…” admits Eve. “Sesame Street, The Dirty Harry movies, Blaxploitation soundtracks, Play School‘s famous Coldcut beat, to name just a few examples of early must-have’s. The Double Dee & Steinski Lessons’ series, Coldcut’s Say Kids What Time Is It?. Then when TV’s Greatest Hits came out in the late ’80s, that was bonanza time! It contained virtually all the biggies… Barney Miller, Streets Of San Francisco, lots of Hanna-Barbera classics, plus obscure items that hip hop had made cult scratching routines out of… it was all there. Throw in the fact that around this time, you could just set your VHS to record any TV [channel] showing movies dated between 1969-’76 and there’d be some type of usable funky loop in the soundtrack. We quickly realised that soundtracks were a plentiful source of goodies. Take the logic one step further, you realise TV programs of that era also had funky scores, but no discernible soundtracks, leading to our discovery that film and TV companies kept their own LP libraries of studio-session recorded music, leading to legendary mythical tales of DJ’s accidentally happening across entire TV music-library collections and purchasing the whole lot on the spot for a quid!”
A quid? Really?
“Not sure it was a quid,” laughs Eve. Tender tall tales or true, every collector wishes they were present at one of those infamous clean-ups.
“So, by the 90’s,” continues Eve, “all these years of learning and discovery started to find their way into a lot of ground-breaking productions, both in the UK and US. The Gemini IV Incident is still my favourite Wiseguys production from the Executive Suite album, both for the packed storyboard nature of it’s musical progression and also that we felt pretty ahead of the curve, in pushing a single hip hop instrumental track into sci-fi movie territory… the music within Gemini IV is totally informed and influenced by soundtrack culture. It’s fair to say the early ’70s soundtracks and library LPs have added many a stylistic texture to a lot of Instrumental hip hop and trip hop from the mid-’90s.”
Eve’s new “Regal Presents” album Vaughn Bodé’s Stripp’d Universe”(A Cartoon Soundtrack Imagining) continues that same tradition. Its collection of funky and sensual cue-like instrumentals comes with titles like Nipple Kinky, Bribing Da’ Fuzz and Belinda Bump’s Cosmic Ride, all referencing the illustrator’s characters and works, alongside a deep appreciation for yesteryear screen themes.
“I’d had almost a decade off,” explains Eve, filling in the blanks on why the new album is his first in a number of years. “Basically the three D’s, Depression, Divorce and Debt, had beat me over the head after only three years of returning [to the UK] from Australia. Throw in a crap job and being single, I just said: fuck it and downed tools. It wasn’t that I was making crap music when I did, it’s that I just couldn’t face it anymore. But over time, new job, new digs, new girlfriend/soulmate and now long-time fiancé and lots of prescribed drugs, helped me to get back to a happier place and feeling lots of optimism again.”
Finding a few must-have Bodé works recently was just the catalyst Eve needed to return to the studio seriously and start work on the new album.
“About a year ago, I came across some final want-list items of Vaughn Bodé’s work, enabling me to finish my collection… When those final Bodé items arrived, it just clicked in my mind that the characters and the world they occupied was ripe to soundtrack… I had a few key pieces of music in my collection, that had always made me think of Cheech and the gang and so I dug them out and just started playing around. Within three days I’d written/composed the first two [album] tracks, but still it just seemed like fun, and while I was keen to get my hermano’s opinion on their Bodé-sounding factor, I never seriously envisaged an album at that point. But then by the third or fourth track I’d written, roughly January this year, I realised this was what was happening and so I dug a little deeper for sounds. I also kept up the process of producing the later tracks very closely in mind to the first. It’s a varied album to some degree, but I’d say that’s purely down to the characters or scenes I’m referencing. The formula for writing was stuck to pretty tightly throughout… I’d say my sample sources mainly bring the other textual differences between the tracks. As for then taking the whole exercise up a level and contacting Vaughn’s son Mark Bodé to illustrate the planned front cover, well, that was a whole other ball game!”
Luckily it all came together and the LP is a thing of beauty.
“I had never met [Vaughn Bodé’s son) Mark before this album, though of course knew of him plenty in regard to his Cobalt 60 stories and his faithful handling of the Bodé legacy. My contact for an introduction was Ollie from The Herbaliser, as we’re old muckers/adversaries from our teenage days of hip hop university. Ollie has known Mark personally for quite some years. Once it was established amongst my inner circle that there was only one direction for the sleeve art to go and that Mark would need to be approached, there was a short nerve-racking period of praying that Mark would like the album and give us the go ahead. When he said he liked it and then offered to actually illustrate the front cover himself, we were all joyous! Then it quickly became a decision about how it would look.
“The cover art for the front & back of the album,” continues Eve, “was an idea that formed in my head, almost immediately… With the contracts sorted fairly promptly, the resulting cover art is a beautifully hand-written set of album titles, tracklisting and production credits, all rendered in the iconic Bodé hand-style by Mark, including the bubble letters, on a stark white background – alluding to the cover jackets of early Bodé compendiums.”
There are extras too for the first issue gatefold sleeve.
“[You get] four stickers portraying four classic characters and a frameable insert print created by our long-time crew artist Chalky Rox (Four Bad Vandals). A lot of the design choices in general were driven by myself after sounding out close personnel, as this is an independently self-made release, so our budget and agreement with Mark was ‘bespoke’ to say the least. We couldn’t ask too much of him, especially as he was busy writing and drawing new Sunpot adventures for Heavy Metal magazine. But Mark’s cover is brilliant, totally sets up the content within and is a worthy addition to the Bodé canon. I’m extremely proud it’s adorning my new album!”
The album ships on vinyl around December 5th 2020 and is already out digitally on new label, Lexington 44 which Eve explains he has set up with label manager Ben King: “Its aim is to hold a broad musical church, but the hip hop, downbeat, jazz and dubby vibes will no doubt inform a lot of the overall results,” says Eve. “New releases are slowly brewing and some heavyweight remixers are in the frame.”
“[The label’s] named after my old beachfront flat on Bondi Beach, along Warners Avenue,” explains Eve who has been back in the UK for many years now. “The name also conjures up the era of Harlem jazz and Manhattan glamour. Way far to go to attain those heights, but nice to have goals right? I had big plans for this year, but Covid-19 and my own health issues have curtailed a lot of that for now.”
For music artists the current pandemic has been both a blessing and a curse, albeit tilting heavily towards the latter. On the one hand a loss of performance income has hit most very hard, but lockdown – especially in places where income support has been on offer – has provided time to bunker down, focus, write and produce without the usual interruptions. It’s terrific to hear Eve is fired up again musically and scheming new projects, but when it comes to the subject of isolation, how has Eve managed the new norm and not having a constant sidekick/sounding board collaborator within a production partnership? Has it made it more difficult to know when a track has been finessed enough and is ready to be let loose in the world?
“I had always worked with a partner or at least a constant engineer, on virtually every project I’d ever been involved with, right from my very first demos in ’87, with my man Skinny Black (aka DJ Baby K),” says Eve. “So yeah, I realised early on with this project that I had to stay focused and be patient too…
“So easier said than done,” he laughs. “But I was more mentally prepared for this than I imagined and so when the mini writer’s-blocks did occur, they were never for too long. As for sounding-board inspiration, my lifetime bro’ Neal (JUEL – FBV), kept me on track, especially as he’s probably a bigger Bodé connoisseur than I am, so his input and approval was paramount to me in the early stages when playing him the demos. One of the other big factors was the role of my label partner and album facilitator, Ben King (Kingsway), from the mighty Earthworks foundation. Originally from the UK, now based in Amsterdam, me and Ben go back to his days running Bondi FM radio out of the iconic old Bondi Hotel, and we hooked up again back in Blighty, around ’09, where he invited me down to his community of musicians in Newbury, for many a session.
“I’m pretty sure I can speak for Ben, when I say we are kindred musical spirits and brothers. While we have our own cultural beacons – me, hip hop, Ben, reggae – we both love a bass-heavy downbeat and so his receptive enthusiasm for my project and his ideas to make it happen commercially, really inspired me to knuckle down, focus even harder and get the album finished.”
Before we sign off, let’s get a picture of Eve’s bedroom back in those early teen days when first discovering Bodé’s drawings. Growing up in the UK, amongst the horror and thriller books by James Herbert, Stephen King, Dean R Koontz under his bed, there were also “boxes and boxes of cassettes,” 7 inch pop singles, a few Star Wars figures and a school cricket trophy for Bowler of the Year.
But the young b-boy’s most prized possession?
“My Sharp Vz-2000 super-size ghetto-blaster,” declares Eve.
“[It was an] original first edition with the sloping top panel, stand-up turntable, tape to tape, with dubbing-fade-out-record volume – very important! It needed a truck full of batteries just to last an hour!
“Took it school twice – got me a cool rep man,” chuckles Eve.
REGAL Presents Vaughn Bodé’s Stripp’d Universe (A Cartoon Soundtrack Imagining) is out now on Lexington 44. Pre-order the deluxe gatefold vinyl versions here