The One and Only Ony

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"That was our first big break," Ony says of the trio's major-label deal. "We were touring like crazy, going to clubs and doing what they call track shows, where you play to backing tracks. We played mostly in New York and on the West Coast and got to do the whole rock-star trip, moving around all the time, people going crazy over us. It was really fun for a while. I was young and it was something I needed to go through. But it got really old after about five months, and I decided that it wasn't what I really wanted to do with music. When I go into the studio, I have a very good idea of what I want to do. But when you have a record deal, you have the record company people telling you what you should do. The bottom line for them is moving the product, so they try to steer you into doing what they want. Then you get paranoid, because if you don't give them what they want, they're going to drop you."

Ony didn't have to worry about that. The Voice in Fashion was offered a better deal by EMI Records, the group accepted, and in 1988 EMI released the trio's third single, "Give Me Your Love." Despite the fact that the single enjoyed success in clubs, Ony was feeling artistically stifled and considered leaving the group. He stuck around, he says, because of his close friendships with the Hanono brothers; instead of quitting, he began working on a side project called the Beat Club. "Once again I had complete control," Ony states. "I was doing everything by myself and working for my own label, so I was able to do whatever I wanted to do."

However, his first Beat Club release -- 1988's "Security" -- became a huge hit in U.S. and European dance clubs, and soon Atlantic was again sniffing around Ony's door. Reluctantly, he signed another contract. "There was a whole new crew at Atlantic, and I thought maybe it would be different," he admits. "Even though I had said I'd never do it again, I signed. You can't deny the exposure and distribution clout that a major label can give you."

Even before "Security" caught the ears of Atlantic, it had become a favorite at the Hacienda, a nightclub in Manchester, England, owned by the members of New Order, the godfathers of electrodisco whose influence on techno rivals that of Kraftwerk. The group liked the song so much that when they hit Miami for a 1988 concert, they tried to find the song's creator. They didn't hook up until a few months later when a mutual friend put them in touch, and soon Ony was in Manchester collaborating with New Order vocalist/guitarist Bernard Sumner.

"New Order was literally one of my two or three favorite bands, so I was ecstatic to be over there and working with them," Ony says. "Not too many people get to work with the artists who've inspired them and influenced them." During his stay in Manchester, Ony remixed a track on the one-off album by Electronic, a collaboration between Sumner and former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr. He also fashioned a remix of "Security" that featured a new vocal by Sumner (Valls sang on the original). The new version was released exclusively in Europe but failed to crack the British Top 40.

During this time, Ony bowed out of the Voice in Fashion just before the band was set to tour overseas. Also, the Beat Club's representative at Atlantic had quit the label and, without any in-house support, the group's contract expired. There was brief talk between Ony and New Order manager Rob Gretton about shopping the "Security" remix to a domestic label, but by then Ony had lost interest in dealing with the majors. It was time to move on.

"I decided I wasn't going to wait for another major label," Ony recalls, no hint of regret in his voice. "I had already had three major-label deals and they had not gone that well. But I really had to get my career going. Not putting out records in the U.S. is not my idea of having your career on track."

At the behest of Valls, Ony changed his label's name from HR to Electrobeat and shifted its focus from twelve-inch vinyl singles to compact discs. A distribution agreement was set up with AEC, a Northeastern conglomerate that has carved out a retail base for the label that includes all major record chains, plus national bookstores such as Barnes & Noble and Borders. The label's catalogue currently includes eight titles: six discs by Ony in his various guises, one release by the British ambient artist Holistic, and a compilation culled from Electrobeat's first five sets. Ony notes that sales have come from across the country and that airplay is strongest in the Northeast and the West Coast, from the Pacific Northwest to San Diego.

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John Floyd