NOTE: Around 2009, I wrote a bunch of music biographies for Amoeba Music, which was then planning an ambitious project which ultimately never came to fruition. Some of the biographies I wrote did make their way onto Amoeba’s current, scaled back website — although they’re somewhat buried and often don’t credit the authors. A lot of time was spent researching and writing them, though, and Amoeba may not be around forever; therefore I’m re-posting them here with minimal updates or editing.
Man Parrish was one of the earliest figures in hip-hop to compellingly make a case for the producer as artist in a genre more where most credit, traditionally, went to the rapper. After getting his start as one of electro’s most groundbreaking composers, he segued into production, house, ambient, and DJing.
Manuel Joseph Parrish was born on 6 May 1958 in Brooklyn. In 1971, he attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. The following year he enrolled at the High School of Performing Arts where he studied theater. In 1978, he studied music synthesis at New School for Social Research. By then he was a regular at Studio 54. Through the connections he made there, he first got into making music for gay porn.
In 1981, he scored John Gage’s Handsome. Living in Manhattan, Parrish was approached by Klaus Nomi, then a performer in New Wave Vaudeville to collaborate on the his debut. The result was the frightening “Nomi Chant.” After scoring another porno, John Gage’s Heatstroke, Parrish was surprised to hear the theme song being DJed at a club. After he inquired as to who the DJ obtained the unreleased piece, Parrish was invited to come down to Importe/12 Records and sign a deal.
Soon after, Parrish and Raúl Rodríguez began recording, sharing a studio with Afrika Bambaataa, Arthur Baker, and John Robie. A friendly rivalry arose and Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock” was followed closely by the release of Parrish’s mostly instrumental “Hip Hop Be Bop (Don’t Stop).” Around that time, Parrish began performing dramatically-staged shows at hip-hop clubs in the Bronx. After his tunes got picked up in Manhattan clubs like the Danceteria and the Funhouse, his stature grew and Man Parrish (1982 Polydor) (which featured Klaus Nomi on additional vocals) went on to sell over two million copies. The following year, he played live at Studio 54, with Madonna as his support act. Then, rather than capitalizing on his growing fame, however, Parrish burned out.
When he returned to music, it was in a production faculty, working with artists including Michael Jackson, Boy George, Gloria Gaynor, and The Village People (for whom he was also a road manager). After the music he wrote for an intended follow-up went unreleased, Elektra dropped Parrish in 1984. No longer producing, Parrish supported himself working as a prostitute. He returned to music in 1986, working with Mike and Paul Zone’s Hi-NRG act, Man 2 Man on the song, “Male Stripper.” That year he also scored the film, Bad Girls Dormitory.
Parrish again worked with Man 2 Man on 1987’s “I Need a Man” and released a solo EP, the ambient Brown Sugar (1987 Select Records). Another fallow period followed and it wasn’t until 1992, when Parrish and Cherry Vanilla collaborated on “Techno Sex.”
Fourteen years after his groundbreaking debut, Man Parrish released The 2nd Album (1996 Hot Associated), a collection of comparatively straight forward Soul II Soul-ish dance-pop albeit with odd, gay sonic collages between several songs. Two years later he released the atmospheric, mostly ambient but occasionally beat-driven Dreamtime (1998 Hot Associated). Another Ambient-oriented work, Ambient Music for Sleep (2003 Parrish Enterprises), was his final release.
With the renewed interest of electrofunk in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s electroclash scene, demands for Parrish as a DJ arose. His Sperm night was held at the Cock Bar before moving to Club Opaline and then The Boys Room. He also DJed a weekly night, The Bad Boys Club, at Mr. Black. In a strange return to his roots, Man Parrish is also once again involved with porn, selling it on the web.