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Larry Levan (1954-1992)
Related: disco - DJ - garage - house - Paradise Garage - playlist (1976 - 1987)
Recordings: Greatest Mixes V.2 (1980) - Padlock EP (1983)
Unidentified photographs of Larry Levan and the sign of the Paradise Garage
Larry Levan (July 20 1954 - 1992) stands at the crossroads of disco, house and garage. He was the legendary DJ who for more than 10 years held court at the New York night club Paradise Garage. Quite a number of today's most successful producers and DJs credit their first exposure to Larry's music at the Paradise Garage as a moment that changed their lives forever and inspired their whole careers.
Francois K goes so far as to credit Larry with putting the dub aesthetic into dance music and being the first DJ to play a very eclectic and open-minded mix.
Dec 1995, Salsoul Records released Larry Levan's Paradise Garage; a collection of 12 inches Larry Levan mixed for Salsoul records in the late seventies. It was a sign of the cult of Larry Levan that took place in the late nineties and reached its peak in 1999, whith the release of history-of-the-disc-jockey book Last Night a DJ saved my life, in which a chapter of 19 pages is dedicated to Larry Levan.
There is already one spoof page by John McCready, called Barry Divan.
see also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Levan [Aug 2005]
[ Discography | Biography | Larry Links ]
His Club"That new club was The Paradise Garage. A huge warehouse-like space that had been converted from a garage into a membership only club. It partially opened in 1977 with only the smaller room open (they didn't have sufficient funds to finish it) and a sound system that had been specifically designed by Levan and collaborator Richard Long." --Raven Fox
In the studio
Larry's landmark work in the studio led to the first whole album concept where the DJ gets top billing over the original artist. This was for Salsoul records, for who Larry did many remixes. Larry moved to productions with NYC Peech Boys and Gwen Guthrie in the early eighties. This, to me, is his most interesting period, because these mixes were done on a rhythm section provided by none other than Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, the most famous reggae rhythm section.
GarageGarage music means different things to different people. The meaning of the word garage has slipped dramatically. But any definition will pretty quickly run into problems if you name a genre of music after a club [the Paradise Garage which was known not for one style of music but for its wild eclecticism championed by one DJ. From the US Perspective, what we now call garage is music which has evolved from the more soulful, more gospel-inspired parts of disco and it owes its emergence to the taste-making of DJ Tony Humphries at his club Zanzibar. [...]
Frankie KnucklesFrankie Knuckles was a very good friend of Larry Levan. They grew up together. And while Larry defined the sound of dance music in New York, Frankie left for Chicago to do the same. Larry spawned a genre of music called garage and Frankie did too: house. [...]
François KevorkianTwo months before his death in 1992, he went on a tour of Japan with François Kevorkian, who remembered it like this: "Larry went into a set of Philadelphia classics which was just so poignant, so emotional because the message of all the songs said he was really hurting. We all felt it at the time, but I think he pretty much knew he was dying and all the songs he played were so deeply related to how life goes. He played Jean Carne's 'Time Waits For No One' and the Trammps 'Where Do We Go From Here,' and I realised that this was one of the best moments of greatness that I had ever witnessed in my life. It was so obvious, so grand, such a drama to it, that you just knew." -- François Kevorkian
On the web
Remembering a Legend .... Larry Levan (1954-1992) - Raven Fox
There are no DJs, living or otherwise, who have had such potent mythology constructed around them as Larry Levan. His tragically premature death in 1992 signalled the end of a remarkable career that still casts a shadow over the dance community. Talk to any New York DJ of a certain age about music and it's likely that Levan's name will be mentioned in the first ten minutes. He is widely quoted as being the greatest modern DJ, whilst the club that he presided over for ten years - The Paradise Garage - is held in equally high regard.
Was this Man the Best DJ in the World?
Larry Levan, is still considered to be the most influential DJ ever. At the height of his popularity at the legendary paradise garage he was like a god for the 2,000 regulars, the creator of skills and tricks that elevated DJing to the artform it is today. Kevin Lewis traces his history and speaks to the passionate people behind the club. All wannabe DJs and promoters: Take Note! --by Kevin Lewis (Jockey Slut 1998)
http://www.undergroundnyc.com Find and listen to mixtapes, talk to other househeads in New York City.
Ridiculing Larry LevanIt’s the greatest club in the world. At least that’s what my mate said. DJ Barry Divan has influenced a whole generation of Ibiza sell outs who ramble on at length about him before playing the same old shit as every other old Brandon. -- John McCready
1983 Profile by Steven HarveyLarry Levan
"I'm going to get two more turntables so that as the night goes on, I can upgrade the sound. So I use cheap cartridges in the beginning and upgrade - I have $150 Grace cartridges which I'm really into but you can't backcue with them. At five AM you'd say 'what is that?' because a record should sound as good as a tape."
When I first went to The Paradise Garage I felt as though I'd finally found the perfect nightclub. With a clear door policy members and their guests only - a kind and courteous staff, no liquor, an awesome sound system continuously expounding the most serious Black music and an audience of thousands of dancers whose inter-connected energy often makes the main dance room feel like a rocket at the point of lift-off. Here was the antidote to all the glacial pose palaces passing as dance clubs.
In a balcony above the dancefloor Garage DJ Larry Levan guides his three turntables, Bozak mixer and custom-built Richard Long sound system, playing club classics like Ed Kool, 'Weekend' by Phreek, ESG's Moody', Eddy Grant's 'Time Warp' and a host of other great Black music. He alternates these songs with three-turntable disco dubs, utilising a spare bassline here, a sound effect record there, all twisted and forged through the simple control of the Bozak into gigantic tangible dubwaves flooding every crevice of the huge room. Tonight, dressed in a white cotton cap and light clothes, he dances as he mixes. it's as if this Brooklyn-born romantic soul was the lead dervish for what he and other regulars used to call Nicky Siano's The Gallery five years ago Saturday Mass.
Levan's move from spinning and studio mixing into music production with the Peech Boys is the result of his collaboration with keyboardist Michael deBenedictus (who played synthesiser along with Levan s live mixing at The Garage). Their work together inspired 'Don't Make Me Wait', a studio production with singer Bernard Fowler and guitarist Robert Kasper. That song, played at The Garage for months before its release, could have been the club's anthem with its epic male plea of erotic yearning. With The Peech Boys' move from ole-time NY disco-indie West End to Island Records they have been polishing and refining the tracks for their debut abum. The first evidence of it is, in typical idiosyncratic Levan fashion, a 7 inch-only 45 of one track, 'Dance Sister'. As I write it's just hitting the clubs in promo form.
Michael deBenedictus described Levan's dance-mix style as a dialogue with individuals in the room. In a medium which employs exclusively found material, Levan's ability to personalise the art of playing records, to achieve an intimate dialogue in the grand confines of The Garage space, has enabled him to fulfill the criteria for the best DJ since the early 70's He has forged his own style by making the medium speak with his own voice.
"When I listen to DJs today they don't mean anything to me. Technically some of them are excellent - emotionally they can't do anything for me. I used to watch people cry in The Loft for a slow song because it was so pretty." - Larry Levan
When I first heard you play, I noticed you would sometimes leave spaces in between songs or create introductions for them
"That's from Nicky Siano. He believed in sets. Out of all the records you have, maybe five or six of them make sense together. There is actually a message in the dance. the way you feel, the muscles you use, but only certain records have that. Say I was playing songs about music - 'I Love Music' by The O'Jays, 'Music' by Al Hudson and the next record is 'Weekend'. That's about getting laid, a whole other thing. if I was dancing and truly into the words and the feeling and it came on it might be a good record but it makes no sense because it doesn't have anything to do with others. So, a slight pause, a sound effect, something else to let you know it's a new paragraph rather than one continuous sentence.
"Lately my thing has been the video. One set of music and then - bang - visual. It stops the feet. The first time it freaked me out when I saw the whole dance floor sit down and start to watch the video. Nicky Siano, David Mancuso, Steve D'Aquisto and Michael Cappello, David Rodriguez from The Ginza - this is the school of DJs that I come from. David Mancuso was always very influential with his music and the mixes. He didn't play records unless they were very serious."
It's unusual to hear DJs play slow songs now.
"It's gotten to the point where if you play a slow song people think you're crazy. The way people party now, the drugs that are in the street, everything has got to be wild and crazy and electronic."
How did you move from being a dancer/enthusiast into DJing?
"The first place I played at was the Continental Baths. I got pushed into the job. I was doing lights and the DJ walked out. The manager who was like, a six foot three inches Cuban guy, said 'You're going to play records tonight!' I told him that I didn't have any records. 'You've got five hours" It was Memorial Day weekend. I went back to Brooklyn and borrowed records from my friend Ronnie Roberts, who had everything. I went back and worked three straight days. I did the Continental for about a year and then Richard Long approached me. I used to go to a club called Planetarium and Richard used to collect the money at the door. ''
Richard Long being the man who designed the sound system at The Garage?
"Yes, and he always like me because I was courteous to him. By this time Continental was jampacked and I had outgrown it. Then the whole thing came with Richard - I went to see the place. It was at 452 Broadway, called The Soho Place. That was like 10 years ago and I was 19. The club went from being empty to being so crowded you couldn't walk. So eventually the club had to close, and just before the last party Michael Brody approached me. He had a club at 143 Reade Street, a nice little club with good turntables - the mixer was a Bozak - I turned around and there's a Macintosh amplifier plus Klippschorn speakers. I started working there and it got so crowded I just used to open the window and let the sound go out on the street. Michael was so satisfied that when the club had to close because Of overcrowding, he asked me not to play anywhere else until the new club opened."
Did you design the sound system with Richard Long?
"First Richard told me what he thought would go in. I wanted Klipschhorns all over the place. Klipschhorns were a speaker made in the 1920's by Paul Klipsch because he was upset that there wasn't an amplifier decent enough to run a speaker He made a speaker that would require a little amount of power but would sound that it had a massive amount of power driving it. David Mancuso still uses them in The Loft. The old Loft had four speakers, two bass speakers and tweeter arrays (four JBL bullet tweeters hung together in the calling just producing highs). David didn't like turning up the bass and treble. He liked to run flat. So he had Alex Rosner build tweeter arrays."
It would be a kind of pyramidic sound. "Sure. Since the speakers all speak at the same time you hear the speaker that's closest to you first. David called up Cerwin-Vega and they made these 1000 watt bass drivers. They sounded incredible and he would do things like play the sound system with the bass and tweeters off and at 2.30 for whatever record was peaking - banging! - they would all come on. It sounds good anyway and then shh-boom! Now I'm ready for something different. I want a round room."
You use three turntables?
"Yeah, I'm going to get two more so that as the night goes on, I can upgrade the sound. So I use cheap cartridges in the beginning and upgrade - I have $150 Grace cartridges which I'm really into but you can't back-cue with them. At five AM you'd say 'what is that because a record should sound as good as a tape."
Billboard called 'Life Is Something Special' by the Peech Boys state-of-the-art recording. When you hear it live, the bass sound is really gigantic and that doesn't really come across on the 12inch.
"Right. No way can you put that on a record. When we did 'Special' I did the bassline and we programmed the drum machine together."
You mean back when it was an instrumental called 'City Fever'? "it was influenced by 'Jungle Fever' by Chakachas. That was one of my welcome-to-New York City records, That was when I realised the train went all the way into Manhattan,"
How did you start studio mixing? "Tommy Baratta, who works at West End, was my friend. He used to collect money at the door at Reade Street. One day he said to me 'you want to mix a record?' So I went to this engineer named Billy Kessel, who was my age, which was great, because it wasn't intimidating. There was this song from Sesame Street, called 'C Is For Cookie', and I mixed it, not serious, not getting paid for it or nothing. After that 'I Got My Mind Made Up' was about two weeks later. Then either 'Give Your Body Up To The Music' Billy Nichols or Dee Dee Bridgewater 'Bad For Me'.
If you had to paint an image of The Peech Boys what would you describe?
"It's like a group of men that have managed to capture that feeling from being a boy. Youthful and energetic, no matter what. Very positive strength spiritually. One has a cold and the other sneezes, I see them as energetic men able to capture that realness of being young, because that's something you lose very fast in New York City." -- Steven Harvey, 1983, Collusion Magazine
1954, July 20th: Lawrence Philpot, later to be known as Larry Levan is born in Brooklyn NYC. His mother Minnie is still amongst us. The Gallery [1971/72] Larry Levan works along side Frankie Knuckles at New York club The Gallery
Nicky Siano: "Frankie Knuckles came to The Gallery opening night and became friends with Robin, the woman I was seeing at the time who worked the door, she introduced him to me, and we hired him to work at the club. Frankie asked me to hire a good friend of his who was "wild but very talented", that friend was Larry Levan, who became my best friend, among other things."
Continental Baths 1972:
Tee Scott: "Continental Baths was getting popular around the time I started at Better Days (may/july 1972). Larry Levan was just getting started at that time."
- Larry Levan in [Collusion magazine 1983?]: "The first place I played at was the Continental Baths. I was doing lights and the DJ walked out. [...]
The Soho Place
Larry Levan: "Then the whole thing came with Richard [Long] - I went to see the place, it was at 452 Broadway, called The Soho Place"
Michael Brody's club on 143 Reade Street:
"I started working there and it got so crowded I just used to open up the windows and let the sound go out onto the street. When the club had to close because of overcrowding, they asked me not to play anywhere else until the new club opened."
Paradise Garage [1976/1977]
Raven Fox: "That new club was The Paradise Garage. A huge warehouse-like space that had been converted from a garage into a membership only club. It partially opened in 1977 with only the smaller room open (they didn't have sufficient funds to finish it) and a sound system that had been specifically designed by Levan and collaborator Richard Long.
Larry Levan: Greatest Salsoul Mixes - Various Artists [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
1. Ain't No Mountain High Enough - Jocelyn Brown 2. How High - The Salsoul Orchestra 3. By the Way You Dance - Bunny Sigler 4. Handsome Man - Sparkle 5. Double Cross - First Choice 6. Greatest Performance of My Life - Loleatta Holloway 7. Crying - Instant Funk 8. When I Come Home - Aurra 9. I Know You Will - Logg
1. I Got My Mind Made Up - Instant Funk 2. First Time Around - Skyy 3. It's Just Begun - The Jimmy Castor Bunch 4. Everybody - Instant Funk 5. Summertime Lovin' - Steve Arrington 6. Skyzoo - Skyy 7. Slap Slap Lickedy Lap - Instant Funk 8. High - Skyy 9. Bodyshine - Instant Funk 10. Make It Last Forever - Jocelyn Brown
All mixed up by Larry Levan, featuring Instant Funk, Loleatta Holloway, Jocelyn Brown, Aurra, Jimmy Castor Bunch, Skyy, Inner Life and more. 19 tracks packaged in double gatefold digipak. Salsoul. 2003.
Greatest Mixes V.2 (1980|2004) - Larry Levan [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
This orignally came out as a double twelve inch promo in February 1980, matrix number SA8533. There never was a volume one. [Jan 2005]
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